College Football 2017, Week #7: the top 15 matchups

The weekly explanation of this post:

On his college hoops ratings website, Ken Pomeroy has an algorithm called ‘FanMatch’, in which “games are rated for competitiveness and level of play with a lean towards higher-scoring games”. It is a way to rate the potential watchability of various basketball contests. There is just a touch of whimsy involved, which makes it even better…

Mimicking this idea, I’ve created a remarkably convoluted and studiously hazy formula to produce game ratings; it is called “Tingle Factor”, or TF. The higher the TF, the better.

To access a Google Document that has a complete schedule of televised/streamed D-1 college football games (including all the announcing teams), see this post: Link

I am excluding the game between The Citadel and Wofford this week, because that matchup dominates the rest of the slate to such an extent that it is unfair to compare it to other contests.

Outside of that matchup, here are the top 15 games for Week 7. All fifteen games will take place on Saturday.

Road Team Home Team Gametime (ET) TV/Streaming TF
Navy Memphis 10/14, 3:45 pm ESPNU 78.2
UCLA Arizona 10/14, 9:00 pm Pac-12 Network 77.1
Texas Tech West Virginia 10/14, 12:00 pm ESPNU 76.9
Oklahoma Texas 10/14, 3:30 pm ESPN 76.7
South Carolina Tennessee 10/14, 12:00 pm ESPN 76.1
TCU Kansas State 10/14, 12:00 pm FS1/FS-Go 75.9
Georgia Tech Miami (FL) 10/14, 3:30 pm ABC/ESPN3 75.2
UTSA North Texas 10/14, 7:00 pm ESPN3 73.8
Auburn LSU 10/14, 3:30 pm CBS 72.4
Texas A&M Florida 10/14, 7:00 pm ESPN2 72.1
Utah Southern California 10/14, 8:00 pm ABC/ESPN3 70.7
Toledo Central Michigan 10/14, 3:30 pm ESPN3 68.6
Boise State San Diego State 10/14, 10:30 pm CBS Sports Network 66.9
Villanova James Madison 10/14, 3:30 pm MASN2 65.5
Wyoming Utah State 10/14, 4:30 pm Facebook 65.1

 

Additional notes and observations:

– The Oklahoma-Texas game will be played in Dallas, at the Texas State Fair, where fans have the opportunity to gorge themselves on such food items as tamale donuts and funnel cake queso bacon burgers.

– CBS/CBS Sports Network games will also be streamed on CBS Sports Digital, as will the Villanova-James Madison game on MASN2.

– The games on the ESPN “Family of Networks” will also be streamed via WatchESPN.

– The UCLA-Arizona game will be streamed on the Pac-12 Digital network.

– The three highest-rated “TF” games on the board this week are also projected by sources to be the highest-scoring games among the top 15. Navy-Memphis has an over/under of 70.5, slightly lower than UCLA-Arizona (over/under of 74.5) and Texas Tech-West Virginia (72.5).

– San Diego State had the largest advantage in field position in any matchup played last week (+18.8, in its game versus UNLV).

– ESPN’s College GameDay is in Harrisonburg, Virginia this week for the Villanova-James Madison game, a matchup which also landed in the TF top 15 (the only FCS game to do so). It is the second time JMU has hosted the show; Lee Corso and company were last in town in 2015. The Dukes hope to avoid what happened on the field that afternoon, when Richmond spoiled the party with a 59-49 victory.

– Bridger’s Battle, a/k/a the Wyoming-Utah State game, is the first TF top 15 matchup to be exclusively streamed on Facebook. The rivalry trophy is a .50 caliber Rocky Mountain Hawken rifle.

– Streaky: Central Michigan has lost seven straight games to Toledo, a streak dating back to 2010. The Chippewas had won the five games between the two teams prior to that run; however, the Rockets had won 10 straight in the series before that stretch.

– The last time TCU played Kansas State in Manhattan (2015), the Horned Frogs (ranked #2 at the time) escaped with a 52-45 victory after trailing 35-17 at halftime.

– Miami has never lost to Georgia Tech in the facility known as Hard Rock Stadium (which was previously Joe Robbie Stadium, Pro Player Park, Pro Player Stadium, Dolphins Stadium, Dolphin Stadium, Land Shark Stadium, and Sun Life Stadium). The Hurricanes are 4-0 against the Yellow Jackets there, regardless of the name.

– In the last five seasons, the Texas Tech-West Virginia game has averaged a total of 64 points per contest. WVU has won the last three games in the series.

– South Carolina has played five overtime games in its history, going 2-3 in those contests. All three of the losses were to Tennessee (and all by three points).

– The contest between Texas A&M and Florida will be only the fourth meeting in the series, and only the second since 1977. The Gators have won two of the previous three matchups.

– It is a shame the Auburn-LSU game is not being played at night. That probably lessens the chance for a repeat of the 1988 “Earthquake Game“.

It should be a fun afternoon of college football. There aren’t any standout games (at least on paper), but the day does feature a bunch of pigskin battles that have the potential to be very entertaining. Keep that clicker handy…

College Football 2017, Week #5: the top 15 matchups

The weekly explanation of this post:

On his college hoops ratings website, Ken Pomeroy has an algorithm called ‘FanMatch’, in which “games are rated for competitiveness and level of play with a lean towards higher-scoring games”. It is a way to rate the potential watchability of various basketball contests. There is just a touch of whimsy involved, which makes it even better…

Mimicking this idea, I’ve concocted an exceedingly complicated and overly mysterious formula to produce game ratings; it is called “Tingle Factor”, or TF. The higher the TF, the better.

To access a Google Document that has a complete schedule of televised/streamed D-1 college football games (including all the announcing teams), see this post: Link

I am excluding the game between The Citadel and Samford this week, because that matchup is so clearly the biggest game on the board it would be worthless to compare it to the rest of the slate.

