Game Review, 2019: Elon

Links of interest:

– Game story, The Post and Courier

Game story, Burlington Times-News

– WCSC-TV game report (video)

– School release

– Game highlights (video)

– Box score

Key stats:

The Citadel Elon
Field Position* 39.82 (+13.38) 26.44 (-13.38)
Success Rate (per play)* 39.66% 53.45%
Big plays (20+ yards) 2 7
Finishing drives (average points) 7.0 7.0
Turnovers* 0 0
Expected turnovers 0.94 0.00
Possessions* 11 9
Points per possession* 2.55 3.89
Offensive Plays* 58 58
Yards/rush* (sacks taken out) 3.33 7.0
Yards/pass att* (incl. sacks) 6.89 10.27
Yards/play* 3.88 8.24
3rd down conversions* 5 of 14 5 of 10
4th down conversions* 2 of 3 1 of 1
Red Zone TD% 4 of 4 (100% 3 of 3 (100%)
Net punting 44.3 9.0
Time of possession 31:45 28:15
TOP/offensive play 32.29 sec 26.08 sec
Penalties 6 for 45 9 for 79
1st down passing* 1/2, 3 yards 7/11, 141 yards, TD
3rd and long passing 1/3, 27 yards, TD** 1/2, 6 yards
4th down passing* 0/1 1/1, 6 yards
1st down yards/play* 3.29 7.93
3rd down average yards to go* 7.14 5.00
Defensive 3-and-outs+* 2 4

*final drive for Elon in each half and last play of game for TC not included
**also sacked twice

Observations based on the above statistics:

– For the second week in a row, an opponent averaged over eight yards per play. That happened three times last season (against Chattanooga, Towson, and Alabama).

– Through two games, opponents have 13 big plays against the Bulldogs’ defense. Meanwhile, The Citadel’s offense has only three big plays of its own.

– In both games, The Citadel’s offense has had four three-and-outs (or worse). That means in 40% of the Bulldogs’ possessions, they have not picked up a first down.

– The Citadel’s 35.2% third down conversion rate on offense against Elon was lower than in all but three of the Bulldogs’ games last year (Wofford, Alabama, Charleston Southern).

– The Bulldogs are averaging 2.45 points per possession after two games. In eight SoCon contests last year, The Citadel averaged 3.18 points per possession.

It should be noted that in its first two games in 2018 (Wofford and Chattanooga), the Bulldogs averaged just 2.0 points per possession.

– This is the second week in a row an opponent has had a 50% or better success rate on third down against the Bulldogs’ defense (not counting the two third downs in end-of-half possessions). Last year, The Citadel had a defensive third down conversion rate of 35.2% (all games).

– Elon had a Success rate of 53.45%. Last year, only one team had a Success Rate against The Citadel’s defense that exceeded 50%: Alabama (66.67%).

– The Citadel did not force a turnover on Saturday, something that only happened twice in 2018 (against Furman and East Tennessee State).

– The Bulldogs have converted five 4th-down attempts (in six tries). Only three FCS teams have converted more so far this year: Tennessee Tech (7), Davidson (6), and Kennesaw State (6).

– The Citadel’s 3.33 yards per rush (taking out sacks) was the lowest for a game since last year’s season opener versus Wofford. The Bulldogs’ 3.88 yards per play was the lowest since that same contest against the Terriers.

– A positive: the Bulldogs have scored TDs in seven of their eight trips inside the Red Zone so far this season.

– A major positive: yes, Elon’s net yards punting was 9.0, which is what happens when two of four punts are blocked. Both punt blocks were by Sean-Thomas Faulkner, who also drew a rare fighting penalty from Elon on one of the two punts that he didn’t block.

Random thoughts:

– From the game story in The Post and Courier, Brent Thompson said (among other things):

“We’ve got to figure things out a little bit more on the defensive side, and get ahead of the game on offense. We haven’t been able to get a lead on these guys in the last two games.”

The Citadel would have had a much better chance of getting a lead on Elon if a fumble recovery by the Bulldogs on the Phoenix’s second possession had stood. It didn’t, because the officials ruled that the play never happened.

The reason for that ruling? An “inadvertent whistle”.

I didn’t hear the whistle, and no one around me heard it either. It did not affect the action, as in fact the play was run as if nothing happened (possibly because nothing did happen).

This is the kind of thing that sours fans on officials. At best, it was a demonstration of complete incompetence that dramatically benefited the home team, a member of the same conference that provided the men in stripes.

(Admittedly, I wouldn’t have been a bit surprised if the officials had been from the SoCon.)

– The onside kick was exquisitely timed and wonderfully executed, from Jacob Godek’s inch-perfect kick to Ryland Ayers’ recovery on the run.

– The Bulldogs were a little slow to run plays on their final (full) drive, in my opinion. It wasn’t terrible and it didn’t impact the outcome of the game, but I think The Citadel should have gone into more of hurry-up mode at about the three-minute mark.

– Announced attendance: 5,071. There was a decent contingent of Bulldog fans at the game, though not quite as many as I was expecting. The weather was warm and the sun was bright and powerful.

– Forty-eight Bulldogs played in the contest, one fewer than last week.

– Elon has a nice gameday setup, but some of the staffers working parking didn’t seem very sure of where people were allowed to park. That seemed sub-optimal.

– The new uniforms are growing on me, and I kind of liked them already. There is one issue with wearing all white, though:

I wasn’t overly disappointed after last week’s game, but Saturday’s contest was more frustrating. The Bulldogs really struggled on both sides of the ball, with the offense not really getting into gear until the fourth quarter, and the defense never establishing itself at all.

The special teams were fantastic, and it seemed a shame to “waste” that advantage in a game that The Citadel didn’t win.

There are positives — for one thing, the Bulldogs yet again showed resilience after falling behind. However, that isn’t enough to turn defeats into victories.

Hopefully, the Bulldogs will begin winning games like this when SoCon play begins. There are still two games to go before that stretch of play begins, though.

Next week: the Ramblin’ Wreck of Georgia Tech, in Atlanta. The Yellow Jackets beat South Florida 14-10 on Saturday to win their first game of the campaign.

I’ll post about that game later this week.

This week’s pictures are below. I started having battery issues with my cellphone at halftime, so there are just a few third-quarter shots and none from the final period.

Don’t worry, though — the ones I did take are still lousy.

 

 

 

2019 Football, Game 2: The Citadel vs. Elon

The Citadel vs. Elon, to be played on McKinnon Field at Rhodes Stadium in Elon, North Carolina, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on September 7, 2019. 

The game will be streamed on FloSports. Taylor Durham will handle play-by-play, while Matt Krause supplies 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, will be the flagship station. 

Luke Mauro (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Ted Byrne.

The Citadel Sports Network — 2019 radio affiliates

Charleston: WQNT 1450 AM/92.1 FM/102.1 FM (Flagship)
Columbia: WQXL 1470 AM/100.7 FM
Sumter: WDXY 1240 AM/105.9 FM

Links of interest:

– Preview from The Post and Courier

– News from Camp Bulldog

– Game notes from The Citadel and Elon

– SoCon weekly release

CAA weekly release

Preview on The Citadel’s website

– Preview on Elon’s website

– Phoenix seeks fixes up front

Elon head coach Tony Trisciani on the CAA teleconference

The Dogs:  Episode 2

Well, here we go again. Another year brings us yet another hurricane that will have an impact on the Bulldogs’ preparation for a football game.

Obviously, the potential issues associated with Hurricane Dorian are about a lot more than football. In this limited context, though, it has to be very frustrating for the coaches and players to have to go through this scenario once more.

At least Brent Thompson and company know what to expect from the team’s home away from home, Look Up Lodge, a/k/a The Citadel’s branch campus in the Upstate. By now, everyone should know the routine.

This week’s game is being streamed on FloSports, which is the official streaming provider of the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA).

If you want to watch the game on FloSports, you will have to fork out $12.50 to do so. That is the cost of a monthly fee (you can’t get a per-game deal). Oh, and it automatically renews for another month if you don’t cancel.

That strikes me as a good excuse to make the trip to Elon on Saturday.

I realize not everyone can do that. The Citadel has fans all over the country (and all over the world, for that matter). For those who can’t make it to the game, I recommend listening to Luke Mauro and Ted Byrne call the action on the radio.

It is definitely the right option — and, after all, it is also free.

The agreement the CAA has with FloSports is for four years. I think it might be best if The Citadel tried to avoid scheduling road games against CAA opposition over that four-year period, just because of this contract.

The SoCon’s deal with ESPN+ is better (and cheaper).

In 1889 several Alamance County mill owners and farmers gave or sold parcels of land for the site of a new educational institution named Elon to take the place of the nearby Graham College.

Originally, there was a two-year higher education institution in the town of Graham, North Carolina, and various leaders of that school wanted to establish a four-year college. The North Carolina legislature granted a charter for the school, which was founded by followers of what is now called the United Church of Christ.

The decision was made to build the new school near a local freight depot called Mill Point. Then the founders had to figure out what to name their new college.

If they could have found a major donor, they would gladly have named it after him (or her). That didn’t happen, so eventually they settled on Elon, which means “oak tree” in Hebrew (there were a lot of oak trees in the immediate area).

Sadly, the founders did not get to use their first choice of a school name — Bon Air.

Tangent: imagine if the school actually wound up being named Bon Air. Then, over a century later, the ludicrous action movie “Con Air” would have almost certainly given the institution tons of accidental free publicity. The school’s College of Arts and Sciences could have taken full advantage of this, hosting symposiums on topics like “Was Nicolas Cage’s accent the very worst in motion picture history, or just in the top five?” and “Trisha versus LeAnn, or Live versus Liiiiiieve”.

By the mid-1930s, Elon was in serious trouble, having briefly lost its accreditation and suffering from a serious financial crisis, thanks in part to the Great Depression. In 1931, there were only 87 students, and that didn’t change much over the next several years.

During World War II, however, 672 Army Air Corps pilots trained on campus, and their enrollment helped the school survive. After the war, veterans and the G.I. Bill led to a further increase in students.

Today, Elon has over 6,000 undergraduates, and its ten graduate programs include about 800 more students.

Elon has had only six school presidents in the last hundred years. The current holder of that office is a familiar name to folks at The Citadel, as Connie Ledoux Book was previously the provost at the military college before taking the top job at Elon.

Book had previously spent 16 years at Elon as a faculty member and administrator, so she was no stranger to the school.

Elon’s varsity athletic teams used to be called the “Fightin’ Christians”, but in 2000 the institution dropped that in favor of “Phoenix”, which is a reference to the college’s rebuilding after a devastating fire in 1923.

Thus, Elon no longer features great logos like this one:

There was also a Fightin’ Christians mascot, as can be seen in the photos here: Link

Elon was a member of the Southern Conference from 2003 to 2014. While 36 different schools have left the league over the years (some more than once), Elon may have left on the worst terms with the conference than any of them.

This statement was part of an official release from then-SoCon commissioner John Iamarino:

“In recent years, it became increasingly evident that Elon’s negative view of the diversity in the Southern Conference was not shared by the majority of the membership.”

A lot of the anger seemed to be directed at the president of Elon at the time, Leo Lambert, who was reported to have opposed the re-admission into the league of East Tennessee State and VMI. Lambert later denied that he had not wanted VMI back in the SoCon (he more or less remained mum on ETSU), but it is clear there was significant conflict between the school and the rest of the conference.

Lambert and Iamarino are both now retired. Elon is presumably happy in the CAA, and the SoCon is motoring along just as it has since 1921. I think everyone has moved on.

Elon has made the FCS playoffs in each of the last two seasons. The Phoenix were not dominant in either year, to be sure, but qualified for post-season play anyway. Both times, there were somewhat unusual circumstances at play.

In 2017, Elon lost its opening game to Toledo, 47-13. The Phoenix then won eight straight games by a combined margin of 31 points, meaning that late in the season Elon was 8-1 despite being outscored by its opponents.

The Phoenix began the victory streak by edging Furman 34-31, then won seven more games by scores of 19-17, 36-33, 6-0, 25-17, 35-34, 19-14, and 33-30 (that last contest in 2OT).

A team has to be good to keep winning games in such a fashion. Eventually, however, things will begin to swing in the other direction, and Elon lost its last three games of the season, including a one-point playoff defeat to none other than Furman.

The 2018 season began with a loss to South Florida, but then Elon began winning games again, including victories over Furman (a 45-7 mauling), Charleston Southern, New Hampshire, and an extremely impressive road win over James Madison.

The Phoenix were 4-1, ranked 5th in the AFCA FCS poll, and looking like a cinch playoff team and a probable seed. Then…well, let’s look at some charts.

Statistics of note for Elon’s offense in 2018 against FCS opponents, broken down into three distinct phases of its season:

Plays Yds/play Rush att Rush Yds/play Pass plays Pass Yds/Att Lost fumbles Int. 3rd Down conv 3rd Down att RZ TD conv RZ TD att
@Fur 58 7.72 41 6.76 17 10.06 0 0 6 11 2 2
@CSU 77 5.79 50 4.47 27 7.74 1 0 6 14 4 5
UNH 79 5.71 48 4.02 31 8.32 1 0 7 18 2 5
@JMU 72 6.92 39 5.56 33 8.52 0 0 1 15 2 4
Totals 286 178 108 2 0 20 58 10 16
Average 71.5 6.44 44.5 5.11 27 8.51 34.5% 62.5%

 

Plays Yds/play Rush att Rush yds/play Pass plays Pass Yds/Att Lost fumbles Int. 3rd down conv 3rd down att RZ TD conv
RZ TD att
@Del. 70 4.13 37 3.49 33 4.85 0 0 5 18 1 3
Rich. 69 6.64 55 4.96 14 13.21 1 0 8 16 2 4
URI 55 6.44 47 6.78 8 4.38 0 0 3 10 1 2
Towson 59 4.03 37 6.19 22 0.41 1 0 4 14 1 2
Totals 253 176 77 2 0 20 58 5 11
Average 5.29 44 5.40 5.05 34.5% 45.5%

 

Plays Yds/play Rush att Rush yds/play Pass plays Pass Yds/Att Lost fumbles Int. 3rd down conv 3rd down att RZ TD conv
RZ TD att
@Maine 88 4.91 36 4.67 52 5.08 2 1 7 19 1 4
@Woff. 60 4.33 28 1.82 32 6.53 1 1 8 13 1 2
Totals 148 74.00 84.00 3 2 15 32 2 6
Avg. 4.67 37 2.96 42 5.63 46.9% 33.3%

 

Davis Cheek started at quarterback for Elon in all 12 games in 2017. He also started in last year’s victories over Furman, Charleston Southern, New Hampshire, and James Madison. With Cheek calling the signals, the Phoenix offense had outstanding numbers in terms of yards per play, yards per pass attempt, and Red Zone TD rate.

