A quick glance at the 2017 SoCon non-conference football slate

Some other links related to the upcoming season for The Citadel:

Inside the Numbers: The Citadel’s run/pass tendencies, 4th-down decision-making, and various per-play statistics, along with the highly anticipated coin-toss data

A look at “advanced statistics” from the Bulldogs’ 2016 league campaign

Preseason rankings and ratings

The Citadel’s fans aren’t afraid to travel

This year, the SoCon cohort will have its usual share of games against major conference teams, along with several intriguing matchups with FCS squads in other leagues. While there are four games against Division II schools, at least two of those D-2 teams (possibly three) are of playoff caliber in that division.

That said, I think contests against non-D1 teams should be avoided by SoCon schools (the same is true for basketball). I realize that putting together a schedule can be a challenge, but from a playoff perspective, it’s important for league teams to have as many opportunities as possible to accumulate victories against D-1 opposition. From that standpoint, playing an FBS team and a D-2 squad in the same season is less than ideal.

Every SoCon team will play three non-league games, with the exception of Western Carolina. The Catamounts have four matchups against out-of-conference opponents, because one of those four games is at Hawai’i. Thus, with the “Hawai’i Exemption” in effect, WCU is playing a 12-game regular-season schedule.

East Tennessee State is the only conference team that will not face at least one FBS opponent. The Buccaneers are only in their third year since re-starting their football program. However, ETSU will play at Tennessee in 2018.

Of the eight schools that are playing FBS squads, seven of them have matchups with teams from Power-5 conferences. The only one that doesn’t is VMI, which has Air Force as its FBS opponent.

Which SoCon outfit has the toughest non-conference schedule? That’s an easy question to answer — it’s Mercer. The Bears tangle with two SEC teams this season.

Around the league:

– Chattanooga:

The Mocs open the season in “Week 0” with a nominally neutral-site matchup in Alabama against OVC kingpin Jacksonville State, with the contest billed as the “Montgomery Kickoff Classic” and televised on ESPN. Chattanooga has lost four games to JSU since 2012; all were close, with two going to OT (including a playoff meeting in 2015).

UTC plays all three of its non-league opponents in the first four weeks of the season. After the Jacksonville State game, Chattanooga has a week off before facing LSU in Baton Rouge. The Mocs then host UT Martin, which won 7 games last season and has finished in the top 3 of the OVC in each of the last five seasons.

– Mercer:

Uh, yikes. After a Thursday night home opener versus Jacksonville that shouldn’t be too treacherous, the Bears will travel to Auburn (September 16) and Alabama (November 18). Good luck with that.

An argument could be made that Mercer has the toughest non-conference schedule in all of FCS. There are arguably three other contenders for that “honor”: Northern Colorado (which plays at Florida and at Colorado), Delaware State (at West Virginia, at Florida State) and Alabama A&M (the only FCS squad to play three FBS opponents this year).

My vote goes to Delaware State, in part because the Hornets were winless last season. Kenny Carter has a tough row to hoe in Dover.

– Samford:

This may be one of the trickier out-of-conference slates in the SoCon, at least in terms of being more difficult than it appears on the surface.

Samford opens the season at home on Thursday night versus Kennesaw State, which you may recall beat Furman last year (though KSU also lost to ETSU in 2016). I think Kennesaw State may be a “sleeper” team this season in the Big South. At least one preseason publication ranked the Owls in its Top 25.

The Birmingham Bulldogs keep the home-on-Thursday thing going in Week 2, playing a weeknight contest against Division II West Alabama. The Tigers are a solid D-2 program, having averaged almost 7 1/2 wins per season since 2009.

Like UTC, Samford wraps up its non-conference campaign early, as SU goes between the hedges to play Georgia on September 16.

– Western Carolina:

As mentioned above, the Catamounts are playing four non-league teams this year as part of a 12-game slate. The game at Hawai’i is the season opener.

WCU’s other three out-of-conference opponents are all from the state of North Carolina. Western Carolina hosts Davidson on September 9, and then travels to Boiling Springs (the N.C. version) to face Gardner-Webb the following week.

The Catamounts conclude regular-season play with a game in Chapel Hill against North Carolina on November 18, the first football game ever between those two programs.

– VMI:

The Keydets’ meeting with Air Force (September 2) is the first of its kind on the gridiron between those two military schools.

VMI returns to the post the following week to play D-2 Catawba, which went 5-6 last year but was 9-3 the season before. That 2015 campaign for Catawba included a two-touchdown victory over Davidson, the last time the Indians faced a D-1 opponent.

On September 16, VMI travels to Moon Township, PA, to play Robert Morris. The Keydets are one of two Southern Conference teams to have scheduled the Colonials this season; those are the only two NEC-SoCon meetings this year.

RMU was 2-9 last season, with one of the losses coming to another Virginia squad, Liberty (41-7). VMI and Robert Morris last played in 2013, a 37-31 2OT victory for the Colonials in Lexington.

– The Citadel:

The Bulldogs open with two home games against familiar non-conference opposition. The Citadel has played Newberry and Presbyterian a combined 102 times in its football history.

Newberry was 10-2 last year, and made the D-2 playoffs for a second consecutive season. The Wolves have played two D-1 schools in the last three years (Jacksonville and Charleston Southern), losing the two games by a total of nine points.

Presbyterian was 2-9 last season, with just one win in Big South action (versus Monmouth). PC opens at Wake Forest on Thursday night before travelling to Charleston to face the Bulldogs for the first time since 2010.

The Citadel ends the regular season with a game at Clemson, which has been a fairly decent FBS program over the past couple of years.

– East Tennessee State:

ETSU opens at home against Limestone, a Division II school entering its fourth year of playing varsity football. The Saints were 5-6 last season. Limestone’s only D-1 opponent to date was a home game against Jacksonville in 2014; the Dolphins won 61-10.

The Bucs then play the defending national champion, James Madison. That game will take place in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

East Tennessee State closes out its non-conference action with a home game versus Robert Morris, three weeks after the Colonials host VMI.

– Furman:

The Paladins open the season with a conference game, travelling to Spartanburg to face Wofford. Furman’s first non-league opponent is actually a former conference foe, as Elon will be in Greenville on September 9.

The following Saturday, Furman will play North Carolina State in Raleigh. FU leads the all-time series between the two programs, 8-4-4. The two teams last met in 1985, a 42-20 Furman victory. In related news, N.C. State hired then-Paladins head coach Dick Sheridan after that season.

Furman’s next game will be in Hamilton, New York, as Colgate will host the Paladins. It’s a relatively unusual Patriot League-Southern Conference gridiron battle. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing a few more meetings between teams in those leagues.

– Wofford:

As noted above, Wofford will open at home against Furman in a SoCon matchup. In fact, Wofford’s first two games are in conference play (the second is at Mercer), and then the Terriers have a bye week.

Wofford’s initial non-conference game of the season isn’t until September 23, when it faces Gardner-Webb in Spartanburg. The following Saturday, the Terriers make the short trip down the road to Clinton to play Presbyterian.

On November 18, Wofford will play its last regular-season game of the year at South Carolina, the third consecutive year the Gamecocks have hosted a SoCon team the week before South Carolina plays Clemson. Last year, the Gamecocks beat Western Carolina 44-31; in 2015, The Citadel defeated South Carolina 23-22.

As a whole, the SoCon’s non-league schedule compares favorably to other conferences in FCS.

Only the Big Sky has more matchups against Power-5 conference teams than the SoCon (11* to 8), and the western league has 4 more teams in its conference for football. All 13 of those Big Sky teams will play at least one FBS team this year, however, with three of the schools facing two FBS opponents.

*I’m counting BYU as a “Power-5” program.

Several of the Big Sky teams expected to contend for the league title are playing opponents from the Pac-12, including Weber State (California), North Dakota (Utah), and Northern Arizona (Arizona). I wouldn’t be surprised if one of those teams pulls an upset (Weber State having the best shot, in my opinion).

Another Big Sky power, Eastern Washington, plays at Texas Tech in its season opener. I hope there is enough electrical power available in Lubbock to run the scoreboard for that one.

EWU also has non-conference games against North Dakota State and Fordham, the latter on the road in the Bronx.

While teams in the CAA have a combined total of 12 meetings with FBS squads this season, only three of those are against Power-5 teams (Towson-Maryland, Delaware-Virginia Tech, and William & Mary-Virginia).

James Madison has to like its chances against an East Carolina team that was defensively challenged last season. In fact, one offshore site currently lists the Dukes as a 4 1/2 point favorite.

Maine is playing two FBS teams. One of the games, versus Massachusetts, will be at Fenway Park (box seats above the 30-yard line can be yours for just $99 each).

The MEAC has six games against Power-5 squads (including the aforementioned two for Delaware State), the OVC has five (one of which is Jacksonville State-Georgia Tech), the MVFC has four, the Big South has two (not counting Liberty’s game at Baylor), and the Southland and SWAC also have two. The NEC has one (Central Connecticut State-Syracuse).

While it doesn’t feature any games against Power-5 opposition, the Patriot League does have three games against FBS teams (Colgate-Buffalo, Fordham-Army, Holy Cross-Connecticut).

Incidentally, I’m a fan of the non-conference schedule Colgate put together this year — games against Furman and Cal Poly (the latter on the road), and then stepping outside the division to play a MAC school. Well done, Raiders. Rob Stone must be very proud.

None of the Ivies will play an FBS team this season, and the same is true for the teams in the Pioneer League.

Of the teams ranked in the Street & Smith’s preseason Top 25, only eight are not playing at least one FBS opponent this season. Those eight squads include three MVFC teams (North Dakota State, South Dakota State, and Illinois State); two Southland outfits (preseason #1 Sam Houston State and McNeese State); CAA power Richmond; Patriot League favorite Lehigh; and defending Pioneer League champ San Diego.

It should be pointed out that at least in the case of North Dakota State, the absence of an FBS team on the schedule certainly isn’t about an unwillingness to play teams in the bowl subdivision; rather, it more likely reflects the fact that fewer and fewer FBS programs are interested in playing NDSU.

In addition, two of the eight teams play each other this season. Sam Houston State hosts Richmond on Sunday, August 27, an attractive matchup that will be televised on ESPNU. It will also be the sideline debut for new Richmond coach (and former UTC boss) Russ Huesman.

On September 9, South Dakota State travels to Montana State in an MVFC-Big Sky intersectional affair. Another non-conference matchup featuring teams from those two conferences is Illinois State-Northern Arizona, which kicks off in Flagstaff on October 7.

Lehigh hosts Villanova in what could be the Mountain Hawks’ toughest non-conference test. It is also the season opener for both teams. Lehigh also has a potentially difficult game against Penn; like the Villanova contest, it will be played at Goodman Stadium.