Outside of that contest, here are the top 15 games for Week 5. One of them is being played late Friday night, while the other fourteen are on Saturday. Three of them are FCS matchups between ranked teams.

Road Team Home Team Gametime (ET) TV/Streaming TF
Clemson Virginia Tech 9/30, 8:00 pm ABC/ESPN3 77.1
Memphis UCF 9/30, 7:00 pm ESPN2 75.7
Southern California Washington State 9/29, 10:30 pm ESPN 74.3
Oklahoma State Texas Tech 9/30, 8:00 pm FOX/FS-Go 72.1
Florida State Wake Forest 9/30, 3:30 pm ABC/ESPN3 69.8
Georgia Tennessee 9/30, 3:30 pm CBS 68.5
Sam Houston State Central Arkansas 9/30, 7:00 pm ESPN3 68
Mississippi State Auburn 9/30, 6:00 pm ESPN 67.1
Colorado UCLA 9/30, 10:30 pm ESPN2 65.7
Navy Tulsa 9/30, 3:30 pm ESPNU 65.1
South Dakota State Youngstown State 9/30, 7:00 pm ESPN3 64.2
North Carolina Georgia Tech 9/30, 12:00 pm ESPN2 63.5
South Carolina Texas A&M 9/30, 7:30 pm SEC Network 62.9
South Dakota Western Illinois 9/30, 4:00 pm ESPN3 62.5
USF East Carolina 9/30, 12:00 pm CBS Sports Network 62.1

 

Additional notes and observations:

– CBS/CBS Sports Network games will also be streamed on CBS Sports Digital.

– The games on the ESPN “Family of Networks” will also be streamed via WatchESPN.

– Per Bill Connelly, Clemson and Virginia Tech ranked 2nd and 5th in the category of success rate margin for last week’s games. In other words, both teams played very well (despite Clemson letting BC hang around for three quarters). This week, those two teams play each other in the top TF game on the board and are presumably in “good form” as our friends in the soccer world would say.

– Georgia crushed a good Mississippi State team last week, while Tennessee struggled to outlast winless Massachusetts. Nevertheless, even Butch Jones couldn’t prevent the UGA-UT game from landing in the top 15. We all remember the crazy ending to last year’s game between these two squads.

– North Carolina-Georgia Tech has been an odd series. UNC has won the last three games, after the Yellow Jackets had won 14 of 16 contests against the Heels. Average score in this game over the past seven years: North Carolina 36.5, Georgia Tech 36.4.

– Games in the top 15 that the oddsmakers think could be particularly high-scoring include Navy-Tulsa (over/under of 71.5), Colorado-UCLA (67), Sam Houston State-Central Arkansas (71), Oklahoma State-Texas Tech (84.5), Memphis-UCF (68), and USF-East Carolina (75.5).

– South Carolina and Texas A&M, historic SEC rivals, have only met three times in football. The only previous time the teams met in College Station, in 2015, the game featured 989 yards of total offense.

The winner gets to keep the James Bonham Trophy. Bonham is more of a hero in Texas (dying at the Alamo), as not a lot of people in the Palmetto State are overly familiar with him. Perhaps they should be, though. According to Wikipedia:

Bonham entered South Carolina College in 1824. In 1827, in his senior year, he led a student protest over harsh attendance regulations and the poor food served at the college boardinghouse. He was expelled, along with the entire senior class. In 1830, Bonham practiced law in Pendleton, but was found in contempt of court after caning an attorney who had insulted one of Bonham’s clients. When ordered to apologize by the sitting judge, he refused and threatened to tweak the judge’s nose. Bonham was sentenced to ninety days for contempt of court.

– South Dakota State and Youngstown State are both ranked in the top 5 of the FCS. SDSU is ranked #4 on the FCS Coaches’ Poll, and is a 3-point favorite over homestanding YSU, which is tied for fifth in that same poll. This is also a matchup between Jackrabbits and Penguins, and ought to have a bonus “Tingle Factor” point or two just for that.

– Texas Tech’s defense allowed 43.5 points per game last season. So far this year, the Red Raiders are giving up just 26.3 points per game. Admittedly, that is just a three-game sample. This week’s opponent, Oklahoma State, is coming off a home loss to TCU and can’t afford to drop two straight Big XII games. Last year’s contest resulted in a 45-44 victory for the Cowboys after Texas Tech scored what would have been the game-tying touchdown, only to miss the extra point.

– Last year, Navy beat Tulsa 42-40 in a game that featured 1077 yards of total offense. No fewer than 597 of those were rushing yards. Also, both quarterbacks had a rating that exceeded 215.

The two QBs from that game are gone, but the clash of styles between the two offenses remains.

– Memphis and UCF were supposed to play on September 8 (a Friday), but that game was postponed thanks to Hurricane Irma. Now the two AAC title contenders will finally meet.

– Florida State is winless. Wake Forest is undefeated. Could those two factoids still be true after Saturday?

It isn’t out of the question, though FSU is a 7.5-point favorite. The Seminoles just lost to a North Carolina school at home, however (NC State), and now have to play another Old North State team on the road.

It should be another excellent week on the gridiron. Don’t forget about that Friday night game!

College Football 2017, Week #2: the top 15 matchups

From last week, an explanation of what this topic is all about:

On his college hoops ratings website, Ken Pomeroy has an algorithm called ‘FanMatch’, in which “games are rated for competitiveness and level of play with a lean towards higher-scoring games”. It is a way to rate the potential watchability of various basketball contests. There is just a touch of whimsy involved, which makes it even better…

 

As noted before, I’ve created a very complicated (and secret) formula to produce game ratings; this matrix is called “Tingle Factor”, or TF. The higher the TF, the better.

