The 2016 FCS Playoffs — a review of the bracket

The Bracket

Links of interest:

The Citadel’s playoff path: a bye, then a familiar foe

– Lehigh football snubbed of home playoff game

New Hampshire makes field for 13th straight year

Albany left out of playoffs; coach calls exclusion “a sham”

Wofford earns playoff bid

Charleston Southern disappointed not to host playoff game

After being disappointed in the seeding, Sam Houston State coach: “It is what it is”

South Dakota State gets seed

Youngstown State in playoffs after a ten-year absence

“Samford shouldn’t even be in the tournament, let’s just get it straight”

North Carolina A&T makes playoff, but coach says “we’re still pretty down around here”

Chattanooga makes playoff field

Cal Poly gets bid, will host San Diego

Preview article on NCAA.com

First, let’s correct an error in that last article I linked above, the one posted on the NCAA’s own website:

Some other teams that will miss out on postseason action as a whole include Montana, Western Illinois and North Carolina Central, who all lost steam down the stretch and were defeated in Week 12.

North Carolina Central won on Week 12, defeating North Carolina A&T 42-21. The Eagles aren’t missing out on postseason action, either — North Carolina Central is going to the Celebration Bowl instead of the FCS playoffs, while the team that lost to the Eagles (North Carolina A&T) got a bid as an at-large team.

I also linked a “handicapping the field” article from the Bison Media Zone. Media members in North Dakota do not think Samford should have made the field.

Of course, being a resident of the Flickertail State isn’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to FCS expertise. In this particular preview, the writer referred to Charleston Southern as the “Mocs”.

I also think he has his guns pointed in the wrong direction when it comes to the exclusion of Albany. I tend to agree that Albany should have been in the tournament, but he failed to identify the most obvious beneficiary of the Great Danes’ absence — New Hampshire.

The two teams played in the same league (the CAA) and finished with the same overall record (7-4). Albany beat FBS Buffalo (admittedly, not the best FBS squad in world history). More to the point, the Great Danes won at New Hampshire.

The Wildcats also managed to lose to Ivy League cellar-dweller Dartmouth, and had no real standout victory. Albany’s worst loss was to Delaware, which strikes me as considerably more acceptable than losing to Dartmouth.

Albany head coach Greg Gattuso called the snub of his team “a sham” on Twitter. He had other comments:

I guess, if I had a question for the (selection) committee, it would be, what in (New Hampshire’s) body of work would be better than ours?

I just think the resume was better. Oh, by the way, we beat them head-to-head at their field. Remember us beating them at their field two weeks ago?

 

One criteria they might say is conference record. But to me, it’s a skewed point when (New Hampshire) didn’t play the second- and third-place teams. They didn’t play Richmond, they didn’t play Villanova. To me, conference schedule when you don’t play everybody should be thrown out (in picking the tournament).

I think Gattuso has a very legitimate argument.

New Hampshire had been in the playoffs in each of the previous 12 seasons; perhaps the committee just felt comfortable sticking them in the field. Maybe there is an unwritten rule that UNH has to be in the tournament.

Once New Hampshire was picked, the committee then got the chance to pair the Wildcats with Lehigh, and gave New Hampshire a home game in the first round. UNH’s average home attendance is 11,108, so it could be assumed its host bid (in terms of a cash guarantee) was quite good.

Albany’s average home attendance this season was 5,928. Could the committee have been thinking about the potential monetary difference if it came down to Lehigh-Albany or Lehigh-UNH? I’m sure the official answer is “No”, but cynics may have some doubts.

In related news, during an interview on a North Dakota radio show, selection committee chairman Brian Hutchinson referenced North Carolina A&T’s “bid offer” as a point in its favor.

I think he probably misspoke — after all, North Carolina A&T isn’t even hosting a first-round game — but what his comment really illustrates is that money is never far from the mind of the committee when selecting, bracketing, and seeding teams. That is unfortunate.

The committee apparently had no choice but to pair San Diego and Cal Poly against each other in the first round, despite the fact the two schools have already played this season. From the NCAA’s “Pre-Championship Manual“:

5. Regular season non-conference match-ups in the first round of the championship should be avoided, provided it does not create an additional flight(s).

6. Teams from the same conference will not be paired for first-round games (except for teams from the same conference that did not play against each other during the regular season; such teams may play each other in the first round);

7. Once the first-round pairings have been determined, there will be no adjustments to the bracket (e.g., a seeded team may play a conference opponent that advanced out of the first round).

If Cal Poly and USD had been in the same league, the rematch would have been avoided — but since they’re not, they had to be matched up, because not doing so would have created two extra flights.

That is because Poly and USD were less than 400 miles from each other, but more than 400 miles away from every other unseeded team. Here is the rule on busing/flights:

During the championship, institutions that are playing within 400 miles (one way) of their campus will be required to travel to that site via bus. Institutions traveling more than 400 miles (one way) to their game will be approved for air travel to that site.

I think it’s absurd that the “allow one more flight” stipulation only applies if teams are in the same conference, but that’s the rule, and the committee had no other option. The rule needs to be changed.

Of course, when it comes to bracketing, the committee tends to take the path of least resistance anyway. This is the second year in a row there has been a regular-season rematch in the first round.

Last year, the Patriot League champion (Colgate) played at New Hampshire, with the winner facing James Madison. Colgate and UNH had already met during the 2015 regular season.

Naturally, this year the Patriot League champion (Lehigh) will again play at New Hampshire, with the winner again facing James Madison…

The manual has this to say about awarding host sites:

3. If the minimum financial guarantees are met, the committee will award the playoff sites to the higher seeded teams.

4. When determining host institutions for playoff games when both teams are unseeded, criteria shall apply as follows: (1) quality of facility, (2) revenue potential plus estimated net receipts, (3) attendance history and potential, (4) team’s performance (i.e., conference place finish, head-to-head results and number of Division I opponents), and (5) student-athlete well-being (e.g., travel and missed class time).

This is not exactly breaking news, but it does explain one aspect of hosting that apparently bothered Charleston Southern coach Jamey Chadwell:

…Chadwell expressed disappointment about having to go on the road, but said getting a playoff opportunity was the ultimate goal.

“It’s disappointing. I don’t know all of the details, but you would think a conference champion would get more favor in the bidding process,” Chadwell said.

As it happens, conference champions don’t get more favor in the bidding process — unless they are matched up against teams in their own league in the first round (which would only occur if the two teams had not met during the regular season).

Charleston Southern hosted last year, but that was because it was a seed and met a minimum financial guarantee. This season, the Buccaneers were unseeded and paired with Wofford.

The decision to hold the game in Spartanburg probably came down to Wofford offering a better financial package, but Charleston Southern fans should be concerned about “quality of facility” being a more significant criterion for hosting than “revenue potential”.

Attendance history is also a factor. Below is the average home attendance for the 16 unseeded teams in the field:

  • North Carolina A&T: 14,472
  • Youngstown State: 14,353
  • New Hampshire: 11,108
  • Illinois State: 10,156
  • Chattanooga: 9,494
  • Central Arkansas: 8,767
  • Weber State: 8,734
  • Richmond: 8,700
  • Cal Poly: 8,413
  • Wofford: 7,625
  • Lehigh: 6,527
  • Villanova: 6,153
  • Samford: 5,897
  • Charleston Southern: 2,712
  • San Diego: 2,405
  • St. Francis (PA): 1,617

Attendance affects both a potential bid by a school, and the committee’s evaluation of its revenue potential.

Only two of the eight first-round matchups are hosted by teams that had lower average home attendance than their opponents. Richmond is hosting North Carolina A&T, and Central Arkansas is hosting Illinois State.

The second of those involves two schools with fairly close numbers in terms of attendance, but the other matchup has a much wider differential. Either North Carolina A&T wasn’t particularly interested in hosting, or Richmond put in a major league bid.

I’m disappointed that for the FCS playoffs, there is yet again a mini-South Carolina bracket in what is supposed to be a national tournament.

This is the second year in a row The Citadel and Charleston Southern have both been bracketed in this fashion, and it is a lame, lame move by Brian Hutchinson and his committee for the second year in a row.

Bulldogs quarterback Dominique Allen:

It’d be nice to face somebody else, somebody besides teams we play all the time.

Linebacker Tevin Floyd of The Citadel:

We have histories with both [Wofford and Charleston Southern], so I think we just wanted to experience something new.

Head coach Brent Thompson of The Citadel:

When it’s the playoffs, you look for some different opponents. You want to get some people to travel in and maybe work outside (the norm) a little bit. But it is what it is, and we have to win the state of South Carolina at this point.

Floyd also said he was happy to be playing at Johnson Hagood Stadium, and Allen referenced a “fun” matchup with either potential opponent, but the point is clear.