San Diego’s non-conference slate includes a long road trip to Princeton. The Tigers are expected to compete with Penn and Harvard for the Ivy League title this season, after sharing the crown with the Quakers last year.

We are now less than two months away from the start of football season for almost every FBS and FCS team (Ivy League excepted). Can’t wait…

The FCS playoffs — a primer

The purpose of this post is to explain some of the ins and outs of the FCS playoffs, particularly for people who may not be familiar with the basics of postseason play. I’m also going to delve into a few other aspects of the playoffs (including the way the teams are selected, seeded, and bracketed), some of which I believe are problematic.

The tournament has expanded over the years, from a four-team setup in 1978 to today’s 24-team field. The current format has been in place since 2013.

Of the 24 teams that make the field, 10 will be conference champions that automatically qualify for the tournament. As of November 7, two teams have already qualified for the 2016 tourney — Lehigh (from the Patriot League) and The Citadel (from the Southern Conference).

While there are 10 automatic qualifiers, there are actually 13 FCS conferences. Three of those leagues do not have auto-bids to the FCS playoffs.

The Ivy League does not participate in the playoffs, so none of its schools will send a team to the tournament.

The other two conferences without automatic bids are the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) and Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC). Those two leagues send their respective champions to the “Celebration Bowl”, a separate post-season event.

However, SWAC and MEAC schools are eligible to receive at-large bids. In other words, if a team that does not win one of those leagues is deemed by the selection committee to be one of the 14 best at-large candidates, it may compete in the FCS playoffs. While that scenario would normally be unlikely, this season might provide just such a situation, thanks to two teams in the MEAC that are each having fine seasons.

North Carolina A&T is currently ranked 9th in the FCS Coaches’ Poll, with a record of 8-1 that includes a victory over an FBS opponent (Kent State). The Aggies’ only loss so far this season was to Tulsa.

Meanwhile, North Carolina Central is 7-2, with both losses to FBS schools. The two schools will play in two weeks for the MEAC title. I don’t believe North Carolina Central would receive an at-large bid at 8-3, but if North Carolina A&T were to lose to the Eagles, a 9-2 Aggies squad could be a viable at-large candidate.

The leagues that send automatic qualifiers to the playoffs:

  • Big Sky Conference
  • Big South Conference
  • Colonial Athletic Association (CAA)
  • Missouri Valley Football Conference (MVFC)
  • Northeast Conference (NEC)
  • Ohio Valley Conference (OVC)
  • Patriot League
  • Pioneer Football League
  • Southern Conference (SoCon)
  • Southland Conference

Here is this year’s tournament schedule:

  • Bracket announcement: Sunday, November 20, 2016 at 11:00 am (televised on ESPNU)
  • First round: Saturday, November 26, 2016 — eight games at campus sites (this is the Saturday after Thanksgiving)
  • Second round: Saturday, December 3, 2016 — eight games at campus sites (seeded teams will host in this round after getting a bye in the first round)
  • Quarterfinals: Friday, December 9, 2016 or Saturday, December 10, 2016 — four games at campus sites (higher-seeded team hosts)
  • Semifinals: Friday, December 16, 2016 or Saturday, December 17, 2016 — two games at campus sites (higher-seeded team hosts)
  • National Championship: Saturday, January 7, 2017 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas (kickoff at noon EST)

The FCS selection committee selects the 14 best at-large teams to join the 10 automatic qualifiers, and then ranks the top 8 teams.

The teams ranked in the top 8 are seeded, and also receive first-round byes. The remaining 16 teams are then bracketed and play first-round games.

It is important to understand that, unlike the NCAA basketball tournament, not every team is seeded. In fact, two-thirds of the field is not seeded. That is done on purpose, in order to allow the committee to make pairings “according to geographical proximity“.

Historically, that has resulted in the committee putting together what might be called a bracket of convenience, routinely pairing teams in first- and second-round matchups that have already played each other during the regular season, and/or in recent tourneys. This has been a source of frustration for many fans over the years, because the event is supposed to be a national tournament; after all, it is referred to by the NCAA as the Division I “National Championship”. However, it is rarely treated like one by the powers that be.

A good example of the “regionalization” of the FCS playoffs came last year. For the 2015 tournament, the selection committee set up multiple potential second-round regular-season rematches. When the dust had cleared from the first-round games, five of the eight second-round matchups wound up being regular-season rematches (two of those were matchups between teams in the same league).

Most inexcusably, the committee set up a first-round regular-season rematch between Colgate and New Hampshire.

Five teams from the MVFC made the field last season (four at-large picks and the automatic qualifier, North Dakota State). All five were slotted on one side of the bracket. That did not sit well with the MVFC league commissioner:

Missouri Valley Football Conference commissioner Patty Viverito said she believes the Football Championship Subdivision playoff committee made “a conscious decision” to put five Valley teams in the same bracket…

Viverito said: “It seems to me the committee has enough latitude in how they break the quadrants up that they’d be able to put teams on opposite sides of the bracket fairly easily. I wasn’t in the room. I don’t know what challenges the committee faced when they came up with this. I can’t imagine it was just a horrible oversight and they didn’t realize they’d done it until the bracket was announced. I think it was a conscious decision. I just don’t know what went into the decision-making process.”

…Viverito called the committee’s pairings “the good, the bad and the ugly.” She said her league getting five teams in the playoff field “good.” She said the formulating of the bracket and the regionalization of it “bad.” And she [called] placing five Valley teams in the same bracket “ugly.”

The complaints from the MVFC led to a change for this year:

…the NCAA approved two FCS bracketing policies that should help spread out teams from the same conferences and also avoid rematches in the early rounds. The playoff committee will now be allowed to add a flight in the first or second rounds to avoid placing four or more teams from one conference in the same side of the bracket. The committee also has the license to avoid matchups in the first round for teams that played during the regular season in a non-conference game, providing that change doesn’t result in an additional charter flight.

That won’t change a lot, but it’s better than nothing. It primarily benefits larger leagues that regularly have three or more teams make the tournament (like the MVFC, CAA, and Big Sky).

For the SoCon and Big South, however, there is no mechanism to prevent the committee from doing what it seems to like doing most — namely, pairing two teams from each conference in a first-round matchup, with the winner playing a seeded team from one of the two leagues.

This year, the FCS selection committee decided to do something that I’m guessing a few of the committee members will wind up regretting.

The NCAA Division I Football Championship Committee will reveal the top-10 teams in rank order three times during the month of November.

The committee will be releasing the top-10 teams for the first time in history. The rankings will be announced as part of College Football Daily on ESPNU Nov. 3 and 10 at 4 p.m. (ET).

The final release will take place Nov. 15 at 10 p.m. (ET) on the ESPNU Championship Drive: Power Hour.

This move was officially made for reasons of transparency. However, if part of the idea for releasing a preliminary list was also to help promote the FCS playoffs, the first reveal (November 3) on “College Football Daily” was not a success.

Show anchor Brendan Fitzgerald and analyst Jason Sehorn knew next to nothing about the FCS (including how many teams actually make the playoffs). The entire segment lasted less than two minutes; the producer did not even bother to use recent video clips for a highlights package that accompanied the release of the rankings.

Clearly, the committee is taking a page from the College Football Playoff (CFP) and its weekly rankings. When it comes to the CFP, though, the weekly rankings release may not be the best thing to emulate.

Ten people make up the FCS selection committee. All are directors of athletics, representing schools from each of the ten leagues with automatic bids:

  • Brian Hutchinson, Morehead State — Pioneer League [chairman]
  • Chuck Burch, Gardner-Webb — Big South
  • Richard Johnson, Wofford — SoCon
  • Kyle Moats, Missouri State — MVFC
  • Nathan Pine, Holy Cross — Patriot League
  • Marty Scarano, New Hampshire — CAA
  • Paul Schlickmann, Central Connecticut State — NEC
  • Greg Seitz, Jacksonville State — OVC
  • Brad Teague, Central Arkansas — Southland
  • Jeff Tingey, Idaho State — Big Sky

One of the things I noticed about the committee is the dual-league nature of its chairman, Brian Hutchinson. Morehead State competes in football in the Pioneer League, which is the league he represents on this committee. However, in other sports Morehead State is a member of the OVC.

To me, that leads to a potential “optics” issue, namely the possible impression (almost certainly unfair, but still) that the OVC has two representatives on the committee — Hutchinson and Greg Seitz, the director of athletics at Jacksonville State.

When the first set of preliminary playoff rankings were released last week, the top-ranked team was, somewhat controversially…Jacksonville State.

Week 1 rankings:

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

This will look a little different in Week 2. Charleston Southern will fall out of the top 10 after losing at home to Gardner-Webb, and so could Richmond (which lost at home to James Madison). However, how much change in the rankings is really possible? Is the committee already hamstringing itself on that front?

Brian Hutchinson gave two radio interviews after the rankings were released last week, both to stations in North Dakota. He should get some credit for agreeing to the interviews, because he is in the difficult position of having to speak for a committee. He may not even agree with all of the committee’s decisions, but he has to defend them anyway.

A few thoughts on his comments:

  • I got the distinct impression that the committee members weren’t prepared for a public rankings release
  • It’s conceivable that the rankings will wind up being close to valueless when it comes to the actual selection and seeding
  • Somewhat surprisingly, there is no established order of criteria when evaluating teams

Hutchinson was asked about the difference in seeding between two currently undefeated teams, Sam Houston State and The Citadel. One of the interviewers compared the two squads and noted that The Citadel had a better strength of schedule, including a win over another top-10 team (Chattanooga).

When asked about the “value of Sam Houston State to the committee”, Hutchinson said:

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.

I really hope that members of the selection committee aren’t using total offense as a criterion (particularly as a stand-alone benchmark) when comparing teams.

However, Hutchinson also added this:

The question about The Citadel as it relates [to Sam Houston State] is absolutely fair, though. They have a really good win over a conference opponent in Chattanooga. They’ve been undefeated. They have not yet played an FBS game, though I believe they have one the last week of the season.

So for all intents and purposes, the criteria the committee will get to evaluate them on will be done prior to the [game versus North Carolina]. Now should they win that game, obviously that would be a big feather in their cap. Should they lose it, I think most people if you look at it on paper would say they were supposed to [lose the game] — and so, that’s just how you evaluate those kinds of things.

The selection committee chairman was also asked if “there had been a lot of reaction around the country [to the preliminary rankings], or has it been isolated pockets like Cheney [Washington] or Fargo [North Dakota]?”

“It has been very isolated,” replied Hutchinson.

Those “isolated pockets” referenced in the interviewer’s query are the cities in which Eastern Washington and North Dakota State are located, of course. Fans of those schools are (justifiably, in my opinion) miffed that they were ranked 3-4 in the initial rankings, rather than 1-2. The committee seemed to ignore schedule strength and quality victories when ranking the teams.