I’ll list the top 15 TF games of Week 2, excluding The Citadel-Presbyterian, because it wouldn’t be fair to compare that game with less consequential pigskin contests.

Sometimes the best games of the week are the anticipated, high-profile contests, but often under-the-radar matchups are well worth watching.

Usually, those under-the-radar games would include includes FCS contests, but this week the top 15 are all FBS vs. FBS battles. Surprisingly, the North Dakota State-Eastern Washington game, a matchup of traditional and highly-ranked FCS powers, did not make the top 15. Perhaps the algorithm knows something we don’t know.

To access a Google Document that has a complete schedule of televised/streamed D-1 college football games (including all the announcing teams), see this post: Link

Here are the top 15 games for Week 2. All of them are being played on Saturday.

Road Team Home Team Gametime (ET) TV/Streaming TF
Auburn Clemson 9/9, 7:00 pm ESPN 88.1
Stanford Southern California 9/9, 8:30 pm FOX/FS-Go 87.9
Georgia Notre Dame 9/9, 7:30 pm NBC 87.5
Oklahoma Ohio State 9/9, 7:30 pm ABC/ESPN3 87.1
South Carolina Missouri 9/9, 7:00 pm ESPN2 81.8
Boise State Washington State 9/9, 10:30 pm ESPN 80.5
Northwestern Duke 9/9, 12:00 pm ESPNU 76.0
TCU Arkansas 9/9, 3:30 pm CBS 75.3
Iowa Iowa State 9/9, 12:00 pm ESPN2 72.1
Wake Forest Boston College 9/9, 1:00 pm ACC Digital Network 70.3
Mississippi State Louisiana Tech 9/9, 7:30 pm CBS Sports Network 68.1
Pittsburgh Penn State 9/9, 3:30 pm ABC/ESPN3 67.2
Nebraska Oregon 9,9, 4:30 pm FOX/FS-Go 65.9
Tulane Navy 9/9, 3:30 pm CBS Sports Network 65.0
Utah BYU 9/9, 10:15 pm ESPN2 63.8

 

Additional notes and observations:

– The three CBS/CBS Sports Network games will also be streamed on CBS Sports Digital.

– The Georgia-Notre Dame game will also be streamed on NBC Live Extra.

– The games on the ESPN “Family of Networks” will also be streamed via WatchESPN.

– Because none of the top 15 matchups are on the Pac-12 Network, most college football fans will be able to watch all of these games.

– As you can see, the top four games are all very closely rated by the system. All four have a higher rating than any game played last week.

– Perhaps the biggest surprise in the top 15 is the Wake Forest-Boston College game. When those two teams played two years ago, the Demon Deacons eked out a 3-0 victory.

Last season, the score was 17-14. For some reason, however, the algorithm really likes that matchup this week.

– This is the second week in a row games involving South Carolina and Navy have cracked the top 15.

This should be a great slate of college football games, especially in the late afternoon and evening. It should be filled with compelling matchups.

Can’t wait.

A few quick thoughts about college football titles, including The Citadel’s national championship in 1871

Recently, Auburn made some waves in the world of college football by announcing that it was considering the recognition of seven more national championships for its football program:

“If other schools are using these same polls to declare a national championship, we should at least consider it,” Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs said. “I don’t think there’s a better time for the Auburn family to consider it than right here at the end of the BCS era.

“As we transition into another playoff format for the national champion, I just think we need to look hard at it.”

The 1910, 1913, 1914, 1958, 1983, 1993 and 2004 teams are all under consideration. Each finished undefeated or won the conference championship, or both. All were recognized as national champions by at least one national selector, which are used by other schools to recognize National Championships.

Now, Auburn wouldn’t be the first school to claim additional titles from the distant past. Far from it.

The leader in retroactive championships is Princeton, which has claimed 28 football titles, including the first in 1869. Many of those retro-crowns were awarded to Princeton by Parke Davis, a prominent college football researcher in the early part of the 20th century.

As it happens, Davis was a former player at Princeton. He was a member of the 1889 squad that he would later anoint as national champions (Davis did that in 1932).

Davis was also at one time the head football coach at Lafayette. In 1896, he led the Leopards to an undefeated season, with one tie. That tie came against Princeton. Both teams finished without a loss, and Davis awarded each a share of the 1896 crown, thirty-six years after the fact.

This kerfuffle about championships reminded me again how The Citadel has always been low-key about its own national football championship, which came in 1871. What is unusual about The Citadel’s national crown is that it is essentially undisputed.

While up to five schools have claimed championships for certain seasons, no other school to my knowledge has attempted to claim the 1871 title.

This is probably due to the painstaking research and mathematical calculations that were made by the determining selector for that season (for the uninitiated, “selector” refers to the pollsters/analysts determining the champion). The Citadel was awarded the 1871 national championship by the TSA Matrix Ratings System.

It is hard to argue that the military college doesn’t deserve at least a share of the title. No points were scored against The Citadel on the gridiron during the entire 1871 season, a rare accomplishment in college football. The fact no other school has even tried to shoehorn its way into the 1871 championship discussion speaks volumes about the validity of The Citadel’s claim.

The TSA Matrix Ratings System, showing an admirable attention to detail, actually determined a top 5 for the 1871 campaign. The Citadel was followed in the algorithm by 2nd-ranked Princeton; 3rd-ranked Rutgers; 4th-ranked Columbia; and 5th-ranked Stevens Tech.

(For those not familiar with Stevens Tech, it is a school located in Hoboken, New Jersey that currently competes at the NCAA Division III level in athletics, though it no longer fields a varsity football squad. It is thus no longer near the forefront of national championship discussion, as it was throughout most of the 1870s. The school’s teams are known as the Ducks, and its mascot is Attila the Duck.)

