Mission for The Citadel’s football program: follow up an outstanding season with another solid campaign

Other football-related posts from recent weeks:

Inside the numbers: The Citadel’s 2015 run/pass tendencies, per-play averages, 4th-down decision-making…and more!

Updating history: Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium, 1964-2015

What teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

Preseason football ratings and rankings, featuring The Citadel (and the rest of the SoCon)

In his fall practice preview article, Jeff Hartsell wrote about issues “the Bulldogs must address if they are to post consecutive winning seasons for the first time since The Citadel had three straight from 1990-92”. Some of those things are obvious, like avoiding injuries and, uh, suspensions.

There is something else The Citadel’s football program must overcome, and that is its own history. I want to briefly highlight what has happened in the past. It hasn’t always been pretty.

Going back to the end of World War II, The Citadel has had fifteen seasons in which it won seven or more games in a season. That includes last year’s nine-win campaign.

In the fourteen prior post-war years in which the Bulldogs won 7+ games, the following season often did not go as well. Only five of those fourteen occasions saw the program celebrate a winning season the next year.

It is not altogether surprising that big-win seasons have not always been followed by an over-.500 campaign. There are a lot of factors at hand, including players lost to graduation, injuries, differences in scheduling, coaching changes, and plain old-fashioned luck, to name but a few.

They all add up to what a sabermetrically-inclined observer might call regression to the mean. Still, five out of fourteen is not a good ratio.

[Keep in mind, I’m not talking about following up every winning season. I’m discussing the years in which the Bulldogs won more than six games. There have been other times when The Citadel has had back-to-back winning seasons (just to give one example, the consecutive 6-5 campaigns in 1975 and 1976), but my focus in this post is on those teams that won 7+ games.]

Since 1946, here are the five seasons of 7+ wins in which the Bulldogs enjoyed a winning season the next year:

1st year Record 2nd year Record
1959 8-2 1960 8-2-1
1960 8-2-1 1961 7-3
1980 7-4 1981 7-3-1
1990 7-5 1991 7-4
1991 7-4 1992 11-2

One noticeable thing about this list is its connectivity. Four of the five season duos occurred during the two best periods of modern-era football at The Citadel (and the other, the 1980-81 sequence, was preceded by a 6-5 season in 1979).

Here are the other ten years (post-WWII) in which the Bulldogs won 7+ games:

1st year Record 2nd year Record
1961 7-3 1962 3-7
1969 7-3 1970 5-6
1971 8-3 1972 5-6
1981 7-3-1 1982 5-6
1984 7-4 1985 5-5-1
1988 8-4 1989 5-5-1
1992 11-2 1993 5-6
2007 7-4 2008 4-8
2012 7-4 2013 5-7
2015 9-4 2016 ?

For completeness, here is a list of each occasion prior to World War II where The Citadel had a campaign in which the team won at least two more games than it lost:

1st year Record 2nd year Record
1906 3-0 1907 1-5-1
1908 4-1-1 1909 4-3-1
1911 5-2-2 1912 3-4
1915 5-3 1916 6-1-1
1916 6-1-1 1917 3-3
1923 5-3-1 1924 6-4
1924 6-4 1925 6-4
1925 6-4 1926 7-3
1926 7-3 1927 3-6-1
1928 6-3-1 1929 5-4-1
1937 7-4 1938 6-5
1942* 5-2 1946* 3-5

*The Citadel did not field a football team between 1943-1945

Sustaining success has not been easy at The Citadel. Of course, nothing is easy at The Citadel, so it’s not exactly a shock that consistently winning football games at the school can be kind of tricky.

What about the upcoming season, with a new head coach?

It’s the first time The Citadel has ever had to replace a head football coach following a 7+ win season. Heck, it’s the first time The Citadel has had to replace a head football coach following a winning season of any kind since 1942 (for the record, then-head coach John “Bo” Rowland left to take the job at Oklahoma City University prior to the resumption of football at The Citadel in 1946).

New head coach Brent Thompson and new defensive coordinator Blake Harrell were on the staff that led the Bulldogs to a 9-4 record, a share of the Southern Conference championship, an FCS playoff victory and an upset of SEC foe South Carolina a season ago. Offensive coordinator Lou Conte rejoins the staff after a year away.

With 15 starters back from the 2015 squad, the beginning of the Brent Thompson era — he’s the 25th coach in school history — does not feel like starting over.

“It’s more of a continuation than a new beginning,” said senior linebacker Tevin Floyd. “And that kind of ties in with what we are tying to do this year — keep the momentum going from last year.”

Historically, keeping that momentum going has been difficult. However, there is one interesting note about those past big-win seasons worth mentioning.

Of the five 7+ win years in the post-WWII era that were followed up by over-.500 seasons, all five subsequent winning campaigns resulted in at least seven wins. Three of them matched the win total of the year before, and the title-winning 1992 team upped the prior year’s victory toteboard from seven to eleven.

The only one of the five not to match or exceed the number of wins of the previous season was the 1961 squad — and that team won the Southern Conference championship.

In other words, based on past history (and to be fair, a rather small sample size), there is roughly a two-thirds chance the Bulldogs do not have a winning season in 2016. There is a one-third chance, however, that The Citadel wins at least nine games and/or the SoCon title this year.

I would greatly prefer that smaller section of the speculative statistical pie.

Football season is getting even closer…

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