Then, disaster. Cheek tore his ACL early in Elon’s game against Delaware and was lost for the season.

Jalen Greene took over as QB. Greene was a capable runner, but not much of a passer. That is reflected in the statistics for the next four games, including the loss to Delaware and a 41-10 setback against Towson in which Greene was sacked three times while completing only five passes.

However, Elon was able to win the other two games during this stretch, including a crucial 24-21 Homecoming victory over Rhode Island. After the win over the Rams, Elon was 6-2 and had moved back up to #5 in the rankings.

The loss to Towson dropped the Phoenix to #12.

Greene started the regular-season finale at Maine, but in the second quarter of that game he was replaced by Daniel Thompson — who had been Elon’s starting QB in 2015 and 2016. Thompson threw 43 passes against the Black Bears in a comeback that fell just short (27-26).

Elon was 6-4, and certainly not the same team it had been with Cheek at QB, but the Phoenix made the playoffs anyway, thanks mostly to its outstanding early-season wins.

Against Wofford in the first round of the playoffs, Thompson got the start, but Elon never really got going (and also didn’t have the ball that much, as the Terriers had over a 14-minute time of possession advantage). Wofford won, 19-7.

Elon’s success in 2017 and 2018 came under the tutelage of Curt Cignetti, who had arrived after a very good run at D-2 Indiana of Pennsylvania. Cignetti, a former assistant at Alabama under Nick Saban, is now the head coach at James Madison, taking that job after Mike Houston was named head coach at East Carolina.

The new boss of the Phoenix is Tony Trisciani, who had been Cignetti’s defensive coordinator. Trisciani’s career has included being on the same staff with Chip Kelly (when Kelly was an assistant coach at New Hampshire) and two different tours of duty at Elon, with the first of those a one-year stint (in 2006) as special teams coordinator.

After five years at Villanova, where he was both the recruiting coordinator and (later) the defensive coordinator, Trisciani was hired by Cignetti as his DC. Now, two years later, Trisciani is a college head coach for the first time.

Elon began this season ranked #21 in the AFCA FCS poll, but is now unranked for the first time since September 2017 after losing at North Carolina A&T, 24-21. The Aggies won the game with a last-second, 52-yard field goal.

All three of the Phoenix’s touchdowns came on long drives of at least ten plays. The possessions were all around five minutes in game length.

Davis Cheek was back at quarterback for Elon, and he was 16 for 27 passing, with one TD. However, he was also sacked five times.

The Phoenix struggled to run the ball, averaging 2.1 yards per rush (not including sacks). Elon’s longest run from scrimmage was just 12 yards.

Defensively, the Phoenix were respectable, although North Carolina A&T quarterback Kylil Carter was only sacked once (he had 27 pass attempts), and the Aggies scored touchdowns all three times they advanced into the Red Zone.

Just a few of Elon’s offensive players to watch:

Davis Cheek (6’3″, 210 lbs.): As mentioned above, Cheek has been very successful during his career at Elon. Before his injury last season, he had completed 65.8% of his passes, averaging 8.48 yards per attempt (sacks not counted), with four touchdowns against two interceptions. A native of Matthews, North Carolina, Cheek is a redshirt junior.

Jaylan Thomas (5’9″, 195 lbs.): Thomas is a sophomore running back from Carrolton, Georgia. Last season, he was named the CAA Offensive Rookie of the Year (despite missing three games due to injury) after rushing for 761 yards and four TDs, averaging 6.6 yards per carry.

Thomas had an 86-yard touchdown run against Rhode Island, a key play in that contest. He wasn’t asked to catch the ball much, but he did have seven receptions.

Matt Foster (6’4″, 250 lbs.): A senior from Williamsville, New York, Foster has been Elon’s starting tight end since midway through the 2016 campaign. Last year, he caught 17 passes, averaging 8.8 yards per reception. In 2017, though, Foster averaged 12.7 yards per catch (19 receptions).

Kortez Weeks (6’0″, 173 lbs.): Weeks caught 36 passes last season, averaging 13.4 yards per reception. The junior from Mt. Ulla, North Carolina was a third-team all-CAA selection in 2017, when he had 60 receptions.

Cole Taylor (6’4″, 215 lbs.): Yet another tall target for the Phoenix, Taylor caught 31 passes in 2018. He averaged 16.9 yards per catch. Taylor is a senior from Marietta, Georgia.

Matt Kowalewski (6’4″, 285 lbs.): The senior right guard from Charlotte has started 27 games for Elon during his career, tied for the most (with Foster) of any offensive player for the Phoenix. Kowalewski is one of two returning starters from last season’s offensive line.

The projected starters for Elon’s o-line average 6’4″, 296 lbs.

Defensive players to watch for the Phoenix include (but are by no means limited to):

Marcus Willoughby (6’3″, 253 lbs.): A defensive end from Durham, Willoughby was a third-team all-CAA choice last year after compiling 58 tackles, including 2 1/2 sacks. The senior was the league’s defensive player of the week after a performance against New Hampshire that included 4 1/2 tackles for loss (two sacks).

Tristen Cox (6’3″, 324 lbs.): The mammoth nosetackle has 24 career starts. Cox recovered three fumbles last season, leading the team. The junior from Piqua, Ohio had seven tackles (including a sack) against Furman.

Greg Liggs, Jr. (5’11”, 198 lbs.): Last season, Elon’s free safety was a second-team all-CAA pick after making 65 tackles (second-most on the team) and intercepting four passes; he broke up nine others.

A senior from Greensboro, Liggs has started 25 games for the Phoenix.

Daniel Reid-Bennett (6’1″, 193 lbs.): Reid-Bennett has appeared in all but one game during his career at Elon, with 22 starts. The senior cornerback from Lexington, North Carolina had 55 tackles (42 solo stops) in 2018.

Jalen Greene (6’2″, 195 lbs.): As discussed above, Greene started four games at quarterback for the Phoenix last season, but has now moved to the other side of the ball. The junior from Durham is not listed as a starter on the two-deep, but as one of the team’s fastest players, I would not be surprised to see him in action on Saturday.

Elon’s kicking specialists from last season both return. Placekicker Skyler Davis (5’8″, 151 lbs.) was 17 of 22 on field goal tries, only missing once (in 15 attempts) from inside 40 yards. He did not miss a PAT.

Davis, a sophomore, went to the same high school (Allatoona, in Acworth, Georgia) as Bulldogs quarterback Brandon Rainey and wide receiver Raleigh Webb.

Hunter Stephenson (6’5″, 220 lbs.), a redshirt junior from Wake Forest, North Carolina, is in his third season as Elon’s punter. Eighteen of his 54 punts last year were downed inside the 20; he only had one touchback all season.

Elon’s primary kick returner is Shamari Wingard (6’0″, 174 lbs.), a sophomore from Charlotte who also handled kick return duties last year.

Another Charlotte sophomore, Bryson Daughtry (6’0″, 184 lbs.) is listed on the depth chart as the lead punt returner. Of note, Elon only returned nine punts all of last season, for a total of 29 yards; its average of 3.22 yards per punt return was sixth-lowest in FCS.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday at Elon, per the National Weather Service: sunny, with a high of 87 degrees.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Elon (as of Wednesday evening) is a 7 1/2 point favorite over The Citadel, with an over/under of 51 1/2.

When the line opened on Tuesday, Elon was a 5 1/2 point favorite, so the spread moved two points in the Phoenix’s direction in a 24-hour period.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams:  VMI is a 16 1/2 point favorite over Mars Hill; Chattanooga is a 6 1/2 point underdog at Jacksonville State; East Tennessee State is a 40-point favorite over Shorter; Furman is a 7-point underdog at Vols-vanquisher Georgia State; and Western Carolina is a 42 1/2 point underdog at North Carolina State.

Presumably because the game wasn’t scheduled until Monday, the Mercer-Presbyterian game has no line. Wofford and Samford are both off this week (and play each other next week).

– Also of note: Towson is a 21 1/2 point favorite over North Carolina Central; Charleston Southern is a 40 1/2 point underdog at South Carolina; and Georgia Tech is a 6 1/2 point favorite over South Florida.

Coming off its big win over Wofford, South Carolina State is a 32-point favorite over Lane College.

The biggest favorite in the FCS ranks is Abilene Christian, a 51 1/2 point favorite over Arizona Christian (an NAIA school). In matchups between FCS teams, the largest spread is 44 1/2, with Illinois State favored over Morehead State.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 61st in FCS (down 11 places from last week), while Elon is 41st.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have a 30% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of Elon 28, The Citadel 21 (kind of a familiar scoreline, isn’t it?).

The top five teams in Massey’s FCS rankings this week: North Dakota State, Eastern Washington, South Dakota State, Princeton, and UC Davis.

Other rankings this week of varied interest: James Madison (6th), Towson (18th), Kennesaw State (21st), North Carolina A&T (29th), Furman (39th), Jacksonville State (46th), Wofford (49th, down 25 spots), Mercer (50th), Chattanooga (51st), South Carolina State (62nd, up 30 places and the biggest riser in the sub-division), East Tennessee State (68th), Samford (69th, down 27 spots with the largest drop this week in FCS), Western Carolina (91st), Charleston Southern (95th), VMI (102nd), Davidson (114th), Presbyterian (122nd), and Merrimack (126th and last).

– Elon’s notable alumni include broadcaster Wes Durham, actor Grant Gustin, and basketball coach Frank Haith.

– Elon’s roster includes 44 players from North Carolina. Other states represented:  Virginia (14 players), Georgia (8), Ohio (7), New Jersey (7), Florida (3), Connecticut (3), Pennsylvania (3), Maryland (3), Massachusetts (2), South Carolina (2), and one each from Kentucky, Indiana, California, Alabama, Louisiana, and New York.

No member of Elon’s team is an alumnus of Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. This failure to recruit players who have worn the fabled maroon and orange will hover over the football program like a malignant cloud, probably for decades. Why the current or former coaching staff has not attempted to bring in stars from the celebrated gridiron powerhouse is a great mystery, unless the school is simply not interested in being competitive in football in the long term.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (53 players), Georgia (29), Florida (8), Texas (5), North Carolina (3), Pennsylvania (3), Alabama (2), New York (2), and one each from Virginia, Nebraska, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Ohio, and Kentucky.

In addition, there are two Bulldogs with listed hometowns in other countries — junior tight end Elijah Lowe (Abaco, Bahamas), and freshman linebacker Hayden Williamson (Okinawa, Japan).

– This week’s two-deep only has two changes from the one from last week. Clay Harris is listed as one of the kick returners, and Jay Girdner makes an appearance on the depth chart at strong safety.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 2-3 for games played on September 7. The two victories both came over Presbyterian.

  • In 1985, the Bulldogs edged the Blue Hose 14-7 before 18,000 fans at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Despite controlling the clock and having the edge in total offense, The Citadel didn’t take the lead until the fourth quarter, when Kip Allen threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Adrian Williams. Allen also connected with Clay Morphis for a TD. Tommy French’s interception with 17 seconds to play sealed the win. Also worth noting: Greg Davis attempted a 59-yard field goal at the end of the first half; it hit the crossbar but did not go over.
  • In 1991, The Citadel beat PC 33-10 on a soggy evening before 17,660 spectators. Employing a split-back veer (a brief experiment during the Charlie Taaffe era, never to be repeated), the Bulldogs accumulated 444 yards of total offense. Jack Douglas rushed for 106 yards and threw a 76-yard TD pass to Willie Jones, while Cedric Sims added 115 yards rushing. Lester Smith intercepted a pass (returning it 66 yards) and also forced a fumble.

This is a key game for both teams, as neither wants to start the season 0-2. The major unknown, in my opinion, is how the Bulldogs will react to their unplanned relocation from campus. The fact that The Citadel was scheduled to play a road game probably alleviates some of the negatives associated with the break in routine. At least, I would like to think so.

Elon has been a very good team over the previous two years with its full complement of players, and Davis Cheek and Jaylan Adams are both back in action for the Phoenix. The loss to North Carolina A&T wasn’t a shock (the Aggies have been an outstanding program in recent years), but it may still have come as a bit of a surprise (Elon was a 3 1/2 point favorite).

Defensively, the Bulldogs need to take advantage of Elon’s relative inexperience on the offensive line (three new starters) and put pressure on Cheek. The Citadel cannot afford to give Cheek time to find open receivers, especially considering his receiving corps is a veteran group with good size.

On offense, The Citadel will have to first figure out how the Phoenix will defend the triple option. Then, the Bulldogs will have to execute properly, avoiding turnovers and other costly mistakes (like penalties). The Citadel also needs more big plays on offense this week.

It should be a good game. I’m looking forward to it.

I’m ready for Saturday. So is everyone else, I suspect…

2019 Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. Towson

The Citadel vs. Towson, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 3:00 pm ET on August 31, 2019.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Kevin Fitzgerald will handle play-by-play, while former Bulldogs quarterback Dominique Allen supplies the analysis. Emily Crevani is the sideline reporter. 

The contest 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. 

Luke Mauro (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Ted Byrne. The sideline reporter will be Jay Harper.

The Citadel Sports Network — 2019 radio affiliates

Charleston: WQNT 1450 AM/92.1 FM/102.1 FM (Flagship)
Columbia: WQXL 1470 AM/100.7 FM
Sumter: WDXY 1240 AM/105.9 FM

Links of interest:

– Preview from The Post and Courier

Notes from The Post and Courier

Willie Eubanks is the modern-day E.F. Hutton for The Citadel’s football team

– Game notes from The Citadel and Towson

SoCon weekly release

CAA weekly release

Preview on The Citadel’s website

Preview on Towson’s website

Preview from Towson’s campus newspaper, The Towerlight

– Bulldogs’ defense must do a better job against Towson QB

Brent Thompson’s opening-week press conference (8/26)

The Dogs:  Episode 1 — Camp

Football-related stuff I’ve written this summer:

– Success on 4th down brings national renown

– Ruminating about ratings: preseason numbers for The Citadel, SoCon, FCS, and more

– “Advanced” statistics from The Citadel’s 2018 football season

– Inside the Numbers, Part 1: The Citadel’s 2018 run/pass tendencies and yards per play statistics, with SoCon/FCS discussion as well

– Inside the Numbers, Part 2: The Citadel’s 2018 4th down decision-making, plus Red Zone stats, 3rd down conversion info, etc.