I also don’t understand why the committee couldn’t have swapped the Charleston Southern-Wofford pairing and the North Carolina A&T-Richmond pairing in order to avoid a potential second-round rematch.

In other words, the CSU-Wofford winner could have been matched up against North Dakota, while the survivor of N.C. A&T-Richmond played The Citadel (instead of the other way around, as the committee arranged things).

If the committee seeded all the teams, 1 through 24, it would be possible to have a balanced, fair tournament. Instead, bracketing decisions are made explicitly for geographic reasons, and they lead to inequities.

Weber State and Cal Poly both were 7-4 overall; Weber State was 6-2 in the Big Sky, while the Mustangs were 5-3. Now, due to unbalanced league schedules, Cal Poly played a slightly tougher slate than the Wildcats (and it also had a good non-conference win over South Dakota State). On the other hand, Weber State beat Cal Poly during the season.

You could argue that if every team in the tournament were seeded, Cal Poly might deserve a slightly higher seed than Weber State. If so, both teams would probably be seeded in the 17-20 range.

If that happened, each would play first-round road games against similarly-rated opponents. Instead, we have the current geographical setup and the “400 miles” bus/flight cutoff point.

Thus, Cal Poly plays a home game against San Diego of the non-scholarship Pioneer League, a team the Mustangs already defeated earlier this season 38-16. Meanwhile, Weber State travels almost 1,800 miles to play at Chattanooga, a solid SoCon squad that acquitted itself well last week against Alabama.

The decision to make Lehigh travel to New Hampshire also seems problematic to me; if anything, it should be the other way around. Again, however, cash is king in this tournament — though a few folks in Las Vegas are apparently putting their hard-earned money on Lehigh (which is a 4 1/2 point favorite despite having to go on the road).

Final “toughest schedule” numbers from the NCAA for Jacksonville State, James Madison, Sam Houston State, and The Citadel:

  • The Citadel: 19th
  • James Madison: 57th
  • Jacksonville State: 80th
  • Sam Houston State: 102nd

All four finished undefeated against non-FBS competition. SHSU, which was 11-0, did not play an FBS opponent, while the other three schools were all 10-1, with each losing to an FBS team from a power conference.

The committee decided to give Jacksonville State the highest seed out of this group. Did it help Jacksonville State that it made the finals last year? Probably. Did it help Jacksonville State that its director of athletics was on the committee? It couldn’t have hurt.

What it means is that if The Citadel is fortunate enough to advance to the quarterfinals, and its opponent is Jacksonville State, the Bulldogs will be the road team. It is not evident why that should be the case.

Another seeding oddity, in my opinion, was North Dakota being the #7 seed and South Dakota State being the #8. I’m not sure why the Jackrabbits would have been behind UND.

Because the committee seeded those teams in that way, SDSU has a potential rematch with North Dakota State in the quarterfinals. I don’t have a problem with regular-season rematches once teams advance to the quarterfinals, but it seems to me the committee had an easy opportunity to avoid that situation, and in a perfectly justifiable way.

Per at least one source that deals in such matters, here are the lines for the eight first-round games, as of Tuesday afternoon:

  • Wofford is a 1.5-point favorite over Charleston Southern, over/under of 51.5
  • Chattanooga is a 15-point favorite over Weber State, over/under of 51.5
  • Lehigh is a 4.5-point favorite at New Hampshire, over/under of 63.5
  • Richmond is a 13-point favorite over North Carolina A&T, over/under of 53.5
  • Illinois State is a 1.5-point favorite at Central Arkansas, over/under of 49.5
  • Youngstown State is an 8.5-point favorite over Samford, over/under of 50.5
  • Cal Poly is a 12.5-point favorite over San Diego, over/under of 65.5
  • Villanova is a 14.5-point favorite over St. Francis (PA), over/under of 37.5

As you can see, there are two road favorites (Lehigh and Illinois State).

Massey Ratings predicted scores for this Saturday:

  • Wofford 26, Charleston Southern 24
  • Chattanooga 31, Weber State 19
  • Lehigh 33, New Hampshire 28
  • Richmond 36, North Carolina A&T 24
  • Central Arkansas 23, Illinois State 21
  • Youngstown State 28, Samford 20
  • Cal Poly 35, San Diego 29
  • Villanova 21, St. Francis (PA) 7

I’m not pleased with how the tournament was constructed. However, there is nothing that can be done about it, at least not for this season. All eyes will now be following the action on the gridiron.

If you’re in the field, you have a chance. That’s the bottom line.

College Football TV Listings 2016, Week 13

This is a list of every game played during week 13 of the 2016 college football season involving at least one FBS or FCS school. All games are listed, televised or not. For the televised games (only live broadcasts are listed), I include the announcers and sideline reporters (where applicable). I put all of it on a Google Documents spreadsheet that can be accessed at the following link:

College Football TV Listings 2016, Week 13

Additional notes:

– I include games streamed by ESPN3.com and Fox Sports Go; they are denoted as “ESPN3″ and “FS-Go”, respectively.

– I also list digital network feeds provided by various conferences, but only when they are free of charge. For some of these feeds, the audio will be a simulcast of the home team’s radio broadcast. Other online platforms have their own announcers.

For now, the digital networks I am including in the listings are those for the ACCBig Sky, Big SouthCAAMountain WestNEC, OVCPatriot League, and SoCon.

Occasionally individual schools (almost always at the FCS level) provide video feeds free of charge. When that is the case, I list those as well.

– I also do not include PPV telecasts, regardless of whether or not the matchup in question features FBS or FCS schools.

– The local affiliates for the ACC Network “national” game of the week can be found on a link in the document, and here: Syracuse-Pittsburgh

– The regional sports networks carrying the ACC Network “regional” game of the week can be found on a link in the document, and here: Boston College-Wake Forest

– Local affiliates for American Sports Network games are linked in the document, and here: Arkansas State-ULL, South Alabama-Idaho

– ESPN3/ACC Digital Network/College Extra blackout maps: Syracuse-Pittsburgh, Boston College-Wake Forest

– BTN “gamefinder”:  Link

– SEC Network “gamefinder”: Link

– AP Poll (FBS):  Link

– FCS Coaches’ Poll:  Link

A lot of the information I used in putting this together came courtesy of Matt Sarzyniak’s incredibly comprehensive and truly indispensable site College Sports on TV, a must-bookmark for any fan of college sports.

Also to be credited, as always, are the indefatigable information collectors (and in some cases sports-TV savants) at the506.com. I am also assisted on occasion by helpful athletic media relations officials at various schools and conferences.

Game Review, 2016: North Carolina

North Carolina 41, The Citadel 7.

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

Video from WCIV-TV

– School release from The Citadel

– School release from North Carolina

– Game story, The News and Observer

Box score

The Citadel’s post-game notes

Well, if The Citadel needed to fulfill its season-long quota of mistakes, this was probably the right game to do it…

Four turnovers? Sure. Costly false start penalties? Yep. Poor kick coverage? Uh-huh. A missed field goal? Why not.

The game was never in doubt, thanks to a series of errors by the Bulldogs. It was a tough day at the office.

However, those missteps hid a few positives.

The defense actually played fairly well at times. UNC scored 41 points, but two of its touchdowns were on returns.

North Carolina’s three offensive touchdowns came on a sustained drive, a long TD pass, and another drive that was helped along by a dubious pass interference call. Considering how explosive the Tar Heels’ offense can be, that’s not too bad from the Bulldogs’ perspective (it’s not great either, to be sure).

The offense controlled the ball to an enormous degree (42:25 time of possession), which is why The Citadel ran so many more offensive plays than UNC (80 to 47). However, the Bulldogs did not take advantage of the discrepancy. A lot of that can be credited to UNC’s defense, but the Bulldogs also lacked some of their usual crispness in execution.

I was more disappointed in the kick return TD than anything else. There is no excuse for that, especially coming out of the halftime break.

The Bulldogs played hard. They didn’t play very well. Every now and then, that’s going to happen.

It just can’t happen again this season.

A few other thoughts:

– It was a tough night to be in the stands, with the cool air and the wind proving a wicked combination. Nevertheless, a couple of Bulldog fans thought it was t-shirt weather.

My blood is a little thinner than theirs.

– The Summerall Guards were excellent, as usual. That performance was one of the highlights of the entire day.

– The Citadel had plenty of fans in attendance. It was a very good showing by the travelling support.

– The replay review in the second quarter took about ten minutes, which to me was at least eight minutes too long. I’m also not sure they got the call right in the end.

I don’t think anyone enjoyed that delay, with the possible exception of the folks working the concession stands.

– Mitch Trubisky is a better athlete than I realized (and I thought he was a pretty good one as it was). He showed an ability to move in the pocket that should be beneficial in the NFL.