The issue in question relates to potential seeding. The difference in being a 1 or 2 seed versus a 3 or 4 seed, for example, is this: if a seeded team keeps winning, it will host every game until it plays a higher-seeded team. Therefore, if a team is a 1 or 2 seed, it will host every game until the national title game (assuming that it continues to win). A 3 or 4 seed, however, might have to go on the road in the semifinals.

Obviously, that can be significant.

Each seeding “break” matters when it comes to hosting. For teams like James Madison and The Citadel, receiving a 1 or 2 seed may not be possible — but a 3 or 4 seed might be a realistic placement. The difference between being a 4 seed or a 5 seed could be the difference between playing a home game in the quarterfinals or going on the road. That matters.

There are two weeks left in the FCS regular season. A lot of things can (and will) change over the next two weeks.

One thing that won’t change, though, is the level of interest in the FCS playoffs from those who support teams still in the running for a spot in the field. That interest is intense, and will remain so until the bracket is revealed on November 20; it will then continue for fans of the 24 schools in the tournament.

It’s not often that people dream about making a trip to Frisco, Texas, but here we are…

2016 Football, Game 3: The Citadel vs. Gardner-Webb

The Citadel at Gardner-Webb, to be played at Ernest W. Spangler Stadium in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 17.

The game will not be televised. It will be streamed on the Big South Network, with Fabian Fuentes providing play-by-play and Alex Guest supplying the analysis.

The contest can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, is 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 preview from The Shelby Star

– Game notes from The Citadel and Gardner-Webb

SoCon weekly release

Big South weekly release

Brent Thompson’s 9/13 press conference, including comments from Malik Diggs and DeAndre Schoultz (video)

Brent Thompson 9/14 radio show (video)

– The Citadel’s “steal” curtain defense

– Offense has yet to get going (but hey, the Bulldogs are still 2-0)

– For Dee Delaney, ascension is fueled by competition

Delaney wants to be the best

Delaney is the SoCon Defensive Player of the Week

– Radio broadcast open for Saturday’s game (audio)

FCS Coaches’ Poll

As mentioned in the post introduction, the contest will be on the radio, and also on the Big South Network. If you have a Roku player, you can stream the game on your TV, as the Big South Network now has a Roku channel.

(No, the SoCon Digital Network doesn’t have a Roku channel yet. I’ve asked the league about it. More than once.)

A quick review of Gardner-Webb’s history, some of which I originally wrote when the Runnin’ Bulldogs faced the shako-wearing Bulldogs back in 2014:

Gardner-Webb’s roots can be traced back to 1905, when it was established as Boiling Springs High School. It became a junior college in 1928, and began offering four-year degrees in 1969. It has been known as Gardner-Webb University since 1993.

The school is named for former North Carolina governor O. Max Gardner and his wife, Fay Webb Gardner, along with their families. O. Max Gardner is the only person to have ever been captain of both football teams at North Carolina and North Carolina State.

Gardner-Webb is affiliated with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. The 225-acre campus is located in Boiling Springs, North Carolina (as opposed to Boiling Springs, South Carolina; the two towns are about 30 miles apart).

There are around 4,900 undergraduate and graduate students at Gardner-Webb; 63% of them are women. They hail from 37 states and 21 countries.

According to the school website:

Historically the University has played significant roles in teacher education and ministerial preparation for church-related vocations. Programs of instruction and experiences designed to prepare teachers and ministers continue to be major objectives of the University.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs play their home football games in Ernest W. Spangler Stadium, a multi-purpose facility with a capacity of 8,500 for football, and an artificial turf field.

Stadium Journey positively reviewed the setup in 2012. Apparently fried Oreos are a thing at Gardner-Webb.

The previous meeting between the two schools resulted in a 37-14 victory for The Citadel at Johnson Hagood Stadium, though it should be pointed out that Gardner-Webb led 14-13 midway through the third quarter. Twenty-four unanswered points later, however, Mike Houston had his first win as The Citadel’s head coach.

The matchup on Saturday is the return game of a home-and-home series set up a few years ago by Larry Leckonby, the former AD at The Citadel. Leckonby needed a home game for the 2014 season after Appalachian State and Georgia Southern announced they were moving to FBS. Thus, the agreement with Gardner-Webb was made.

That is the main reason why The Citadel only has five home games this season. Next year, Johnson Hagood Stadium will host six games, including non-conference matchups against Newberry and Presbyterian.

The Citadel’s other non-conference game in 2017 is at Clemson, one of five in-state teams the Bulldogs will face next season.

It is decidedly an “old school” schedule. Newberry was a regular foe for The Citadel from the end of World War II until 1960, while from 1915 until the late 1980s Presbyterian was an almost annual opponent on the Bulldogs’ home slate (the two schools having met on the gridiron 62 times in all).

Carroll McCray is the head coach of Gardner-Webb, and he also played there. McCray was an offensive lineman for Tom Moore.

McCray’s coaching career has included stops at Samford, Furman, and Mercer (working under Bobby Lamb at the latter two schools), along with Appalachian State and South Carolina (he was a staffer for Sparky Woods in Boone and Columbia).

He was the head coach at Austin Peay for four seasons before leaving to take an assistant’s position at Furman. McCray later was the head coach at North Greenville for one year before taking the Gardner-Webb job; his replacement at NGU was current Charleston Southern head coach Jamey Chadwell. McCray’s record in four years at his alma mater is 16-21 (4-12 in the Big South).

Last year, Gardner-Webb was 4-7, 2-4 in the Big South. The highlight of the campaign was a 34-20 victory over Liberty, which was ranked #15 at the time.

Incidentally, G-W also beat a team ranked #15 in 2013, when Richmond came to Boiling Springs and left with a 12-10 defeat. The Citadel is currently ranked…#15.

(Dum dum dum dummmm.)

Gardner-Webb’s biggest problem last season was scoring points. The Runnin’ Bulldogs only averaged 12.8 points per game. That was fifth-worst in all of FCS. G-W’s defense was solid (only allowing 20.6 points per contest), but couldn’t overcome the lack of productivity on the offensive side of the ball.

G-W was shut out three times, all on the road (by Wofford, Coastal Carolina, and Charleston Southern) and failed to break double digits in two other games (against Kennesaw State and Monmouth). Gardner-Webb actually won two low-scoring affairs (14-10 over Presbyterian and 13-9 over Virginia Union).

Gardner-Webb struggled on the ground (averaging just 3.6 yards per rush). However, there was a reason G-W ran 66% of the time anyway. When the Runnin’ Bulldogs tried to become Passin’ Bulldogs, things didn’t always go well. Just to give you an idea:

  • 46.0% completion percentage (ranked 117th out of 123 FCS teams)
  • 98.7 yards per game passing (118th)
  • 9.44 passing yards per completion (117th) [and only 4.3 yards per pass attempt]
  • 82.93 offensive team passing efficiency (118th)

The team also finished 113th in total offense, 109th in Red Zone offense, 107th in total first downs, and 118th in 3rd-down conversion rate (25.1%).

Defensively, Gardner-Webb’s only major negative was probably not forcing enough turnovers (14 in 11 games). However, in general the numbers looked good on that side of the ball, particularly the defensive third-down conversion rate (25.9%, which was third-best nationally).

Those anemic 3rd-down conversion rates for both G-W and its opponents meant that there was a lot of punting in Gardner-Webb games, an average of 13.5 boots per contest. In contrast, The Citadel and its opponents combined for 8.3 punts per game in 2015.

One other observation: Gardner-Webb held its own in 2015 when it came to scoring in the 2nd and 4th quarters, but was outscored by a combined 121-41 in the 1st and 3rd periods.

This season, Gardner-Webb is 1-1. It opened the campaign by travelling to Elon and extinguishing the Phoenix, 31-6. Last week, the Runnin’ Bulldogs ran aground at Western Carolina, losing 44-14. The game against The Citadel will be G-W’s home opener.

Against Elon, the score was 3-3 at halftime, but the Runnin’ Bulldogs came out of the locker room on fire. As part of a 327-yard rushing day, Gardner-Webb scored on four of its first five possessions of the second half, with the shortest of those scoring drives being 65 yards.

Quarterback Tyrell Maxwell rushed for 154 yards, while running back Khalil Lewis also hit triple figures on the ground and scored three touchdowns. Gardner-Webb was 8 of 13 on third down conversion attempts, a vast improvement in that category from what it managed throughout the 2015 season.

What made the outburst even more impressive was that offensive coordinator Brett Nichols missed the game to be present at the birth of his son.

Gardner-Webb’s second game was a complete reversal of its first, at least in the second half. Western Carolina held a slim 17-14 lead as the third quarter began, but the Catamounts dominated the game from that point forward, scoring 27 unanswered points on four long scoring drives.

WCU finished with 690 yards of total offense (averaging 8.0 yards per play), including 427 passing yards. Catamounts running back Detrez Newsome rushed for 148 yards on 19 carries.

Gardner-Webb punted six times in seven second-half possessions, turning the ball over on downs the only time it didn’t punt. G-W also fumbled a kickoff.

Gardner-Webb runs a spread offense, one that features several natives of South Carolina.

Tyrell Maxwell (6’2″, 220 lbs.) is a junior from Cordova who went to Edisto High School. Maxwell was a standout quarterback and safety in high school (appearing in the Shrine Bowl), but he has strictly been a dual-threat QB at Gardner-Webb.

Maxwell is 23-46 passing for 188 yards so far this season for the Runnin’ Bulldogs, with one interception. He has 225 rushing yards (5.9 yards per carry), with two touchdowns. Maxwell is the alltime rushing leader at the quarterback position for G-W.

Khalil Lewis (5’10”, 210 lbs.) is a redshirt sophomore running back from Hilton Head Island. He rushed for over 100 yards against Elon and Western Carolina, the first Gardner-Webb running back to have back-to-back 100+yard rushing games in five years.

Redshirt senior tight end Mike Estes (6’4″, 230 lbs.)  is the primary receiving threat for the Runnin’ Bulldogs. Estes was a first-team All-Big South performer last year after catching 29 passes (five of which went for TDs). He caught four passes in each of the first two games this season.

Estes had four receptions against The Citadel two years ago, including a 17-yarder.

Average size of the projected starters along the offensive line for Gardner-Webb: 6’3″, 303 lbs.

Left guard Caleb Smith (6’3″, 330 lbs.) is the biggest member of a very large o-line. He is also a preseason first-team All-Big South selection. The redshirt senior is from Woodruff.

Defensively, Gardner-Webb normally lines up in a 3-4, although against the triple option there may be some adjustments.

Bookend outside linebackers lead the way for the defense. Chad Geter (6’2″, 253 lbs.) is a redshirt senior from Irmo who went to Dutch Fork High School. A two-time All-Big South pick, Geter had 92 tackles last season.