– Football attendance at The Citadel (and elsewhere) — an annual review

– 2019 preseason rankings and ratings, featuring The Citadel and the rest of the SoCon

– During the 2019 football season, which teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

– Homecoming at The Citadel — a brief gridiron history

Although The Citadel doesn’t open until October 1, many cadets have already signified their intention to compete for places on the eleven, and manager [Frank] Eason will not lack for candidates. The soldier laddies are very enthusiastic about football, which was strictly prohibited until last session, when the Board of Visitors relented and allowed the classes to play one another.

It will be the initial season for the Citadel boys on the gridiron, and it is superfluous to add, the best wishes of many score young ladies are with the soldier laddies in their ambition to defeat other football teams.

The Evening Post, August 29, 1905

This season, The Citadel will only have radio affiliates in Charleston, Columbia, and Sumter. It will be the first time in many years that the network will not have a presence in the Upstate.

Just out of curiosity, I decided to see how that compared to other SoCon teams. As it turns out, The Citadel still has one of the larger affiliate networks in the league.

  • Western Carolina: Asheville, Sylva, Franklin, on-campus
  • Furman: Greenville, on-campus
  • UTC: Chattanooga
  • ETSU: Johnson City (“tri-cities”)
  • Mercer: Macon
  • Wofford: online only
  • VMI: online only (from what I can tell)
  • Samford: none

All of the schools (except Samford, obviously) simulcast online. VMI has had an affiliate network in the recent past, but it is not mentioned in the school’s 2019 media guide, leading me to believe it no longer exists.

Western Carolina appears to be the only school besides The Citadel to have radio affiliates in multiple markets.

Ted Byrne will serve as analyst for the football games this season. Byrne, of course, has been a radio voice in the Lowcountry for a long time, and had stints as the “Voice of the Bulldogs” (in the early 1990s) and as play-by-play man for College of Charleston hoops. He also spent several years in the radio booth at Georgia Southern.

In recent years, Byrne has co-hosted The Citadel’s tailgate show. He worked as an analyst for Bulldogs football in 2006 as well.

Byrne’s first association with The Citadel dates back to 1982, when he called baseball games at College Park. He filled in for the original “Voice of the Bulldogs”, George Norwig, for a 1984 football game against Georgia Tech, and was a sideline reporter in the mid-1980s.

Thus, he has been an on-again, off-again radio presence at school athletic events for 37 years. The only other person I can remember with a similar stretch was Norwig, who was in the booth for the Bulldogs from 1948 to 1985. Of course, Norwig’s run was mostly continuous.

(My thanks to Charleston media expert Joe Wright for the information about Byrne’s early days in the Lowcountry radio scene.)

The Citadel’s director of athletics, Mike Cappacio, sat down with Lowcountry personality Quintin Washington last month for a 15-minute interview. You can view it on YouTube.

They discussed football, baseball, basketball, and the endowment, among other things. To be honest, I wasn’t pleased at all with one of Capaccio’s comments about hoops, but I’ll put that aside for the time being. For this post, I’ll stick to his football-related observations.

– “We need to work with our schedule to be more realistic, I will say….we don’t need to be playing two ranked teams, or three ranked teams, and then an ACC team, and then go into our conference, because our conference is a monster…so, not that we [want] an easy schedule, but we need a little break…”

I understand what he is saying here, but four years ago nobody knew how good Towson and Elon were going to (potentially) be. There is an element of the unknown when it comes to college football scheduling.

Besides, going out of its way to schedule the Little Sisters of the Poor is not really how The Citadel has ever operated. After all, the military college has fought an uphill battle for over 80 years as a member of the Southern Conference. At various points in the football program’s history, Clemson, South Carolina, West Virginia, Virginia Tech, East Carolina, and Marshall have all been league opponents (just to name a few).

The Bulldogs didn’t back down from those challenges then, and they shouldn’t now. It isn’t part of the school’s ethos.

– “We want to play close to home…three to five hours [away] at the maximum…We don’t need to be taking a trip to Towson…Our philosophy is changing, and we want to play close [to home].

I think this outlook is mostly about budgeting. Capaccio also referenced the ability of fans to travel to away games, which is a legitimate consideration.

Let me present another point of view, however. In 2009, I made the trip to New Jersey to watch The Citadel play Princeton. As I wrote then (and still believe now):

One thing that needs to happen, though, is that every few years the school needs to play a game in the northeast. The contingent of alums and other supporters that came to cheer on The Citadel at Princeton was truly impressive. Those folks deserve to see more games, and I hope that administrators at The Citadel keep that in mind.

It also doesn’t hurt to promote the school in other parts of the country. After the game I took the train back to New York, and sat next to an intelligent young Princeton student who was very proud of her school. She wanted to make sure I liked the campus (which I did). She was blissfully unaware a football game had been played that day, which didn’t really surprise me that much. She also had never heard of The Citadel, which did surprise me a bit.

Of course, there are people in South Carolina who have never heard of Princeton (and there are almost certainly people in New Jersey who have never heard of Princeton, as well as people in the Palmetto State unfamiliar with The Citadel).  I also realize that one person doesn’t make a survey.  Still, it’s a reminder that it doesn’t hurt to get the school’s name out there.

That was true then, and it is still true. Also, it really isn’t that much different, logistically, to travel from The Citadel to either Towson or Samford — and the football team makes the road trip to Birmingham every other year (including this season).

– Capaccio mentioned future opponents would include Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Campbell, and Presbyterian. All of those were publicly known except perhaps for Presbyterian. He did not mention other scheduled matchups that have been reported in various places — Clemson, Mississippi, and Appalachian State.

– He also named South Carolina State as a good potential opponent for The Citadel, and in that I concur. Cappacio also mentioned wanting to continue the series with Charleston Southern. I am fine with that as well, as long as those games are always played at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Otherwise, no way.

– Capaccio likes the idea of playing Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, and similar (Group of Five) teams in the region, because he says A) the money isn’t much different from playing an ACC/SEC school, and B) The Citadel can be more competitive against those types of schools.

Here are the guarantees The Citadel will be receiving from FBS schools over the next few years:

  • 2019: Georgia Tech — $400,000
  • 2020: Clemson — $300,000
  • 2021: Coastal Carolina — $315,000
  • 2023: Georgia Southern — $320,000
  • 2024: Clemson — $300,000
  • 2025: Mississippi — $500,000

I believe the package for the games against Clemson also includes tickets for The Citadel to sell, which is not insignificant.

I guess a case could be made that from a net revenue perspective, playing Georgia Southern and Coastal Carolina is almost as beneficial as playing the P5 schools. However, there is quite a difference between $315,000 and $500,000.

As far as being competitive is concerned, I would suggest that the Bulldogs have been quite competitive at times against certain SEC schools in recent years (one in particular).

Also, the difference in what I might call “national awareness” between P5 and G5 teams is substantial — and that carries over into recruiting, branding, recognition, etc.

When it comes to scheduling, The Citadel’s goal should be to have a non-conference slate that best positions it for a possible bid to the FCS playoffs. That means playing an all-D1 schedule, but not necessarily loading up on multiple FBS opponents per year. There has to be a balance.

I don’t think there is anything structurally wrong with this year’s schedule. It is difficult, but everyone knows that. If the Bulldogs have a successful season, they will likely make the playoffs. If they don’t, they won’t. That is how it should be.

– With regards to the East stands, “it’s all about fundraising right now”. Capaccio noted that The Citadel Real Estate Foundation is involved. He also said the school had put together “a detailed plan” to begin a $2 million fundraising campaign “to get that project off the ground”.

– The new artificial turf is supposed to be installed at Johnson Hagood Stadium in late November. I hope the installation is delayed by about a month.

– “I’ve empowered a lot of our senior staff to take different roles so I can get out and raise money…if you’re going to make a difference here, it’s going to come through fundraising.”

I wish Capaccio all the best in that endeavor.

Towson was 7-5 last season. After a 6-1 start (which included a 44-27 home victory over The Citadel), the Tigers lost four of their last five games, including a playoff loss to Duquesne.

Three of the losses were probably understandable. Towson lost a shootout at Delaware, a tough game versus Maine (a team that specialized in winning tough games), and a home contest to James Madison (which was simply a better team).

However, the home loss to Duquesne in the first round of the FCS playoffs was harder to explain. The favored Tigers lost 31-10.

One possible factor: it rained heavily during that game, and Towson’s offense struggled mightily in the wet weather. Star quarterback Tom Flacco was 10-33 passing for 127 yards, and was sacked four times.

As far as the end-of-season decline in Towson’s fortunes was concerned, head coach Rob Ambrose thinks he knows what happened.

“Last year, we set the finish line too short, and it was obvious,” Ambrose said. “They wanted to win, they wanted to get respect, they wanted to beat national competition, and we did. But we got to the playoffs and were like ‘All right, we did it.’ No, that was just the beginning.”
Ambrose says his team can no longer be so easily satisfied — it has to strive to be among the best FCS programs in the country.
“From my perspective, the big-picture goal is not to make the playoffs,” Ambrose said. “The big picture goal is to make the playoffs every year, … which is where James Madison has been. It’s where Delaware has been historically.”

He reiterated that during Monday’s CAA conference call.

It seemed like we were inadvertently pleased with crossing the finish line, one that shouldn’t have even existed. So we’ve kind of moved that finish line back a little bit. Understand that the grind is a little bit longer. We go about it with a workmanlike attitude, that we have a lot of work to do, that we want to be explosive in how we do it, we want to be composed, and we want to have fun. And these guys have…held up to that bargain pretty well.

When asked about the Bulldogs’ offense and defense, Ambrose stated:

We’re going in with a little bit of unknown, especially versus their defense, and a natural schematic challenge on how well we can be disciplined to defend the triple option.

He was also questioned about playing The Citadel in Charleston:

We’re talking more about how to prepare for the weather…football fields are football fields, fans are fans. We’re going to play as hard as we can play until they tell us we can’t play anymore.

I broke down Towson’s 2018 season from a statistical perspective in various key categories, separating the seven FCS wins from the four FCS losses.

First, the victories:

Offense Plays Yds/Play Rush attempts Rush yds/play Pass plays Pass yds/att RZ TD conv RZ TD attempts
at Morgan St 67 5.98 35 5.03 32 7.03 3 7
at Villanova 90 5.87 49 4.76 41 7.20 4 5
The Citadel 64 9.50 41 8.15 23 11.91 2 6
Stony Brook 68 6.46 35 3.43 33 9.67 4 6
Wm@Mary 68 6.71 38 7.03 30 6.30 4 6
at Albany 81 6.94 40 6.28 41 7.59 5 8
at Elon 83 5.86 34 5.85 49 5.86 5 6
7 games 521 272 249 27 44
6.68 5.81 7.63 61.36%

 

Defense Plays Yds/play Rush attempts Rush yds/play Pass plays Pass yds/att RZ TD conv RZ TD attempts
at Morgan St 61 2.74 35 2.23 26 3.42 0 1
at Villanova 60 8.17 23 5.08 37 10.08 4 4
The Citadel 87 4.64 71 4.80 16 3.94 1 2
Stony Brook 64 5.38 30 3.83 34 6.74 2 2
Wm&Mary 73 3.19 33 3.18 40 3.20 1 3
at Albany 57 8.18 23 5.78 34 9.79 2 2
at Elon 59 4.03 37 6.19 22 0.36 1 2
7 games 461 252 209 11 16
5.08 4.43 5.85 68.75%

Towson ran the ball 52.21% of the time in its seven wins. The Tigers averaged slightly over 74 plays per game in those contests.

Win or lose, Towson was not particularly good at converting on third down. In its victories, TU only succeeded at a 37.5% clip (which was actually a lower percentage than in the Tigers’ four FCS losses).

Now, the same statistics in those losses to Delaware, Maine, James Madison, and Duquesne.

Offense Plays Yds/Play Rush attempts Rush yds/play Pass plays Pass yds/att RZ TD conv RZ TD attempts
at Delaware 83 5.43 40 5.65 43 5.23 3 7
Maine 77 4.77 35 4.86 42 4.69 2 5
JMU 84 6.13 30 5.57 54 6.44 1 3
Duquesne 80 4.46 43 5.81 37 2.89 0 4
4 games 324 148 176 6 19
5.22 5.49 4.98 31.58%

Defense Plays Yds/play Rush attempts Rush yds/att Pass plays Pass yds/att RZ TD conv RZ TD attempts
at Delaware 63 5.40 31 1.13 32 9.53 5 6
Maine 61 6.69 27 7.11 34 6.35 3 3
JMU 69 8.35 45 9.27 24 6.63 4 6
Duquesne 70 6.09 49 6.00 21 6.29 2 3
4 games 263 152 111 14 18
6.66 6.17 7.32 77.78%

Towson’s offense really struggled in the red zone in its four losses, with a poor 31.58% TD rate. The difference in red zone success in the Tigers’ wins and losses was dramatic.

Not on these charts, but definitely worth mentioning, is Towson’s defensive third down conversion rate. In TU’s victories, opponents only made third down conversions 33.33% of the time. In these four losses, however, that rate jumped up to 46.67%. Towson’s D was less effective in the red zone, too.

TU ran the ball 45.68% of the time in those defeats.

Usually, turnovers are a big factor in a team’s wins and losses, but that wasn’t the case for Towson in 2018. Against FCS teams, TU had a turnover margin of zero (13 giveaways, 13 takeaways). The Tigers were +1 in their seven wins and -1 in the four losses.

Towson didn’t really have a lot of turnovers in its games, offensively or defensively.

Last season, Towson was picked to finish 10th in the 12-team CAA. The Tigers wound up with a 5-3 conference record, good for a tie for 3rd in the league.

This year, TU is the preseason #2 pick in the conference, behind James Madison. Clearly, there are high expectations for the program in 2019.

Towson’s offense is led by New Jersey native Tom Flacco (6’1”, 205 lbs.), a redshirt senior who spent time at both Western Michigan and Rutgers before finding his way to TU.

Last year, Flacco (the younger brother of former Ravens and current Broncos QB Joe Flacco) had an outstanding campaign, completing 61.3% of his passes, with 28 touchdowns against 11 interceptions. He averaged 7.4 yards per pass attempt, not accounting for sacks (Towson quarterbacks were sacked 35 times in 12 games).

In last season’s game against The Citadel, Flacco completed 15 of 22 passes for 253 yards and 2 TDs. He was intercepted once. However, he hurt the Bulldogs even more with his running ability, as he finished with 15 rushes for 185 yards (including a 78-yard run).

