The 2016 FCS Playoffs — a review of the bracket

The Bracket

Links of interest:

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

– Lehigh football snubbed of home playoff game

New Hampshire makes field for 13th straight year

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

Wofford earns playoff bid

Charleston Southern disappointed not to host playoff game

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

South Dakota State gets seed

Youngstown State in playoffs after a ten-year absence

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

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

Chattanooga makes playoff field

Cal Poly gets bid, will host San Diego

Preview article on NCAA.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

I think Gattuso has a very legitimate argument.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The manual has this to say about awarding host sites:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bulldogs quarterback Dominique Allen:

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

Linebacker Tevin Floyd of The Citadel:

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

Head coach Brent Thompson of The Citadel:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Massey Ratings predicted scores for this Saturday:

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

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

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

The FCS playoffs — a primer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The leagues that send automatic qualifiers to the playoffs:

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

Here is this year’s tournament schedule:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 1 rankings:

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

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

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

A few thoughts on his comments:

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

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

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

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

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

However, Hutchinson also added this:

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

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

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

“It has been very isolated,” replied Hutchinson.

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

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

Obviously, that can be significant.

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

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

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

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

2015 Football, Game 13: The Citadel vs. Charleston Southern

The Citadel at Charleston Southern, to be played in North Charleston, South Carolina, at Buccaneer Field, with kickoff at 1:00 pm ET on Saturday, December. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Bob Picozzi providing play-by-play and Tom O’Brien supplying the analysis.

The game can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. In a change, WWIK-98.9 FM [audio link] will serve as the flagship station this week (due to The Citadel’s basketball game against College of Charleston starting at 11 am), and will also have a two-hour pregame show. 

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

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

Links of interest:

– Preview article in The Post and Courier

That week off for the Bulldogs back in October came in handy

– Game notes from The Citadel and Charleston Southern

SoCon weekly release

Big South weekly release

Mike Houston’s 12/1 press conference (with comments from Dominique Allen and Tevin Floyd)

– Phil Kornblut of SportsTalk interviews Mike Houston

– Jamey Chadwell’s 11/23 press conference

Lots of political correctness in an article about Charleston Southern’s football facility

– Charleston Southern feature on WCSC-TV

The Moultrie News on the matchup

– STATS preview of The Citadel-Charleston Southern

Earlier this season, I wrote this:

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

If you don’t believe that about the Lowcountry media, you need to watch the press conferences Mike Houston and Jamey Chadwell had this week. I’ve linked both of them in the “Links of Interest” section.

At The Citadel, Mike Houston did a good job of deflecting questions, notably about the “broom” incident from the game between the two teams earlier in the season. That subject also came up during Jamey Chadwell’s press conference (which was held the day before, on Monday).

Here is the second question that Chadwell was asked, by WCSC-TV’s Andy Pruitt:

The broom is for your players. Obviously, The Citadel fans took exception to it. It still rears its head that there’s a perceived superiority that their fans believe their program has over you guys. But do you…wish you didn’t do that because you [wouldn’t want to] rile up the players and coaches, or [do] you still like what you did as far as firing up your players and you feel like your players still have the drive to play The Citadel?

I was a little disappointed in certain aspects of this question, to be honest. The comment about Bulldog fans is a blanket statement without real foundation. Just because Jamey Chadwell constantly moans about a perceived lack of respect doesn’t mean it’s true.

Chadwell’s response, which went unchallenged, included this line:

…it was for our motivation, had nothing to do with their program.

Maybe he could have made that stick if he had played broom overlord in the locker room after the game, but that’s not what he did. Instead, Chadwell had someone bring the broom out of the locker room, then paraded it at midfield while his team did a little dance during The Citadel’s alma mater.

As I said at the time, they probably didn’t realize the alma mater was being played. I’ll give them a pass for that. However, the notion that scene was just for the benefit of the CSU players is absurd.

Of course it was aimed at The Citadel — at its players, its coaches, and its fans. There was no other reason to do it at midfield.

Well, actually there was another reason. It was a way to get more media attention. In that respect, it was an unqualified success, especially for a coach looking to make a name for himself and get in the mix for higher-profile jobs.

Did any members of the press call out Chadwell for those antics? Not really. He’s a good coach, but more importantly for the fourth estate, he’s a self-assured carnival barker, and most of the press corps is appreciative.

That part of Chadwell’s personality got weirder this week, as he went into third-person mode three separate times during a 13-minute press conference. It was a little bizarre, but still went over well with the local media, as this tweet from WCIV-TV’s Scott Eisberg suggests:

Best thing is that Coach Chadwell now speaks in 3rd person-explanation for the “Broom” vs. Citadel pretty good too

See? Go into third person, offer a half-baked explanation, get credit!