Aaron Cook (6’1″, 235 lbs.) is an Edgefield resident. Cook was a second-team All-Big South choice last season. Two years ago versus The Citadel, he led the Runnin’ Bulldogs with nine tackles.

Free safety Spencer Havird (6’2″, 202 lbs.) is a three-year starter. The redshirt junior, a native of San Diego, led the Big South last season in passes defended.

Gardner-Webb will rotate as many as eight players along the three down lineman spots. There is a lot of bulk in that mix, too. The projected starters average 282 lbs.; the three listed players at nosetackle weigh 293 lbs., 309 lbs., and 295 lbs.

Placekicker Paul Schumacher (5’10”, 172 lbs.) was 7-12 on field goal attempts last season, with a long of 41. The junior also handles kickoffs and PATs. Schumacher competes as a long jumper on the school’s track team.

Andrew Komornik (6’5″, 263 lbs.) is a redshirt junior and one of the larger punters around. The resident of Ft. Mill was busy last season, with 70 punts (averaging 38.1 yards per boot).

Sophomore Brody Rollins (5’11”, 176 lbs.) is a speedster, and maybe the top breakaway threat on the Gardner-Webb roster. He is averaging 29.7 yards per kick return, and is also the backup quarterback for the Runnin’ Bulldogs.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Boiling Springs, per the National Weather Service: a chance of rain before 2:00 pm, then a chance of showers and thunderstorms between 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm, then a chance of showers after 4:00 pm. It is expected to be partly sunny, with a high near 82 degrees. On Saturday night, there is a 30% chance of showers. It will be mostly cloudy, with a low around 67 degrees.

Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 15.5-point favorite over Gardner-Webb (the Bulldogs were also a 15.5-point favorite over Furman last week). The over/under is 37.5, one of the lower totals on the entire Division I slate.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Chattanooga is a 13-point favorite at Furman; Wofford is a 42-point favorite over Johnson C. Smith; Mercer is a 14.5-point favorite over Tennessee Tech; and Western Carolina is a 29.5-point favorite over East Tennessee State.

The game between Western Carolina and ETSU will be played at Bristol Motor Speedway, the site for last Saturday’s Virginia Tech-Tennessee matchup. There may not be as many fans in Bristol for this week’s game.

Samford and VMI are both off this week.

Last week in non-conference action, SoCon teams were 5-1 against the spread, with only VMI failing to cover.

North Carolina, which The Citadel will play in its regular-season finale, is a 26-point favorite against James Madison.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is 14th among FCS teams, down two spots from last week. Gardner-Webb is ranked 72nd, dropping 16 spots after its loss to Western Carolina.

Massey projects The Citadel to have an 88% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of 24-7.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Chattanooga (6th), Samford (17th), Western Carolina (21st), Wofford (26th), Furman (43rd), Mercer (46th), VMI (60th), East Tennessee State (110th).

Seven of the nine SoCon teams moved up in the rankings this week.

– According to the roster included in its game notes, Gardner-Webb has 39 players from North Carolina on its roster, the most from any state. Other states represented: South Carolina (20), Georgia (12), Florida (7), Alabama (3), Virginia (2), Tennessee (2), Illinois (2), and one each from California, Colorado, and Pennsylvania. In addition, offensive tackle Jordan Stalker is a native of Australia, and starting defensive end P.J. Fuimaono is from American Samoa.

– 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.

– Gardner-Webb will play Miami (OH) later in the season. Future FBS opponents for the Runnin’ Bulldogs include Wyoming (2017), Appalachian State (2018), and Charlotte (2019). Last season, Gardner-Webb opened the season against South Alabama.

G-W has played some power-five conference schools in recent years, including Wake Forest, Pittsburgh, North Carolina State, Georgia Tech, and Mississippi State.

– Tom Moore has the distinction of having been the head football coach at both Gardner-Webb (1979-82) and The Citadel (1983-86). His records at the two schools were similar — 17-24 at Gardner-Webb, and 18-25-1 at The Citadel.

– This week in the FCS national statistical rankings: The Citadel’s national lead in the “fewest penalties” category did not last long.

Other observations: The Citadel is tied for sixth nationally in turnover margin (+5). While the rushing numbers are modest compared to the previous two seasons (currently 21st), the offensive passing statistics have been good — sixteenth in completion percentage, fourth in yards per completion (18.6), and eighth in passing efficiency.

Among individuals, Dee Delaney is third nationally in passes defensed and interceptions, while Tyler Renew is 13th nationally in rush yards per game.

– Brent Thompson is the fourth head coach in school history to begin his career with two victories. If The Citadel wins on Saturday, he will be one of two to begin his career with three wins.

Ralph Foster started his career 4-0, including a 3-0 mark in 1906. That season is notable because the TSA Matrix Ratings System recently awarded the national championship to The Citadel for that year.

It hasn’t been widely publicized as of yet, unlike The Citadel’s 1871 national title. One other difference is that the 1871 championship is undisputed (both Yale and Princeton claim the 1906 title as well).

I’ll probably write more about the 1906 championship campaign early next year.

– Triple option oddity, the sequel: through two games this season, more Bulldogs have caught passes (seven) than had rushing attempts (five).

– Saturday’s game is one of three that The Citadel will play in the state of North Carolina this season. As it happens, the Bulldogs’ three Old North State opponents compete in three different leagues — the Big South  (Gardner-Webb), the SoCon (Western Carolina), and the ACC (North Carolina).

The Citadel is favored on Saturday, and justifiably so. However, Gardner-Webb has proven to be a tough out at home in recent years, and has a history of giving good teams a hard time (as its victories over ranked opposition attest).

If the Cadets play a solid game on both sides of the ball, limiting turnovers and penalties, they should come back to Charleston with their third win of the season. It would be a great way to go into a bye week.

That said, nothing is easy at The Citadel, and that includes road football games. Any win away from home is a good win.

We’ll see if the team can get the job done on Saturday.

FCS school football pages and 2016 media guides

This post provides lists and links to FCS school football pages/media guides for the 2016 season (I did the same thing in 20132014, and 2015). SBNation usually has a page with links to FBS football pages and media guides; I’ll link to that when it becomes available.

Included below are the schools’ football web pages, 2016 football media guides, and occasionally something extra (more often than not an additional record book that is separate from the regular media guide). I also link to conference web pages and media guides.

Some of the guides are called prospectuses or supplements (or are extended “notes” packages); these tend to have fewer pages.

More than a few schools are now eschewing media guides. When that is the case, I will link to the appropriate “fact sheet” or general notes/stats packages. At times, it is hard to determine whether or not a school intends to release a media guide.

This will be a work in progress. I’ll link to media guides or prospectuses as they are released by the individual schools and conferences. For some schools, that won’t happen before the season actually begins. Based on past history, in a few cases it won’t happen at all.

One other note: this season, Coastal Carolina will play as an FCS independent, and not as a Big South conference member. However, for convenience I am including Coastal Carolina with the Big South teams anyway.

Last update: September 21, 2016 

Big Sky 2016 Guide
Cal Poly 2016 Guide
Eastern Washington 2016 Guide
Idaho State 2016 Info Records
Montana 2016 Guide
Montana State 2016 Guide
North Dakota 2016 Guide
Northern Arizona 2016 Guide
Northern Colorado 2016 News Records
Portland State 2016 Guide
Sacramento State 2016 News
Southern Utah 2016 News Records
UC Davis 2016 Guide
Weber State 2016 Guide
Big South 2016 Guide
Charleston Southern 2016 Guide
Coastal Carolina 2016 News  Note: FCS independent in 2016
Gardner-Webb 2016 Guide
Kennesaw State 2016 News Record Book
Liberty 2016 News Record Book
Monmouth 2016 Guide
Presbyterian 2016 News
CAA 2016 Guide
Albany 2016 Guide Record Book
Delaware 2016 Info
Elon 2016 News Records
James Madison 2016 Guide
Maine 2016 Guide
New Hampshire 2016 Guide
Rhode Island 2016 News Record Book
Richmond 2016 Guide Record Book
Stony Brook 2016 Guide
Towson 2016 Guide
Villanova 2016 Guide
William & Mary 2016 News Records
Ivy League 2016 Guide
Brown 2016 Guide Records
Columbia 2016 Guide
Cornell 2016 Facts Records
Dartmouth 2016 News Records
Harvard 2016 Guide
Pennsylvania 2016 Guide
Princeton 2016 Preview Record Book
Yale 2016 News Record Book
MEAC 2016 Guide
Bethune-Cookman 2016 News
Delaware State 2016 Guide
Florida A&M 2016 News
Hampton 2016 Guide
Howard 2016 News
Morgan State 2016 Guide
Norfolk State 2016 News
North Carolina A&T 2016 News
North Carolina Central 2016 Info Record Book
Savannah State 2016 News
South Carolina State 2016 News
MVFC 2016 News Records and History
Illinois State 2016 Guide
Indiana State 2016 Guide Record Book
Missouri State 2016 Guide
North Dakota State 2016 News Records and Results
Northern Iowa 2016 Guide
South Dakota 2016 Guide
South Dakota State 2016 Guide
Southern Illinois 2016 Guide
Western Illinois 2016 Guide Record Book
Youngstown State 2016 News Record Book
NEC 2016 News
Bryant 2016 News
Central Connecticut State 2016 News Record Book
Duquesne 2016 Guide
Robert Morris 2016 Guide
Sacred Heart 2016 News Record Book
St. Francis (PA) 2016 News Record Book
Wagner 2016 Guide
OVC 2016 Guide
Austin Peay 2016 Guide
Eastern Illinois 2016 Guide Record Book
Eastern Kentucky 2016 News Record Book
Jacksonville State 2016 Guide
Murray State 2016 Guide
Southeast Missouri State 2016 Guide
Tennessee State 2016 Guide
Tennessee Tech 2016 Guide
UT Martin 2016 Guide
Patriot League 2016 Guide
Bucknell 2016 Guide
Colgate 2016 Guide Record Book
Fordham 2016 Guide
Georgetown 2016 Guide
Holy Cross 2016 Guide
Lafayette 2016 Guide
Lehigh 2016 Info Record Book
Pioneer League 2016 News
Butler 2016 News Record Book
Campbell 2016 Guide
Davidson 2016 News
Dayton 2016 News Record Book
Drake 2016 Guide
Jacksonville 2016 News Record Book
Marist 2016 Guide
Morehead State 2016 Guide
San Diego 2016 News
Stetson 2016 News
Valparaiso 2016 News Records and Results
SoCon 2016 Guide
Chattanooga 2016 Guide
East Tennessee State 2016 News
Furman 2016 News Record Book
Mercer 2016 Guide
Samford 2016 Guide
The Citadel 2016 News Record Book
Virginia Military Institute 2016 Guide
Western Carolina 2016 Guide
Wofford 2016 Guide
Southland 2016 Guide
Abilene Christian 2016 Guide
Central Arkansas 2016 Guide
Houston Baptist 2016 Guide
Incarnate Word 2016 Guide
Lamar 2016 Guide
McNeese State 2016 Guide
Nicholls State 2016 Guide
Northwestern State 2016 Guide
Sam Houston State 2016 Guide Record Book
Southeastern Louisiana 2016 Guide
Stephen F. Austin 2016 Guide
SWAC 2016 Guide
Alabama A&M 2016 Guide
Alabama State 2016 News
Alcorn State 2016 Facts
Jackson State 2016 News
Mississippi Valley State 2016 Stats
Arkansas-Pine Bluff 2016 Stats
Grambling State 2016 News
Prairie View A&M 2016 News
Southern University 2016 Info
Texas Southern 2016 Info

2015 Football, Game 4: The Citadel vs. Charleston Southern

The Citadel vs. Charleston Southern, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 26. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Kevin Fitzgerald providing play-by-play and Sadath Jean-Pierre 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. WQNT will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game. 