Saturday’s game will not be the first time Flacco has suited up for Towson in the Charleston metropolitan area. Flacco played baseball for Towson this past spring, serving as the Tigers’ right fielder.

In a late-season series at Patriots Point against College of Charleston, he was 3 for 9 in three games, with a stolen base, two runs scored and an error. Towson lost all three contests to the Cougars.

Versatile all-purpose back Shane Simpson (5’11”, 190 lbs.), a redshirt senior from Easton, Pennsylvania, is Towson’s first option out of the backfield. He rushed for 64 yards and a score versus the Bulldogs in last year’s game, and also caught three passes.

Simpson was the CAA’s Special Teams Player of The Year, and made several All-American teams as a kick returner. He had a 96-yard kickoff return for a TD versus Stony Brook.

Towson has a deep corps of receivers, and the top two targets from last year both return.

Redshirt senior Shane Leatherbury (5’11”, 190 lbs.) had 67 receptions for the season, with 7 of those going for touchdowns. Leatherbury, who hails from Salisbury, Maryland, previously attended Seton Hill College and Wor-Wic Community College. He was a first-team all-CAA pick in 2018.

Jabari Allen (6’4”, 205 lbs.), a junior from Spotsylvania, Virginia, had 53 catches in 2018, including 8 TDs. Allen, who became more of a factor as the season progressed, can be a very difficult matchup for opposing defensive backs.

Several other wideouts are potential gamebreakers, ranging from the small (5’7″, 160 lb. sophomore speedster D’Ago Hunter) to the large (6’3″, 205 lb. freshman Daniel Thompson IV).

TU’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’4”, 317 lbs. The o-line will not be as experienced this season, as the Tigers lost three starting offensive linemen from last year’s squad – the center, right guard, and right tackle.

Towson thus brought in a lot of offensive linemen in the offseason. That group includes several transfers and, interestingly, two players from Europe.

Roman Wahrheit (6’6”, 335 lbs., from Germany) and Vaino Paakkonen (6’5”, 325 lbs., from Finland) are both big, and though they are a sophomore and freshman respectively, they are definitely not teenagers. According to one website that I perused which focuses on overseas football players, Paakkonen is at least 22 years old.

I should also mention that Paakkonen’s previous football team (in Finland) was the Porvoo Butchers.

While the European players could wind up being mainstays for the program down the road, I’m not sure how much Towson is going to get out of either one of them right away as they acclimate to a new level of football (and a new country). That is particularly the case for Paakkonen, who was late getting to campus because of a visa problem.

One newcomer who is expected to start on Saturday, though, is a player who may be reasonably familiar with his surroundings.

Demarcus Gilmore (6’4”, 360 lbs.) should line up at right tackle for the Tigers. Gilmore went to Newberry High School, and played in the Shrine Bowl. He has spent the last two years at Pasadena City College in California.

One other note on the offense: last year’s offensive coordinator was Rob Ambrose’s brother Jared, who is now the OC at Delaware. Rob Ambrose is assuming the offensive coordinator duties this season.

There was also a coordinator change on defense for Towson, as last year’s DC, Lyndon “No, not that one” Johnson now oversees special teams for the Tigers. The new defensive coordinator is Eric Daniels, who was at Briar Cliff College (IA) last year. Daniels was once the linebackers coach at SMU when June Jones was at the helm of that program.

Defensively, Towson used a 4-3 front last season, but (like The Citadel) it is moving to a 3-4.

There is a lot of uncertainty about the personnel the Tigers will be featuring on defense. I believe that is at least partly (if not mostly) by design.

Robert Heyward (6’0″, 235 lbs.), a redshirt senior inside linebacker from Savannah, was a preseason first-team all-CAA selection. Heyward, who had 10 tackles against The Citadel last year, was singled out for praise by Brent Thompson during the coach’s press conference on Monday.

Redshirt senior Ricky DeBerry (6’2″, 245 lbs.), who started at defensive end last year, has (apparently) moved to linebacker in the 3-4 scheme. DeBerry, a native of Richmond who began his collegiate career at Oklahoma, was an active defender versus the Bulldogs, with 9 tackles.

Jesus Gibbs (6’4″, 275 lbs.) was expected to be an impact transfer for the Tigers on the defensive line, but the redshirt freshman (who spent the 2018 fall semester at South Carolina) reportedly has been struggling with an injury and may not play on Saturday. If he does play, he could be a difference-maker. As a high school senior, he was rated the 10th-best recruit in the state of Virginia by ESPN.

It seems likely that Bryce Carter (6’1″, 265 lbs.) will start, probably on the d-line, but possibly at outside linebacker. Carter is a redshirt junior from Steelton, Pennsylvania, who started all 12 games for Towson last season, leading the team with 6 1/2 sacks.

Another player of similar size who could see plenty of time at either DE or linebacker is Marcus Bowman (6’1″, 255 lbs.), a junior college transfer. Bowman was the #29-ranked player in Maryland as a high school senior.

This is speculation, but I would not be overly surprised if Towson employed a “big body” at nosetackle against The Citadel. Two candidates to fill that role are redshirt junior Tommy Danagogo (6’3″, 305 lbs.) and 6’2″, 285 lb. Tibo Debaille, who is from Belgium. Neither played much last season, to be sure.

Troy Vincent Jr. (5’11”, 205 lbs.), who played his first two years of college football for North Carolina State, can play linebacker or defensive back. Vincent’s father, Troy Vincent Sr., was an outstanding NFL cornerback who is now an executive with that league.

Robert Topps III (6’3″, 200 lbs.), a transfer from Kansas, can play both cornerback and safety, and probably will.

According to media reports out of New Jersey, Towson will eventually have the services of former Michigan defensive lineman Ron Johnson, who was originally going to transfer to Rutgers for this season. However, Johnson will instead transfer to Towson (where he will be immediately eligible). It seems unlikely the 6’4″, 267 lb. four-star recruit could play for TU on Saturday, but you never know.

Aidan O’Neill (6’1″, 195 lbs.), a senior from New Paltz, New York, will be Towson’s regular placekicker for a fourth consecutive season. O’Neill was 22 for 29 on field goal attempts last season en route to first-team All-CAA honors. He was 42 of 43 on PATs.

O’Neill has made 53 field goals during his career, with a long of 55 yards.

Towson will have a new punter this season, Marshall transfer Shane McDonough (6’1″, 210 lbs.). McDonough will also serve as the team’s kickoff specialist.

If you’re counting, that is now three guys named Shane who start for the Tigers. Alan Ladd would be so proud.

Odds and ends:

– Per the 1905 newspaper article referenced above, cadets apparently didn’t have to report to The Citadel that year until October 1. The first football game in that very first season was played on October 14.

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service: partly sunny with a high of 86 degrees, and a 60% chance of showers and thunderstorms. Yikes.

I am a little bit worried about the chance for a lightning delay or two. The presence of Hurricane Dorian in the Atlantic is also of concern.

Per one source that deals in such matters, Towson-The Citadel is (as of Wednesday evening) a pick’em, with an over/under of 65 1/2.

When that line opened on August 6, the Tigers were only a 1 1/2 point favorite, but evidently much of the money wagered on the game for the next two weeks was on Towson, because at one point the spread moved to 4 1/2. However, it has suddenly (and substantially) moved in the other direction over the past two days.

By the time you read this, it may have moved another couple of points one way or the other.

Other lines involving SoCon teams:  Furman is a 20-point favorite over Charleston Southern, while Wofford is a 21-point favorite at South Carolina State.

Mercer is a 3-point favorite at Western Carolina; Samford is a 19 1/2 point favorite at Tennessee Tech; East Tennessee State is a 32 1/2 point underdog at Appalachian State; VMI is a 39-point underdog at Marshall; and Chattanooga is an 8-point favorite versus Eastern Illinois.

Samford is trying to rebound from a 45-22 drubbing last Saturday at the hands of Youngstown State in the FCS Kickoff Classic. None of the other league teams has played yet in 2019, obviously.

– Also of note: Elon is a 3 1/2 point favorite at North Carolina A&T, and Georgia Tech is a 36-point underdog at Clemson on Thursday night.

The biggest favorites in the FCS ranks are Kennesaw State (51 points over Point University) and North Dakota State (48 points over Butler). Incidentally, the game between NDSU and Butler is being played at Target Field in Minneapolis.

Furman will play Point University in its regular-season finale.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 50th in FCS, while Towson is 26th. For some reason, Samford’s loss last week cost the Bulldogs four spots in the rankings.

Massey projects the Cadets to have a 39% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of Towson 34, The Citadel 30.

The top five teams in Massey’s FCS rankings this week: North Dakota State, South Dakota State, Eastern Washington, Princeton, and UC Davis.

Other rankings this week of varied interest:  James Madison 7th, Youngstown State 10th (up four spots), Villanova 13th (up 19 places), Kennesaw State 21st, Colgate 22nd (down 11 notches), Wofford 24th, Elon 32nd, Furman 36th (down 8 places), Samford 42nd (down 18 spots after its loss), North Carolina A&T 52nd, Mercer 53rd, Chattanooga 54th, East Tennessee State 61st, Western Carolina 79th, Charleston Southern 88th, South Carolina State 92nd, VMI 94th, Davidson 114th, Presbyterian 122nd, and D-1 “transitional” school Merrimack 126th and last.

– Towson’s notable alumni include actor Charles S. Dutton, television host Mike Rowe, and sports radio broadcaster Joe Miller.

– As was mentioned in the preview for last year’s matchup, varsity teams at Towson were generally known as the Golden Knights until the early 1960s, when the tiger began to become the preferred mascot among students and alumni. A leading proponent in favor of switching to “Tigers” was John Schuerholz, the Hall of Fame baseball executive who guided both the Kansas City Royals and Atlanta Braves to World Series titles. Schuerholz, who graduated from Towson in 1962, is also a long-time benefactor to the school. Towson’s baseball stadium is named for him (and his father).

– Towson’s roster in its media guide includes 35 players from Maryland. Other states represented:  Pennsylvania (14 players), New Jersey (11), Virginia (8), New York (7), Delaware (4), North Carolina (3), California (3), Florida (2), and one each from Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, and South Carolina. (The one product of the Palmetto State is, as previously mentioned, offensive lineman Demarcus Gilmore of Newberry.)

There are four Tigers who hail from outside the United States, representing Canada, Germany, Belgium, and Finland.

No member of Towson’s team is an alumnus of Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. The absence of players who have worn the famed maroon and orange will undoubtedly come back to haunt Rob Ambrose. It is hard to imagine a school with designs on national honors failing to recruit anyone from one of the great pigskin powers of our time — or any other time, for that matter.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (53 players), Georgia (29), Florida (8), Texas (5), North Carolina (3), Pennsylvania (3), Alabama (2), New York (2), and one each from Virginia, Nebraska, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Ohio, and Kentucky.

In addition, there are two Bulldogs with listed hometowns in other countries — junior tight end Elijah Lowe (Abaco, Bahamas), and freshman linebacker Hayden Williamson (Okinawa, Japan).

– This week’s two-deep includes seven Bulldogs who started all 11 games last season, five on offense and two on defense.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 0-2 for games played on August 31. The Bulldogs have only played five games in the month of August in their gridiron history, with two of those contests resulting in victories:

  • August 30, 2003: The Citadel walloped Charleston Southern, 64-10, before 15,219 fans at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Ern Mills had 194 yards rushing (including a 90-yard scamper) and two touchdowns. The Bulldogs’ defense added two TDs of its own (Anthony Roberts’ pick-six was followed up by Julian West’s fumble return) and also picked up a safety.
  • August 30, 2008: There were 11,247 patrons were on hand to see the homestanding Bulldogs hammer Webber International, 54-7. Bart Blanchard was 12-14 passing with 2 TDs. Both touchdowns went to Andre Roberts, one for 78 yards. Roberts added a 64-yard punt return TD. The Bulldogs led 38-0 at halftime.

I think this is going to be a close game. It may be high scoring, although sometimes these early-season contests can throw a curveball when it comes to predicting how offenses will fare against defenses.

The Citadel has to control the football. It would also help if the Bulldogs could break some long gainers. In last season’s matchup, The Citadel had 87 offensive plays from scrimmage, but just four of them went for 20 yards or more. Towson had eight such plays while only snapping the ball 64 times.

Special teams play is often a key factor in season openers, and The Citadel has had some coaching turnover in that area. The Bulldogs had very good special teams units last season, and that needs to continue in 2019.

I hope Johnson Hagood Stadium is packed, though the weather could be a hindrance in that regard. The tailgating scene should be excellent anyway, as it usually is.

Is there anything more to say? No, there is not.

It’s time for football season. I’m ready, you’re ready, the players are ready, the coaches are ready, General and Boo are ready, everybody is ready.

Go Dogs!

Football attendance at The Citadel: an annual review (also including SoCon discussion and assorted FCS observations)

Other recent posts about football at The Citadel:

– 2019 preseason rankings and ratings, featuring The Citadel and the rest of the SoCon

– During the 2019 football season, which teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

– Homecoming at The Citadel — a brief gridiron history

This post is (mostly) about home attendance at The Citadel, a subject I’ve written about many times over the years. However, I’ll also delve into the SoCon and national FCS attendance numbers.

First, a spreadsheet:

Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium, 1964-2018

The above link is to a spreadsheet that tracks attendance for The Citadel’s home football games, and which has now been updated to include the 2018 season. The spreadsheet lists year-by-year totals and average game attendance, and the win/loss record for the Bulldogs in each season. There is also a category ranking the years by average attendance.

This year, I have also included the home win/loss records for each season.

Other columns refer to the program’s winning percentage over a two-year, three-year, five-year, and ten-year period, with the “current” season being the final year in each category. For example, the three-year winning percentage for 1970 (54.84%) is made up of the 1968, 1969, and 1970 seasons.

I include those categories mainly to see what impact, if any, constant winning (or losing) has on long-term attendance trends.

In the last few years, I have compared average attendance for the first two games of a season to the last two contests of the same campaign. Clearly, there are sample-size issues when making such a comparison (weather, opponent fan base, etc.), but I’ve decided to keep up with it anyway. I’ve added the 2018 numbers, as part of an eight-year stretch:

  • 2011 [4-7 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 12,756; final two home games, average attendance of 12,387 (including Homecoming)
  • 2012 [7-4 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 13,281; final two home games, average attendance of 13,715 (including Homecoming)
  • 2013 [5-7 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 13,370; final two home games, average attendance of 12,948 (including Homecoming)
  • 2014 [5-7 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 9,700; final two home games, average attendance of 9,563 (including Homecoming)
  • 2015 [9-4 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 8,356; final two home games, average attendance of 12,465 (including Homecoming)
  • 2016 [10-2 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 13,299; final two home games, average attendance of 13,996 (including Homecoming)
  • 2017 [5-6 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 8,718; final two home games, average attendance of 9,496 (including Homecoming)
  • 2018 [5-6 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 9,559; final two home games, average attendance of 9,511 (including Homecoming and a rescheduled game)

Since 1964, the Bulldogs’ record at Johnson Hagood Stadium is 189-117 (61.8%). The average home attendance over that time period is 13,978. However, there has not been a season in which home attendance averaged more than 13,978 since 2006.