I generally don’t like to rip the press. They get unfairly criticized at times, and most of them work hard and do a good job (and that includes Pruitt and Eisberg, who are both solid). However, I’m really tired of the constant drumbeat on this CSU “we don’t get respect” non-issue, with The Citadel invariably portrayed as some sort of villainous entity.

Also, I want to know something. When is there going to be any discussion about the obvious lack of respect Charleston Southern has towards The Citadel?

All the pseudo-babble has been the other way around, but remember this: the coach who insulted the other team’s players (and coaches) after the game in September was Jamey Chadwell, the head coach at Charleston Southern. The social media account that approvingly tweeted out additional comments along those same lines? That was Charleston Southern’s official twitter account (not the sports account, but the one for the entire institution).

You didn’t hear Mike Houston say anything negative about Charleston Southern. You didn’t hear any negativity about CSU from The Citadel and its administration then or now, even concerning this week’s game site (more on that later).

Sure, there are Bulldog fans who don’t think much of CSU. There are also CSU fans who don’t like The Citadel. So what?

I couldn’t care less there are Buc fans who can’t stand my alma mater. Why on earth should they care what some alums of The Citadel think about them?

It’s the whole “rivalry” thing, of course. The media wants it, because it makes for easy storylines. CSU wants it, for validation (I guess).

It won’t happen, though, because it can’t. I’ve said this before (more than once, actually), but rivalries are organic and often develop over a long period of time.

The Citadel’s rivals in football are Furman and VMI. That has been the case for generations. Alumni of The Citadel don’t think of CSU as any kind of rival; there is no reason to do so, and it has nothing to do with anything that happens on the field of play.

The Citadel has very little in common with Charleston Southern.

One is public, the other private. One is a military school, one is affiliated with the Baptists.

One began operations in 1842, the other in 1964. One is located in downtown Charleston, the other in North Charleston.

One is significantly larger than the other in terms of student enrollment (and no, the “bigger school” isn’t the one on the peninsula).

Jamey Chadwell:

Everything that we’re trying to do is to make it a rivalry. I’ve tried my best to stoke the fire. And now, maybe it is a rivalry. I hope it is. But when I got here, there was no rivalry at all.

There still isn’t — and there won’t be if Charleston Southern wins on Saturday, or if The Citadel pulls off the upset. That’s just the way it is. That is the way it is going to be.

It is quite possible that Chadwell is a decent man. I have no idea.

However, his comments haven’t done anything to make this matchup a rivalry. All they’ve done is give many Bulldog fans a negative impression of Jamey Chadwell. That’s too bad.

He probably doesn’t care. That is his prerogative.

This game is being played at Buccaneer Field. I want to make three points about that.

– I can go along with the idea that Charleston Southern’s team earned the right to host a playoff game. However, I would specify that only the team be included in the “earned” category.

Charleston Southern’s administration certainly did nothing to earn that right with its longstanding failure to significantly improve the Bucs’ football stadium situation. The facilities issues at CSU (including the basketball gymnasium) are of the school’s own doing.

Fans of other schools (not just The Citadel) have every right to point out the problems associated with those facilities, and to complain when they are affected by them. The notion that “if it were the other way around” doesn’t apply.

When The Citadel hosts a football or basketball game, or when College of Charleston hosts a basketball game, Charleston Southern’s fans have every opportunity to attend those games and watch the action. The reverse is not true when CSU hosts the matchups.

– NCAA FCS playoff committee chairman Mark Wilson, the AD at Tennessee Tech, had this to say:

We do look at the quality of the stadium and the capacity. But if a seeded team has a venue capable of hosting regular-season games without issues and they meet the minimum guarantee, then they are the host.

We think it’s going to be a great atmosphere for an FCS playoff game.

I’m not sure it’s a great idea to assume a facility that is “capable of hosting regular-season games without issues” is also going to be able to handle a crowd like that expected on Saturday. The Citadel is going to bring a few more fans than Monmouth did.

Wilson’s remark struck me as a bit disingenuous. At any rate, it is of no concern to the NCAA. That organization is all about the Benjamins, baby, which leads directly to my third point…

– This was an eyebrow-raising article:

…the largest crowd to witness a CSU home football game came last September when The Citadel made its first-ever trek down I-26 to 4,000-seat Buccaneer Field. The listed attendance for that game was 7,934 [note: actual attendance was closer to 5,500]. That included about 3,000 fans who were left to stand or sit in lawn chairs around the end zone or along the fences in the corners.