At one point late in the third quarter, though, with a big lead, he kept on a designed run. I wondered what Larry Fedora would have said afterwards if his star QB had suffered an injury in that situation.

– Speaking of injuries, Cam Jackson did not play for the second consecutive week. I hope he is ready to go by December 3.

I’ll write about the FCS playoffs later in the week. For now, I’ll just say that my cynicism regarding the FCS selection committee was well-founded.

Below are a few pictures. Are they good? Of course not.

I included a few shots I took while wandering around the UNC campus. The game action photos are not annotated (there also aren’t nearly as many of them as usual).

 

2016 Football, Game 11: The Citadel vs. North Carolina

The Citadel vs. North Carolina, to be played at Kenan Memorial Stadium in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with kickoff at 3:34 pm ET on Saturday, November 19. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed on ACC Network Extra, with Dan Gutowsky providing play-by-play and John Gregory supplying the analysis.

The game can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station. 

Mike Legg (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze.

It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

This light blue vs. light blue matchup is brought to you by Eiffel 65:

I’m blue da ba dee da ba di da ba dee da ba di da ba dee da ba di…

Links of interest:

– Game notes for The Citadel and North Carolina

SoCon weekly release

The Citadel makes its case for a top-4 seed

Jonathan King, internet meme

UNC prepares to face the Bulldogs’ triple-option offense

Tar Heels to face another triple-option foe

Undefeated Bulldogs present legitimate test

– Larry Fedora says UNC only looking at The Citadel (video)

– The UNC coach is not overlooking the Bulldogs

– Fedora: “I don’t think we’ll take The Citadel lightly”

– If UNC doesn’t “beat the unbeaten Bulldogs by 50 points” it is because the Tar Heels are “still hung over from losing at Duke”

– Game preview from Campus Insiders

– SB Nation preview: Players to watch

Brent Thompson’s 11/15 press conference, including comments from Kevin Graham, Jonathan King, and Kyle Weaver (video)

Brent Thompson’s 11/16 radio show (video)

– Brent Thompson is a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award

– FCS Coaches’ Poll

– STATS FCS Poll

– NCAA FCS selection committee rankings for November 15

The last time The Citadel played North Carolina (in 2009), the game was on ESPN3.com, and the announcers were Bob Picozzi and Paul Maguire. That was the first time Maguire had ever announced a game involving The Citadel (his alma mater).

This week’s ACC Network analyst, John Gregory, also has a connection to The Citadel, though perhaps not one he would fondly remember.

Gregory was Marshall’s starting quarterback in 1988. That season, the Thundering Herd began the year 8-0, rising to #1 in the I-AA polls.

Marshall then traveled to Johnson Hagood Stadium to play The Citadel. Very few games at the old stadium have ever matched that contest for intensity or general atmosphere. It was electric.

MU had been averaging 32.6 points per contest. Gregory was at the time the third-rated passer in I-AA.

However, that day wasn’t one of Gregory’s best. The quarterback finished with 12 completions on 25 attempts, for 176 yards. Three different Bulldogs intercepted Gregory passes (for the record, they were J.D. Cauthen, Terrance Young, and David Matherly).

All in all, it was a long afternoon for the visitors from West Virginia. The Bulldogs upset the Thundering Herd, 20-3.

To be fair, Marshall still shared the SoCon title that year, and advanced to the I-AA quarterfinals. Both of the Thundering Herd’s losses in 1988 were to Palmetto State schools — The Citadel and Furman. Gregory also led Marshall to a victory over The Citadel the following season, 1989.

The third (and thankfully, final) preliminary rankings list for the FCS playoffs was released on Tuesday night:

Rank School Last week
1 North Dakota State 3
2 Eastern Washington 2
3 Jacksonville State 1
4 James Madison 4
5 Sam Houston State 5
6 The Citadel 6
7 Central Arkansas 9
8 Richmond 8
9 North Dakota 10
10 South Dakota State NR

In each of the three rankings, the top 4 has changed, despite none of the teams in the top 4 having lost during that time period. However, The Citadel has been stuck at #6 on all three lists.

After North Dakota State debuted in the rankings at #4 on the initial list, angry shouts from Fargo could be heard throughout the land — or at least in the homes of the selection committee members, as the complaining appears to have had an effect.

Now, does NDSU deserve to be #1 or #2 in the rankings? Probably. How the Bison got there, though, does not reflect well on the committee. Neither does The Citadel’s status as a team with a demonstrably better case for a top-4 seed than either Sam Houston State or Jacksonville State, both of which are ahead of the Bulldogs in the rankings.

Alas, the selection committee apparently can’t get past SHSU’s gaudy offensive statistics (never mind the opposition). A cynic would suggest Jacksonville State is benefiting from having two OVC advocates for its cause on the committee — one the chairman, the other JSU’s own director of athletics.

Per the Massey Ratings, Sam Houston State’s best opponent to date is Nicholls, which is ranked 35th. Its second-best win is versus McNeese State (42nd). Meanwhile, The Citadel has played three opponents ranked in the top 14.

Jacksonville State’s best two wins are against Coastal Carolina (ranked 18th by Massey) and Liberty (26th).

In the NCAA’s “toughest schedules to date” category, The Citadel’s slate is ranked 22nd. Jacksonville State’s schedule is 101st; Sam Houston State’s, 116th.

All those pesky facts are likely to be ignored by the selection committee, however, based on the preliminary rankings (and the committee’s historical bent). I would really like to be wrong about that, but I don’t think I will.

The seeding order matters because home field advantage is very important in the FCS playoffs. The last champion to have won a game on the road en route to a title was Richmond, in 2008. That’s right — North Dakota State has not had to play a road game during its entire five-year championship run.

At least the Bulldogs are almost certain to get a seed. Avoiding a first-round game and getting to host a second-round game are both important keys to advancing in the tournament.

That is particularly true because the assignment of first-round host sites is a process driven by money. Some would argue that in a few cases, team selection is monetarily driven:

It’s down to the Brawl of the Wild Game, beat Montana State and with the Griz’ history of big crowds, [Montana will] make the playoffs.

The writer of that blurb isn’t wrong. Montana is a decent bet to make the field if it wins in part because the program is a money-maker. If you are a fan of the team that gets paired with the Griz for a first-round game, you might as well resign yourself to a road game, even if your team has a better résumé.

More than a few people wondered last year if the deciding factor in picking one particular at-large squad was because the school was within 400 miles of a potential opponent. Thus, it could be bused to the game, saving the NCAA the cost of an extra team flight.

The CFP setup is positively pristine when compared to the selection and seeding for the FCS playoffs.

North Carolina is 7-3 overall, 5-2 in the ACC.

After opening the season with a loss to Georgia in Atlanta, the Tar Heels won four straight games. UNC averaged over 44 points per game in those victories, which included a last-second defeat of Florida State in Tallahassee, a comeback victory over Pittsburgh, and easy wins against Illinois and FCS power James Madison.

However, North Carolina’s surge was ended rather emphatically by a combination of Virginia Tech and Hurricane Matthew. The final score was 34-3; it could be argued that the Hokies were stylistically more suited to play a game in poor weather conditions, though perhaps not so much as to win by 31 points.

UNC recovered from that debacle to win three more games, beating Miami and Virginia on the road before returning home and thumping Georgia Tech, 48-20.

Then came last Thursday night, when the Tar Heels blew an early 14-0 lead and lost to a 3-6 Duke team, 28-27. It was the most disappointing result of the season for UNC.

Statistics of note for North Carolina:

UNC Opp
Points/game 33.5 26.4
Rushing yardage 1482 2223
Yards/rush 4.8 4.5
Rush TDs 20 24
Passing yardage 3058 1936
Comp-Att-Int 255-360-4 157-278-0
Average/pass att 8.5 7.0
Passing TDs 22 9
Total offense 4540 4159
Total Plays 672 769
Yards/play 6.8 5.4
Fumbles/lost 11/8 23-9
Penalties-pen yds 79-636 73-624
Pen yards/game 63.6 62.4
Net punt average 40.9 37.3
Time of poss/game 24:42 35:18
3rd-down conv 63/130 68/161
3rd-down conv % 48.5% 42.2%
Sacks by-yards 20-122 16-94
Red Zone TD% (30-45) 66.7% (28-44) 63.6%
  • No, that’s not a typo — the Tar Heels have yet to intercept a pass this season, which is really amazing
  • On the other hand, UNC quarterbacks have only thrown 4 picks, which is tied for 4th-fewest in FBS
  • North Carolina is ranked 16th in FBS in offensive third down conversion rate (second in the ACC, to Clemson)
  • One way to consistently convert on third downs is to complete passes, and UNC’s 70.8% completion rate is third-best nationally
  • Conversely, the Tar Heels are 93rd in the country in defensive third down conversion rate
  • UNC is 17th in FBS in net punting, and has only allowed a net of one (1) punt return yard all season
  • The lack of interceptions by the defense is a major reason why the Tar Heels are 93rd in turnover margin
  • North Carolina is among the most-penalized teams in the nation
  • UNC has the third-lowest time of possession in all of FBS; only Missouri and Iowa (!) have possessed the football for less time this season

North Carolina’s ranking in rush defense is 106th nationally, a statistic that has been bandied about in a few places this week. However, in terms of yards per rush, the Tar Heels don’t look quite as bad, ranking 79th in that category.