The current stadium capacity is less than 12,000, due to the demolition of the East stands in the spring of 2017. Obviously, The Citadel cannot expect to see an increase in attendance to the levels of the early part of this century anytime soon (to say nothing of the attendance figures for the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s).

Last year’s average home attendance of 9,343 was the second-lowest for any season since attendance figures at Johnson Hagood Stadium can be accurately determined. Over the previous 54 years, only one season featured lower home attendance — 2017.

As always, it is worth mentioning that the cutoff for accuracy in attendance numbers means years like 1959 (eight wins), 1960 (Tangerine Bowl victory), and 1961 (SoCon title) cannot be included for comparison in this review, not to mention any of the other years from 1948, when the most recent iteration of Johnson Hagood Stadium opened, through the 1963 season. I am not particularly confident in any season attendance figures prior to 1964. (It could be argued that I shouldn’t be overly confident of the attendance numbers that followed, either.)

From what I can tell, the largest home attendance at any pre-1964 contest was probably for the Homecoming game against Clemson in 1948, when an estimated 16,000 fans were present for the dedication of the “new” Johnson Hagood Stadium.

In case anyone was wondering, here are the top average attendance marks over two-year, three-year, five-year, and ten-year periods:

  • Two years: 1975-76 (18,250). Rest of the top five: 1991-92, 1979-80, 1990-91, 1989-90
  • Three years: 1990-92 (17,457). Rest of the top five: 1989-91, 1978-80, 1991-93, 1975-77
  • Five years: 1988-92 (17,126). Rest of the top five: 1989-93, 1975-79, 1976-80, 1990-94
  • Ten years: 1975-84 (16,250). Rest of the top five: 1983-92, 1974-83, 1976-85, 1984-93

Average attendance by decade:

  • 1964-69: 11,998
  • 1970-79: 15,053
  • 1980-89: 15,398
  • 1990-99: 14,955
  • 2000-09: 13,850
  • 2010-18: 11,398

I wrote this in April of 2018:

One obvious issue with attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium is that currently about half of the stadium does not exist. Of course, right now nothing is going to happen on that front, because the school doesn’t have a president or a permanent director of athletics.

When the new president is in place, one of his top priorities should be getting a permanent structure built on the east side of the stadium. It should be the top priority for the new AD.

Well, The Citadel now has a new school president, and it also has a permanent AD. Despite that, there hasn’t been a lot of public discussion about the stadium.

A scan of the minutes from recent meetings of the Board of Visitors doesn’t reveal anything, either. A couple of brief snippets from the January 25/26 minutes:

Mr. [Mike] Capaccio discussed the results of recruitment efforts, competitions and practice opportunities, and a student-athlete academic summary for fall of 2018, including degrees that the student-athletes are pursuing. His noted his goal is to “pay off off past debt and to move forward” and “our fans are loyal and regularly support” Citadel teams…

…Dr. [Jay] Dowd gave an overview of fundraising for 2018 for TCF [The Citadel Foundation], TCBF [The Citadel Brigadier Foundation], and an update on TCREF [The Citadel Real Estate Foundation]. Both TCF and TCBF achieved or exceeded their 2018 goals.

During the meeting on March 1, the field did get a mention:

The donor of the new artificial turf on the field at Johnson Hagood Stadium has opted for a better quality product which has delayed the beginning of the project.

I wish there could be a little more “buzz” about the stadium, to be honest. I’ve been told that it is going to happen, which is good. It would be a touch more reassuring, though, if someone in a position of authority put his or her name on a public statement that said something along the lines of “We’ll have the new East stands ready to go by [a year in the very near future].”

Now it is time to take a look at FCS attendance across the board.

2018 NCAA football attendance (all divisions)

Jackson State led the division in average home attendance, at 24,770 (four games). That was higher than 50 FBS programs, including several bowl teams and one Power 5 school (Kansas).

JSU also had a higher average home attendance than the school average for four FBS conferences (Mountain West, Sun Belt, C-USA, MAC). Overall, Jackson State ranked 81st in NCAA home football attendance, regardless of division.

Montana was second overall in FCS, averaging 24,677 (six games). Four FCS programs ranked in the overall top 100 in home attendance — Jackson State, Montana, James Madison, and Southern.

Those four joined North Dakota State in averaging more than 18,000 fans per game. Last season, seven FCS schools hit that standard.

The Citadel ranked 24th out of 125 FCS schools, and third in the Southern Conference (behind Western Carolina and Mercer). Despite the lack of permanent seating on the east side of the stadium, the program finished in the top 30 of FCS in attendance for the twelfth time in the last thirteen years.

Here is a table that includes all 125 FCS squads (including “transitioning” North Alabama) and their respective home attendance totals/averages/rankings for the 2018 season:

Team G Total Att. Average Rank
Jackson State 4 99,079 24,770 1
Montana 6 148,064 24,677 2
James Madison 6 125,466 20,911 3
Southern 4 75,212 18,803 4
North Dakota State 10 181,055 18,106 5
Florida A&M 6 107,239 17,873 6
Jacksonville State 6 101,421 16,904 7
Montana State 7 115,299 16,471 8
Delaware 6 97,791 16,299 9
Alabama State 4 64,293 16,073 10
North Carolina A&T 5 77,468 15,494 11
Alcorn State 6 91,103 15,184 12
Alabama A&M 4 50,086 12,522 13
Youngstown State 6 69,322 11,554 14
Idaho 5 56,400 11,280 15
McNeese State 5 54,814 10,963 16
Western Carolina 5 52,900 10,580 17
Tennessee State 4 41,688 10,422 18
South Dakota State 7 71,243 10,178 19
New Hampshire 6 60,921 10,154 20
Harvard 5 49,211 9,842 21
Mercer 5 49,015 9,803 22
South Dakota 5 47,098 9,420 23
The Citadel 5 46,715 9,343 24
Northern Iowa 6 56,020 9,337 25
North Dakota 5 46,682 9,336 26
Illinois State 6 55,561 9,260 27
William & Mary 4 36,922 9,231 28
South Carolina State 5 45,871 9,174 29
Abilene Christian 5 44,953 8,991 30
Norfolk State 6 53,211 8,869 31
North Carolina Central 5 44,318 8,864 32
Idaho State 5 44,134 8,827 33
Chattanooga 5 43,761 8,752 34
Prairie View A&M 4 34,620 8,655 35
UC Davis 5 42,529 8,506 36
East Tennessee State 6 50,619 8,437 37
Elon 5 41,336 8,267 38
Weber State 7 57,817 8,260 39
Southern Utah 5 41,019 8,204 40
Grambling State 4 32,738 8,185 41
Richmond 5 40,428 8,086 42
Eastern Washington 8 63,795 7,974 43
Sam Houston State 5 39,554 7,911 44
Stony Brook 5 39,068 7,814 45
Northwestern State 5 38,914 7,783 46
Penn 5 38,839 7,768 47
Nicholls State 6 46,180 7,697 48
Central Arkansas 5 38,416 7,683 49
Yale 5 38,286 7,657 50
Austin Peay 5 37,810 7,562 51
Sacramento State 4 29,850 7,463 52
Missouri State 6 44,432 7,405 53
Eastern Kentucky 6 43,775 7,296 54
Maine 5 35,468 7,094 55
Lamar 6 42,462 7,077 56
Northern Arizona 5 35,178 7,036 57
North Alabama 5 33,774 6,755 58
Princeton 6 39,371 6,562 59
Southern Illinois 5 32,786 6,557 60
Cal Poly 6 39,175 6,529 61
Hampton 5 32,634 6,527 62
Murray State 5 30,945 6,189 63
Furman 4 24,555 6,139 64
Towson 6 36,681 6,114 65
Bethune-Cookman 4 24,310 6,078 66
Lafayette 5 29,219 5,844 67
Cornell 5 29,121 5,824 68
Tennessee Tech 5 29,053 5,811 69
Wofford 6 34,837 5,806 70
Kennesaw State 7 40,295 5,756 71
Howard 4 22,806 5,702 72
Arkansas-Pine Bluff 5 28,435 5,687 73
Columbia 5 28,435 5,687 74
Villanova 5 28,303 5,661 75
Indiana State 5 28,283 5,657 76
Holy Cross 5 27,614 5,523 77
Southeastern Louisiana 5 27,477 5,495 78
Samford 5 27,131 5,426 79
Eastern Illinois 5 26,715 5,343 80
Stephen F. Austin 4 21,189 5,297 81
Campbell 7 35,405 5,058 82
Rhode Island 5 24,662 4,932 83
Colgate 5 24,414 4,883 84
Lehigh 5 24,271 4,854 85
Morgan State 5 23,406 4,681 86
Savannah State 5 23,243 4,649 87
Morehead State 6 27,505 4,584 88
Albany (NY) 6 27,096 4,516 89
Southeast Missouri State 6 26,990 4,498 90
Texas Southern 5 21,773 4,355 91
Northern Colorado 6 25,293 4,216 92
Brown 5 20,563 4,113 93
VMI 5 20,556 4,111 94
Dartmouth 5 20,034 4,007 95
Fordham 6 23,781 3,964 96
Mississippi Valley State 4 15,580 3,895 97
Portland State 5 18,993 3,799 98
Central Connecticut State 5 18,490 3,698 99
Davidson 7 25,884 3,698 100
Incarnate Word 4 14,383 3,596 101
Bryant 5 17,831 3,566 102
Western Illinois 5 15,897 3,179 103
Gardner-Webb 6 18,842 3,140 104
Butler 5 14,997 2,999 105
Dayton 5 14,797 2,959 106
UT Martin 5 14,430 2,886 107
Sacred Heart 5 13,746 2,749 108
Monmouth 6 16,463 2,744 109
Bucknell 5 13,144 2,629 110
Wagner 4 9,070 2,268 111
Valparaiso 5 11,264 2,253 112
Houston Baptist 6 13,304 2,217 113
San Diego 5 10,653 2,131 114
Presbyterian 5 10,287 2,057 115
Stetson 6 12,008 2,001 116
Jacksonville 5 9,945 1,989 117
Drake 5 9,201 1,840 118
Georgetown 5 9,201 1,840 119
Charleston Southern 5 8,820 1,764 120
Marist 5 8,657 1,731 121
Delaware State 4 6,836 1,709 122
Duquesne 6 9,802 1,634 123
Robert Morris 5 7,614 1,523 124
St. Francis (PA) 6 7,804 1,301 125

Odds and ends:

– Furman’s home average attendance fell from 7,775 to 6,139, almost back to where FU was in 2016 (5,771). Despite that decline, Furman still outdrew Wofford for a second consecutive season, after a four-year period in which the Spartanburg school had the higher average attendance.

Of course, Furman lost a home game last year when its matchup against Colgate was canceled due to Hurricane Florence. As for Wofford, hosting a first-round playoff game did not help its attendance numbers (as only 2,157 fans were at Gibbs Stadium to see the Terriers play Elon).

– After an increase of 1,702 fans per home contest in 2017, South Carolina State slipped back to an average of 9,174 fans per game last year. While still good enough to finish in the FCS top 30, it was a per-game decline of 2,709 supporters.

SCSU’s average attendance was significantly affected by a rescheduled game against North Carolina Central, which was played in November instead of its original September 15 date. The matchup (one of many postponed by Hurricane Florence) drew only 3,996 fans.

– Three Division II schools (Morehouse, Tuskegee, and Grand Valley State) all had higher home attendance averages than four FBS institutions (Coastal Carolina, Northern Illinois, Massachusetts, and Ball State).

– Other D-2 home attendance averages of interest: Benedict (4,223); Newberry (2,971); North Greenville (3,243); Lenoir-Rhyne (4,998); Chowan (2,981); Catawba (1,903); Carson-Newman (3,639); Valdosta State (4,890); Mars Hill (3,166); Shorter (1,662).

– The three lowest average home attendance totals in FCS last year: Duquesne, Robert Morris, and St. Francis (PA), all of which play in the Northeast Conference. Duquesne won that league and its automatic bid to the playoffs.

– The lowest average home attendance for any NCAA school last season was at Earlham College (IN), of Division III, with 188 fans per contest. Earlham, which has not won a football game since 2013, suspended its football program after last season, and will not compete in 2019.

Western New Mexico had the lowest attendance in Division II, averaging 292 patrons per game. There is a discrepancy between the NCAA’s numbers and the school’s, as Western New Mexico’s statistical attendance summary is incomplete, as this boxscore may indicate. The Mustangs finished with an 0-10 record.

There were 669 football-playing colleges and universities in the NCAA’s three divisions last season.

The average home attendance for SoCon teams (all games) was 7,611, the second consecutive year league attendance has declined:

  • 2014: 8,204
  • 2015: 8,210
  • 2016: 8,386
  • 2017: 7,827
  • 2018: 7,611

As was the case in 2017, East Tennessee State could be considered the median of the SoCon in terms of home attendance, finishing fifth in the league with an average of 8,437 fans per game. League attendance could be easily broken down into two tiers, with a significant difference in average attendance between 5th-place ETSU and 6th-place Furman.

Average attendance across FCS last season was 7,325, though the median attendance was 6,527. Thus, the SoCon was above the national average in terms of attendance (6th out of 13 FCS conferences).

In terms of attendance by league games only — in other words, not counting any non-conference home games (regular or post-season) played by SoCon teams — the average attendance was 7,697, a decline of 130 fans per contest from 2017. The median attendance in this category for 2018 was 8,069, an increase of 286 fans per game from the previous season.

Eight of thirty-six conference games were attended by more than 10,000 people. The most attended SoCon matchup last season was VMI’s game at Western Carolina on September 2, with an announced attendance of 12,759.

VMI also was involved in the lowest-attended league matchup, on September 14, a home game against East Tennessee State that drew only 2,764 fans. It should be noted that ETSU-VMI was played one day earlier than scheduled, on a Friday afternoon, because of (yet again) Hurricane Florence.