Early projections are that Saturday’s game, which has much bigger implications and interest, will exceed that record crowd. CSU athletic director Hank Small realizes the logistics involved but feels comfortable in saying his stadium can handle the crowd…

…“Sure, it’s going to be a lot of people. We understand the numbers involved. We will have the full complement of security and safety personnel available and we are doing everything we can to make this hosting of a national playoff game go as smoothly as possible. There will be a lot of people standing. But we are doing all we can to accommodate anyone who wants to see this historic game. No one will be turned away.

…“They requested as many tickets as they could get and we gave them all that we had for those three sections on their side of the field,” Small said. “We then started selling standing room only (SRO) tickets to any other fans who wanted to have a ticket to get in to see the game. My advice would be to arrive early, whether you have your ticket already or if you ordered online and have to pick them up at will call.”

A CSU spokesman said Monday there are about 2,000 seats on the visitors’ side, and that an “unlimited” number of SRO tickets will be sold. Citadel fans who went on-line at 10 a.m. Monday when tickets went on sale found only SRO tickets available.

I have to wonder if the conversation between the CSU administration and the NCAA went something like this:

NCAA: So, uh, you guys only have 4,000 seats. You could probably sell 12,000+ for this game. We want as big a profit as possible. Why do you think we regionalize the playoffs in the first place? Why not move it somewhere that can accommodate all those fans?

CSU: Hey, we’ll just sell SRO tickets to anyone who wants one. That way, we’ll sell plenty of tickets, make you folks lots of money, and save on the seats we didn’t have to add.

NCAA: Awesome!

When I read the comment that an “unlimited” number of SRO tickets would be sold, the first thing I thought about was a tragedy that took place in England in 1989 — the Hillsborough disaster.

I’m going to be blunt. I think selling an unlimited number of tickets to an event such as this one is irresponsible. It is also potentially dangerous.

Even if it meant fewer Bulldog fans were to gain entry, tickets should be capped at a certain point. Incidentally, is there a fire marshal anywhere near North Charleston?

On Thursday night, a representative at Charleston Southern told Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier that the school had sold “almost 7,000” tickets to the game. There was no immediate indication of how many SRO tickets had been sold.

That took on new meaning when, later on Thursday night, information was leaked that Charleston Southern had not yet sold all of the tickets for the seats on the home side.

In other words, CSU officials have been selling SRO tickets since 10 am Monday (remember, those were the only tickets offered to Bulldog fans by Charleston Southern). Meanwhile, tickets for at least one seated section on the home side have gone unsold for almost two weeks.

For the statistical review, I included all of The Citadel’s games and ten of the eleven games Charleston Southern has played. I threw out the Bucs’ game at Alabama.

Charleston Southern has wins over North Greenville (41-14), East Tennessee State (47-7), The Citadel (33-20), Monmouth (37-7), Presbyterian (10-7), Gardner-Webb (34-0), Coastal Carolina (33-25), Kennesaw State (28-14), and Liberty (31-24). The Buccaneers also lost to Troy (34-16), in addition to the ‘Bama defeat.

The Citadel has victories over Davidson (69-0), Western Carolina (28-10), Wofford (39-12), Mercer (21-19), VMI (35-14), Samford (44-25), Furman (38-17), South Carolina (23-22), and Coastal Carolina (41-38). The Bulldogs’ three losses came at Georgia Southern (48-13), versus Charleston Southern (33-20), and at Chattanooga (31-23).

As mentioned above, these statistics don’t include CSU’s game versus Alabama.

Charleston Southern’s offense has thrown the ball 222 times, with 13 other would-be pass play attempts resulting in sacks. Not counting those sacks, the Bucs have rushed 447 times; thus, CSU has passed the ball (or attempted to pass) on 34.5% of its offensive plays from scrimmage.

Passing yardage accounts for 39.7% of Charleston Southern’s total offense (with sack yardage removed from the total). CSU averages 6.68 yards per pass attempt (again, with sacks/yardage taken into account). That yards per attempt number is comparable to Furman among SoCon teams.

Charleston Southern averages 31.0 points and 395.9 yards per game, with an average of 5.8 yards per play. CSU would have finished 3rd in the SoCon in scoring offense, sixth in total offense, and fifth in yards per play.

Defensively, The Citadel has allowed 22.4 points and 369.3 yards per game, allowing 5.7 yards per play.

CSU is averaging 5.0 yards per rush, gaining 232.2 yards per game on the ground. The Bulldogs have allowed 156.9 yards per contest (4.5 yards per play).

The Buccaneers have completed passes at a 56.3% clip, with 14 TDs against only 5 interceptions. CSU’s pass efficiency rating would be near the top 30 of FCS if the Alabama game were not counted.

The Citadel was 24th nationally in defensive pass efficiency before last week, having allowed 7 pass TDs while intercepting 17 errant tosses prior to last Saturday. However, after the CCU game, The Citadel has dropped to 42nd nationally.

