The Citadel begins its 2022 football campaign

After a long, long offseason, it’s time for pigskin activity!

This is a joyful time of year for college football fans. I’m very mindful of that essential happiness, and I would never want to detract from it in any way.

A few years ago, I was sitting in front of my TV, preparing to enjoy the first night of college basketball for that season. On ESPN, the studio host (I forget who it was) turned to Jay Bilas and asked him a perfunctory question about what Bilas would like to see on the court.

Bilas, one of the most earnest killjoys in the entire media landscape, immediately stated that he wished two-thirds of the teams in Division I would be eliminated. If you were watching and a fan of one of the 240 or so schools Bilas wanted to evict from D-1, his commentary really wasn’t what you wanted to hear on opening night. 

I don’t want to be that kind of wet blanket.

With that in mind, while I don’t want to bury college football just as the season is starting, I’m not inclined to praise it right now, either. The off-season machinations have taken a toll. The constant realignment (and realignment discussion, which might be worse), the incessant focus on NIL, the sense that college athletics are no longer about schools and teams but rather “brands” and “products”…it’s all been a bit much.

The light at the end of the tunnel for the college sports industrial complex might be an oncoming train. It is likely in the not-too-distant future that there will be 30-odd schools which license their school logos for the benefit of minor league football teams, keeping all of the seductive TV money (as opposed to just taking most of the cash, as is the case now), and relegating the other schools to an alternative reality, one that ultimately might not include scholarships — basically what D-3 is now. 

(The basketball tournament will eventually suffer the same fate, though that situation is slightly more complicated. I am convinced separation there is inevitable as well, however. Jay Bilas would probably approve.)

What all that will mean for college sports in general, including the varsity teams at The Citadel, is TBD. I don’t think the odds are good that it will be positive, though.

Okay, I’ve got that out of the way.

Another issue, in terms of how I’ve operated this blog in past years, is that I no longer have the time or (frankly) enthusiasm to produce weekly preview posts during the gridiron season. That would be true even if I were more hopeful about the current state of college sports. It would also be the case regardless of The Citadel’s season outlook.

I’ll still have things to say, but perhaps not weekly, and not about specific games. I had basically run my game preview format into the ground, anyway.

For this post, I am just going to hit a few topics surrounding the program, some more important than others.

This week, I’ll also throw in some of the usual stuff about the upcoming opponent for the Bulldogs, the Campbell University Fighting Camels. 

I’m going to start with something positive.

I have written extensively about The Citadel’s uniforms over the years (usually, I have been greatly annoyed).

I’m pleased with these uniforms, though. This is much more in line with what I have always wanted to see.

Is it exactly what I would want? Maybe not, but that doesn’t matter. All in all, these togs are more than satisfactory.

A brief comment on the status of the East Stands at Johnson Hagood Stadium:

Simply put, I am ready to hear an announcement and see work being done. I have been ready for a couple of years now.

The delay on the rebuild has been too long, even taking the pandemic into consideration. I don’t think that is a controversial opinion; at this point, actually, I’m not sure it’s an opinion as much as objective fact.

The Citadel’s FBS opponent this season is Appalachian State. Future FBS opponents for the Bulldogs currently include Georgia Southern (2023), Clemson (2024), Mississippi (2025), and Charlotte (2026). 

Counting last season and this one, that means The Citadel will only face two P5 teams over a six-year period. I think a fair amount of supporters are somewhat disappointed in this, even if the net revenue from those matchups isn’t much different than that gained from playing G5 programs.

There is something to be said for playing “big-time” schools with instant name recognition. Also, given the more-than-decent chance that in less than a decade, schools like The Citadel might not have the chance to play P5 squads, loading up on them in the 2027-2032 time period might not be a bad idea. Those games should be scheduled while they are still an option.

I should note that The Citadel does not always immediately release future scheduling information, particularly for games to be played several years down the road. Perhaps it is time for another FOIA request…

With the perspective of time, there is a good chance that maintaining the corps of cadets over the course of the entire 2020-21 school year will be considered one of the great achievements in The Citadel’s history. The administration should receive a lot of credit for that accomplishment.