Average home attendance, league games only:

  • Western  Carolina: 10,197
  • The Citadel: 9,709
  • Mercer: 9,703
  • Chattanooga: 8,685
  • East Tennessee State: 8,400
  • Wofford: 6,751
  • Furman: 6,138
  • Samford: 5,457
  • VMI: 4,234

The Citadel was easily the top overall road draw in league play last season, with the Bulldogs playing before an average of 9,400 fans in four conference contests away from home. Three of those four games (against Wofford, VMI, and Mercer) featured the top home crowd for The Citadel’s opponents in 2018. That is no surprise, given the Bulldogs’ fan base.

Samford finished second in this category (league road attendance average of 9,094). SU was the only other conference team to be the top opposition draw for multiple conference games, with Devlin Hodges and company drawing the best home crowds of the season for Chattanooga and The Citadel.

Western Carolina, which led the conference in average home attendance, was at the bottom of average attendance for league road games, at 6,420.

The average attendance at FCS games decreased by 4.5 percent in the 2018 season, reflecting a continued problem in recent years…

…Seven of the top 13 attendances came from HBCUs – historically black colleges and universities. That helped the Southwestern Athletic Conference to average an FCS-high 15,240 fans per game, with the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference ranking third out of 13 conferences at 9,815. The Missouri Valley Football Conference was second at 9,864.

On the other levels of NCAA football, the average attendance in the FBS was down 0.8 percent; Division II, 6 percent; and Division III, 9 percent.

I think it is interesting that while FBS attendance decreased only marginally last season, there was a substantial decline in attendance for FCS, D-2, and D-3 (and that the dropoff got worse further down the divisional totem pole).

One of the popular theories about declining attendance revolves around fan access to games via TV/streaming. However, very few D-2/D-3 games are televised, and streaming for teams in those divisions is certainly not as widespread as it is in FBS/FCS — yet numerous schools in D-2/D-3 have eroding attendance numbers.

Incidentally, the SWAC and the MEAC were the only two FCS leagues that did not see a decline in attendance. Some of the conferences really took a hit in 2018 (particularly the Ivy League, Southland, and Patriot League).

There are no easy answers to the attendance conundrum. However, there is consensus on the surest way to maintain and/or increase attendance. A former assistant coach at The Citadel said it best:

Just win, baby.

Football season is getting closer…

2018 Football, Game 4: The Citadel vs. Towson

The Citadel at Towson, to be played to be played at Johnny Unitas® Stadium in Towson, Maryland, with kickoff at 4:00 pm ET on September 29, 2018.

The game will be streamed on CAA TV. Spiro Morekas will handle play-by-play, while Gordy Combs supplies 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, will be the flagship station. 

Luke Mauro (in his first season as the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Cal McCombs. The sideline reporter is Jay Harper.

The Citadel Sports Network — 2018 radio affiliates

Charleston: WQNT 1450AM/92.1 FM/102.1 FM (Flagship)
Columbia: WQXL 1470AM/100.7FM
Greenville: WLFJ 92.9FM/660AM
Sumter: WDXY 1240AM/105.9FM

Links of interest:

– Game preview from The Post and Courier 

– Feature on Rod Johnson from The Post and Courier

The Citadel is back on the SoCon map

– Game notes from The Citadel and Towson

– SoCon weekly release

“Game Day Central” at The Citadel’s website

– AFCA Coaches’ poll

– Brent Thompson’s 9/25 press conference, including comments from Rod Johnson and Shawn McCord

– Brent Thompson’s 9/26 radio show (video)

The Bulldog Breakdown

– Rod Johnson is the SoCon special teams player of the week

– Boxscore from Towson-Villanova

Towson will wear special gold jerseys on Saturday

Whoa…basketball season is almost here!

As noted in the SoCon’s weekly release, all four conference games last week were close. The scores: 38-31 (The Citadel-Mercer), 52-50 (Western Carolina-VMI), 29-27 (East Tennessee State-Furman), and 27-20 (Chattanooga-Samford).

The league seems to be venturing into Big XII territory in terms of offensive productivity (and perhaps a corresponding lack of defensive excellence):

The SoCon’s offensive prowess was on full display on Saturday. Three backs ran for more than 100 yards, with The Citadel’s Grant Drakeford (139), Western Carolina’s Tyrie Adams (117) and ETSU’s Quay Holmes (102) all surpassing the century mark. Three quarterbacks surpassed 300 yards passing, including Mercer’s Robert Riddle (school-record 347), Samford’s Devlin Hodges (366) and VMI’s Reece Udinski (school-record 491). Four wide receivers reached at least 100 yards, including VMI’s Javeon Lara (143), Mercer’s Marquise Irvin (132), Samford’s Kelvin McKnight (128) and Chattanooga’s Bryce Nunnelly (108).

Let’s talk about TV (well, streaming video actually)…

The game will be available on CAA TV, which can be found here: Link

If you have a Roku, Apple TV, or Amazon Fire setup, you can watch the game on any of those devices.

I have a Roku. I was able to add the CAA TV channel (for free!), and from there I was able to find the upcoming contest, which is already posted on the platform.

The announcers for The Citadel-Towson on CAA TV will be the Towson radio team, which includes Spiro Morekas (voice of the Tigers for over a quarter-century) and former TU coach Gordy Combs (career record: 91-91).

There will almost certainly be a delay between the live action and the stream. You could always turn down the sound to the stream and just listen to The Citadel’s tandem of Luke Mauro and Cal McCombs call the game on the radio, then watch the action on the field unfold after they’ve called it.

That is what I did last week, and it worked well. I enjoyed the Mauro/McCombs duo. The cool and collected Mauro ably described the action, serenely side-stepping the occasionally excitable McCombs when necessary. The longtime coach, meanwhile, expertly and enthusiastically pointed out line play and other tactical nuances, while making additional sharp observations.

Of course, instead of watching the video stream, you could be at the game, which is taking place at Johnny Unitas® Stadium (yes, Johnny U’s name is a registered trademark).

Why is Towson’s stadium named after the legendary Colts quarterback?

Several weeks prior to his untimely passing [in 2002], “Johnny U” began serving as community liaison for Tiger Athletics. His role was to assist in obtaining a naming rights partner for the University’s new stadium. The legendary Golden Arm died suddenly, less than a week after tossing his last pass to commemorate the opening of Towson’s new stadium at ceremonies on September 5, 2002.

High spirits returned when Sandy Unitas chose to assume her husband’s role with Towson. With Johnny’s two youngest children as Towson students, Sandy sought to memorialize her husband’s legacy on campus by having the stadium named Johnny Unitas® Stadium.

The complex, which also hosts TU’s lacrosse, field hockey, and track teams, seats 11,198 for football. The playing surface is FieldTurf.

Towson has struggled to fill the stadium in recent years, despite occasionally fielding good-to-outstanding teams (including the 2013 squad, which made the FCS title game). TU’s average home attendance has declined in each of the last six campaigns, from 8,949 fans per game in 2011 to 5,377 supporters per contest last season.

One possible reason for the decline: a pervasive rumor that tailgating had been banned:

The idea that tailgating was banned or suspended stemmed from an incident that took place several years ago.

In September of 2014, a student injury at a tailgate along with several crowded and rowdy tailgates, led to rumors that members of the university administration were considering eliminating tailgating.

After deliberation with student leaders, rather than eradicating tailgating, the President’s Council decided to implement stricter guidelines for the rest of the year…

…Though tailgating never actually went away and some of those new guidelines only lasted for a few months, the damage had already been done. The misconception that tailgating was banned had made its way into the ether of Towson and spread like a wildfire over the following years.

Saturday’s contest is the home opener for the Tigers, and will feature a celebration of 50 years of Towson football (the program began in 1969). The game has been rather heavily promoted by the school in an effort to attract as many students and other supporters as possible. Among the promotions: a season ticket for five games only costs $50, and the first 1,000 students to arrive will each receive a free gold-colored t-shirt.

There may be competition for those t-shirts, as Towson has over 19,000 undergraduates. That is a far cry from the school’s founding in 1866, when it was known as the Maryland State Normal School and was located in downtown Baltimore. The first graduating class included 16 students.

The institution, for much of its history a college for training teachers, relocated to Towson in 1915. There were several name changes, with the school becoming Towson State University in 1976 and then Towson University in 1997. It is now part of the University System of Maryland, and offers over 500 majors in a wide range of disciplines, from accounting to elementary education to nursing. The school also has over 3,000 graduate students.

Towson’s football program began life as a Division III outfit. The Tigers had some success in that classification, including a title game appearance in 1976; Towson narrowly lost the Stagg Bowl that year to St. John’s and its famed coach, John Gagliardi.

The Tigers then spent eight years in Division II before moving up to Division I-AA (now FCS) in 1987. After a stretch as an independent, and a few years in both the Patriot League and the Atlantic 10, Towson became a charter member of the CAA football conference in 2007.

There have been only four head football coaches in the history of the program, and just three since 1972.

Rob Ambrose, who is currently at the helm, has held his position since 2009. Ambrose played quarterback and wide receiver for Towson in the early 1990s.

During Ambrose’s tenure, TU has won two CAA titles and made the aforementioned appearance in the FCS title game following the 2013 season. The playoff run included victories over Fordham, Eastern Illinois, and Eastern Washington. Towson eventually lost in the final to the buzzsaw (and buzzkill) that is North Dakota State.

Towson is the only NCAA school to have made the playoffs in football at the D-3 ,D-2, and D-1 levels.

TU’s two most notable football players are almost inarguably Sean Landeta and Dave Meggett.

Sean Landeta was one of the best punters in NFL history. He had a 22-year career in the league that included stints with five different franchises, including the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, and Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams.

He was named to the NFL all-decade team for both the 1980s and 1990s, and was also named to the squads for the Giants’ all-time team, the Eagles’ 75th-anniversary team, the St. Louis Rams’ 20th-anniversary team, and the 40th-anniversary Super Bowl team.

The native of Baltimore actually began his pro career in the USFL, punting for three years for the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars. Landeta won two championships in the USFL with that franchise, to go along with the two Super Bowl rings he acquired with the Giants.

Landeta also was mentioned in the “Page Six” section of the New York Post more than any other punter.

Dave Meggett grew up in North Charleston. After an outstanding career at Towson (he won the 1988 Walter Payton Award as the top player in I-AA football), Meggett would become one the better punt and kick returners in modern NFL annals.

Meggett won a Super Bowl ring with the Giants (Landeta was also on that team), and later played for the New England Patriots and (near the end of his career) the New York Jets. He followed head coach Bill Parcells to each of those stops.

After his career ended, Meggett started having well-documented legal problems. He is currently in prison.

Towson was picked to finish 10th in the 12-team CAA in that conference’s preseason poll, which was perhaps a reflection of the Tigers’ 2017 campaign, in which they finished 5-6 (3-5 in CAA play).

Early returns suggest that Towson is considerably better than that preseason prognostication. One caveat: the Tigers started last season 2-1 as well, with a win over Morgan State and a road victory in their third game. Unfortunately for TU, the team promptly lost its next four games.

That seems unlikely to happen this year, given the way the Tigers have played thus far.

It probably isn’t worth taking a deep dive into Towson’s season statistics, given the different kinds of opponents the Tigers have faced. TU handled Morgan State with relative ease (36-10) before getting blown out by Wake Forest (51-20).

While the game against the Demon Deacons may not be of much value in evaluating Towson, it may be worth viewing just to get an idea of how TU likes to play. You can access video of that contest here: Link

Morgan State is 1-3, but the win was a big one — a shocking 16-13 road victory over North Carolina A&T. The win over the Bears may wind up being a quality victory for Towson.

The game at Villanova, however, might be a better guide in determining A) how good Towson is, and B) what the Tigers want to do on offense (besides score a lot of points, obviously).

VU was ranked in the AFCA top 10 prior to its game versus Towson, and had also beaten an FBS squad (Temple). Villanova is clearly a more-than-credible FCS team, and Towson beat the Wildcats 45-35.

Each team in the Towson-Villanova game had 13 possessions. Towson dominated time of possession, holding the ball for 35:01 of game time), and converted 9 of 17 third-down conversion attempts (going 2-2 on fourth down as well). The Tigers ran 88 offensive plays (not counting two kneel-downs). There were 41 pass plays (38 throws, 3 sacks) and 47 rushes, with would-be pass plays that turned into runs included in that total.

Midway through the fourth quarter, nursing a 7- to 10-point lead, Towson began running down the clock. Thirteen of its last fourteen plays from scrimmage (not counting the kneel-downs) were running plays. That means in the first 3 1/2 quarters of the game, Towson threw the ball (or was sacked) on 40 of 74 plays.

My estimate of Towson’s clock usage is that the Tigers averaged just under 23 seconds per offensive play, so most of the time they got to the line in a hurry and snapped the ball as quickly as possible.

After taking out kneel-downs, moving sack yardage into the passing totals, etc., I came up with these yards-per-play numbers:

Towson averaged 6.03 yards per play. The Tigers averaged 7.19 yards per pass attempt, and 4.96 yards per rush. Towson had three passing touchdowns and two rushing TDs. The Tigers also scored a defensive touchdown off a fumble recovery.

Towson quarterback Tom Flacco (6’1″, 208 lbs.) is the younger brother of questionably elite Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. The younger Flacco began his college career at Western Michigan before transferring to Rutgers last season. He then moved to TU, presumably for the chance at more playing time, and possibly because he wanted to win a few games.

For the season, Flacco is completing 69.0% of his passes, with eight touchdowns against three interceptions. Taking sacks into account, he is averaging 6.62 yards per pass attempt.

Flacco is also a capable runner, averaging about 11 non-sack rushes per game, and 5.6 yards per carry.

Tailback Shane Simpson (5’9″, 200 lbs.) is from Easton, Pennsylvania. The redshirt junior is leading the Tigers in rushing, averaging 46.3 yards per game (4.1 yards per rush). Simpson also serves as Towson’s primary kick and punt returner.

Twelve different Tigers have caught passes this season. The top-two pass-catchers are redshirt junior Shane Leatherbury (5’10”, 165 lbs.) and redshirt senior Sam Gallahan (6’1″, 193 lbs.). Leatherbury leads the team in receptions with 18, averaging 16.3 yards per catch. He has 3 touchdown receptions, including a 76-yarder against Villanova.

Gallahan has 15 catches, averaging 12.1 yards per reception. He caught a 24-yard TD pass in the Wake Forest game.

Towson’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’4″, 292 lbs. The largest of the group is 6’5″, 299 lb. right tackle Matt Kauffman, a redshirt senior from York, Pennsylvania. Kauffman has started 32 games for the Tigers during his career.