The Bulldogs allowed 3 TD passes against the Chanticleers, though they also intercepted two tosses (including a pick-6). The Citadel’s opponents have a completion percentage for the season of 59.6%.

Charleston Southern has converted 42.9% of its third-down attempts, which would rank 34th nationally save the Crimson Tide game (CSU was only 1 for 10 on third down in that contest). The Citadel has allowed opponents to pick up 37.2% of third down tries (48th in FCS).

CSU has gone for it on fourth down seventeen times, picking up a first down on ten of those attempts. On defense, The Citadel has given up fourteen conversions in twenty-two opponent tries (Coastal Carolina had no 4th-down conversion attempts last week).

Charleston Southern’s defense is allowing 16.2 points per game (which would easily lead the SoCon). CSU has given up 252.9 yards per game, with an average of 4.3 yards allowed per play. Both of those statistics would also lead the SoCon by a wide margin. Despite the Alabama game, the Buccaneers are still 2nd in FCS in total defense.

The Citadel is averaging 32.8 points and 434.3 yards per game, gaining 6.2 yards per play.

CSU is allowing 3.0 yards per rush (101.2 yards per game). Both of those statistics would rank in the top 10 of FCS.

The Buccaneers have allowed only 5 TDs through the air while intercepting 7 passes. CSU’s defensive pass efficiency rating would probably rank in the top 20 of FCS (possibly top 15) without the game against the Crimson Tide.

The Citadel’s rushing offense averages 359.7 yards per game (second-best nationally), gaining 5.9 yards per carry. The Bulldogs don’t throw the football that often, of course; they now rank 41st in FCS in offensive pass efficiency (5 TD passes, 4 picks).

The Bulldogs have an offensive third-down conversion rate of 50.9%, which is fourth-best in FCS (behind James Madison, Lehigh, and Chattanooga). Charleston Southern has allowed third down conversions at a 28.1% rate and ranks in the top 10 nationally in that category.

I think 3rd-down conversion rate will be a big key to the game on Saturday. CSU’s offense is good on third down, as is the Bulldogs’ D. Charleston Southern’s defense is outstanding on third down; The Citadel’s offense is stellar at moving the chains.

The Citadel is 6 for 17 on fourth-down tries, which is decidedly below average (and a bit surprising), while CSU opponents are just 7 for 22 converting fourth-down attempts (top 25 nationally).

Charleston Southern’s offense has a 65.1% Red Zone TD rate. The Bulldogs have a defensive Red Zone TD rate of 52.6%. Of the Buccaneers’ 28 Red Zone TDs, 20 have been via the rush.

CCU opponents have a Red Zone TD rate of 57.1%. The Citadel’s offense has a Red Zone TD rate of 61.5%. Of the 32 touchdowns the Bulldogs have scored on Red Zone possessions, 30 have been rushing TDs.

The Citadel is +9 in turnover margin (gained 29, lost 20). Charleston Southern’s turnover margin is +3 (gained 13, lost 10). CSU ranks in the FCS top 10 in fewest turnovers given up.

Charleston Southern is 7 for 13 on field goal attempts (33-38 on PATs). The Citadel is 14 for 18 on FG tries (44-45 PATs).

The Citadel has a net punting average of 36.1; CSU’s is 32.9.

The Bulldogs have 31 touchbacks on 74 kickoffs, while the Buccaneers have 8 touchbacks on 56 kickoffs. The Citadel has an edge of 5.2 net yards in kickoff coverage.

Charleston Southern has averaged 19.3 yards per kick return. The Citadel’s average per KO return is 23.0.

CSU has averaged 15.5 yards per punt return, which is ninth-best in FCS and tops in the Big South. The Citadel (5.0 yards per return) ranks last in the SoCon in that statistic.

Charleston Southern has averaged 34:17 in time of possession per game. The Bulldogs have also controlled the clock, but not to that same extent (31:56).

The Buccaneers are averaging 68.2 offensive plays from scrimmage per game, with a very slow 1.99 plays-per-minute rate. The Citadel is averaging 69.5 plays per game, with a plays-per-minute rate of 2.18.

Charleston Southern is averaging 6.5 penalties per game (53.0 penalty yards per contest). Opponents of the Bucs are called for slightly fewer penalties (5.2 per contest, 46.3 penalty yards/game).

The Citadel has been called for 5.8 penalties per game (50.2 penalty yards per contest). Opponents of the Bulldogs have been flagged just 4.7 times per contest (36.8 penalty yards per game).

Note: individual statistics are for all games.

Austin Brown (6’1″, 207 lbs.) has seen the lion’s share of snaps for the Bucs at quarterback. He is completing 56.5% of his passes, with 11 TD tosses against 5 interceptions.