Stats of consequence for The Citadel:

The Citadel Opp
Points/game 30.7 18.8
Rushing yardage 3599 1211
Yards/rush 5.5 3.8
Rush TDs 31 13
Passing yardage 673 1808
Comp-Att-Int 39-96-2 155-267-8
Average/pass att 7.0 6.8
Passing TDs 5 10
Total offense 4272 3019
Total Plays 745 583
Yards/play 5.7 5.2
Fumbles/lost 16-7 13-8
Penalties-pen yds 51-538 42-400
Pen yards/game 53.8 40.0
Net punt average 36.8 36.8
Time of poss/game 33:56 26:03
3rd-down conv 80/162 39/123
3rd-down conv % 49.3% 31.7%
Sacks by-yards 28-185 1-6
Red Zone TD% (25-44) 56.8% (13-21) 61.9%
  • The Citadel leads FCS in rushing yards per game (359.9); the Bulldogs’s average per rush attempt of 5.5 is 7th-best nationally
  • The Bulldogs are 7th in offensive third down conversion rate
  • The Citadel is 13th in FCS in defensive third down conversion rate
  • The Bulldogs are 4th nationally in time of possession
  • The Citadel’s offense suffered its first sack of the season last week against VMI
  • Despite being tied for 18th in fewest penalties per game, the Bulldogs have committed more penalties than their opponents
  • The Citadel is 20th in turnover margin
  • The Bulldogs are 11th in FCS in scoring defense, 22nd in rushing defense, and 21st in pass defense

North Carolina has had its fair share of great players over the years, from Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice to Lawrence Taylor.

However, the most successful NFL quarterback to have been a UNC alum is T.J. Yates, who started against The Citadel when these two schools last met. Yates has thrown six career TD passes in the NFL, just five more than Stump Mitchell.

A lot of people think UNC may finally have produced a future pro all-star QB, though, in current signal-caller Mitch Trubisky (6’3″, 220 lbs.), a junior from Metter, Ohio. Trubisky is in his first year as a full-time starter, and he has excelled for the Tar Heels.

For the season, Trubisky is completing 70.6% of his passes, averaging 8.6 yards per attempt, with 22 touchdown tosses against only four interceptions. Trubisky had a streak of 243 consecutive passes without an interception end versus Virginia Tech.

Elijah Hood (6’0″, 200 lbs.) is a junior running back from Charlotte who rushed for 1,463 yards last season, averaging 6.7 yards per carry, with 17 touchdowns.

I have friends who are UNC fans. The common refrain from them last season was that Hood should have been featured even more than he was (particularly in the Tar Heels’ borderline ridiculous loss to South Carolina).

This year, Hood has had some injury issues that have limited his productivity, but he has still rushed for 719 yards and 8 touchdowns, averaging 5.9 yards per rush.

Hood’s occasional absences from the lineup have been somewhat mitigated by the fine play of another running back, T.J. Logan (5’10”, 190 lbs.), a senior who has stepped up for the Tar Heels. Logan is also averaging 5.9 yards per carry, with a total of 533 yards rushing and 7 TDs.

North Carolina has several outstanding receivers.

Ryan Switzer (5’10”, 185 lbs.) leads the team in receptions, with 75. Switzer is also a great — not good, great — punt returner, probably the outstanding return man of this era. The senior from the other Charleston (in West Virginia) has been compared more than once to Wes Welker.

Bug Howard (6’5″, 210 lbs.) is averaging 15.8 yards per reception. The senior leads the team in touchdown catches, with six.

Austin Proehl (5’10”, 175 lbs.) is a junior who has 34 catches and three touchdowns. His father Ricky played in the NFL for several decades.

UNC sustained a tough loss last month in its receiving corps when Mack Hollins suffered a broken collarbone. The senior wideout was leading the team in yards per reception.

North Carolina’s starters on the offensive line average 6’5″, 300 lbs.

The o-line has been somewhat depleted by injuries, but still features several experienced performers. Center Lucas Crowley (6’3″, 290 lbs.) and right tackle Jon Heck (6’6″, 310 lbs.) have combined to make 84 career starts.

Middle linebacker Andre Smith (6’0″, 240 lbs.) and strong safety Donny Miles (5’11”, 205 lbs.) are tied for UNC’s team lead in tackles, with 89. Both will have important roles for the Tar Heels on Saturday, particularly Smith, a sophomore from Jacksonville who drew praise from Brent Thompson during the coach’s radio show.

Smith is a player with excellent lateral movement, according to Thompson. One of the keys to the game for the Bulldogs’ offense is to keep him from making plays (“limit him” in Thompson’s parlance). Against Georgia Tech, Smith had 12 tackles.

Miles made 11 tackles in UNC’s victory over Florida State. The junior from Miami had nine tackles and recovered a fumble in the Tar Heels’ win over Pittsburgh.

Thompson described North Carolina’s defense as “big up front, long up front. They can lock you out a bit if you don’t watch out.”

Defensive tackle Nazair Jones (6’5″, 310 lbs.) certainly qualifies as “big” and “long”. The junior leads UNC in tackles for loss, with 7 1/2. Jones had eight stops against Georgia Tech.

Mikey Bart (6’3″, 270 lbs.) leads the Tar Heels in sacks, with four. Bart has made 25 career starts during his time in Chapel Hill.

Cole Holcomb (6’1″, 220 lbs.) is a former walk-on who ranks third on the team in tackles, with 87. The junior had eleven stops against Duke.

Nick Weiler (6’0″, 190 lbs.) starred in one of the more memorable moments of the college football season. The senior placekicker booted a game-winning 54-yard field goal versus Florida State, and then proceeded to do the “Tomahawk Chop” for the benefit of the Tallahassee crowd.

Up to that point, Weiler had never made a kick of 50 yards or longer, but he has added two more such kicks to his total since then. For the season, he is 12 for 16 on field goal attempts.

Weiler is also a prohibitive favorite to be first-team All-Hair.

Tom Sheldon (6’3″, 200 lbs.) is an Australian who handles the punting duties for the Tar Heels. Although just a freshman, the left-footed Sheldon is 28 years old.

As noted above, UNC’s net punting has been very good this year, with only one net yard allowed all season in returns.

Sheldon had never been to the United States before he arrived at UNC on a recruiting visit. His previous team had been an Australian Rules Football outfit called the Kyabram Bombers, which has its own theme song:

We’re the bombers
we’re the greatest team alive
We’ll wear the red and black,
Pride and courage never lack,
All for one and one for all.

Wearing light blue and white may have been an even bigger culture shock for Sheldon than Lexington-style barbecue…

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, per the National Weather Service: mostly sunny, with a high of 70 degrees. There is a 20% chance of rain after 2 pm. The low on Saturday night is projected to be 34 degrees.

Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is an 21.5-point underdog against North Carolina, with an over/under of 58.5. As a comparison, the Bulldogs were 20-point underdogs at South Carolina last season.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Chattanooga is a 49.5-point underdog at Alabama; Western Carolina is a 30.5-point underdog at South Carolina; Wofford is a 22.5-point favorite versus VMI; Samford is a 29.5-point favorite at East Tennessee State; and Furman is a 2.5-point favorite at Mercer (that last one surprised me).

Gardner-Webb (4-6) finishes its season by hosting Monmouth. The Runnin’ Bulldogs are a 11.5-point favorite.

North Greenville (7-4) received a bid to the NCAA Division II playoffs and will play at Florida Tech on Saturday. The Crusaders are 14.5-point underdogs.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 4th in FCS (unchanged from last week). North Carolina is ranked 25th in FBS.

Massey projects The Citadel to have a 5% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of North Carolina 37, The Citadel 14.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Samford (11th), Wofford (12th, a jump of seven spots), Chattanooga (14th, a drop of six positions), Furman (43rd), Mercer (46th), Gardner-Webb (48th), Western Carolina (69th), VMI (72nd), East Tennessee State (87th).

The top ten in Massey’s rankings, in order: North Dakota State, Eastern Washington, Jacksonville State, The Citadel, Central Arkansas, South Dakota State, Youngstown State, Sam Houston State, James Madison, and Northern Iowa.