The Citadel is the only southern school to have established a claim for a national football crown in the 19th century. The next earliest title claim for a school south of the Mason-Dixon line is that of LSU, for the 1908 championship. The Citadel also has the earliest claim for a national title by a military college. Army did not enter the championship picture until 1914, while Navy’s sole claim to a crown came in 1926.

It is a little disappointing that The Citadel’s on-campus bookstore doesn’t sell national championship memorabilia for the 1871 season. I would love to have a ’71 championship mug, for example.

I think a handsome profit could be made for going “retro” with some offerings, not just for the 1871 title, but for things like The Citadel’s trip to the College World Series in 1990. You can’t tell me people wouldn’t buy t-shirts commemorating the Bulldogs’ run to Omaha.

It’s not like the folks running the bookstore haven’t been willing to experiment. After all, they sold this holiday sweatshirt last year: Link

Here are a couple of mock-ups of potential t-shirts or sweatshirts that could be sold on campus or online. These are simplistic, but they certainly deliver the message: Link and Link

Circling back to titles that are actually controversial in nature:

With college football moving to a playoff at the FBS level, there will be a dramatic reduction in disputes surrounding the “true” major-college national champion. For those who believe in decisiveness and closure, this is a good thing. However, there is surely something lost in the transition.

The unknown provides a certain romance. There is something charming about the notion that almost any school with an argument, no matter how dubious or whimsical, can make a claim to being the best in a given year.

Besides, a few extra banners never hurt anybody…

Big Dance victory droughts: BCS schools that haven’t celebrated an NCAA tournament win in quite a while

Update: the 2014 edition

This post was partly inspired by a recent recap of a Frank Martin press conference. Now, Frank Martin pressers are often required viewing, because the South Carolina coach doesn’t mince words. What struck me, though, was this note:

Martin said he realized this year marks the 40th anniversary of USC’s last NCAA tournament victory.

You read that correctly. South Carolina hasn’t won an NCAA tournament game since 1973. That’s a long drought for a team in a major conference (even if the Gamecocks weren’t in a BCS league for part of that time).

It got me thinking…what other schools currently in BCS leagues haven’t won a game in the Big Dance in a while? Not just get a bid, mind you, but actually advance in the tournament with a victory?

After looking up some records, I was mildly surprised to discover that 13 current BCS schools have gone at least ten years without such a win. Some have gone a lot longer than that — and two of them have never won an NCAA tournament game.

That group of 13 does not include South Carolina’s fellow Palmetto State school, Clemson, although the Tigers actually haven’t advanced past the round of 64 since 1997. However, two years ago Clemson won a play-in game against UAB, which counts (more or less).

Let’s take a look at our sad list of 13, then. None of these schools has won a tournament game since 2003:

– Northwestern (no tournament appearances): Famously, NU is the only BCS school to have never played in the NCAA tournament (despite hosting the very first NCAA title game in 1939). You can read about Northwestern and all the other schools that have never made the Big Dance here: Link

– Nebraska (no NCAA victories): Here is the only other BCS school to have never won an NCAA tournament game, although the Cornhuskers have at least played in the event. Nebraska is 0-for-6, including three losses as the higher-seeded team. The Cornhuskers last made the NCAAs in 1998.

– South Carolina (last won an NCAA game in 1973): As mentioned above, the Gamecocks haven’t advanced in the NCAAs for four decades. South Carolina’s last victory was actually in a regional consolation game. Since then, the Gamecocks have suffered some particularly excruciating losses, including losing in the first round in consecutive years as a 2 and 3 seed, respectively. South Carolina’s NCAA tourney losing streak began in 1974 with a loss to Furman. Ouch.

– Oregon State (last won an NCAA game in 1982): The Beavers haven’t made the NCAA tournament since 1991, the longest such drought for a BCS school outside of Northwestern, and haven’t won a game in the tourney since 1982, when it lost in the Elite Eight to Patrick Ewing and Georgetown. Oregon State has two final fours in its history; it’s odd the Beavers haven’t been able to put things together for so long.

– Rutgers (last won an NCAA game in 1983): Of course, the Scarlet Knights haven’t always been a major-conference program, but at any rate the last time RU won a tourney game was in 1983 (as a member of the Atlantic 10). In 1976, Rutgers made the Final Four as a member of the long-gone ECAC Metro conference. The Scarlet Knights were undefeated that year until losing to Michigan in the national semis.

– TCU (last won an NCAA game in 1987): Here is another school that hasn’t been in a major conference throughout its history. However, since the Southwest Conference dissolved, the Horned Frogs have only participated in one NCAA tournament (1997, as a member of the WAC). TCU’s last victory in the Big Dance came in 1987, as an SWC team.

– Providence (last won an NCAA game in 1997): The Friars have advanced to two Final Fours and came very close to notching a third trip in 1997, when Pete Gillen’s squad lost in overtime to eventual national champion Arizona in the Elite Eight. Providence has yet to win a game in the NCAAs since then, however, and hasn’t played in the tournament at all since 2004.

– St. John’s (last won an NCAA game in 2000): SJU has only played in two NCAA tournaments since 2000, a major disappointment for a school with a hoops tradition as rich as St. John’s. The Red Storm has never won the NCAA title, but the program does have two Final Four trips and four Elite Eight appearances, including one as recently as 1999.

– Iowa (last won an NCAA game in 2001): Like St. John’s, Iowa is another school with a history of playing quality basketball. The Hawkeyes played in the 1956 NCAA title game, one of three Final Four appearances for Iowa. Since the 2001 season, however, it has only qualified for two NCAA tournaments.

– Penn State (last won an NCAA game in 2001): The Nittany Lions got to the Sweet 16 in 2001, upsetting North Carolina in the second round before losing to Temple. Since then, Penn State has only made one NCAA tournament (in 2011).