Mike Legg (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze. Jay Harper will report from the sidelines; he will host the first hour of the pregame show as well.

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

Links of interest:

Preview of Charleston Southern-The Citadel from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Charleston Southern

SoCon weekly release

Big South weekly release

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Jamey Chadwell on the Big South teleconference

Mike Houston’s 9/22 press conference (with comments from James Riley and Eric Goins)

The Mike Houston Show (radio)

The preview in The Post and Courier largely focused on the future of the series between The Citadel and Charleston Southern.

It is a topic that is vaguely reminiscent of last year’s kerfuffle over basketball scheduling between the two schools (along with the College of Charleston). It’s not quite the same thing, though there are obvious parallels.

Like the hoops situation, local media has seized on this issue, with carryover on Twitter. And like the hoops situation, the issue has been largely misrepresented.

There are two entities that appear to desperately want The Citadel and Charleston Southern to be an annual “rivalry” game. One is Charleston Southern. The other is the Lowcountry media.

Watching Mike Houston’s weekly press conference, I shook my head at some of the questions he was asked. I have to say I am disappointed in certain members of the press corps, who should know better. Houston did a fine job handling quite a bit of nonsense.

First, WCIV-TV’s Scott Eisberg tried to draw a reaction from Houston over the t-shirt Jamey Chadwell wore at the postgame presser after last year’s game, but the coach wouldn’t bite (“I’m not going to get into all that”).

Gene Sapakoff, sports columnist for The Post and Courier, then asked a reasonable question about recruiting, but followed that up with a “please write my column for me” query/comment about alumni interest in the matchup.

Houston correctly observed that alumni care about every game. (On his radio show the next day, Houston reinforced this point by telling a story about an alum who informed the coach in the offseason that the Bulldogs really needed to beat Western Carolina this year.)

Later, Eisberg tried another angle, one that got quickly batted away by Houston:

– Eisberg: “Not a more to lose game, but a lot of people would expect The Citadel to win this game being the bigger school and everything like that…”

– Houston: “I may be wrong, but I think their enrollment is bigger than ours [it is]. I’m pretty sure [about that], so as far as ‘bigger school’, I don’t exactly [know what you mean], because I think they are actually the larger institution.”

– Eisberg: “…[indecipherable noises] budget and stadium, and I mean…tradition of the program and stuff like that.”

– Houston: “Well, they are an FCS program that offers the same number of scholarships that we do. They do a good job coaching and recruiting…”

A couple of minutes after that, Houston concluded his portion of the press conference. James Riley then strode to the podium and (after an initial series of questions from Jeff Hartsell) got this incredible query from Sapakoff:

Jay – James, like coach was saying, um, he kinda implied that they are sort of like an equal, I mean, do you see them as kind of an equal competitor, or something beneath you as far as a smaller school?

Let’s review. In one rambling question, Sapakoff:

  • Asked a player if he flatly disagreed with a statement the player’s coach had just made about an opponent
  • Tried to get a bulletin board comment (when there had been no suggestion that the player had a particular animus against the opponent, or any opponent for that matter)
  • Made an erroneous statement while asking the question
  • Made an erroneous statement while asking the question, after another reporter had already been corrected for making an erroneous statement on the same topic less than five minutes before

Riley, to his credit, didn’t even blink, giving as respectful and polite an answer (“Uh, no, I never take an opponent lightly, no matter who we are playing…”) as could be expected under the circumstances.

Sapakoff then asked Riley to compare Charleston Southern to other SoCon schools, “particularly Furman and Wofford”. Why, I have no idea. Riley, a bit puzzled (and no wonder), noted that they ran different schemes.

The columnist then tried to bait the senior linebacker for a third time with another question about losing to Charleston Southern, and again Sapakoff did not get the answer he seemed to want.

Really, the SoCon should give a special Player of the Week Award to James Riley for handling that absurd (if not contemptible) line of questioning with considerable grace.

The media has a job to do, which is understood by all parties involved. Goading players and coaches in the hopes one of them may make an inflammatory comment is not supposed to be part of that job. It was, collectively, an embarrassing performance by the fourth estate.

Given all that, it seems the perspective of The Citadel when it comes to playing Charleston Southern isn’t likely to get equal time.

So, I’ll explain some of the issues in this post. I’ve discussed a few of these things before, but I’ll go over them again just for the sake of completeness.

Charleston Southern wants to play The Citadel on an annual basis, possibly for ease of scheduling, partly for recruiting, but mostly to escape being the Lowcountry’s “red-headed stepchild” (a comment Jamey Chadwell made prior to last year’s contest).

All of that is understandable. It is also understandable if Charleston Southern will only play The Citadel in a home-and-home series going forward.

If it is not in the best interests of CSU to play The Citadel only at Johnson Hagood Stadium, then Charleston Southern shouldn’t do so. That’s a perfectly reasonable stance to take.

However, The Citadel has to do what is best for The Citadel. Playing a home-and-home series against Charleston Southern is not what is best for The Citadel.

It is nice that CSU is finally making improvements to its football facility. It should have happened many years ago.

However, The Citadel’s future scheduling is too restrictive to have an annual home-and-home series with Charleston Southern, even if CSU finally has an acceptable stadium.

That is the real problem. Naturally, it hasn’t received enough attention, or has been discounted as a factor — when, in fact, it is a key issue.

FCS schools will play an 11-game regular season schedule every year until 2019 (when FCS teams can schedule 12 games, as was the option in 2013 and 2014). After 2019, there won’t be another 12-game schedule opportunity for FCS programs until 2024.

Beginning next season, the number of SoCon games on the slate will increase from seven to eight, as East Tennessee State begins league play. That leaves three non-conference games per season for The Citadel. One of those three contests will almost certainly always be a “money game” against FBS opposition (unless those games come to an end, but that’s another issue and at least several years down the road anyway).

In 2016, the Bulldogs play at North Carolina. In 2017, The Citadel will play at South Carolina (the second game in three years against the Gamecocks).

This leaves two games on The Citadel’s schedule each year. One of them has to be a “designated home game” — in other words, a game in which the opposing school does not get a return game at its place. That’s to ensure there are at least five home games at Johnson Hagood Stadium every season.

The other game is what I call a “flex game”. It could be a non-conference home-and-home with another FCS school, or a matchup with another FBS program. While the latter possibility may not be as likely, there are scenarios in which The Citadel would take a second FBS game (especially if it were against Army or Navy).

Charleston Southern could play The Citadel every year in the “designated home game” at Johnson Hagood Stadium. However, it would not be in the best interests of The Citadel to hamstring its future scheduling by eliminating the “flex game” to play an annual home-and-home series versus CSU.

The Citadel needs the flexibility of that spot on its schedule to pursue opportunities that could be of significant benefit to the school and its football program, whether a “bonus” money game, a matchup with a service academy, or perhaps a home-and-home with a team outside the region.

It is generally more expensive to play a home-and-home against an FCS school in another part of the country, but there are significant ancillary benefits to doing so. They include exposing the school to a wider audience, and reconnecting with certain parts of The Citadel’s widely-spread alumni base.

That is something I distinctly remember about attending The Citadel’s game at Princeton. It was an excellent public/alumni relations event for the military college. I also remember the surprisingly large contingent of Bulldog supporters who showed up for that contest.

I’ll go further, actually, and say something a lot of people aren’t going to like. The Citadel derives little benefit from playing Charleston Southern, even when the game is played at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

(There are supporters of The Citadel who would say that “little benefit” in the previous sentence could be changed to “no benefit”, and a few who would argue that the series is a net negative for The Citadel. I won’t go quite that far, but it is a point of view that is not without merit.)

If the Bulldogs win the game, it’s because they are “supposed to win”. After all, The Citadel is the “bigger school”, according to our friends in the press corps.

If they lose, it is billed as the triumph of a plucky “smaller school” over a big, hulking, undoubtedly super-evil monster of a football factory. The empire has been defeated! All the ewoks can dance!

In addition, this is not a series The Citadel’s alumni base cares about, by and large.

Yes, I know that Charleston Southern’s football program is not what it was 15 years ago, or even five years ago. Anyone who has been paying attention knows that.

When it comes to generating interest among supporters of The Citadel, though, that doesn’t really matter much, and there isn’t a whole lot CSU can do about it.

When my father graduated from The Citadel, Charleston Southern didn’t exist. When I graduated from The Citadel, it wasn’t called Charleston Southern (and did not have a football team). I think that for many of The Citadel’s alums, there is little familiarity with Charleston Southern’s football program, and next to no enthusiasm about the schools playing each other.

The Citadel has two primary rivals in football, Furman and VMI. Furman and The Citadel have been playing each other for over 100 years, and competing in the same league continuously for more than eight decades. The gridiron series with VMI is almost as long and is between two schools with a good deal in common.

Charleston Southern and The Citadel have little in common. One is a private school affiliated with the South Carolina Baptist Convention, and has existed for just over 50 years; the other is a public military college that will soon celebrate its quartoseptcentennial.

Then there is the fact that The Citadel has never received a major attendance bump when Charleston Southern comes to town, which might come as a surprise to some people.

In seven games between the two schools at Johnson Hagood Stadium, the average attendance has been 13,202. The average game attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium in those years when the schools played? 14,153.

The games versus CSU actually lowered the average attendance numbers for The Citadel for five of the seven seasons in which they were played, including the most recent meeting in 2013.

That is perhaps less of a shock when Charleston Southern’s home attendance numbers are taken into consideration. CSU’s average home attendance through two games this season (caveat: both games were Thursday night affairs) is 3,576.