Charleston Southern had two running backs rush for 100+ yards against The Citadel in the last matchup. Darius Hammond (5’10”, 192 lbs.) leads the team in rushing, averaging 5.9 yards per carry. He is also a threat at returning punts (having taken one back for a TD versus the Bulldogs last season).

Mike Holloway (5’8″, 195 lbs.) rushed for 172 yards and 3 TDs against The Citadel in September. A third running back, Ben Robinson (5’7″, 183 lbs.), is averaging 6.7 yards per carry.

Charleston Southern’s projected starters on the offensive line averages 6’2″, 283 lbs.

Left tackle Erik Austell (6’3″, 285 lbs.) was a first team All-Big South pick. Fellow tackle Benny Timmons (6’2″, 300 lbs.) and center Jackson Williamson (6’0″, 285 lbs.) were second-team all-league selections.

However, Austell is not listed on the current two-deep after suffering an injury late in the season against Kennesaw State. Timmons has moved from right to left tackle.

Tight end Nathan Prater is 6’8″, and is from Ninety Six, South Carolina.

It is a requirement for me to lament that he does not wear #96 (for his hometown) or #68 (for his height). Instead, he wears #81. So, so disappointing.

Prater and starting wide receivers Kevin Glears (6’0″, 185 lbs.) and Nathan Perera (6’3″, 210 lbs.) are all sixth-year players. Perera was an all-Big South pick in 2011 before suffering knee and shoulder injuries. He has been targeted a lot late in the season, and is averaging 15.1 yards per reception.

Another starting wideout, Colton Korn, is the player to watch on 3rd down. He moves the chains (and had eight receptions earlier this season against The Citadel). His brother, Willy Korn, is the wide receivers coach at CSU (and whose star-crossed career at Clemson has been well-chronicled).

Another receiver to watch is Kenny Dinkins (5’10”, 185 lbs.), a speedster who had 114 receiving yards against Liberty.

Charleston Southern generally plays a 3-4 defense, but will throw out multiple looks against the Bulldogs’ triple option attack.

Weakside linebacker Aaron Brown, a first-team all-conference pick, leads the Buccaneers in tackles. Brown scored a touchdown against North Greenville in the opener, a 53-yard play that was technically a fumble return after NGU bungled a punt.

Middle linebacker Zane Cruz (6’2″, 215 lbs.) is second on the team in tackles. Fifth-year senior Zack Johnson (6’0″, 200 lbs.) is the “spur” linebacker. He is third on the team in tackles for loss.

The “bandit” linebacker, Solomon Brown (6’1″, 220 lbs.) was the Big South Freshman of the Year. He is second on the team in sacks (5) and tackles for loss (10).

Defensive end Anthony Ellis (6’1″, 245 lbs.) led the team in sacks (6.5) and tackles for loss (14). He was also a first-team all-league selection.

The four starters in the secondary have combined to make 89 career starts. Thirty of those are by cornerback and All-Big South pick Malcolm Jackson (5’11”, 180 lbs.).

Truett Burns (6’0″, 172 lbs.) is in his third year as Charleston Southern’s starting punter. The junior usually employs a “rugby” style of punting.

This year, he is averaging 35.8 yards per punt, with 15 of his 44 punts landing inside the 20 (against one touchback).

Tyler Tekac (6’0″, 180 lbs.) is now CSU’s placekicker. The freshman is 7-11 on field goal attempts, with a long of 40 yards. He is 21-24 on PATs.

Joseph Smith (6’3″, 200 lbs.) is the all-Big South long snapper. Not every league has an all-conference place for a long snapper; good for him.

As mentioned earlier, Darius Hammond is Charleston Southern’s punt returner, and he is an all-league performer in that role. Hammond is also CSU’s primary kick returner.

Odds and ends:

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

Note: those numbers are what I compiled back in September. The current numerical roster only lists 61 players (presumably the “playoff roster”, as per NCAA rules).

– This will be the third consecutive meeting between the two schools in which Charleston Southern has had extra days to prepare. The previous two matchups came after CSU played Thursday night contests the week before.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Charleston Southern is a 3-point favorite over The Citadel. The over/under is 52.5. For those who follow such things, the line actually opened on Monday afternoon as a pick’em, so the money is coming in on the Bucs’ side. Admittedly, I don’t think it would take a great deal of cash to swing an FCS line.

Other lines for FCS playoff games: William & Mary-Richmond is a pick’em; JMU is favored by 20.5 over Colgate; Jacksonville State is a 7-point favorite over Chattanooga; Illinois State is a 15.5-point favorite over Western Illinois; North Dakota State is a 9-point favorite over Montana; McNeese State is a 4.5-point favorite over Sam Houston State; and Northern Iowa is a 4-point road favorite at Portland State.