– Mississippi (last won an NCAA game in 2001): Mississippi got to the Sweet 16 in 2001, and returned to the NCAAs in 2002 (losing in the first round that year). That 2002 appearance is the Rebels’ most recent in the event. Mississippi has only played in six NCAA tournaments, and is probably most remembered for being on the wrong side of Bryce Drew and “Pacer” back in 1998.

– Georgia (last won an NCAA game in 2002): UGA has only made two NCAAs since 2002. Georgia had never played in the NCAA tournament before 1983. That year, though, the Bulldogs (led by Vern Fleming) made it all the way to the Final Four before losing to Jim Valvano’s destined North Carolina State squad. Georgia has only managed to get to the Sweet 16 once since that year.

– Auburn (last won an NCAA game in 2003): The Tigers advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2003, losing by one point in the regional semifinals to Carmelo Anthony and eventual national champ Syracuse. That was the last time Auburn made the Big Dance. Oddly, the Tigers have a winning record in NCAA tournament play (12-8), despite never advancing to the Final Four (one Elite Eight appearance).

When Auburn gets to the tournament, it’s a solid bet to win a game or two; the one time AU didn’t win its first-round tourney game, a loss to Richmond, its star was one Charles Barkley. The problem is that the Tigers don’t get there that often — which is something that can be said for several of the schools on this list.

Will any of these schools break through and win a game this year? Well, first they have to make the tournament, and there is a good chance not one of them will get a bid. Iowa and St. John’s are bubble teams (arguably on the wrong side of the bubble), while the others would have to win their respective conference tourneys to get there.

In other words, there is a good chance all of them will remain on this list next year.

Football, Game 2: The Citadel vs. Arizona

Gametime:  10 pm ET, September 11.

Telecast:  KWBA, local channel 58 in Tucson, and on Fox College Sports Pacific (FCS-Pacific), joined in progress; announcers are Dave Sitton, John Fina, and sideline reporter Glenn Howell

There won’t be many schools this season who will face in consecutive weeks opponents as different as Chowan and Arizona.  Chowan is a small Division II school in North Carolina.  Arizona is a large Division I (FBS) school, the flagship university of a populous western state.  Chowan has about 1,100 undergraduate students. Arizona has 30,000.  Indeed, Arizona has more undergraduate and graduate students than The Citadel has living alumni.

The difference is reflected in the football teams as well, of course, and thus The Citadel’s football team has its work cut out for it this week as it ventures to Tucson, the longest trip in program history.  Since The Citadel has never played Arizona (or any Pac-10 school) before, let’s take a brief look at the history of the University of Arizona’s football team.

The Wildcats (originally just known as the “Varsity”) started playing football in 1899, 14 years after the school’s founding.  Keep in mind that Arizona didn’t become a state until 1912 (it was the 48th and last of the contiguous states).  It had been a recognized U.S. territory since 1862.

The first official coach of the football team was “Pop” McKale, for whom the McKale Center (UA’s basketball arena) is named.  McHale also coached the basketball team for a time and was the school’s longtime director of athletics.

McHale was also a central figure in the story of Arizona’s great tradition, its motto “Bear Down”.  In 1926, Arizona quarterback and student body president John “Button” Salmon was critically injured in a car accident after the first game of that season. McHale regularly visited Salmon in the hospital until Salmon’s death on October 18.

During the coach’s final visit, Salmon told McHale to “tell them…tell the team to bear down.”  McHale reportedly told the team just that, repeating Salmon’s words during a game against New Mexico State which the Wildcats managed to win, 7-0.  It’s a tale not unlike Knute Rockne’s “Win one for the Gipper” speech for Notre Dame.

Ever since, “Bear Down” has been the official slogan for all of the university’s athletic teams.

Salmon is one of two players to have his jersey retired at Arizona.  The other, running back Art Luppino, led the nation in rushing twice in 1954 and 1955.

Arizona first joined a conference in 1931, becoming a charter member of the Border Conference, and remaining in that league until it disbanded in 1961.  Other schools in the league included Texas Tech, UTEP, New Mexico, New Mexico State, and Arizona State.  They were joined at various times by Hardin-Simmons, Northern Arizona, and West Texas A&M.  The Wildcats won three league titles while in the Border Conference and played in one bowl game during that time, losing the 1949 Salad Bowl (yes, Salad Bowl) to Drake (yes, Drake).

Arizona then became a founding member of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC). That league was basically a merger of the Border and Skyline Conferences, except not every school in those leagues was invited (New Mexico State, for example).  Also in the original WAC:  Arizona State, BYU, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming.  Arizona won two league titles in the WAC and played in one bowl game, the 1968 Sun Bowl (losing to Auburn).

Arizona and Arizona State gradually outgrew the WAC, mostly because the state of Arizona was outgrowing (by percentage) most of the other states in and around the mountain time zone.  The development of air conditioning helped produce a population boom in the state, and the increase in population/resources trickled down to the state universities.  The two schools joined the Pac-8 (renamed the Pac-10) in 1978, and have remained in that conference since then.

The hallmark of the program in that time, much to the frustration of  Arizona’s fans, has been its inability to make a trip to the Rose Bowl.  Its rival, Arizona State, has been to the big game twice (winning once), but the Wildcats have never been.  Arizona has come close on two occasions, both times under the direction of Dick Tomey.

In 1993, Arizona shared the Pac-10 title with UCLA and Southern California, but lost a tiebreaker to UCLA for the Rose Bowl berth.  This is the only time the Wildcats have claimed even a piece of the Pac-10 crown.  Arizona had lost earlier in the season to UCLA, but as late as November 14 still had a shot at Pasadena after a UCLA loss. However, the Wildcats blew a 20-point lead and lost to California, 24-20, eliminating them from Rose Bowl consideration.