Last year CSU drew just over 4,000 for its Homecoming game against Presbyterian, the largest attendance it had for any game in 2014 aside from the one against The Citadel, when the announced attendance was 7,954 (but the actual attendance, in my opinion, was closer to 5,500).

That isn’t to say Charleston Southern has no fans. They do, and a few of them really don’t like it when you explain why playing a home-and-home doesn’t work for The Citadel. One of them told me via Twitter that the real reason The Citadel didn’t want to play had to do with an “elitist attitude & inflated self perception. You’re not what u used to be.”

His comment was ‘favorited’ by several CSU players, including starting wide receiver Colton Korn. I don’t know if the players are agreeing with the notion that current Bulldog players have an elitist attitude and aren’t as good as those from teams of the past, if they are just saying that about Bulldog supporters, or both. With Twitter, nuance can be difficult.

Okay, let’s talk about the game on Saturday…

Here is a comparison of The Citadel and Charleston Southern in select statistical categories for the 2014 season.

Incidentally, this will probably be the last post in which I use 2014 as a reference in this section; for the rest of the season, I’ll likely use up-to-date 2015 statistics, because at least by then we’ll have enough games to make those numbers at least somewhat relevant.

As usual, The Citadel’s stats in the table below are for SoCon games only (seven contests). Those opponents: Wofford, Chattanooga, Western Carolina, Mercer, Furman, Samford, and VMI.

For Charleston Southern, I included ten of the Buccaneers’ twelve games. I decided not to include statistics from CSU’s victory over Point, or its loss to Georgia. Those two games weren’t really indicative of how Charleston Southern played over the course of the 2014 campaign.

Thus, the statistics below for CSU are for ten games against the following opponents: Newberry, Campbell, The Citadel, Charlotte, Vanderbilt, Presbyterian, Coastal Carolina, Monmouth, Gardner-Webb, and Liberty.

(Note: I couldn’t come up with defensive red zone TD% numbers for Charleston Southern in 2014. If I eventually find them, I’ll include them in the table.)

 

Charleston Southern The Citadel
Offense yards/pass attempt 7.6 6.8
Offense yards/rush attempt 4.87 5.35
Offense yards per play 5.83 5.56
Offense points per game 27.10 24.86
Penalties per game 7.0 5.3
Offense 3rd down conv % 42.2 46.3
Offense 4th down conv % 43.8 60.0
Offense Red Zone TD% 50.0 66.7
Defense yards/pass attempt 7.4 9.1
Defense yards/rush attempt 4.10 5.69
Defense yards allowed/play 5.50 7.02
Defense points allowed/game 20.0 25.86
Defense 3rd down conv % 31.1 41.5
Defense 4th down conv % 50.0 52.9
Defense Red Zone TD%  — 60.0
Time of possession 34:24 32:40

 

I think that defensive 3rd-down conversion rate really stands out. CSU finished 19th in the category in FCS last year (counting all games).

Just as a point of comparison, Clemson led FBS last season in defensive third down conversion rate, at 27.4%. A rate of 31.1% would have been good enough to finish eighth nationally in that division.

Note: statistics below referencing Charleston Southern’s 2014 season are for all twelve games of that campaign.

Last season, Charleston Southern threw the ball 33.8% of the time in its spread option attack. Passing yardage accounted for 43.2% of the Buccaneers’ total offense.

Through three games this year, CSU’s passing yardage accounts for 33.1% of its total offense; the Bucs are throwing the ball on 31.1% of their offensive plays from scrimmage.

Charleston Southern has a lot of experience on offense, and that includes the quarterback position.

Austin Brown transferred from UAB two seasons ago; he started last year’s game against The Citadel and the first two games of this season. Last week, sophomore Kyle Copeland replaced an injured Brown and led the Buccaneers to a 47-7 victory over East Tennessee State.

There is a good chance both will play on Saturday. Brown is completing 46.4% of his passes, averaging 3.25 yards per attempt (the Bucs’ game against Troy hurt him in the yards/attempt category). He has one TD toss and no interceptions.

Copeland is completing a higher percentage of his throws (55.9%), averaging 8.56 yards per attempt, with 3 TDs and no picks. He has also rushed for 115 yards in three games.

However, the primary threat on the ground for Charleston Southern so far this season is running back Darius Hammond. He had 161 yards rushing against Troy (on 23 carries). Hammond is also the Bucs’ punt returner, and he took one back 74 yards for a TD last year versus The Citadel.

The other starting running back, Ben Robinson, had 127 rushing yards and 2 TDs in CSU’s opener against North Greenville. Robinson did not play last week versus ETSU, but is listed as a starter on the current two-deep.

Charleston Southern’s starting offensive line averages 6’2″, 287 lbs. It is a veteran group for the most part.

Left tackle Erik Austell was a preseason All-Big South selection. The right tackle, Benny Timmons, leads all active CSU players in career starts, with 29.

Tight end Nathan Prater is 6’8″, and caught three touchdown passes last season. Prater is from Ninety Six, South Carolina.

He could wear #96 for his hometown, or #68 for his height. Instead, he wears #81. Clearly a missed opportunity.

Prater and starting wide receivers Kevin Glears and Nathan Perera all have something in common besides being pass-catchers for the Buccaneers — they’re all sixth-year players. Perera was an all-Big South pick in 2011 before suffering knee and shoulder injuries.

Another starting wideout, Colton Korn, specializes in moving the chains, with 21 of his 27 receptions last season resulting in a first down. His brother, Willy Korn, is the wide receivers coach at Charleston Southern (and was at one time a well-known high school recruit who had a star-crossed career at Clemson).

Larry Jones III was the Big South Freshman of the Year in 2012 but missed all of last season with a knee injury. Jones has six receptions this season, second on the team to Perera (who has eight catches).

Charleston Southern usually plays a 3-4 defense. Against The Citadel, however, the Buccaneers will probably feature at least two, and probably three fronts. That was the case in both the 2013 and 2014 meetings.

Most of CSU’s experience on defense is concentrated in the secondary and in the linebacking corps.

Weakside linebacker Aaron Brown was an all-Big South choice last season after making 81 tackles. Not surprisingly, he leads the team in tackles this year, with 13 (including three for loss). Brown scored a touchdown against North Greenville in the opener, a 53-yard play that was technically a fumble return after NGU bungled a punt.

Fifth-year senior Zach Johnson is the “spur” linebacker, and no longer will be confused with former teammate (and fellow linebacker) Zac Johnston.

The Bucs have experienced cornerbacks, though preseason all-Big South pick Troy McGowens did not play in the team’s first two games. He did return against ETSU and recorded two sacks. True freshman Shadarius Hopkins has started all three games in McGowens’ stead and is listed as the starter this week as well.

The other cornerback is Malcolm Jackson, a team captain who had four interceptions last season. He is tied for second on the squad in tackles through three games this year.

Another Jackson in the CSU defensive backfield is Corbin Jackson. The free safety has 14 career starts.

Strong safety D.J. Curl has played in 24 games for Charleston Southern. His backup, Larenzo Mathis, returned an interception 87 yards for a TD against ETSU. Last year, Mathis had a blocked punt/TD return against Vanderbilt.

Caleb Batchelor was a regular in the Bucs’ d-line rotation last season. This year, he’s the starting nosetackle. Anthony Ellis, a native of Florida, has started all three games this season at defensive end after playing sparingly as a freshman.

Truett Burns is in his third year as Charleston Southern’s starting punter. He usually employs a “rugby” style of punting, and last season dropped 16 of his 54 punts inside the 20-yard line.

This year, he is averaging 35.2 yards per punt, with 5 of his 13 punts landing inside the 20.

Summerville resident Bryan Jordan is CSU’s placekicker. He is 0-2 on field goal attempts so far this season after serving primarily as a kickoff specialist last year, and also missed an extra point last week. His backup, David Kennedy, was 11-18 last season attempting field goals (including two successful kicks against The Citadel).

Jamey Chadwell expressed some concern about that aspect of the Bucs’ kicking game during the Big South media teleconference.

Long snapper Joseph Smith is from Easley. As I noted last year, Smith began his collegiate career at Delta State, where his coach was Jamey Chadwell. When the coach took the Charleston Southern job, Smith moved back to South Carolina to continue his football career with Chadwell.

As mentioned earlier, Darius Hammond is Charleston Southern’s punt returner. Hammond also returns kickoffs, as does Shadarius Hopkins.

I haven’t written anything about the Georgia Southern game to this point. Usually when I don’t have a “game review” post (which is what generally happens when I don’t attend the contest in question), I discuss the previous game early in the following preview.

I didn’t do that this week because I wanted to jump right into the issues surrounding the Charleston Southern game/series. Also, I don’t really have a lot to say about the matchup with Georgia Southern.

It was a fairly simple contest to analyze. The Citadel made several mistakes early in the game it could not afford to make, and paid for them in full, which tends to happen when facing an FBS squad. Once that ball gets rolling downhill, it’s not going to stop.

I was disappointed in the performance, but I’m also not too worried about it. My only concern is that the players don’t lose any of the confidence they gained in the first two games of the season. I trust the coaching staff to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Odds and ends:

– On Friday, The Citadel will enshrine the newest class in its athletic Hall of Fame. Baseball players Mike Pendleton and Randy Corn will be inducted, as will swimmer Milton Williams and honorary member Dr. John “Turkey” Moore.

They will be joined by Dr. Stephanie McNeill, a track and field star who will be the first woman enshrined in the Hall. Congratulations to all the honorees.

– Charleston Southern has 36 players on its roster from South Carolina, 19 from Georgia, 16 from Florida, two from North Carolina, and one each from Virginia, Texas, and California.

– This will be the second consecutive season that Charleston Southern has played a Thursday night home game in the week before it plays The Citadel.

– The front page of CSU’s game notes mentions that The Citadel and Charleston will not play next season. Just to make sure anyone reading didn’t miss that factoid, it was noted twice on the front page.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 6 1/2 point favorite over Charleston Southern this week. The over/under is 51.

That line really surprised me, to be honest. I would have guessed something like CSU -3, not that I’m a gambling expert or anything.

– Another game at Johnson Hagood Stadium, another somewhat ominous weather forecast. As of this writing, the National Weather Services is projecting a 50% chance of rain in Charleston on Saturday during the day, and 30% at night.

– Speaking of gray, the Bulldogs will be wearing all-gray uniforms for this game. I’m not excited about that, but it was inevitable.

Fans are supposed to wear light blue.

I think the game on Saturday will be competitive and close.

One thing that might be worth watching is time of possession. Both of these teams want to control the ball. Last year, Charleston Southern won that battle.

This year, The Citadel’s defense has to get off the field on third down. Conversely, the Bulldogs’ offense must sustain drives, particularly early in the game (last year on third down, The Citadel was only 4-14).