Incidentally, TU’s offensive coordinator is Jared Ambrose, younger brother of head coach Rob Ambrose.

On defense, Towson usually operates out of a 4-3. There is no telling how the Tigers will line up on Saturday, though.

Brent Thompson spoke at his press conference on the difficulties encountered in trying to figure out how Towson will defend the triple option:

“It’s been very difficult….they haven’t faced Navy in quite [some time]…we’ve done as much research as we possibly can to find out what may have been [Towson defensive coordinator Lyndon Johnson’s] background in it…who would he consider his go-to guy if he had a go-to guy on the defensive side, maybe it was coach [Randy] Edsall, who he worked for when he was at UConn and at Maryland.”

This is Lyndon Johnson‘s first year as Towson’s defensive coordinator. His previous seventeen years in coaching have come at Maryland (the past five seasons) and Connecticut. In case anyone was wondering, Robert Caro has never written a book about him and has no plans to do so.

Keon Paye (6’0″, 217 lbs.) leads Towson in tackles, with 24. The redshirt junior from Columbia, Maryland intercepted a pass versus Villanova.

Fellow linebacker Diondre Wallace (6’0″, 233 lbs.) has 23 tackles and, like Paye, an interception (against Morgan State; he also had a 14-yard sack in that game). The senior from Baltimore forced a fumble against Wake Forest.

Defensive lineman Bryce Carter (6’3″, 262 lbs.) leads the team in tackles for loss, with four. Carter is a redshirt sophomore from Steelton, Pennsylvania. Given that hometown, there is a decent chance that wearing black and gold comes naturally to him.

Troy Vincent Jr. (5’10”, 200 lbs.), a senior transfer from North Carolina State who plays defensive back, returned a fumble for a touchdown against Villanova. Vincent’s father Troy Sr. was an outstanding NFL player (five Pro Bowls), and is currently the league’s executive vice president of football operations.

Aidan O’Neill (6’1″, 199 lbs.), a junior from New Paltz, New York, is Towson’s placekicker. An excellent specialist, he is 5 for 6 on field goal tries this season, and has made all ten of his PAT attempts. O’Neill’s career long with the Tigers is 55 yards.

Towson’s punter is Pat Toomey (6’2″, 196 lbs.), who also handles kickoffs for the Tigers and holds on placements. The redshirt senior from Brick, New Jersey is in his second season as TU’s punter. Last year, he had a net punting average of 37.6 yards.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Towson, per the National Weather Service: mostly sunny, with a high of 72 degrees. The projected low on Saturday night is about 56 degrees.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Towson is a 7-point favorite over The Citadel, with an over/under of 57.

The over has hit in all three of The Citadel’s games this season.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams:  Furman is a 5-point favorite versus Western Carolina; Mercer is a 15 1/2 point favorite at VMI; Samford is a 5 1/2 point underdog at Kennesaw State; Wofford is a 26-point favorite at Gardner-Webb; and Chattanooga is a 14 1/2 point favorite at East Tennessee State.

– Also of note:  Charleston Southern is an 8-point favorite at Hampton, and Alabama is a 48-point favorite over Louisiana-Lafayette.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 45th in FCS, a 22-spot jump from last week. Towson is ranked 15th.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have an 27% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of Towson 31, The Citadel 24. Last week, the Bulldogs were projected to have a 24% chance of victory.

Other FCS rankings of note in Massey:  Elon (18th), Wofford (21st), Chattanooga (22nd), Colgate (24th), Kennesaw State (34th), Yale (38th), Mercer (42nd), Samford (48th), UT Martin (52nd), Furman (53rd), Western Carolina (54th), East Tennessee State (68th), Charleston Southern (71st), Tennessee Tech (96th), Gardner-Webb (99th), Presbyterian (103rd), VMI (104th), South Carolina State (109th), Davidson (122nd), Mississippi Valley State (125th and last).

Massey’s top 5 FCS squads: North Dakota State, James Madison, South Dakota State, Weber State, and Illinois State.

Massey’s top ten FBS teams (in order): Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Clemson, Penn State, LSU, Auburn, Notre Dame, and Washington. UCF is 12th, North Carolina State 15th, South Carolina 16th, Duke 19th, Kentucky 20th, Mississippi State 27th, Florida 38th, Maryland 40th, Wake Forest 46th, Virginia Tech 48th (a drop of 34 spots), Memphis 52nd, Appalachian State 54th, Virginia 55th, Army 58th, Florida State 64th, Georgia Tech 68th, North Texas 72nd, Toledo 75th, Navy 76th, North Carolina 80th, Wyoming 81st, Tennessee 85th, Air Force 86th, UCLA 92nd, Arkansas 101st, Coastal Carolina 102nd, Georgia Southern 104th, Old Dominion 120th, Charlotte 126th, Liberty 127th, and UTEP 130th and last.

– Among Towson’s notable alumni:  actor Dwight Schultz (“Murdock” from The A-Team), WWE personality Stacy Keibler, and broadcaster Joe Miller.

– Varsity teams at Towson were generally known as the Golden Knights until the early 1960s, when the tiger mascot began to gain more currency among students and alumni. One of the leading advocates for the mascot change was none other than John Schuerholz, the Hall of Fame baseball executive. Schuerholz, who graduated from Towson in 1962, has been a frequent benefactor to the school. Towson’s baseball stadium is named for him (and his father).

– Towson’s roster includes 29 players from Maryland. Other states represented on its squad:  Virginia (16 players), New Jersey (12), Pennsylvania (12), New York (6), Delaware (4), North Carolina (4), Florida (2), California (2), and one each from Connecticut, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Georgia, and Texas. Three players are from the District of Columbia, and two Tigers are from other countries — linebacker Malik Tyne (from Canada), and defensive lineman Tibo Debaille (a native of Belgium).

TU has no players who hail from South Carolina, and that of course means there are no Tigers from internationally celebrated pigskin powerhouse Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. It is hard to imagine Towson staying competitive in any FCS conference in the long term, much less a solid league like the CAA, if it continues to ignore the incredible talent that wears the Maroon and Orange.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47), Georgia (28), Florida (9), North Carolina (5), Texas (5), Tennessee (4), Pennsylvania (3), Alabama (2), New York (2), and one each from Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.

– This week’s two-deep is similar to the one released for the Mercer game. Sean-Thomas Faulkner (who actually started against the Bears) is now listed on the depth chart. Khafari Buffalo is also on the two-deep, though it seems highly unlikely that he will play on Saturday, as he continues to recover from the injury he suffered versus Mercer.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 7-6 for games played on September 29. The Bulldogs are 1-3 away from home on that date. A brief review of three of those contests, as we go into the Bulldogs’ Wayback Machine:

  • 1956:  The Citadel stunned favored Davidson, 34-7, before 12,700 startled but happy fans at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Paul Maguire caught a 45-yard TD pass from Dick Guerreri, and Joe Chefalo added two TDs — one on a pass from Guerreri, and the other on one of the longer (and more unusual) touchdowns in school history. Bobby Schwarze intercepted a Davidson pass at the Bulldogs’ 5-yard line, and then evaded several Wildcats until he reached midfield. When he was about to be tackled, Schwarze lateraled the ball to Chefalo, who took it the rest of the way for what turned out to be a 95-yard TD. Other point-scorers for John Sauer’s troops included Ray Woodworth, Connie Tuza, and Leon McLemore (the latter two kicking PATs).
  • 1962:  The Bulldogs had no trouble with Presbyterian, winning 28-9. Sid Mitchell and Wade St. John both threw TD passes (to LeRoy Brinson and Vince Petno, respectively), with Mitchell adding a rushing score as well. The Citadel’s first touchdown of the game came on a Charlie Brendle pick-6. Nick DiLoreto had a fine game on defense for the Bulldogs (as did Petno and Ed Gould).
  • 1979:  The Citadel slipped past Appalachian State, 24-23, when Kelly Curry broke up a pass on a 2-point conversion attempt with 5:13 to play in the game; later, a Mountaineers desperation pass as the game wound to its conclusion was batted away by Paul Gillis. Tim Russell ran for a TD and threw for another, with Orion Rust catching the pass that gave the Bulldogs a 24-17 lead (after some good work by Mark Slawson). Danny Miller also scored for The Citadel, after Hillery Douglas recovered a fumbled punt. Attendance: 17,150.

– Per The Citadel’s game notes, the team’s 567-mile trip to Towson is the longest made by the program since 2010, when the Bulldogs traveled to Arizona (the longest trip in school history).

I think it’s good that The Citadel plays occasional games outside the region, and Brent Thompson agrees. As he said on his radio show:

“It will be a good little trip up there…but it’ll be fun. The weather’s different up there, the environment’s different, the climate’s different up there…it’s an opportunity to get out of your conference, play somebody other than a Big South team, and get up there and hopefully come away with a win…sometimes the unknown is a lot of fun for both sides. For us, we play so many teams that have faced the triple option, [so] maybe it’s a different defense you’re going to see.”

When asked about the impact on recruiting, though, Thompson seemed to indicate it wasn’t a major factor. He did note the high interest level of the local alumni in the area, who have the relatively rare opportunity to see the Bulldogs play in their part of the country.

Thompson also said that there are no games like this on future schedules (other than Towson’s return trip next season). That is too bad, really, but somewhat understandable.

As for what will happen on the field this Saturday at Johnny Unitas® Stadium, your guess is as good (and probably better) than mine. I honestly have no idea.

I think Towson is a good, solid team, but the Bulldogs have improved every week and present a challenge that Towson has not faced. I remember when The Citadel played at Old Dominion back in 2013. Despite being a solid favorite, the Monarchs barely escaped with a 59-58 victory, mainly because they seemed to have no idea how to defend the triple option.

Of course, it is quite possible Towson knows exactly how to play defense versus the triple option — and the extra week of preparation the Tigers got with the bye week won’t hurt, either. There is also the issue of the Bulldogs’ D trying to stop TU’s offense, which will be a difficult task.

All in all, there are a lot of unknowns, which might make for a very fun game.

After last week’s win against Mercer, the Bulldogs have some much-needed momentum. We’ll see if that momentum carries over to Saturday.

A glance at the 2018 SoCon non-conference football slate

Some other links related to The Citadel’s upcoming gridiron campaign:

– Preseason rankings and ratings

– Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium: the annual review

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

Also of interest from around the internet:

How will new NCAA rules on redshirting and transfers affect The Citadel?

New turf (and stands) to come at Johnson Hagood Stadium

Dates that FCS leagues will release their respective preseason polls (and often, preseason all-conference teams as well)

Cadets (not cats) and bulldogs living together

This year, the SoCon as a whole will have its usual share of games against teams from the FBS ranks, along with quite a few matchups with FCS outfits in other conferences. As was the case last season, there are four games against non-D1 schools, all from Division II.

Playing non-D1 teams out of conference does not help individual schools (or the league, for that matter) when it comes to making the FCS playoffs. It means the SoCon team in question will have one fewer opportunity to post a win against a D-1 team.

Of course, you could make the same argument when it comes to playing teams from the FBS, particularly the P5 conferences. Those matchups also tend to reduce the number of chances a team has to win a game versus a D-1 opponent — unless, that is, the underdog actually beats the team from the FBS.

Every SoCon team will play three non-league games as part of an 11-game regular-season schedule. Each squad has at least one matchup versus an FBS opponent. VMI has two such contests, which seems less than ideal for the Keydets.

However, neither of the FBS teams playing VMI are from P5 leagues. Two other SoCon teams, Mercer and Wofford, also avoid the five major conferences this season. The other six schools each go on the road to play either an ACC or SEC team.

Which SoCon outfit has the toughest non-conference schedule? That’s not as easy to answer this season as it was last year (when Mercer played Auburn and Alabama). After taking the opposition, location, and schedule placement into consideration, I tend to give the nod to Furman. You could also make a case for The Citadel.

Around the league…

Chattanooga:

Last year, UTC’s first three games were against non-conference foes. Chattanooga lost all of them, and never really recovered. This season, the Mocs play two of their three non-league contests in the first three weeks of the campaign.

Chattanooga opens at home (on a Thursday night) versus OVC cellar-dweller Tennessee Tech. That is a matchup UTC needs to win.

After a game at The Citadel, Chattanooga goes on the road again to face UT Martin. The Skyhawks beat UTC 21-7 last season at Finley Stadium and are projected to be a middle-of-the-pack squad in the OVC this year, so that could be a tough game for the Mocs. It may also prove to be a pivotal contest in Chattanooga’s season, particularly with a matchup against Samford on tap for the following week.

Chattanooga finishes its regular season slate by travelling to bucolic Columbia, SC, to play the South Carolina Gamecocks (and pick up a check for $450,000.00). This is the fourth consecutive season South Carolina has played a SoCon school the week before playing Clemson; it has won two of the prior three contests in the “SoCon-SEC challenge”, having outlasted Wofford and Western Carolina the past two years.

East Tennessee State:

ETSU opens with a home game versus Mars Hill, a D-2 school that went 3-7 last season. Mars Hill played one FCS team in 2017, North Carolina A&T, and lost 56-0.

The following week, the opponent is a little tougher, as ETSU travels to Knoxville to play Tennessee, the first FBS team the Buccaneers will have played since re-starting football. It will also be the first time ETSU has ever faced the Vols on the gridiron.

Midway through the year, East Tennessee State hosts Gardner-Webb for its Homecoming game. The Runnin’ Bulldogs were 1-10 last year. This is a contest ETSU could (and probably should) win.

Both in terms of opponent quality and placement, ETSU’s administration did a solid job in putting together its 2018 slate for a still-young program. The only negative is having a bye week just before the final game of the season, but that was probably dictated by the league, and finding a home non-conference game on that date was likely close to impossible.

Furman:

The Paladins get their non-conference slate out of the way early, starting the season with three consecutive out-of-league opponents. Furman opens at Clemson, as difficult a first game as any team has in the country.

Furman then faces Elon for the third time in less than a year. The two teams split their two meetings in 2017, with the Paladins winning at Elon in a playoff matchup.

This season, Elon is expected to be an upper-echelon CAA team again, with 18 returning starters. Lindy’s has the Phoenix ranked #21 in FCS in its preseason poll, while Street & Smith’s and Athlon rank Elon 9th and 10th, respectively.

FU hosts Colgate to round out the OOC schedule. Last year, the Paladins made the trip to upstate New York and came away with a 45-14 victory. That game jump-started a seven-game winning streak for Furman.

While the Raiders are the early favorite to win the Patriot League in 2018, it would be a surprise if Furman were to lose to Colgate, especially on what could be a hot mid-September day in Greenville (with a 1:00 pm ET kickoff). That being said, last year the Raiders did win their season opener on the road, against a then-ranked Cal Poly.