The Wildcats did rebound from that disappointment, beating their rivals in Tempe and then dominating Miami 29-0 in the Fiesta Bowl to finish the season 10-2, with the bowl game arguably being the pinnacle of Arizona’s “Desert Swarm” defense, which was the national identity of the program in the mid-1990s (and personified by Tedy Bruschi).

The Fiesta Bowl victory was a major reason why Sports Illustrated ranked Arizona No. 1 in its 1994 preseason issue, but after starting the campaign 4-0 the Wildcats were upset at home by Colorado State.  Arizona also suffered road losses to Oregon and Southern California and finished with a Freedom Bowl loss to Utah and a disappointing 8-4 season.

In 1998, Arizona finished 12-1, losing only to UCLA (albeit at home by four touchdowns).  However, the Wildcats were looking good for a Rose Bowl appearance anyway, as the Bruins completed their Pac-10 schedule undefeated and were poised to play for the mythical national title at the Fiesta Bowl.  That would have sent Arizona to the Rose Bowl.

Unfortunately for Arizona (and the Bruins, as it turned out), UCLA had to play a December game originally delayed by a hurricane against the Hurricanes — and lost to Miami, 49-45.  That result meant the Bruins took the berth in the Rose and the Wildcats had to settle for the Holiday Bowl (which they won, beating Nebraska).

When I was looking at Arizona’s football history, and wondering what was preventing Arizona, a big school in a BCS conference with success in a lot of sports other than football, from grabbing the brass ring, one thing stood out.  It must have stood out to Joe Tessitore and Rod Gilmore too, because while calling the Wildcats’ 41-2 dismantling of Toledo last Friday on ESPN, they mentioned (and marvelled at) the following factoid:

Arizona hasn’t had a quarterback drafted by the NFL since 1985.

Think about that.  There can’t be that many BCS programs who have gone that long between QB draft picks.  In fact, that QB (10th-round pick John Conner, who did not throw a pass in the NFL) is the only quarterback out of Arizona drafted since 1972 (when another Wildcat signal-caller who never played in the league, Brian Linstrom, was selected in the 16th round).  It’s not like Arizona’s been running the wishbone all this time, either.

Arizona’s football program has had three different quarterbacks make a total of 29 starts in the NFL, none since 1974.  So in all the time UA has been in the Pac-10, it’s never developed an NFL quarterback.

It’s hard to win big games, or even get to big games, without a pro-caliber quarterback.  Since 1975, only one Arizona alum has thrown a TD pass in the NFL — a punter, Josh Miller, who did it for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2003 (an 81-yard pass play, incidentally).  Here is a little chart comparing alums from Arizona, The Citadel, and a mystery school:

TD passes thrown in the NFL since 1975

Arizona — 1

The Citadel — 1

Mystery School — 0

If you’re wondering, the graduate of The Citadel with a touchdown pass is Stump Mitchell.  Now, that mystery school that hasn’t had a grad with a TD toss in the NFL in the last 35 years?  Well, it’s a school that has quite a bit in common with Arizona on the athletics front.  It’s a “basketball school” that has won multiple titles in other sports, but hasn’t been able to parlay its success in those sports into a nationally prominent football program.

Like Arizona, a good argument can be made that the reason for that has a lot to do with never having an “NFL ready” quarterback.  What school is that?  Why, it’s the BCS school The Citadel played last season.

North Carolina.

I wrote about UNC’s football history in my preview of The Citadel’s game against the Heels last year.  At the time, I noted that the overall QB rating for players from The Citadel to have thrown a pass in the NFL (which would be just two, Mitchell and Paul Maguire) was exactly 100 points better than their UNC counterparts (119.6-19.6). Arizona is a little better than North Carolina in this respect (47.7), but again the mighty Bulldogs prevail.

What will this mean on Saturday?  Not much, since it’s probable the Wildcats have finally found themselves an NFL prospect at QB in Nick Foles.  Foles is a native of Austin (went to the same high school as Drew Brees) who began his collegiate career at Michigan State before transferring to Arizona after one season.

He has NFL size (6’5″, 245 lbs.) and a good arm.  Last season he completed 63% of his passes for 19 TDs (9 interceptions).  His yards per attempt was not that high (just over 6 yards), but he was only sacked 13 times all season (so not a lot of negative plays).  His three 300-yard games included a 4-TD effort against league champion Oregon.

Foles isn’t the only impressive skill-position player on the Wildcat offense.  Nic Grigsby, when healthy, is an outstanding running back.  Grigsby averaged over seven yards per carry last season.  His problem was a bad shoulder that cost him three games and limited him in several others.  He appears to be healthy now.  Then there is Juron Criner, a rangy 6’4″ wideout who hauled in nine touchdowns last season.

Criner had a ridiculous game against Toledo on Friday, catching eleven passes for 187 yards and a touchdown.  Forty-five of those reception yards came on a one-handed, falling-down circus catch in the third quarter.  His TD grab was almost as good.

Arizona had to replace seven defensive starters from last season, but you would have never known it against Toledo, which did not score on the Wildcat defense (the Rockets’ only two points came on a safety called for offensive holding in the end zone).

Arizona is as good a bet as any team to make a run at the Pac-10 title.  Oregon, the defending champ (and coming off a 72-0 demolition of hapless New Mexico), probably has to be the favorite, but if the Ducks slip it’s possible the Wildcats could be the team to make the move to the top and claim the school’s first Rose Bowl trip.

Arizona was picked in the middle of the conference pack in most preseason polls, likely thanks to getting manhandled 33-0 in the Holiday Bowl by a certain Mr. Suh and Nebraska.  Its most recent impression among those who vote in pre-season polls was not a good one.  Otherwise, I think a team with the talent (particularly on offense) that Arizona has might have been nationally ranked to start the season.