The Citadel must also avoid the turnover bug that cropped up against Georgia Southern (and to a certain extent in the Western Carolina game as well). That’s even more important in a game in which each team will probably have no more than 12 possessions (the Bulldogs had 10 in last season’s contest).

I don’t have to even discuss the special teams issues The Citadel had in last year’s matchup. That part of the game has to dramatically improve.

I hope the Bulldogs are ready to play on Saturday, rain or shine. Looks like rain, alas.

I’ll be there anyway.

 

FCS school football pages and 2015 media guides

This post provides lists and links to FCS football pages/media guides for the 2015 season (I did the same thing in 2013 and 2014). SBNation also has a page with links to FBS football pages and media guides.

Included below are the schools’ football web pages, 2015 football media guides, and occasionally something extra (more often than not an additional record book that is separate from the regular media guide).

A few schools have standalone football websites that are separate from their football web pages; those are listed (as “FB website”) too.

Some of the guides are called prospectuses or supplements (or are extended “notes” packages); these usually have fewer pages.

Quite a few schools are now eschewing media guides. When that is the case, I will link to the appropriate “fact sheet” or general notes/stats packages. At times it is difficult to discern whether or not a school intends to release a media guide, to be honest.

This will be a work in progress (to say the least). I’ll link to media guides or prospectuses as they are released by the individual schools. In some cases, that won’t happen before the season actually begins.

A couple of final notes: this year, Kennesaw State and East Tennessee State join the FCS ranks as new and re-started programs, respectively. Kennesaw State will play its football in the Big South, while East Tennessee State will play this season as an independent before joining the SoCon in 2016. However, to simplify things I am still including ETSU among the SoCon schools on the list below.

One school left FCS after last season. Charlotte is now considered an FBS program.

Last update: September 11, 2015 

 

Big Sky 2015 Guide
Cal Poly 2015 Guide
Eastern Washington 2015 Guide
Idaho State 2015 Info Records History Video
Montana 2015 Guide
Montana State 2015 Guide Records
North Dakota 2015 Guide
Northern Arizona 2015 Guide
Northern Colorado 2015 Guide Records
Portland State 2015 Guide
Sacramento State 2015 Guide
Southern Utah 2015 Stats
UC Davis 2015 Guide
Weber State 2015 Guide
Big South 2015 Guide
Charleston Southern 2015 Guide
Coastal Carolina 2015 Guide
Gardner-Webb 2015 Guide
Kennesaw State 2015 Guide
Liberty 2015 Stats Record Book
Monmouth 2015 Guide
Presbyterian 2015 Facts
CAA 2015 Guide
Albany 2015 Guide Record Book
Delaware 2015 Guide
Elon 2015 Guide Record Book
James Madison 2015 Guide
Maine 2015 Guide
New Hampshire 2015 Guide
Rhode Island 2015 Guide Record Book
Richmond 2015 Guide Record Book
Stony Brook 2015 Guide Record Book
Towson 2015 Guide
Villanova 2015 Guide
William & Mary 2015 Notes Archival Information
Ivy League 2015 Guide
Brown 2015 Guide Records
Columbia 2015 Guide
Cornell 2015 Stats Record Book
Dartmouth 2015 Notes Records
Harvard 2015 Guide
Pennsylvania 2015 Guide
Princeton 2015 Preview Record Book
Yale 2015 Preview Record Book FB website
MEAC 2015 Guide
Bethune-Cookman 2015 Notes
Delaware State 2015 Guide
Florida A&M 2015 News
Hampton 2015 Stats
Howard 2015 Facts
Morgan State 2015 Guide
Norfolk State 2015 Guide
North Carolina A&T 2015 Stats
North Carolina Central 2015 Stats Record Book
Savannah State 2015 Guide
South Carolina State 2015 Stats
MVFC 2015 News Record Book
Illinois State 2015 Guide
Indiana State 2015 Guide Record Book
Missouri State 2015 Guide
North Dakota State 2015 Stats Records and Results
Northern Iowa 2015 Guide
South Dakota 2015 Guide
South Dakota State 2015 Guide
Southern Illinois 2015 Guide
Western Illinois 2015 Guide
Youngstown State 2015 Guide
NEC 2015 News
Bryant 2015 Notes Records
Central Connecticut State 2015 Facts Record Book
Duquesne 2015 Guide
Robert Morris 2015 Guide
Sacred Heart 2015 Stats Record Book
St. Francis (PA) 2015 News Record Book
Wagner 2015 Guide
OVC 2015 Guide
Austin Peay 2015 Guide
Eastern Illinois 2015 Guide
Eastern Kentucky 2015 Guide
Jacksonville State 2015 Guide
Murray State 2015 Guide
Southeast Missouri State 2015 Guide
Tennessee State 2015 Guide
Tennessee Tech 2015 Guide
UT Martin 2015 Guide
Patriot League 2015 Guide
Bucknell 2015 Guide
Colgate 2015 Guide Record Book
Fordham 2015 Guide
Georgetown 2015 News
Holy Cross 2015 Guide
Lafayette 2015 Guide
Lehigh 2015 Info Record Book
Pioneer League 2015 News
Butler 2015 Facts Record Book
Campbell 2015 Guide
Davidson 2015 News
Dayton 2015 Stats Record Book
Drake 2015 Guide
Jacksonville 2015 News Record Book
Marist 2015 Guide
Morehead State 2015 Guide
San Diego 2015 Facts Records and Results
Stetson 2015 Guide Historical overview
Valparaiso 2015 Stats Records and Results
SoCon 2015 Guide
Chattanooga 2015 Guide
East Tennessee State 2015 Guide Record Book
Furman 2015 Guide Record Book
Mercer 2015 Guide
Samford 2015 Guide
The Citadel 2015 News  2015 Facts Record Book
Virginia Military Institute 2015 Guide
Western Carolina 2015 Guide
Wofford 2015 Guide
Southland 2015 Guide
Abilene Christian 2015 Guide
Central Arkansas 2015 Guide
Houston Baptist 2015 Guide
Incarnate Word 2015 Guide
Lamar 2015 Guide
McNeese State 2015 Guide
Nicholls State 2015 Guide
Northwestern State 2015 Guide
Sam Houston State 2015 Guide Record Book
Southeastern Louisiana 2015 Guide
Stephen F. Austin 2015 Guide
SWAC 2015 Stats
Alabama A&M 2015 Stats
Alabama State 2015 News
Alcorn State 2015 Facts
Jackson State 2015 Guide
Mississippi Valley State 2015 News
Arkansas-Pine Bluff 2015 Stats
Grambling State 2015 Preview
Prairie View A&M 2015 Guide
Southern University 2015 Stats
Texas Southern 2015 Stats

Duggar Baucom is The Citadel’s new hoops coach. Is he the right choice?

Links of interest:

School release

Article on Duggar Baucom’s hiring from The Post and Courier

Video report from WCIV-TV (with additional interview of Duggar Baucom)

Video report from WCSC-TV (with additional interviews of Duggar Baucom, Jim Senter, and Quinton Marshall)

On Monday, The Citadel hired Duggar Baucom as its new head basketball coach. Baucom is 54 years old, and a bit of a late bloomer in the coaching profession.

His story has been chronicled many times. To sum it up as succinctly as possible:

Baucom was a police officer, then a state trooper. He suffered a heart attack at age 30 that caused him to change careers, eventually going back to school and graduating from UNC Charlotte. Baucom worked as an assistant basketball coach at various colleges (starting as a GA under Bob McKillop at Davidson).

He got his first college head coaching gig at D-2 Tusculum, winning 37 games in two years there and parlaying that into the VMI job. In his second year in Lexington, Baucom decided (by necessity, he would say) to operate the dramatically uptempo style that would give him national notoriety.

After a decade at VMI, he is now in Charleston, charged with improving the hardwood fortunes of another military school. Baucom is a surfer and golf aficionado who is about to enjoy life on the coast, and with a little more cash in his pocket (an increase in salary of over $40,000 per year).

More than twenty years ago, I was talking to an assistant basketball coach at The Citadel when the subject of Loyola Marymount’s 1990 hoops squad came up. That was the year the Lions advanced to the Elite Eight after the death of star player Hank Gathers, a run that included a mesmerizing 149-115 obliteration of defending national champion Michigan.

LMU was coached at the time by Paul Westhead, who employed a run-and-gun style called “The System”. The result was an incredible scoring machine of a team, one that in 1990 averaged 122.4 points per contest, still the all-time Division I record. Earlier that same season, the Lions had lost an overtime game in Baton Rouge to LSU by a final score of 148-141 (the game was tied at 134 at the end of regulation), a simply astonishing game that had to be seen to be believed.

Those were fun games to watch. I asked the coach whether or not he thought that style would become more prevalent.

“I hope it doesn’t,” he said. “I think it reduces the importance of coaching.”

Duggar Baucom, it is safe to say, has a different point of view. From an article written two years ago:

“Coaches are a lot more control freaks than they’ve ever been,” says Baucom, which is not a complaint you hear very often from a coach at a school [VMI] that claims to foster “punctuality, order, discipline, courtesy, and respect for authority.”

“I call ‘em joystick coaches,” Baucom tells me. “They try to orchestrate every movement instead of letting ‘em play. It becomes kind of like a wrestling match. There’s teams in [the Big South] that run 20 seconds of false motion to get the shot clock down, and then run a set. I watch some teams play and it looks like the kids are in jail.”

Under Baucom, VMI led the nation in scoring in six of the last nine seasons. The Keydets were the last D-1 team to average over 100 points per game over a full season, doing so during the 2006-2007 campaign.

Can he recreate that kind of offense at The Citadel? More importantly, can he consistently win at The Citadel?

The answers to those two questions, in my opinion:

1) He might be able to produce an explosive offensive team, but it depends in part on the overall point-scoring climate of D-1 hoops, something which he obviously doesn’t control. Right now, averaging over 100 points per game over the course of a season is almost impossible due to the current state of the college game.

2) Baucom can consistently win games at The Citadel, but only if his teams’ historic defensive statistics significantly improve.

My statistical look at Baucom’s career at VMI encompasses his last nine seasons with the Keydets. I chose not to include the 2005-06 campaign, his first year as head coach. That season (in which VMI went 7-20), he had not yet installed the “loot and shoot” offense (that happened the following year). Baucom also missed 12 games in 2005-06 after complications arose during an operation to replace his pacemaker.

Year W-L LG Adj. O Adj. D Poss/gm Nat’l avg
2007 10-19 5-9 110 331 90.9 66.9
2008 10-15 6-8 126 331 79.2 67.0
2009 20-8 13-5 107 280 80.9 66.5
2010 6-19 5-13 195 346 84.2 67.3
2011 14-13 10-8 50 340 75.6 66.7
2012 14-16 8-10 180 311 73.6 66.1
2013 11-17 8-8 172 331 71.1 65.9
2014 18-13 11-5 90 306 74.7 66.4
2015 9-19 7-11 295 260 77.1 64.8

The win-loss column reflects Division I games only. “LG” refers to league games, all in the Big South with the exception of the 2014-15 season, VMI’s first in its return to the SoCon.