Portland State is 9-2, has beaten two FBS teams (including Washington State), is playing at home after getting a bye…and it’s a 4-point underdog to a four-loss team that is travelling halfway across the country.

[Lee Corso voice] Somebody knows somethin’ [/Lee Corso voice]

– Among FCS teams, The Citadel is 6th in this week’s Massey Ratings. Other FCS ratings of note: Chattanooga, 8th; Charleston Southern, 11th.

The top 5 in the Massey Ratings are (in order) Illinois State, North Dakota State, Jacksonville State, Northern Iowa, and Dartmouth. Harvard is 7th, so The Citadel is sandwiched between two Ivy League schools.

– The weather forecast for Saturday in North Charleston, according to the National Weather Service: sunny, with a high around 63 degrees.

– Do you think North Charleston mayor Keith Summey gets upset that the folks at Charleston Southern are always trying to suggest the school is located in Charleston? There are constant attempts to tie in a rivalry with The Citadel and/or College of Charleston by making references like “intra-city”, “inner city”, “cross town”, etc.

I’ve wondered about this at times. After all, he’s a Baptist College (now CSU) graduate.

– I just wanted to note that Tevin Floyd and Dominique Allen were both on point at the presser this week, particularly Allen. Excellent job, guys.

For personal reasons not related to the gridiron (or the locale), I’m not sure I’ll be at the game on Saturday. It would be the first time I haven’t seen a playoff game involving The Citadel in person.

If I’m not there, I’ll be watching it on ESPN3. I’ll almost certainly have a better view of the action if I’m not at the game, which is ridiculous, but also true.

One thing I remember from the contest The Citadel played in North Charleston last season was how poor the sightlines were on the visitors side, even for the seated areas. That’s because the bleachers are on flat ground, and fans are separated from the action by a fence, a track, and the players and coaches lining the sideline.

Of course, most of the visiting fans won’t even be lucky enough to have seats.

I have had several people I know, Bulldog fans who have each attended dozens (if not hundreds) of home and away games over the years, tell me they aren’t going to the game specifically because they want to actually watch the game.

The setting for the matchup was described earlier this week by a Bulldog supporter as a potential “mosh pit”. That particular individual was actually being positive in his assessment, but I’m too old and decrepit to enjoy what may wind up being a scene vaguely resembling the infield at the Kentucky Derby (albeit with more discreet alcohol consumption). So if I can’t make it, I’m not going to be all that upset.

I just hope nothing really bad happens.

As for the game itself, I don’t have any idea what to expect.

I was really surprised (and pleased) at how dominant The Citadel was on the ground against Coastal Carolina. I thought the Bulldogs would move the ball, but I certainly wasn’t expecting 500+ rushing yards.

Coastal Carolina isn’t that bad a defensive team. CSU has a better defense than the Chanticleers, but it is hard to imagine The Citadel struggling in this game like it did offensively back in September. I think the Bulldogs’ O has come of age since then.

I mentioned the 3rd-down conversion statistic earlier. Maintaining long drives is going to be a big factor for both teams. So are turnovers and penalties (the Bulldogs were hurt by untimely flags in the first meeting).

The Bulldogs better be extra-careful on kickoff and punt coverage on Saturday, especially punts. (Potential solution: don’t punt; embrace the Kevin Kelley school of coaching.)

Will the Bulldogs be tired after a long season and another road game? Will the Buccaneers be off their rhythm after a week off?

I don’t know, and nobody else does either.

That’s why we watch the games.

Game review, 2015: Coastal Carolina

That was a wild one…

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” section, The Post and Courier

Game story, Myrtle Beach Sun-News

Photo gallery, Myrtle Beach Sun-News

Coastal Carolina post-game news conference

Video from WCSC-TV

Video from WCIV-TV

Video of the winning field goal and the immediate aftermath

School release

Post-game notes from The Citadel

Box score

Eric Goins had this to say after the game…

I came back [to] the sideline [after the blocked field goal attempt], and…General Rosa was there…and he said, ‘Hey, you’re gonna have to kick another one.’ And I believed him, because I felt like that was the way the game was going. And he was right.

John Rosa: former college quarterback, current school president, modern-day Nostradamus.

Very random thoughts on the game:

– Coastal Carolina has a nice setup for its varsity sports, including Brooks Stadium. I don’t know exactly how CCU plans on expanding the stadium to 20,000 seats (as part of its move to FBS), but it doesn’t seem unreasonable.

Parking was easy. I just parked in lot “YY”, which was located about a half-mile from the stadium. Shuttles came regularly to take people to the game. I had no issues leaving, either (though I chose to walk back to the parking lot after the game).