Arizona’s coach is Mike Stoops, also known as “Bob Stoops’ brother”.  He has very slowly built the program since arriving in 2004 (wins per year:  3, 3, 6, 5, 8, 8).  Some Arizona supporters have become a bit impatient.  He needs to have a good year this year.  He’s probably going to have one, so I wouldn’t assign him “hot seat” status, but if the Wildcats were to tank this season, I think he would be out the door.

It could be a long night for The Citadel.  In fact, it would be surprising if it weren’t.  The problem is that the defense is going to have some matchup problems (particularly with Criner), and will not be likely to get much help from the offense.

Last season against BCS foe North Carolina the defense got no help from the offense either, but the UNC offense wasn’t dynamic enough to take full advantage of its field position and time of possession.  As a result, the Bulldogs lost, but only by a 40-6 score.  Arizona may not have as good a defense as UNC did, but The Citadel’s offense will be worse (as it is still in its embryonic stage in the triple option) and the Wildcat offense is considerably more talented than the Heels’ O was.

I wrote about some on-field things that concerned me in my review of the Chowan game.  I am hoping that the blocking improves, that the quarterbacks get more comfortable taking the snap and making the proper reads, and that the defense does a better job in assignments and tackling.   Against Arizona, I don’t really expect to see much visible progress from the offense, although I am willing to be pleasantly surprised.

I do think that the one player who might not be physically out of place in the game for The Citadel’s offense is Domonic Jones.  I could see him making a play or two.  First, of course, the QB has to get him the ball, or at least give him a chance to get the ball.

On the other hand, I do expect the defense, even against a squad as talented as the Wildcats, to avoid multiple mental errors and not miss tackles.  That should happen. If it doesn’t, things could get ugly.

I’ll be watching anyway…

Thoughts on The Citadel and transfers

When I write about The Citadel and transfers, I want to first distinguish between basic types.  One of them is the three-year transfer.  It’s a little bit unusual, but not rare, for someone to spend his or her freshman year at another school, and then transfer into The Citadel.

Now, the “system” at The Citadel is designed for a four-year student.  In other words, the typical member of the corps of cadets spends four years at the school, and those four years have very specific benchmarks.  However, it is possible (and not particularly difficult) for a student to transfer in and spend three years in the corps, and have essentially the same experience as a four-year student.  Basically, the sophomore/junior years are combined.

I don’t know anyone associated with The Citadel who has a problem with a three-year transfer athlete representing the school.  I certainly don’t.  It doesn’t happen often, to be sure.  Recently Kenny Manigault, who played high school basketball in the Charleston area for Pinewood Prep, announced he was transferring from Wichita State to The Citadel. Manigault will have three years of athletic eligibility, and will presumably be spending (at least) three years in the corps of cadets.

Another athlete who will be transferring in to The Citadel is Blane Woodfin, who originally committed to Air Force, but was not admitted to the AFA (reportedly because of a physical problem).  Woodfin attended Montana State last year but did not play football, and will thus apparently have four years of athletic eligibility remaining at The Citadel, not three.

These are not transfers likely to cause any cantankerous old alum heartburn, even though Manigault called Chuck Driesell “real laid back”, which is the first time I’ve ever heard anyone call Driesell laid back.  The Citadel as an institution, as Manigault and Woodfin will soon learn (if they don’t know already), is certainly not laid back…

However, there is another type of transfer that has been popping up more and more at The Citadel in recent years, the “fifth-year” transfer.

This started in football, where a player can transfer from an FBS school to an FCS school and play immediately.  The “trailblazer” in this category for The Citadel was Jeff Klein, a quarterback who transferred from Auburn and played one year for The Citadel (2002).

He was followed the next season by former Clemson QB Willie Simmons and ex-Duke defensive back Anthony Roberts.  Those three players played for The Citadel under former coach (and alum) Ellis Johnson.  In recent years, Kevin Higgins has had two fifth-year transfers — his son, wideout Tim Higgins (who originally played for Florida), and tight end B.J. Phillips (North Carolina).

All of these guys graduated from their original schools and played one year as graduate students for The Citadel, except for Phillips (who had two years of athletic eligibility in football remaining after graduating from UNC).

As students in The Citadel Graduate College, none of these players were members of the corps of cadets (indeed, it’s possible none of them even attended classes with cadets, as graduate classes at The Citadel are held at night).

Reports vary on how seriously these graduate student athletes attempted to bond with their teammates, tried to understand/appreciate what cadets go through, etc.  My general impression, which could be wrong, is that Simmons and the younger Higgins made an effort to try and “jell” with the team and school; Klein, not so much.  Phillips, of course, still has one year left on the football team.

These one-year-only players were not a factor in basketball at The Citadel because there was no lower classification within Division I for them to transfer to without penalty (in other words, no FBS/FCS distinction).  At least, they weren’t a factor until last year, when Joe Wolfinger transferred to The Citadel after graduating from Washington.

Wolfinger had his degree and one year of athletic eligibility in basketball remaining, and he used that year to play basketball at The Citadel, thanks to a technicality.  As this article explained:

Wolfinger will be a fifth-year senior next season and is apparently eligible to play immediately at The Citadel because he has graduated from UW and will enter a Master’s program at The Citadel that is not offered at Washington.

Wolfinger is gone, and so is Ed Conroy, but Chuck Driesell has decided to bring in his own tall transfer for this upcoming season:

Mike Dejworek, a 6-11 center from Belmont University, will play one season for the Bulldogs as a graduate student, new coach Chuck Driesell confirmed…

…Dejworek, a native of Ulm, Germany, sat out last season with a shoulder injury after playing three years for Belmont. In 2008-09, he played in 24 games and started one for a 20-13 Belmont team, averaging 1.7 points and 1.6 rebounds. He was a reserve on a Belmont team that made the NCAA tournament his sophomore season.