– UNC’s game notes roster includes 51 natives of North Carolina. Other states represented on the squad: Georgia (12), Florida (12), Virginia (8), New Jersey (5), Alabama (3), California (3), Maryland (3), Texas (2), Tennessee (2), South Carolina (2), Ohio (2), and one each from Missouri, Illinois, Louisiana, and West Virginia.

As mentioned above, punter Tom Sheldon is from Australia — specifically, Echuca, Victoria.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47 players), Georgia (23), Florida (9), North Carolina (7), Alabama (4), Pennsylvania (4), Texas (4), and one each from Louisiana, Maryland, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nevada, and West Virginia.

– North Carolina concludes its regular season on the Friday after Thanksgiving, hosting North Carolina State. UNC could still potentially play a game the following week for the ACC championship; for that to happen, the Tar Heels need a victory over the Wolfpack combined with a loss by Virginia Tech to Virginia.

– Non-conference opponents for UNC in future seasons include Western Carolina (in both 2017 and 2018), California, UNCC, Old Dominion, East Carolina, UCF, Notre Dame (in 2017 and 2022), Georgia State, and South Carolina (in 2019 and 2023, with both games played in Charlotte).

– Brent Thompson is the seventh coach that North Carolina will face this season in his first year as the head coach at his current school. The others: Mike Houston (James Madison), Mark Richt (Miami), Kirby Smart (Georgia), Lovie Smith (Illinois), Justin Fuente (Virginia Tech), and Bronco Mendenhall (Virginia). UNC is 4-2 against that group.

– Saturday’s game is the last of three contests that The Citadel will play in the state of North Carolina this season, against opponents that compete in 3 different leagues — the Big South (Gardner-Webb), the SoCon (Western Carolina), and the ACC (UNC).

– There are no changes to The Citadel’s two-deep this week.

– Game notes factoid of the week: Brent Thompson’s eight SoCon victories are tied for the most by a first-year head coach in Southern Conference history. Thompson shares the record with Bob Pruett, who won eight league contests in his first year as Marshall’s head coach in 1996. That season was Marshall’s last as a I-AA program; the Thundering Herd went 15-0 and won the national title.

This could be a strange game for The Citadel in the sense that, for the first time all season, expectations are limited. There is no real pressure.

The Bulldogs have done everything that could possibly be asked of them this year. Eight conference games, eight victories. Two non-conference road games in which The Citadel was favored, two more wins.

After this matchup, the Bulldogs will begin what amounts to a second season.

That said, this game is not a throwaway for The Citadel by any means. It is another chance to make a positive impression.

The win last year over South Carolina provided the program (and its fan base) with a huge jolt of energy. A victory over UNC on Saturday would be an even bigger statement.

I’m looking forward to this game. That anticipation is not strictly based on a hope for victory, though I do harbor such thoughts. I don’t think it is unrealistic to think the Bulldogs can win, either.

After all, no one should doubt this team.

College Football TV Listings 2016, Week 12

This is a list of every game played during week 12 of the 2016 college football season involving at least one FBS or FCS school. All games are listed, televised or not. For the televised games (only live broadcasts are listed), I include the announcers and sideline reporters (where applicable). I put all of it on a Google Documents spreadsheet that can be accessed at the following link:

College Football TV Listings 2016, Week 12

Additional notes:

– I include games streamed by ESPN3.com and Fox Sports Go; they are denoted as “ESPN3″ and “FS-Go”, respectively.

– I also list digital network feeds provided by various conferences, but only when they are free of charge. For some of these feeds, the audio will be a simulcast of the home team’s radio broadcast. Other online platforms have their own announcers.

For now, the digital networks I am including in the listings are those for the ACCBig Sky, Big SouthCAAMountain WestNEC, OVCPatriot League, and SoCon.

Occasionally individual schools (almost always at the FCS level) provide video feeds free of charge. When that is the case, I list those as well.

– I also do not include PPV telecasts, regardless of whether or not the matchup in question features FBS or FCS schools.

– The local affiliates for the ACC Network “national” games of the week can be found on a link in the document, and here: Miami (FL)-North Carolina State, Virginia-Georgia Tech

– The regional sports networks carrying the ACC Network “regional” game of the week can be found on a link in the document, and here: Duke-Pittsburgh

– Local affiliates for American Sports Network games are linked in the document, and here: Southeastern Louisiana-Nicholls (Thursday night), Richmond-William & Mary, Fordham-Bucknell, Temple-Tulane, Marshall-FIU

– ABC/ESPN2 coverage maps for the noon ET games: Texas-Kansas, Florida State-Syracuse

– ESPN3/ACC Digital Network/College Extra blackout maps: Duke-Pittsburgh, Furman-Mercer

– BTN “gamefinder”:  Link

– SEC Network “gamefinder”: Link

– AP Poll (FBS):  Link

– FCS Coaches’ Poll:  Link

A lot of the information I used in putting this together came courtesy of Matt Sarzyniak’s incredibly comprehensive and truly indispensable site College Sports on TV, a must-bookmark for any fan of college sports.

Also to be credited, as always, are the indefatigable information collectors (and in some cases sports-TV savants) at the506.com. I am also assisted on occasion by helpful athletic media relations officials at various schools and conferences.

Game Review, 2016: VMI

The Citadel 30, VMI 20.

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

Video from WCIV-TV, including (via Twitter) “raw” interview with Brent Thompson

Video from WCSC-TV

– School release from The Citadel

– School release from VMI

– Game story, The Roanoke Times

Box score

The Citadel’s post-game notes

– Brent Thompson’s post-game speech (via Twitter)

– More video via Twitter involving the SoCon trophy and (of course) Brent Thompson crowdsurfing

On-field end-game video via the Facebook page for The Citadel Sports, including the last two minutes and the Silver Shako presentation

Also via the Facebook page for The Citadel Sports, sideline game video with roughly 12 minutes remaining in the 4th quarter until the 3:20 mark

Mike Legg and Lee Glaze call Jonathan King’s strip sack/TD (audio)

Mike Legg and Lee Glaze call Jonathan Dorogy’s fourth-quarter TD (audio)

I wasn’t able to attend the contest on Saturday, but I decided to post a short game review anyway. After all, we’re still undefeated!

Trying to follow the game from afar was a bit of an adventure, especially after ESPN3 had a system-wide failure at halftime. I listened to the radio call, which I tend to do anyway when I watch The Citadel play on ESPN3 (in part because the audio is often 30 to 45 seconds ahead of ESPN’s stream, and I like to know what is happening in the game as soon as possible).

Eventually, The Citadel put up a live video feed on its Facebook page. I’ve linked that above (they are in two segments); most of the fourth quarter was made available. It wasn’t ideal, but it was certainly better than nothing, and was greatly appreciated.

While reviewing the video feed after the game,  it was clear that many people from all over the nation followed the action on Facebook — and that was on short notice, too. I saw posts from viewers in South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Texas, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Utah, Idaho, and California, and I’m sure I missed several states (and perhaps a few countries).

The folks in the department of athletics who pulled that off deserve plenty of kudos.

It also reminded me of one of my pie-in-the-sky ideas, so bear with me for a few paragraphs…

During Homecoming, there was a live video feed on Facebook of the parade. That was a great idea. However, I wonder if it is feasible to go one step further.

Every year, the Army-Navy game is televised by CBS. You knew that already. What you may not have known is that the pregame march-on by the U.S.M.A.’s corps of cadets and the U.S.N.A.’s brigade of midshipmen is also televised — by the CBS Sports Network, the cable sports affiliate of CBS.

I watched part of that show two years ago. Besides the march-on, a couple of on-field hosts/reporters interviewed cadets and officials from each academy. In a way, it came across as a more focused version of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, and was essentially a ninety-minute infomercial for the two institutions.

Given that The Citadel’s home games are now streamed by ESPN3, I’m wondering if the pregame march to the stadium by The Citadel’s corps of cadets could also be a part of a longer broadcast. For all I know, that may not be practical, but it might be worthwhile.

The game itself was a tough one for The Citadel, to the surprise of nobody. VMI was well-prepared, and took the “nothing to lose” concept to new heights with a wide variety of trick plays and gambits.

The Keydets tried an onside kick, successfully executed a wide receiver pass to the quarterback for a touchdown, added a flea flicker that set up another TD, ran multiple “wildcat” plays, attempted a fake punt (that worked due to a penalty on the Bulldogs), and generally zigged whenever zagging was expected.

The Citadel played without several of its regulars on offense (including Cam Jackson, Reggie Williams, and Jorian Jordan). That may have affected the timing of a few plays that didn’t work, though VMI’s defense also deserves credit on that front.