That isn’t to say the pandemic didn’t have a long-lasting effect on the status of the corps. It certainly did. The Citadel had higher-than-normal attrition rates (as did many other schools), and that is reflected in the very large freshman class which reported earlier this month.  

That effect can also be observed by perusing The Citadel’s football roster (and, for that matter, the rosters of almost every other college football program).

With COVID-19, the “free year” granted by the NCAA because of COVID-19, the change in transfer rules — well, these are unusual times in college football (and everywhere else). The only period in NCAA history that can even compare is the era following World War II, when there were significantly relaxed eligibility standards.

Because of all this tumult, I am more tolerant than I ordinarily would be for the influx of graduate transfers on The Citadel’s roster. 

The Citadel currently has 13 grad transfers on the football team — not 11 or 12, as you might have seen reported elsewhere. Overall, there are 114 players on the squad as of August 28.

That number of grad transfers wouldn’t be seen as enormous in a lot of places, but it is a true eye-opener at the military college. From going over past rosters, it appears that over the 12 years prior to this season The Citadel had a total of 13 graduate transfers.

With the outsized attrition caused by COVID-19 (among other things), I can understand this season being something of a one-off. 

I do not want it to become a trend, however. On this issue, I know that I am regarded by some as an out-of-touch fuddy-duddy who doesn’t understand “what we need to do to win”, and that I need to “get with the times!”

I don’t mind an occasional grad transfer; after all, The Citadel has excellent graduate programs and there is nothing wrong with publicizing them. I’m not on board with bringing in a dozen or so every year, though. I believe it is ultimately counter-productive on the field, and it isn’t in keeping with the school’s primary mission.

The Citadel’s core strength in recruiting varsity athletes should be its ability to find and develop high school talent. As far as grad transfers are concerned, the college is unlikely to be consistently successful by doing what every other school is doing. I think recruiting (almost) exclusively at the high school level is a perfect way to zig when the competition is zagging.

Having said all that, I will naturally be rooting hard for anyone wearing the light blue and white, regardless of where they played last year. 

I mentioned above that there are 114 Bulldogs on the current roster. As best as I can determine by looking over previous seasons, 89 of them have three or four years of college eligibility remaining (including the upcoming campaign).

From what I can tell, eight of the graduate transfers have multiple years of eligibility remaining; one of them actually has three.

More on retention/attrition:

I went through the lists of signing classes from 2017 through 2022 for The Citadel. That is six years’ worth of signees. It is possible for a player from a 2015 (or even 2014) signing class to still be an active college player, but that would obviously be somewhat unusual, even in the COVID-19 “free year” era.

I believe the only 2017 signee for The Citadel still playing college football is Sean-Thomas Faulkner, who played three years for the Bulldogs, graduated, and is currently in his second season with North Texas. 

Faulkner, the pride of Easley, SC, was an excellent player for The Citadel who now starts at safety for the Mean Green. (Irrelevant but personal note: I think he is also the only gridder to play for the alma maters of both my father and my mother.)

Another player who began his football career at The Citadel in the fall of 2017 is Brian Horn, who while not a listed signee at the time has nevertheless enjoyed a fine career for the Bulldogs, including a stint as last season’s military captain. Horn will start at linebacker for The Citadel on Thursday.

There are six players on the Bulldogs’ roster who were part of the 18-member signing class from 2018 — Chris Beverly, Marquise Blount, Caleb Deveaux, Kyler Estes, Destin Mack, and Nkem Njoku. Ideally, there would be a few more players from this class still on the team. 

Two other players who started their respective careers at The Citadel in 2018 also remain on the roster — defensive lineman Jay Smith and running back Sam Llewellyn. Both have made an impact on the field.

Of the 26 signees from 2019, only ten are still on The Citadel’s squad, a painfully obvious problem when it comes to program continuity and roster construction. This group would now mostly consist of fourth-year players with either two or three years of eligibility remaining (depending on if they redshirted).

From 2020, 14 of 16 signees are still Bulldogs, as are 15 of the 21 signees from 2021 (the latter being a bit concerning). The most recent signing class, from 2022, featured 17 signees, 16 of whom are currently on the roster.

For the last five signing classes, there were 98 signees. Of those, 61 are still in the program.