– CCU is yet another school (including The Citadel) that believes when it comes to its speaker system, louder is better. In particular, there was a halftime promotional video that featured audio which will surely lead to permanent hearing loss for anyone who was in attendance.

– Not that anyone at Coastal Carolina will (or should) care about my opinion, but I would ditch the “teal” turf. It looks terrible, both in person and on TV.

Like I said, though, they aren’t asking for my opinion.

– Speaking of the ESPN3 broadcast, apparently someone in production thought The Citadel’s starting quarterback was “Dominic” Allen. I watched part of the game when I got home and was disappointed to see that basic error.

I hope it is corrected for next week’s game.

– The analyst for the ESPN3 broadcast was former Boston College and N.C. State head coach Tom O’Brien. He was not the most colorful of “color” analysts, to be sure.

However, he knew what he was talking about, not a big surprise given his excellent coaching career. Some of his nuts-and-bolts discussion was really good; you could even call it refreshing.

I think he could become a very good analyst if he called more games.

– Coastal Carolina’s receivers weren’t exactly the headliners coming into the game, but as a group the CCU wideouts made a number of outstanding catches. The Citadel’s defense gave up way too many big plays yesterday, but you also have to credit the opposition sometimes. The Chanticleers made several “velcro” grabs on Saturday.

– CCU linebacker Alex Scearce is apparently okay after being injured late in the game, which is good to know. I would describe that post-play scene as unnerving.

– The officials drew mixed reviews on Saturday. I wasn’t overly impressed with the Patriot League crew, to be honest.

I thought the spot on Dominique Allen’s fourth-down sneak in the first half was dubious, and they missed a potential pick-6 by Nick Willis in the third quarter (which wasn’t even reviewed, arguably more puzzling than the call on the field).

I didn’t understand the sideline interference penalty either. It’s possible I missed something there, so I’ll give the officials the benefit of the doubt on that one.

– With two interceptions against CCU, The Citadel’s defense now has 19 for the season. Somewhat surprisingly (at least to me), that is “only” fourth-best in school history, behind 1970 (23), 1977 (21), and 1981 (20).

Yes, in 1970 the Bulldogs intercepted 23 passes in 11 games.

– The Citadel rushed for 524 yards on Saturday (6.7 yards per attempt). The Bulldogs carried the ball 78 times.

One reason The Citadel had so many rushes is that the Bulldogs consistently converted third downs (11 for 17). Five of The Citadel’s twelve drives lasted 10 plays or more. The Bulldogs did not have a “three and out” during the contest.

– After a late scoring change (due to a misidentified player), it turns out The Citadel had four 100-yard rushers. Dominique Allen, Tyler Renew, Cam Jackson, and (better to be recognized later than never) Vinny Miller all cracked the century mark.

– Given the total offensive output, and the fact The Citadel won the turnover battle 4-1, it may seem strange that the Bulldogs needed a last-second field goal to win the game.

They did need that kick, though. Why?

  • Missed opportunities on offense: two FGs that went awry (one blocked), a lost fumble, a turnover on downs, and that excruciating sequence at the end of the first half
  • Big plays allowed on defense: CCU had pass plays of 91 (TD), 26 (TD), 17, 47, 16 (TD), 26, 42, 17, 16, and 33 yards; the Chanticleers also had rushing plays of 44 (TD), 22, 17, and 16 yards (TD)

– The end-of-half sequence I mentioned above should serve as a useful “teaching moment” going forward. It could have dearly cost the Bulldogs to miss out on a potential field goal.

To give the players and coaches credit, they regained the lost momentum immediately by scoring on the first possession of the second half.

Then Coastal scored on its first possession of the second half…and then The Citadel responded (with that big Cam Jackson run)…and then…

It was that kind of game.

– My best guess is that about half the crowd at Brooks Stadium on Saturday wore light blue. It was an impressive turnout.

Announced attendance for The Citadel-Coastal Carolina: 6,751.

Attendance for the other seven FCS playoff games this weekend: 14,575 (at Montana); 7,062 (Northern Iowa); 4,888 (Chattanooga); 4,395 (William & Mary); 3,303 (New Hampshire); 3,098 (Sam Houston State); 997 (Dayton).

It isn’t easy to draw fans for the post-Thanksgiving FCS playoff games, but having less than 1,000 in the stands for Western Illinois-Dayton is not good.

Speaking of attendance, here is the link to the Charleston Southern ticket office website:

Link

There likely won’t be any tickets available for The Citadel to sell (outside of about 700ish tickets that will be offered to the top 100-120 donors), so if you want to go to the game, you need to go to the CSU website.