Inside linebacker Allan Cratsenberg was a particular standout for the Keydets. He finished with 20 tackles, the most by a VMI player in a game this century.

For only the third time all season, the Bulldogs did not have an edge in time of possession. Having said that, when The Citadel needed a put-away drive in the fourth quarter, Dominique Allen and company responded with a 16-play possession that took six minutes and forty seconds off the clock.

The Bulldogs also had a few much-needed big plays in the game that offset some of the offensive struggles. Allen’s 70-yard pass to Rudder Brown set up a touchdown, and so did Jonathan Dorogy’s 34-yard fourth-quarter run (with Dorogy finishing that drive himself by taking Allen’s pitch on 4th-and-3 for a 17-yard score).

Of course, the play that will make all the highlight reels was Jonathan King’s 54-yard mad dash to the end zone, after he ripped the ball out of the hands of VMI quarterback Austin Coulling. Someone at The Citadel might want to send the video of that TD to SB Nation for Piesman Trophy consideration.

The freshmen who made the trip to Virginia certainly made their presence felt. On the Facebook video clips, you can clearly hear the yelling and chanting from that side of the stadium, including the “I Believe That We Will Win” rallying cry and (amusingly) a few shouts of “Charleston Crab House!” whenever the Bulldogs made a first down.

As the clock wound down, another chant broke out, one that was unprecedented for cadets at The Citadel:

10 and 0! 10 and 0! 10 and 0! 10 and 0!

Ah yes, 10-0.

Parts of that 10-0 worth noting:

  • The victory at VMI was The Citadel’s sixth road win of the season, the most in school history
  • With the nine wins from last year, this is the most successful two-year stretch for the Bulldogs in program annals
  • The Citadel finished undefeated in Southern Conference play for the first time ever (the school joined the league in 1936)

It has been quite a year.

Unfortunately, there was a somber aspect to the long weekend. On Friday, assistant athletic director for facilities Mike Groshon died of complications from leukemia. He was 63 years old.

Groshon was best known in recent years as the “keeper of the dogs”, namely General and Boo. He grudgingly accepted that role about a dozen years ago, but came to enjoy it.

The 1976 graduate of The Citadel actually accepted a variety of roles in 35 years at his alma mater, including several years as the school’s tennis coach. He finished his tenure in that position with a winning record, then and now not an easy feat at The Citadel.

His main vocation was supervising maintenance and upkeep on the athletic facilities, and he was good at it.

In 2002, a high school band exhibition damaged the field at Johnson Hagood Stadium just one week prior to a home game. Groshon and his crew did such an outstanding job getting the field ready for play, then-coach Ellis Johnson said that Groshon “deserves a pay raise, a week’s vacation, a gold medal. That field was in pitiful condition, and he did a great job of getting it ready.”

His death sparked a large outpouring on social media of praise and sad reflection from people with whom he interacted over the years.

In the 1988 football media guide, Mike Groshon was described as a “vital cog in the operation of Bulldog athletics”. That was true then, and it was true for the next three decades as well.

Condolences to his family and friends.

Next up for The Citadel is another team that wears light blue and white: North Carolina. I’ll post a game preview for that contest later in the week.

It may not be one of my “standard” previews, to be honest. I’ll probably write about the upcoming playoffs as much as the Tar Heels.

In the meantime, I will conclude this post with a terrible photoshop effort, my take on the picks the CFP selection committee will be making on Tuesday…

cfp-2

2016 Football, Game 10: The Citadel vs. VMI

The Citadel vs. VMI, to be played on Alumni Memorial Field at Foster Stadium in Lexington, Virginia, with kickoff at 1:30 pm ET on Saturday, November 12. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Wade Branner providing play-by-play and Dave Harding supplying the analysis.

The game can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station. 

Mike Legg (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze.

It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

– Game notes for The Citadel and VMI

SoCon weekly release

Brent Thompson’s 11/8 press conference, including comments from Cody Clark and Tyler Renew (video)

Brent Thompson’s 11/9 radio show (video)

– FCS Coaches’ Poll

– STATS FCS Poll

– NCAA FCS selection committee rankings for November 10

– Sure, we can relive that Cam Jackson run again

– VMI’s new starting quarterback tries to lead Keydets to an upset of the Bulldogs

– Highlights of VMI’s game against Bucknell (video)

– Get well, Mike Groshon

The second week of preliminary rankings by the FCS selection committee resulted in a few changes, but by and large those adjustments did not really affect The Citadel.

Week 2  Rank School Previous (Week 1)
1 Jacksonville State 1
2 Eastern Washington 3
3 North Dakota State 4
4 James Madison 5
5 Sam Houston State 2
6 The Citadel 6
7 Chattanooga 8
8 Richmond 7
9 Central Arkansas 10
10 North Dakota NR

The biggest news was Sam Houston State dropping from #2 to #5. The Bearkats are one of two undefeated FCS teams, with The Citadel being the other. However, SHSU’s strength of schedule is weak when compared to all but one of the other top eight teams (we’ll get to the exception in a moment).

Last week, North Dakota State fans (and media members) complained vociferously after Sam Houston State was ranked ahead of the Bison. They had a point.

It is impossible to know whether or not certain members of the selection committee were influenced by the noise emanating from Fargo. I could make a good guess, though.

Of course, NDSU didn’t get everything it wanted. North Dakota State is still ranked behind Eastern Washington and Jacksonville State. The latter school’s #1 ranking continues to be a bit puzzling.

Schedule strength of the top 10 teams through last week’s games (incidentally, Samford is 2nd overall in this category):

  • Jacksonville State (schedule strength of 101st out of 124 FCS teams)
  • Eastern Washington (tied for 12th)
  • North Dakota State (3rd)
  • James Madison (35th)
  • Sam Houston State (89th)
  • The Citadel (tied for 12th)
  • Chattanooga (34th)
  • Richmond (37th)
  • Central Arkansas (82nd)
  • North Dakota (38th)

Jacksonville State is 8-1. The one defeat came at LSU, so nobody is saying that JSU should be penalized severely for its loss. However, the Gamecocks don’t play in a very strong league, and don’t have the non-conference schedule heft to match that of Eastern Washington and North Dakota State — and both of those schools also play in tougher conferences while maintaining identical 8-1 records.

Of course, some observers would note that one difference between the three schools is that Jacksonville State’s director of athletics is on the selection committee.

The Citadel is undefeated, has a significantly better strength of schedule, and also has a win over another team in the top 10 of the rankings. However, not only are the Bulldogs behind Jacksonville State, they are ranked below Sam Houston State as well. There is no legitimate reason for that to be the case.

In my opinion, The Citadel should currently be ranked in the top 4. Eastern Washington and North Dakota State should be 1-2 in some order, followed by James Madison and The Citadel in the 3-4 spots. However, unless JSU and SHSU lose, the Bulldogs are not likely to pass either one of them (particularly Jacksonville State).

This effectively means The Citadel’s seeding “ceiling” is probably #5. The difference between being seeded #5 instead of #4 could be the difference between playing at home or on the road in a potential quarterfinal game.

That would be unfortunate for The Citadel.

Earlier this week, SB Nation’s “Football Study Hall” site posted a report on tempo at the FBS level. It’s a very interesting and well-considered piece.

After I read it, I decided to take a look at pace of play in FCS. Basically, I took stats from 122 teams (for practical reasons, I didn’t include “transitional” schools Abilene Christian and Incarnate Word), and determined how quickly FCS teams have run offensive plays so far in 2016. Here are the top 20 squads:

Team (Conference) Time between plays (seconds)
Stephen F. Austin (Southland) 19.49872
Eastern Kentucky (OVC) 19.68576
Samford (Southern) 20.29769
South Dakota (MVFC) 20.86083
Sam Houston State (Southland) 21.5656
Murray State (OVC) 21.80123
Eastern Washington (Big Sky) 22.09565
Southern Utah (Big Sky) 22.11938
Southern Illinois (MVFC) 22.12278
Indiana State (MVFC) 22.34259
Dartmouth (Ivy League) 22.52891
Western Carolina (Southern) 22.53821
Eastern Illinois (OVC) 22.7168
Sacramento State (Big Sky) 22.78134
Morehead State (Pioneer) 23.02286
Montana (Big Sky) 23.18182
Marist (Pioneer) 23.25649
Princeton (Ivy League) 23.31231
Columbia (Ivy League) 23.37113
VMI (Southern) 23.48567

Stephen F. Austin’s pace is faster than all but three teams in FBS: Missouri (which is absurdly fast), Baylor, and California.