Stats interlude

For anyone interested (and I’m not sure anybody should be), here is a spreadsheet that includes various offensive statistics for the 2021 SoCon season and the 2021 FCS season as a whole. Categories include my infamous “go rate” statistic, points per possession, points per play, etc.

I was going to post about them (and include defensive stats too), but never got around to doing so, and it’s too late now. 

2021 offensive stats, SoCon-only and FCS

How excited is Campbell to leave the Big South and join the CAA for the 2022-23 school year? Well, listen to the perspective from the school’s sports announcers, including these comments:

I consider it a trade-up in many factors, right? College of Charleston, ten times better than Charleston Southern. You add Elon over High Point, [Elon] is a much more stable campus. You add William and Mary over a school like Longwood — nothing against them, just an upgrade there…UNCW is a huge upgrade over ‘insert any team’ in the Big South…there are so many ways to build tradition here in the Carolinas [with the move to the CAA].

You’re not going to be up there every weekend, but you’re in Boston, you’re in Philadelphia, you’re in Long Island, you’re in the DC metro area. It’s going to do something, not only for the athletic department and in expanding recruiting, but it’s going to do something for this university too, and that was a big reason [for joining the CAA]. It’s academics and athletics that really facilitated this move.

Campbell’s motto is “the private university of choice in North Carolina”, and the way to expand on that is become the private university of choice in the Carolinas, into Virginia, into DC…let’s face it, there is pride in this state in being a Campbell alum. That’s not necessarily the case all over the country, so I think [joining the CAA] will help tremendously.

I will say that the northern reach of the CAA would not appear at first glance to be of great appeal to Campbell, which traditionally has been a stay-closer-to-home type of school. More than 80% of its on-campus undergraduate students are from North Carolina, in contrast to Elon (only 17%) and High Point (21%).

Thursday will be the first gridiron meeting between The Citadel and Campbell (the two schools will play again in 2023, at Johnson Hagood Stadium). In other sports, The Citadel’s record against Campbell is as follows:

  • Basketball: 2-7
  • Baseball: 14-2-1
  • Wrestling: 24-17
  • Tennis: 10-5
  • Volleyball: 0-3

Campbell has no fewer than six non-conference games this season (perhaps another reason CU is happy to join the CAA). Those matchups are: The Citadel, at William and Mary, at East Carolina, North Carolina Central, at Jackson State, and at Delaware State.

Future FBS opponents for the Fighting Camels include North Carolina in 2023, Liberty in 2024, North Carolina State in 2025 and 2028, and Florida in 2026.

As of August 28, Campbell had 124 players on its online football roster. Four of them do not have a hometown (or high school) listed. Of the remaining 120 players, 47 are from North Carolina. Other states represented: Florida (21 players), Virginia (13), Georgia (11), South Carolina (8), Texas (3), Alabama (2), Michigan (2), New York (2), Ohio (2), and one each from California, Delaware, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee.

Freshman linebacker Marquis Roberts is from Washington, DC, while graduate student punter Corey Petersen is a native of Traralgon, Australia.

Petersen is one of several Camels who began their collegiate careers at other institutions. Petersen is in his second year as Campbell’s punter; his first D-1 school was Austin Peay.

Other four-year colleges and universities from which current Camels previously matriculated include Army, Bowling Green, Coastal Carolina, East Carolina, East Tennessee State, Eastern Michigan, Iowa State, McNeese State, Mercer, Minnesota, Monmouth, Old Dominion, Southern Illinois, UCF, Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest (two players), and Western Carolina.

The Citadel’s roster includes 55 players from South Carolina. Other states represented by Bulldogs: Georgia (17 players), Florida (15), North Carolina (8), Virginia (7), Ohio (3), New York (2), and one each from Alabama, California, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon, and Pennsylvania.

Campbell landed the #1 recruiting class in FCS this spring, according to both 247Sports [89th overall] and Rivals.

…the Camels are welcoming in 11 signees with three- or four-star designations, per the major services.

Another ranking has Campbell with three of the top 11 FCS signees, four of the top 26 and five of the division’s top 37.

I think the first thing was, the Transfer Portal,” says [Campbell head football coach Mike Minter]…“You look at that and say and this is going to really affect college football. When I saw Alabama getting into the Portal, getting guys, I said if Alabama is doing it, this is about to turn into free agency for real. I said high school kids aren’t going to have as many homes, and we’re going to be very aggressive going after three-, four-, five-stars.