I presume that, like Wolfinger, Dejworek will be enterering a Master’s degree program at The Citadel that is not offered by Belmont.

There are plenty of alums who are less than crazy about athletes competing on varsity teams without ever being part of the corps of cadets.  Ken Burger, then the sports editor of The Post and Courier, wrote about this as far back as 2003:

…the school’s old guard is very vocal about this troublesome trend. They say these young men never spent a single day at The Citadel and don’t deserve the privilege of wearing the school’s uniform. Even its football uniform…

…Over the next three months we will find out how this experiment works out for [Ellis] Johnson’s program and The Citadel. And, there will be plenty of people watching and judging from the sidelines…

…While it’s easy to say the old school should stick to the old ways, there’s another side of this controversy that can’t be ignored.

The Citadel’s military counterpart, VMI, recently left the SoCon and downgraded to the Big South Conference because the Keydets could no longer compete…

Ah, yes, the old “we just can’t compete” crutch.  Poor, pitiful puppies; how can our coaches ever win?

First, the obvious.  Charlie Taaffe won a Southern Conference title in football without any non-cadet help.  He beat South Carolina and Arkansas and Army and Navy, and all of his players were in the corps of cadets.

Brief tangent:  Just for clarification, Taaffe did occasionally have some fifth-year guys who had already graduated and had an extra year of eligibility remaining after redshirting, but all of them had spent four years in the corps.  That is a completely different situation than the fifth-year ‘program’ I’m discussing in this post, of course.

Eddie Teague won a SoCon title back in the day, too, with members of the corps of cadets.  It’s not easy (after all, The Citadel has just those two league titles in football), but it can be done.

Meanwhile, the fifth-year recruits have not exactly led to dramatic success on the gridiron.  Klein set lots of passing records in 2002, but the team went 3-9.  With Simmons at quarterback (and Roberts in the defensive backfield)  in 2003, the Bulldogs improved to 6-6.  Tim Higgins’ one season at The Citadel came in 2007, the only season since 1997 in which the Bulldogs have finished with a winning record (7-4).

In hoops, Wolfinger did not prove to be a difference-maker last year, as The Citadel went 16-16, a season that followed a 20-13 campaign.  Wolfinger got progressively less playing time as the year went on, as he turned out not to be a particularly good fit for The Citadel’s style of play.

There is another aspect to this, the “recruited over” concern.  If you are a promising high school football player and you are considering The Citadel, should you be worried about the possibility that down the road, when it’s finally time for you to become a regular, the coach will suddenly bring in some graduate student to take your position?  Being recruited over is something normally associated with players at big-time college basketball programs, not The Citadel.

Those are the on-field results and issues.   What about the off-the-field repercussions?

— The essence of The Citadel, the part that differentiates it from other schools, is the corps of cadets.  Our athletic teams are supposed to represent the students at the military college.  What statement is the school making when it elects to offer opportunities to varsity athletes who have never been a part of the military environment?

— For that matter, the athletic teams represent the alumni as well.  Am I supposed to identify with varsity athletes who did not go through the same experiences that I did?

— If I have misgivings as an alumnus about identifying with these athletes, just imagine how the current members of the corps of cadets must feel.

— There is also the public perception.  Many outsiders are impressed that The Citadel can compete at all with the inherent disadvantages of being a military school.  When you bring in players from outside that environment, do you know what the general public calls them?  Ringers. (So do some alums.)

At that point The Citadel becomes “just another school” in the minds of some people.  Is that something that the powers-that-be at The Citadel want?

I might add that the perception issue is magnified when the player plays a high-profile position (like quarterback) in football.  In basketball, there aren’t that many players, so almost any player is highly visible.

Having said all that, I don’t blame any of the individual coaches for bringing in graduate students.  Coaches are trying to win.  Winning is not easy to do at The Citadel, so it’s not surprising that coaches try to work the system as much as possible.

Coaches also tend to have a narrower focus; it’s hard to expect Chuck Driesell, for example, to consider how a graduate student playing basketball may affect the school, in terms of the big picture.   Driesell is just trying to find a big man who can rebound.

The administration has the responsibility of telling the coaches to focus solely on recruiting players who will be part of the corps of cadets.  It appears that, for whatever reason(s), the current administration does not share the concerns that have been expressed by some alums.

Maybe the thinking from General Rosa and company is that one or two exceptions don’t really matter.  I don’t know.  It’s also possible that the school wants to have occasional graduate student varsity athletes, in an effort to promote the Graduate College.

I tend to doubt that having an occasional hoopster or football player in the graduate school is going to raise the profile of the CGC, although I couldn’t blame the school for trying every avenue to promote it.  The CGC is an opportunity for The Citadel to make money, which the school needs to do.

Over the past few years, the military college has gradually become simply a state school, as opposed to a state-supported school.  That’s because the State of South Carolina continues to cut back on funding for higher education (in general, the state legislature believes higher education should end after the third grade).

[Sorry for the political jibe, but honestly, our state’s lack of commitment to education is embarrassing.]

In closing, one thing I want to emphasize is that I don’t have anything against the players who enter the school as graduate students.  They are taking advantage of a great opportunity, as well they should.  I wish them well, and I hope they are successful in class and on the field of play.  I will be rooting for them, as I do anyone who represents my alma mater.

I just wish the administration would revisit the current policy.  I strongly believe that varsity athletes at The Citadel should all come from the corps of cadets.  I know my opinion doesn’t really matter, but I also know that I’m not the only person who feels this way about transfers and varsity athletics.

Yes, I’m ready for football season…