These are the 20 “slowest” teams, with Wofford taking more time between plays than any other team in FCS (only Stanford and Georgia Tech are slower at the FBS level):

Team (conference) Time between plays (seconds)
Florida A&M (Mid-Eastern) 28.66306
Youngstown State (MVFC) 28.76508
Jacksonville (Pioneer) 28.82095
Mississippi Valley St. (Southwestern) 28.88979
Robert Morris (Northeast) 29.07609
North Dakota (Big Sky) 29.10984
Presbyterian (Big South) 29.31664
San Diego (Pioneer) 29.42857
Albany (NY) (Colonial) 29.43738
Stony Brook (Colonial) 29.46168
Chattanooga (Southern) 29.56397
Tennessee Tech (OVC) 29.77833
Texas Southern (Southwestern) 30.02473
Tennessee State (OVC) 30.05179
Charleston Southern (Big South) 30.076
North Dakota State (MVFC) 30.33216
Saint Francis (PA) (Northeast) 30.35612
Delaware (Colonial) 30.87125
Wofford (Southern) 30.90445

 

In my FCS Playoffs primer, I mentioned this comment from the chairman of the selection committee, Brian Hutchinson, when asked by an interviewer about “Sam Houston State’s value to the committee”:

The value of Sam Houston State is that they are an 8-0 team right now [that] is averaging close to 60 points per game and close to 600 yards of [total] offense. That’s the value that people see.

As I said in that post, I hope no committee members will actually use total offense as a criterion of any real significance. Part of my concern has to do with schedule strength, of course, but style of play is also a factor.

Sam Houston State leads FCS in total offense. As you can see above, SHSU is also the 5th-fastest offense in the division, in terms of pace of play.

I think it would be more than a little ridiculous to use total offense as a marker for comparing the Bearkats to teams like Chattanooga (19th in total offense, but the 9th “slowest” team) or The Citadel (23rd in total offense, and in the bottom third in pace of play, at 27.33 seconds between plays). The latter two teams shouldn’t have their style of play held against them by a committee member who is overly impressed by raw statistics.

While I’ve got this information handy, here are pace of play rankings for the nine SoCon squads, plus a few other teams:

  • Stephen F. Austin (1st out of 122)
  • Samford (3rd)
  • Sam Houston State (5th)
  • Eastern Washington (7th)
  • Western Carolina (12th)
  • VMI (20th)
  • Mercer (27th)
  • James Madison (37th)
  • Lehigh (41st)
  • Harvard (44th)
  • Liberty (47th)
  • Kennesaw State (71st)
  • The Citadel (84th)
  • Gardner-Webb (87th)
  • East Tennessee State (91st)
  • Furman (95th)
  • Presbyterian (110th)
  • Chattanooga (114th)
  • Charleston Southern (118th)
  • North Dakota State (119th)
  • St. Francis [PA] (120th)
  • Delaware (121st)
  • Wofford (122nd)

Friday is Founders Day at VMI:

The VMI Corps of Cadets will commemorate Founders Day this Friday with a parade featuring a 17-gun salute executed by the Cadet Battery to honor VMI’s founders and the nation’s veterans.

The anniversary, which marks 177 years since 23 VMI cadets relieved the state militia and converted the state arsenal into the Institute, will also see the dedication of the recently renovated Cormack and Cocke halls at 10 and 11 a.m., respectively.

There will also be a parade at 10:30 am on Saturday.

If you’re going to the game, be sure you’re up to speed on the parking situation.

Scott Wachenheim is in his second year as VMI’s head coach. His team is 3-6 this season, 1-5 in SoCon play. That qualifies as improvement for the Keydets’ football program, given that VMI had won two games in each of the last five years.

The Keydets opened the 2016 season by dropping a 47-24 decision at Akron. VMI’s defense allowed 576 yards of total offense, but the Keydets stayed in the game, putting together two drives of 90+ yards to pull within two points as the third quarter ended.

Akron scored 21 fourth-quarter points to ice the contest. However, it was a very respectable showing by VMI against an FBS opponent.

VMI’s next game was a 17-13 victory at Morehead State. While the Keydets’ loss to Akron was encouraging, the win over the Eagles (which play football in the non-scholarship Pioneer League) was not. VMI’s offense was sluggish, but the defense kept Morehead State at bay, allowing the fewest points to a Keydets opponent in four seasons.

A third straight road game resulted in a triple overtime victory, 23-17 over Bucknell. The Keydets did not give up any points in the three OT sessions.

It was the first time VMI had won back-to-back games since 2005, and (unbelievably) the first time the program had won consecutive road games since the last game of the 1981 season and the first game of the 1982 campaign.

Back in Lexington, another overtime affair did not go the Keydets’ way. Mercer edged VMI 33-30 in a game reportedly marred by poor SoCon officiating (very surprising, I know). VMI trailed 21-7 at halftime before making a comeback, taking the lead with just 32 seconds remaining in regulation. The Keydets could not hold the lead, and then lost in OT.

VMI rebounded from that setback with a 37-7 home victory over East Tennessee State. Al Cobb threw three TD passes, and the Keydets rushed for 233 yards.

Since that game, VMI has lost four straight contests. The first of those defeats was a 55-21 loss at Samford. SU quarterback Devlin Hodges threw for 435 yards and 5 TDs, and VMI also got victimized by a pick-6.

Chattanooga then beat the Keydets 30-13. UTC rushed for 297 yards despite Derrick Craine missing the game with an injury. One of VMI’s two TDs was a 79-yard bomb from Al Cobb to Javeon Lara.

VMI returned home, but was beaten in Lexington 24-10 by Furman. The loss was a costly one for the Keydets, as Cobb suffered a shoulder injury.

Last week, VMI lost 32-29 at Western Carolina. The Keydets should have won the game, but basically handed the victory to the Catamounts with a series of miscues. Among other things:

  • VMI fumbled the opening kickoff, which was returned by WCU for a touchdown
  • The Keydets had four kicks blocked (two field goal attempts, two PATs)
  • VMI threw three interceptions
  • Western Carolina scored with 54 seconds to play on a 53-yard pass

Statistics of note for VMI:

VMI Opp
Points/game 22.7 28.7
Rushing yardage 1056 1487
Yards/rush 3.2 4.3
Rush TDs 16 10
Passing yardage 2266 2501
Comp-Att-Int 208-330-12 210-334-6
Average/pass att 6.9 7.5
Passing TDs 11 22
Total offense 3322 3988
Total plays 663 682
Yards/play 5.0 5.8
Fumbles/lost 7/3 11/6
Penalties-pen yds 35-318 75-681
Pen yards/game 35.3 75.7
Net punt average 34.6 34.3
Time of poss/game 28:50 31:10
3rd-down conv 47/143 48/138
3rd-down conv % 32.9% 34.8%
Sacks by-yards 13-91 23-122
Red Zone TD% (22-35) 63% (23-36) 64%
  • VMI is 2nd nationally in fewest penalties per game
  • The Keydets are 84th in FCS in scoring defense and 63rd in rushing defense
  • VMI is 29th in defensive third down conversion rate
  • The Keydets are 85th in time of possession
  • VMI is 28th in passing offense

Statistics of consequence for The Citadel:

The Citadel Opp
Points/game 30.8 18.7
Rushing yardage 3366 1129
Yards/rush 5.6 4.1
Rush TDs 29 12
Passing yardage 540 1645
Comp-Att-Int 33-82-2 140-246-8
Average/pass att 6.6 6.7
Passing TDs 4 8
Total offense 3906 2774
Total plays 685 524
Yards/play 5.7 5.3
Fumbles/lost 15/6 12/7
Penalties-pen yds 43-449 38-358
Pen yards/game 49.9 39.8
Net punt average 37.3 36.6
Time of poss/game 34:37:00 25:22:00
3rd-down conv 75/151 35/110
3rd-down conv % 49.7% 31.8%
Sacks by-yards 25-165 0-0
Red Zone TD% (22-39) 56% (12-20) 60%
  • The Citadel leads the nation in rushing offense (374.0 yards/game) and is seventh in average yards/rush
  • The Bulldogs are 9th in offensive third down conversion rate
  • The Citadel is third nationally in time of possession
  • The Bulldogs are 13th in fewest penalties per game
  • The Citadel is 21st in the country in turnover margin
  • The Bulldogs are 15th nationally in defensive third down conversion rate

VMI throws the ball on 49.8% of its offensive plays from scrimmage, with 68.2% of the Keydets’ total yards coming via the air. The Keydets operate out of the spread.

Al Cobb was the preseason choice as the SoCon’s all-conference quarterback. Cobb was injured against Furman and did not play last week versus Western Carolina.

Will he play on Saturday? Cobb is not listed on the two-deep. According to an article in The Roanoke Times, he may be available.

The starter, though, will be redshirt freshman Austin Coulling (6’4″, 200 lbs.). Coulling, a native of Salem, Virginia, has played in five games this season, starting against WCU last Saturday.