“We went after kids two years ago where people would say you don’t have a shot at them. Those kids are looking to be recruited, and wanted opportunity, and had been told and promised a lotta things. My biggest deal is be honest and authentic.”

In an interview last week, Mike Minter sounded confident about this season. He was quick to praise quarterback Hajj-Malik Williams, saying that the redshirt junior from Atlanta is “magical with the football in his hand”. 

Williams, a dual-threat QB, only played in four games last season due to injury, but is the preseason first-team All-Big South quarterback (one of three first-team offensive selections for the Camels).

Minter also called his offensive line “the biggest in FCS football”. CU’s projected starters on the o-line average 6’5″, 331 lbs.

Campbell will have a largely new offensive coaching staff this season. Minter invoked the old Oakland Raiders (“Al Davis, man — go deep!”) when describing how he would like his offense to operate.

Campbell was a fairly aggressive team in 2021, with 32 fourth down conversion attempts, tied for 12th nationally (The Citadel, with 41 attempts, was 3rd). That is reflected in the Camels’ “go rate” of 36.36%, which ranked 12th nationally (the Bulldogs were 5th, at 44.09%).

CU passed (or attempted to pass) on 54.4% of its offensive plays last season.

Campbell has a star on defense in Brevin Allen, the reigning Big South Defensive Player of the Year. The redshirt senior from Greensboro had 17½ tackles for loss last season, including 9½ sacks. 

Last year, the Camels were good at creating takeaways (25) and converting them into big plays (4 defensive touchdowns). The Bulldogs will need to be “strong with the ball” on Thursday night.

Quick hitters:

  • The game against Campbell will be streamed on ESPN+; announcers are Chris Hemeyer (play-by-play) and Peter Montemuro (analyst).
  • Luke Mauro and Lee Glaze return in 2022 as The Citadel’s radio team. They can be heard online and also on three radio stations statewide: WQNT (102.1-FM/1450-AM) in Charleston, WQXL (100.7-FM/1470-AM) in Columbia, and WDXY (105.9-FM/1240-AM) in Sumter.
  • Brent Thompson lost some weight this off-season. 
  • The Philadelphia 76ers will be in Charleston in September, which wasn’t a huge surprise — but I think some folks in the media world were caught off guard by the news that Doc Rivers and company will be holding training camp at McAlister Field House.
  • The weather forecast for Thursday night in Buies Creek, per the National Weather Service: partly cloudy, with a low of 66°.
  • Campbell’s online preview has been posted, as have CU’s game notes.
  • According to one source that deals in such matters, Campbell is a 3-point favorite over The Citadel (over/under of 55½). That is not surprising, and is generally in line with various preseason computer ratings (which for the two teams are quite similar). The Camels are getting the standard “home field advantage” spread bump. [Edit: well, that line moved quickly; in three hours, it jumped to Campbell -9½.]
  • The Citadel’s game notes are out; initially, the depth chart featured a 278-lb. wide receiver and a punter not on the current roster. That was quickly corrected.
  • Hey, it’s the first week of the season for Athletic Communications, too. As we all know, there are no preseason games in college football. Next week’s press conference needs to be streamed, however.
  • Personally, I would prefer less gamesmanship when it comes to naming the starting quarterback, but then again I’m not a coach.
  • At least The Citadel has a depth chart, which is more than you can say for Texas.

I have no idea what to expect on Thursday night. I hope the Bulldogs are as upbeat and confident as Mike Minter, who clearly has high expectations for his squad this season. Of course, he’s not the only former Nebraska player coaching a team with big hopes for 2022 despite winning only 3 games last year.

(I’ll assume Minter wasn’t celebrating any vomiting by his offensive linemen in fall practice.)

I think it is important for The Citadel to get off to a good start. That is always true, but it is particularly the case for a team that in 2021 had a tendency to fall behind early (often via big plays by the opposing offense).

The Bulldogs did finish last season with consecutive victories, including an unexpected triumph at Chattanooga. That is something to build upon.

We shall see what the opening game (and the season to come) has in store. 

Go Dogs!