The “Adj. O” and “Adj. D” columns represent VMI’s national rank in adjusted offense and adjusted defense, per kenpom.com. “Poss/gm” refers to possessions per game, with “Nat’l avg” the national average in possessions per game for that particular season.

One of the things that interested me when I reviewed these numbers was that the “frenzied style” used by VMI wasn’t really quite as frenzied as advertised, at least when compared to years past. It is an indictment of the way the game is played today that 77.1 possessions per game would be enough to lead the nation in that category, but that’s exactly what the Keydets did last season.

In 1989-1990, 16% of the teams ranked in the final AP poll averaged more than 80 possessions per contest. That’s just the ranked teams, mind you — there were many other squads playing at that pace (though none matched Loyola Marymount’s 103 possessions per game, then and now a staggering total).

These numbers don’t include non-D1 games, a non-conference scheduling staple of Baucom’s tenure at VMI (as they are for many other low-major programs, of course). VMI regularly played three or four NAIA/D2 schools each season.

Looking at the results of those matchups, I wondered if Baucom scheduled some of the teams in part because they were willing to run up and down the court with the Keydets. There weren’t any Wimp Sanderson types opposing VMI in these games, that’s for sure.

VMI had a 116-possession game during the 2007-2008 season against Southern Virginia, a 144-127 Keydet victory that must have been fascinating to watch, if only from an academic perspective. Incidentally, that’s the same number of possessions (in regulation) that occurred during the famed LMU-LSU game in 1990 I referenced above.

Starting in the 2006-2007 season, here are the points scored by VMI against non-D1 foes: 156, 144, 135, 125, 135, 156, 112, 123, 118, 133, 113, 113, 111, 108, 99, 99, 106, 120, 94, 151, 101, 109, 122, 116, 102, 110, 121, 112, 110, 128, 124, and 133.

That is one reason why I didn’t concentrate on yearly scoring averages when reviewing the overall statistical record.

The 2006-2007 season may have been Baucom’s Platonic ideal in terms of pace of play. VMI averaged over 90 possessions per game (the only D-1 team to do that over the course of an entire season since at least 2002). Beginning on January 10, 2007, VMI embarked on a 13-game stretch against Division I competition in which its point totals were as follows: 104, 116, 97, 102, 103, 117, 96, 99, 105, 102, 107, 108, and 92.

Alas, the Keydets only won five of those thirteen games.

That last loss, 109-92 to High Point, was the final game of the regular season. Then a funny thing happened. VMI dialed down its pace of play to more “normal” levels, started playing a sagging zone defense, and promptly won consecutive games in the Big South tournament, beating two teams (Liberty and High Point) that had swept the Keydets during the regular season.

In the conference title game, VMI continued to slow things down, and wound up narrowly losing to Winthrop (84-81).

Maybe that led to a slight adjustment by Baucom in the years to follow. I don’t know.

It’s possible, though, that he infused his philosophical approach to hoops with a dose of practicality. VMI didn’t approach the 90-possession plateau after that season, with its highest per-game rate since then being 84.2 in 2009-2010, a year in which the Keydets only won six D-1 contests.

The success in that 2007 Big South tournament was not a fluke. While VMI never won the tourney under Baucom, the Keydets generally fared well in the event during his time in Lexington (making the final three times), a marked contrast to The Citadel’s continued struggles in the SoCon tournament.

With a little luck, Baucom may well have led VMI to the tourney title at least once. He had a very good record in tournament play when the Keydets hosted a game or were playing at a neutral site. Most of the time, VMI only lost in the Big South tournament when it had to play on an opponent’s home floor.

VMI’s record in the Big South tournament, 2007-2014

  • Home (3-0)
  • Neutral (6-1)
  • Road (1-7)

The Keydets lost the aforementioned 2007 Big South final to Winthrop in Rock Hill; lost the following year to Liberty in Lynchburg; lost at Radford in the 2009 Big South title game; lost games in Conway to Coastal Carolina in 2010, 2011, and 2014; and lost the 2012 final to UNC-Asheville at Kimmel Arena in Asheville.

Since it appears the Southern Conference tournament is going to remain in Asheville for the next few years, The Citadel needs to make sure UNC-Asheville is not allowed to join the league.

In 2007, VMI finished 331st nationally in adjusted defense. Only six teams in all of D-1 were worse on defense (in terms of points per possession, and further adjusted for schedule) than the Keydets.

That began a pattern under Baucom. He produced high-scoring teams generally better-than-average in terms of offensive efficiency, but saddled with defenses that were not very good, even taking into account pace of play.

Two years later, the Keydets won 20 D-1 games, including a memorable 111-103 victory over Kentucky at Rupp Arena. Surprisingly, VMI’s successful campaign occurred despite having a below-average defense (280th out of 344 D-1 squads).

The win over Kentucky (which came in the season opener) was a 93-possession game, the most possessions in any of VMI’s games that season against D-1 opponents. The Wildcats decided they could run with the Keydets. That was a mistake.

The following season, VMI was the second-worst defensive outfit in the country, and the record reflected it. The Keydets would continue to be a bottom-50 team in adjusted defense every year until last season, when the team finished a slightly more respectable 260th (out of 351 D-1 teams).

In case you were wondering, The Citadel’s defensive efficiency was better than VMI’s in five of those nine seasons. This past season, of course, the Bulldogs were the worst defensive squad in the country.

While the Keydets were never a good defensive rebounding team under Baucom, they also struggled for several years on the offensive glass. However, in the last three seasons, there was a distinct improvement in offensive rebounding percentage.

  • VMI’s national rank in offensive rebounding percentage by year, 2007-2012: 232, 254, 320, 326, 264, 303
  • VMI’s national rank in offensive rebounding percentage by year, 2013-2015: 150, 136, 131

I don’t know if there was a concerted effort to get better in that area, or if the increased offensive rebounding totals are simply a product of changing personnel.

I tend to agree with those who believe that for The Citadel to be successful in hoops, it needs to be different. The Bulldogs either need to use a patterned, deliberate style (such as the “Princeton offense”), or do the exact opposite and run-and-gun for forty minutes. Pick an extreme, and gravitate to it.

While I’ve been critical of the current state of college hoops, with its clutching and grabbing and incessant timeouts, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a slower-paced game, especially when it is of high quality. I was a big fan of Ed Conroy’s teams. This past season, I enjoyed watching Tony Bennett’s Virginia squad, which played a muscular-but-skillful brand of basketball.

If anything, I thought The Citadel would be best served “going slow”. Clearly, Jim Senter had other ideas.

Part of his reasoning, I’m sure, is about the box office. He wants more people in the seats, and probably figures that a perpetual scoreboard explosion is a good way to attract curious onlookers to McAlister Field House.

With that in mind, Baucom will have more on his plate than just coaching the team. He has to sell his program to the local community, and to the corps of cadets as well.

As far as the local scene is concerned, this may not be a bad time to make a renewed effort to attract fans, with College of Charleston scuffling a bit, still trying to find its way with a relatively new coach and league. There is plenty of room for both of the college basketball teams in the city, but becoming the lead hoops story in town wouldn’t hurt any.

Regarding the corps, I was encouraged by this season’s cadet presence. It can still get better, and I think it will. There is momentum on that front.

Baucom might also consider reaching out to some of the more recent graduates from the basketball program. Several of them were hoping that former assistant coach Doug Novak would get the job, and were understandably disappointed when that didn’t happen.

I’ve seen a couple of criticisms of Baucom’s preferred style of play that I wanted to quickly discuss, mainly because I think both are misguided.

1) This style of basketball is just a “roll the balls out” type of coaching, or non-coaching

I think an actual “roll the balls out” coach would be a very static, middle-of-the-road operator. He certainly wouldn’t be interested in pressing, trapping defense, or approaching the game from a mathematical point of view:

“Its basketball inflation,” Baucom said. “The more possessions we can create the less value they have. We’re trying to get more shots than the other team, force more turnovers, get offensive boards. The key is passing and catching and spacing.”

2) This style of basketball is at odds with The Citadel’s institutional history

Honestly, I don’t get this at all. I guess the argument is that it is undisciplined basketball, but I don’t think that’s true. At its very core, it seems to me that it requires a great deal of discipline. To be conditioned well enough to play this way takes discipline. To never take a play off while on the court takes discipline. To get in the proper defensive position while pressing takes discipline.

The best argument against Baucom’s style of play, in my opinion, is that it may be difficult to recruit players who can flourish in his system.

I think it’s possible that one reason Baucom’s teams never approached the 90-possession days of 2006-2007 in subsequent seasons was that the coach realized he didn’t “have the horses” to run quite that fast and still win games. If so, I believe that presents a potential issue.

That’s because I believe the best chance for this system to work at The Citadel is if it is stretched to its natural limit. In other words, if the team is going to play this way, it needs to strive for 90+ possessions per game on a regular basis.

Instead of having a possession differential when compared to the rest of the country of between six and twelve possessions per game (as was the case for VMI over the last five seasons), The Citadel should have a possession differential of between fifteen and twenty possessions per game. That’s the best way, employing this system, for the program to become an upper-echelon Southern Conference outfit. It’s the best way, employing this system, for the Bulldogs to win the league.

To do that, though, The Citadel has to bring in players capable of handling that pace and doing the things that have to be done to win games. Rebounding, three-point shooting, superior point guard play, the ability to defend — those elements are requirements if the team is going to be successful.

Of course, that’s true regardless of how fast or slow a team plays. It seems to me, though, that a higher level of athleticism is needed to play at a supercharged pace.

I think back to that 1989-1990 Loyola Marymount squad. LMU wasn’t exactly the “little engine that could”. It may have been an upstart program from the West Coast Conference, but the Lions had two NBA-caliber players, Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble. Both were transfers, having been originally recruited to play for Southern Cal by George Raveling, one of the great basketball talent evaluators of his era.

Also on that LMU team: an elite college jump shooter (Jeff Fryer) and a better-than-you-realized rebounder/post defender (Per Stumer, who played professionally in Europe for over a decade). Backup point guard Terrell Lowery later played major league baseball. Yes, that team had some great athletes.

Can the Bulldogs’ new coach bring in the talent necessary to win this way? That’s the big question. One thing is for certain, he’s not wasting any time. On the day Baucom was introduced at The Citadel, he got a commitment from a 6’7″ sharpshooter from Virginia.

I don’t know if The Citadel can win playing racehorse basketball, but we’re about to find out.

I’ll be watching with interest when next season rolls around. We all will…