For the season, he is completing 56.9% of his passes, averaging 7.5 yards per attempt, with two touchdown passes and six interceptions.

Coulling does not lack for confidence:

After hours of watching video, Coulling said he thinks there are some areas in The Citadel defense that the offense can exploit.

“There are opportunities there for us to take,” Coulling said. “As a team, if we come out with the same energy we came out with last week and execute more efficiently than we did last week and have the same running game as we had last week, I mean, anything can happen. … We can come out on top.”

Daz Palmer (5’10”, 175 lbs.) is a freshman from Norfolk who is leading the Keydets in rushing. He is averaging 4.5 yards per carry, with 3 rushing TDs. Palmer also has 12 receptions this season.

Wide receiver Aaron Sanders (6’2″, 190 lbs.) was a preseason all-league pick. He has 62 receptions so far this year, with two TDs. Sanders had 7 catches last year versus The Citadel; in fact, Sanders has had 7 receptions in each of his last two games against the Bulldogs (including a 165-yard receiving performance in 2014).

Fellow wideout Dane Forlines (5’10”, 190 lbs.) made the all-conference team last year as a return specialist. Forlines is a dangerous punt returner, averaging 12.9 yards last season and 9.3 yards this year in that discipline. He is second on the team in receptions, with 47 catches and one TD.

Starting tight end Ryan Swingle (6’3″, 232 lbs.) has 30 receptions and four touchdown catches this season. The former quarterback is also the holder on placekicks, and VMI is not afraid to take advantage of his versatility. He threw a 50-yard pass on a trick play against Mercer.

VMI’s projected starting offensive line averages 6’3″, 279 lbs. According to the two-deep, the offensive tackles will be flipped for the game against The Citadel.

Fifth-year senior Iyan Roseborough (6’3″, 335 lbs.) has played right tackle this season for the Keydets, but is listed as the left tackle on this week’s depth chart. Roseborough is a native of Jenkinsville, South Carolina, and graduated from Fairfield Central High School.

Redshirt freshman Cole Brummit (6’4″, 250 lbs.) made his first career start against Western Carolina at left tackle. He is listed as the right tackle this week.

VMI’s defense normally lines up in a 3-4. In last season’s contest, the Keydets were generally effective at bottling up The Citadel’s triple option attack. After Cam Jackson broke loose for a 68-yard TD on the Bulldogs’ fourth play from scrimmage, VMI did not allow another offensive TD.

The Keydets’ D is led by two active inside linebackers. Ryan Francis (6’1″, 205 lbs.) is a redshirt junior from Knoxville who had 15 tackles versus The Citadel in last year’s matchup. Allan Cratsenberg (6’3″, 220 lbs.) is a junior from Natrona, Pennsylvania; he had 11 stops against the Bulldogs in last season’s game.

The two are currently tied for the team lead in tackles, with 94 each. They have combined for 21 tackles for loss, including eight sacks.

Francis is the main pass rusher, with six of those sacks; he also has two fumble recoveries. Against Mercer, Francis also threw a pass out of a fake punt formation; it was intercepted.

Another linebacker, Alijah Robinson (6’0″, 205 lbs.) is third on the team in tackes, with 58. Robinson also has two sacks.

Cornerback Riuq Trotman (5’9″ 155 lbs.) is a sophomore from Virginia Beach who leads the Keydets in interceptions, with three.

Dillon Christopher (6’2″, 200 lbs.) is in his fourth year as a placekicker for the Keydets. He has shared kicking duties with freshman Reed King (5’9″, 150 lbs.).

Regardless of the kicker, VMI has had major problems in the kicking game this season, with nine blocked kicks — five field goal attempts, and four PAT tries.

Christopher does have a strong leg, which he employs on kickoffs.

VMI’s punter is redshirt sophomore Bill Hogan (6’1″, 225 lbs.), who can also play linebacker. He has had one punt blocked this season. Hogan was the punter for VMI when the Keydets played The Citadel last season, and did a solid job.

Jake Keith (5’10”, 190 lbs.), a freshman from Blacksburg, is the long snapper.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Lexington, Virginia, per the National Weather Service: sunny, with a high of 52 degrees. The projected low on Saturday night is 27 degrees.

Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is an 18-point favorite over VMI, with an over/under of 47.5.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Chattanooga is a 7.5-point favorite over Wofford; Samford is a 15.5-point favorite against Mercer; Furman is a 6.5-point favorite over Western Carolina; and East Tennessee State is a 24-point favorite against Cumberland.

Gardner-Webb (now 4-6) is off this week, presumably celebrating its stunning victory at Charleston Southern last Saturday. North Carolina (7-3) was upset by Duke 28-27 on Thursday night.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 4th in FCS (moving up one spot from last week, the second consecutive week the Bulldogs have crept up one position). VMI is ranked 69th.

Massey projects The Citadel to have a 93% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of The Citadel 34, VMI 13.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Chattanooga (8th), Samford (12th), Wofford (19th), Mercer (41st), Gardner-Webb (46th), Furman (47th), Western Carolina (64th), East Tennessee State (82nd).

The top ten in Massey’s rankings, in order: North Dakota State, Eastern Washington, Jacksonville State, The Citadel, Central Arkansas, South Dakota State, Youngstown State, Chattanooga, Sam Houston State, and Northern Iowa.

– VMI’s game notes roster includes 69 natives of Virginia. Other states represented on the squad: Tennessee (9), North Carolina (4), Pennsylvania (4), Georgia (3), Alabama (2), and one each from West Virginia, Louisiana, New York, Michigan, Texas, Maryland, and South Carolina.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47 players), Georgia (23), Florida (9), North Carolina (7), Alabama (4), Pennsylvania (4), Texas (4), and one each from Louisiana, Maryland, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nevada, and West Virginia.

– VMI concludes its season next week at Wofford.

– FBS opponents for VMI in future seasons include Toledo and Old Dominion in 2018; Army in 2019; and North Carolina State in 2023.

– On The Citadel’s two-deep this week, Evan McField is listed as the #2 B-back, with Isiaha Smith not listed on the depth chart. That is the only change from last week’s two-deep.

– Game notes factoid of the week: The Citadel has rushed for at least 400 yards in five games this season, tying the school’s single-season record. Those five games: North Greenville (559 yards, the most by an FCS school in a game so far in 2016), Western Carolina (513), Samford (463), East Tennessee State (427), and Gardner-Webb (419).

– With its victory over Samford on Saturday, The Citadel won its fifth consecutive Homecoming game. The Bulldogs won their fifth straight Parents’ Day game earlier in the season when they defeated Chattanooga.

The ten consecutive “celebration” victories are a modern-day school record. The Citadel had never won eight straight such games prior to the current run.

– The original cost of the Silver Shako (which was created in 1976) was $532.72.

– More than 40 players (and a few coaches) from VMI’s 1981 team will be honored at halftime of Saturday’s game. That Keydets squad beat Army and Virginia Tech, finishing with a 6-3-1 record. VMI has not had a winning season since that year.

On his radio show, Brent Thompson was asked about resting starters, trying to avoid injuries, etc., given that The Citadel has clinched a playoff spot. Thompson’s response:

It’s a loser’s mentality, there’s no doubt about that. You don’t go out there worrying about which guys are going to get hurt and who’s going to do this, and who’s going to do that. We’re going to go out there and play the game, and play the game to win. There’s a game on our schedule, it’s assigned to us, and we’re going to…go out there and give it our best. It doesn’t really matter who it is, whether it’s this week or next week…we’re going to try to play it, and try to play it to win it. If there are injuries…that’s part of the game and we can’t concern ourselves with that.

Thompson also noted that the offense did not play well against VMI last season, and wants to see improvement this year.

The coach also mentioned the importance of getting a bye for the FCS playoffs. If the Bulldogs want to seriously contend for the national title, they almost certainly need to be a seeded team, and receive the bye that goes with that designation.

A loss to VMI would almost certainly end The Citadel’s chance at a bye. Conversely, the game against North Carolina in two weeks will probably not be a factor in The Citadel’s postseason placement, unless the Bulldogs perform well in that contest.

The Citadel has been a member of the Southern Conference since 1936. In all that time, the football team has never finished undefeated in league play.

Along with the outright SoCon title, and a tenth straight victory, the opportunity to finish undefeated in the conference would be reason enough for the Bulldogs to want this game very badly. They don’t really need another reason, however.

This is the Military Classic of the South.

It will be a fierce contest. VMI will come ready to play on Saturday. The Citadel must respond in kind, and with even greater ferocity.

The coveted Silver Shako is at stake, the greatest trophy in all of sports.

The Bulldogs have to do whatever it takes to keep it, and bring it back to Charleston, where it belongs.