Mercer:

Mercer opens with a game at Memphis, one of the better programs in the Group of 5. The Tigers won 10 games last season, and both Athlon and Street & Smith’s picked Memphis to win the AAC West this year.

One potential advantage for Mercer: the Tigers’ game the following week is at Navy. It would not be a surprise if the primary focus of the Memphis coaching staff leading up to the season was on the Midshipmen’s triple option attack, and not so much on the Bears.

MU plays Jacksonville in the second week of the season, the second year in a row Mercer has played the Dolphins. Last year, the Bears beat JU 48-7.

The Bears’ final non-conference matchup is an interesting one, an October 13 game at Yale. The Elis won the Ivy League in 2017 and are favored to win the title again this year. Yale has a big game at Penn on the Friday after playing MU, which might be yet another potential scheduling boost for Mercer.

The real question, though, is this: just how good are Ivy League teams? Last year, the Ivy League was 17-6 versus FCS opponents, but more than two-thirds of those games came against Patriot League and Pioneer League teams. The Ivies rarely venture out of the northeast, with Yale’s non-conference schedule last year (at Lehigh, at Fordham, Holy Cross) fairly typical.

Samford:

The Birmingham Bulldogs begin their 2018 campaign on a Thursday night. They will presumably enjoy a victory over Shorter University, a D-2 school that has gone 0-11 each of the last two seasons.

Shorter lost its one game versus a D-1 opponent last year, to Gardner-Webb, by a 42-14 score. That was G-W’s only win of the season. In 2016, Chattanooga beat Shorter 66-0.

After that, though, Samford’s non-league slate is very tough. SU’s game the following week is at Florida State. Samford gets a little bit of a break in that FSU opens with a Monday night game against Virginia Tech.

On September 29, Kennesaw State hosts Samford. The two teams played twice last season, with SU winning the opener at home and then losing in the playoffs at KSU.

Kennesaw State is the consensus pick to win the Big South again this season, and is rated very highly by several national outlets (including a preseason FCS ranking of #3 by Hero Sports). The Owls may be the most difficult FCS non-league opponent faced by any SoCon team in 2018.

I think Samford’s non-conference schedule is problematic for a playoff contender. If SU loses at Kennesaw State, it is likely Chris Hatcher’s crew will finish with no D-1 wins outside of league play. It might not be easy for Samford to get a postseason berth if it doesn’t garner the SoCon’s automatic bid.

The Citadel:

The Citadel opens its season with two conference games, unlike 2017, when the Bulldogs began play on the gridiron with Newberry and Presbyterian. In 2016, though, The Citadel also started its campaign with two league contests. That was a very good year for the program, so fans of the Bulldogs will be hoping a similar beginning will lead to similar results.

After games against Wofford (on the road) and Chattanooga (at home), The Citadel will host Charleston Southern. The Buccaneers should be a top-3 team in the Big South this season, albeit not on the same level with prohibitive conference favorite Kennesaw State.

On September 29, the Bulldogs will journey north to Johnny Unitas Stadium to play Towson, the first football game between the two schools. Towson struggled last season after its starting quarterback and running back both suffered injuries in the season opener, finishing 5-6.

This year, opinions on the Tigers appear to be mixed. Towson returns 20 starters (including the aforementioned running back, Shane Simpson).

There are three candidates to start at QB, including incoming transfer Tommy Flacco, younger brother of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. There is no early word on whether or not the younger Flacco is elite.

The Citadel’s final non-conference game of the season is a November 17 matchup against Alabama. As has been well documented, Alabama has never beaten The Citadel in football.

VMI:

The Keydets travel to Toledo to begin the 2018 season. Last year, the Rockets won 11 games and the MAC crown. This season, Toledo should be one of the three best teams in its league, though VMI may benefit from the fact the Rockets have to replace last year’s starting quarterback and running back. VMI could use a little beneficence.

While a fair number of teams play two or three non-conference games in September, the Keydets actually play two of their three OOC games in November.

On November 3, VMI plays Tusculum, a D-2 team. Tusculum was 5-5 last season, 3-4 in the South Atlantic Conference.

The Pioneers haven’t played a D-1 squad since losing 62-21 to Georgia Southern in 2011. The game versus Tusculum will probably be the only 2018 matchup in which VMI is favored. It should be noted, however, that last season Catawba, like Tusculum a member of the South Atlantic Conference, beat the Keydets 27-20.

VMI’s final regular-season game will be at Old Dominion, now in its fifth season as an FBS school. The Monarchs finished 5-7 last season but return 18 starters from that team, including sophomore quarterback Steven Williams. The left-hander started the final seven games of 2017 despite not turning 18 years old until November.

Western Carolina:

WCU opens with a home game versus D-2 Newberry, which finished 5-6 last season, just one year removed from making the Division II playoffs. Last year, the Wolves also played their first game of the season versus a SoCon opponent, losing 31-14 to The Citadel.

After the Newberry game, Western Carolina has a poorly-timed bye week, and then goes on the road to play Gardner-Webb (which faces three SoCon teams in 2018, with two of those contests in Boiling Springs). Western Carolina also played at G-W in 2017, winning 42-27, the third consecutive victory for the Catamounts over the Runnin’ Bulldogs.

WCU then plays all eight of its SoCon opponents over an eight-week stretch. After the last of those matchups (a home contest versus Wofford), the Catamounts conclude regular season play with a game at North Carolina. It will be only the second time WCU has ever faced the Tar Heels (but the second straight year they will have met).

Western Carolina has playoff aspirations, and thus is another team that might have been better served by scheduling a second FCS opponent out of conference instead of playing a D-2 team. The main difference between WCU and Samford in this respect is that the Catamounts’ non-league FCS game is (at least on paper) an easier matchup than Samford’s.

A better idea for WCU’s schedule would have been to replace Newberry with, say, Davidson (one of the Catamounts’ opponents last season). Davidson’s football team is almost certainly not as good as Newberry’s, but the Wildcats are a Division I school. Every D-1 win helps, even those against non-scholarship programs.

Wofford:

The Terriers start their 2018 season with two league battles, playing The Citadel and VMI, both at home. Last season, Wofford also opened with two conference games, playing Furman in Spartanburg and then travelling to Mercer.

After the two contests against the military colleges, Wofford travels to Wyoming. At first glance, it seems to be one of the more unlikely FBS vs. FCS matchups of the season. The two schools can’t have much in common, other than both having names beginning with the letter “W”.

However, Wyoming does have a brief history of playing SoCon schools, dating back to the 1951 Gator Bowl, when the Cowboys played Washington and Lee. Other Wyoming-SoCon matchups include games against Furman (2001), The Citadel (2002), and Appalachian State (2004).

Wyoming could go bowling (or maybe that’s “Bohling”) for a third straight season, despite losing star quarterback Josh Allen. However, Wofford does have an 11% win probability in this matchup, according to projected S&P+, which isn’t bad for an FCS team playing at an FBS squad, and a couple of time zones away from home to boot.

Wofford has another non-conference road game the week after making the trip to Laramie. This matchup is much closer to home, however, as the Terriers play at Gardner-Webb.

G-W played Wofford last year, too, and the Terriers had to hang on to win 27-24 in Gibbs Stadium. The Runnin’ Bulldogs missed a long field goal try late in the game that would have tied the contest.

Incidentally, Gardner-Webb (which at this rate is closing in on honorary SoCon member status) played none other than Wyoming in 2017, losing 27-0.

Wofford’s final non-league game of the year is also the final regular season game on its slate. The Terriers host Presbyterian on November 17, the 85th meeting on the gridiron between the two schools.

PC was 4-7 last season. In November, Presbyterian announced that its football program would move to non-scholarship status by 2020. Some of the Blue Hose’s players left the team following that announcement, including running back Torrance Marable, arguably PC’s best player (he wound up transferring to Coastal Carolina).

A brief overview of the FCS as a whole…

This season, 21 FCS schools have scheduled two games against FBS opposition. Only one, Southern Utah, will face two P5 teams (the Thunderbirds play Oregon State and Arizona).

In all, FCS teams will play FBS schools 111 times, with 48 of those being P5 opponents.

The Big Sky and MVFC probably have the most aggressive slate of non-conference matchups. Eight of the Big Sky’s FBS games are versus P5 teams. The MVFC also has eight P5 games being played by its ten member schools.

The Big Sky has 14 FBS games in all, a number matched by the SWAC and MEAC. In addition, the Big Sky (with 13 schools this season) will be featured in several prominent non-league FCS vs. FCS matchups, including Northern Iowa-Montana and South Dakota-Weber State, not to mention Eastern Washington-Northern Arizona (which is a non-conference game despite both being Big Sky schools).

The Southland has 13 FBS games (six* versus P5 schools), the CAA has 12 (six P5 matchups), and the OVC and SoCon each have 10 (five against P5 teams for the OVC, six for the SoCon).

*counting BYU as a Power 5 opponent, which is open to debate

No team from the Ivy League or the Pioneer League will play an FBS squad in 2018.

Also not facing an FBS opponent: traditional FCS powers North Dakota State and Jacksonville State. NDSU will instead enjoy seven regular-season home games this season (including a Homecoming game against Delaware). It isn’t easy these days for the Bison to hook up with an FBS team.

JSU has quality non-conference FCS bookends to its schedule, facing North Carolina A&T in its opener (which is also the FCS Kickoff) and concluding the regular season with a game versus Kennesaw State at SunTrust Park.

There are just a couple of months left before the season kicks off. Be patient, everyone…

FCS school football pages and 2017 media guides

This post provides lists and links to FCS school football pages/media guides for the 2017 season (I did the same thing in 20132014, 2015, and 2016). SBNation sometimes has a page with links to FBS football pages and media guides; I’ll link to that when (or if) it becomes available.

Included below are the schools’ football web pages, 2017 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 several cases it won’t happen at all.

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

Last update: September 14, 2017 

Team/Conference Guide/News  Additional info
Big Sky 2017 Guide
Cal Poly 2017 Guide
Eastern Washington 2017 Guide
Idaho State 2017 News Records
Montana 2017 Guide Record Book
Montana State 2017 Guide
North Dakota 2017 Guide
Northern Arizona 2017 News
Northern Colorado 2017 News Records
Portland State 2017 Guide
Sacramento State 2017 News Records
Southern Utah 2017 News
UC Davis 2017 News
Weber State 2017 Guide
Big South 2017 Guide
Charleston Southern 2017 Guide
Gardner-Webb 2017 Guide Record Book
Kennesaw State 2017 News Record Book
Liberty 2017 News Record Book
Monmouth 2017 Guide
Presbyterian 2017 News
CAA 2017 Guide
Albany 2017 Guide Record Book
Delaware 2017 Info
Elon 2017 News Records
James Madison 2017 Guide
Maine 2017 Guide
New Hampshire 2017 Guide
Rhode Island 2017 News Record Book
Richmond 2017 News
Stony Brook 2017 Guide
Towson 2017 Guide
Villanova 2017 Guide
William & Mary 2017 News Records
Ivy League 2017 Guide
Brown 2017 Guide Records
Columbia 2017 Guide
Cornell 2017 Facts Records
Dartmouth 2017 News Records
Harvard 2017 Guide
Pennsylvania 2017 Guide
Princeton 2017 Info Record Book
Yale 2017 News Record Book
MEAC 2017 Guide
Bethune-Cookman 2017 News
Delaware State 2017 Guide
Florida A&M 2017 News
Hampton 2017 Guide
Howard 2017 News
Morgan State 2017 Guide Record Book
Norfolk State 2017 News Record Book
North Carolina A&T 2017 News
North Carolina Central 2017 Info Record Book
Savannah State 2017 Guide
South Carolina State 2017 News
MVFC 2017 News Records and Honors
Illinois State 2017 Guide
Indiana State 2017 Guide Record Book
Missouri State 2017 Guide
North Dakota State 2017 News Records and Results
Northern Iowa 2017 Guide
South Dakota 2017 Guide
South Dakota State 2017 Guide
Southern Illinois 2017 Guide
Western Illinois 2017 Guide Record Book
Youngstown State 2017 News Record Book
NEC 2017 News
Bryant 2017 News
Central Connecticut State 2017 Guide
Duquesne 2017 Guide
Robert Morris 2017 Guide
Sacred Heart 2017 News Record Book
St. Francis (PA) 2017 Guide
Wagner 2017 Guide
OVC 2017 Guide
Austin Peay 2017 News
Eastern Illinois 2017 Guide Record Book
Eastern Kentucky 2017 News Record Book
Jacksonville State 2017 Guide
Murray State 2017 Guide
Southeast Missouri State 2017 Guide
Tennessee State 2017 Guide
Tennessee Tech 2017 Guide
UT Martin 2017 Guide
Patriot League 2017 News Record Book
Bucknell 2017 Guide
Colgate 2017 Guide Record Book
Fordham 2017 Guide
Georgetown 2017 Guide
Holy Cross 2017 Guide
Lafayette 2017 Guide
Lehigh 2017 News Record Book
Pioneer League 2017 News
Butler 2017 News
Campbell 2017 Guide
Davidson 2017 News
Dayton 2017 News Record Book
Drake 2017 Guide
Jacksonville 2017 News Record Book
Marist 2017 Guide
Morehead State 2017 Guide Record Book 
San Diego 2017 News Records and Results
Stetson 2017 News History through 1956 
Valparaiso 2017 News Records and Results
SoCon 2017 Guide
Chattanooga 2017 Guide
East Tennessee State 2017 News
Furman 2017 Guide Record Book
Mercer 2017 Guide
Samford 2017 Guide
The Citadel 2017 News Record Book
Virginia Military Institute 2017 Guide
Western Carolina 2017 Guide
Wofford 2017 Guide
Southland 2017 Guide
Abilene Christian 2017 Guide
Central Arkansas 2017 Guide
Houston Baptist 2017 Guide
Incarnate Word 2017 Guide
Lamar 2017 News
McNeese State 2016 Guide
Nicholls State 2017 Guide
Northwestern State 2017 Guide
Sam Houston State 2017 Info Record Book
Southeastern Louisiana 2017 Guide
Stephen F. Austin 2017 Guide
SWAC 2017 News
Alabama A&M 2017 News
Alabama State 2017 Guide
Alcorn State 2017 News
Jackson State 2017 News
Mississippi Valley State 2017 News
Arkansas-Pine Bluff 2017 News
Grambling State 2017 Guide
Prairie View A&M 2017 News
Southern University 2017 Info
Texas Southern 2017 News