You probably need to get them as soon as they become available at 10 am ET on Monday (November 30). Tickets will be at a premium because of the lack of seats (and space) at Buccaneer Field.

In the 2014 game played between the two teams, the announced attendance was 7,954; in actuality, there were probably about 5,500 people there.

I would anticipate the potential for a much bigger crowd this Saturday, but the truth is there really isn’t space for a lot more fans. That is certainly true for seated spectators. CSU only has around 4,000 “permanent seats”.

I’ll have a preview for that matchup later in the week.

Here are some (really bad) pictures I took on Saturday, after I managed to get my camera to work again. At least, as much as it ever works.

The game photos are in sequential order. I’ve annotated a few of them.

 

Game review, 2015: Charleston Southern

Links of interest:

Mike Houston on the SoCon media teleconference

Half-season ticket packages on sale

This review is running a bit later than normal, due to a technical problem I had with WordPress. Admittedly, operator error accounts for a lot of it, but oh well.

As a result, this is going to be a relatively short post. I decided to just include a couple of recent links and move on to the game, and then I’ll give my thoughts on the post-game dustup as well. After that, I’ll explain about the pictures…

I was most surprised (and disappointed) by the Bulldogs’ play on the offensive line. The Citadel only averaged 4.3 yards rushing per play in the contest, and if you take out Vinny Miller’s 61-yard run in the first quarter, that number drops to 2.9 yards per carry.

That is clearly not good enough, especially for a triple option offense. The Bulldogs didn’t seem to get the push up front that they did against Western Carolina.

Defensively, it was an old story. The Citadel didn’t get nearly enough consistent pressure on the quarterback on passing downs, and paid for it.

I wrote in my game preview that the defense had to get off the field on third down, and that didn’t happen. Charleston Southern had 13 third down attempts of medium-to-long distance; it converted six of those, an unacceptable percentage. That led to CSU having a six-minute edge in time of possession.

The Citadel was also called for too many penalties (8 for 80 yards), though I think the Bulldogs got the short end of the stick on several officiating decisions. Those calls didn’t affect the outcome of Saturday’s game, of course. They were just frustrating.

There were positives. The Bulldogs’ special teams units were solid. Eric Goins, in particular, had a good game. The Citadel also did a nice job returning kickoffs.

The defense intercepted two more passes, one of which went for a TD. I think the defensive secondary play from the Bulldogs so far this season has significantly improved from last year.

I have an opinion or two on a few other topics:

– I don’t think The Citadel needs to throw the ball more. I understand the argument that maybe the Bulldogs should throw a little more, and that could be true, but ultimately that isn’t what this offense is about.

The Bulldogs’ offensive struggles on Saturday weren’t because they didn’t pass enough. They struggled because of a lack of success on first down — and no, more first down passes wouldn’t have solved that problem.

– Dominique Allen is still in “young starter” mode. It’s going to take him time. He needs to get that time. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

– Cam Jackson needs the ball in his hands more often. I don’t think there is any question about that.

Whether more toss sweeps are run, or a couple of specific pass plays per game are called with Jackson as the target, or something else, he needs the ball more. The coaches obviously know this. I suspect we’ll see him touch the ball almost twice as many times against Wofford as he did against Charleston Southern.

– I get the sense (and I could be completely wrong about this) The Citadel needs to vary the snap count a little more than it has been.

I know some people were upset at the CSU hijinks at midfield during the alma mater. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that they didn’t know about that aspect of The Citadel’s post-game activities. They wouldn’t be the first team not to understand what was going on.

Now, was Jamey Chadwell’s line about “…it’s like a home game for us” an insult directed towards The Citadel’s players and coaches? It would be hard to interpret it in any other way. Of course, it was just one of several things he had to say after the game.

I tweeted afterwards that if Chadwell had wanted to say something to ensure The Citadel never played Charleston Southern again, he couldn’t have done a better job. A few days later, I still feel that way.

However, I am now less certain that Chadwell really cares whether or not The Citadel plays Charleston Southern going forward. I think he may care a lot more about Jamey Chadwell, which is not unreasonable. He has to market himself.

Chadwell is a good coach with a big mouth, which is not an unprecedented combination, and ultimately of no real consequence. What I found more interesting is that on Monday morning, another Chadwell “smack talk” comment made its way to Twitter, but not via the coach’s account or that of any media member. No, it was tweeted out by the school.

Not CSU’s department of athletics, mind you, but the official school account. That was very telling.

I’ve written before that when it comes to football scheduling, The Citadel has to act in its best interests. If that doesn’t work out to the benefit of Charleston Southern, that’s too bad — but it’s not The Citadel’s fault, either.

It’s possible Charleston Southern’s administration doesn’t understand that. Maybe. I think it’s more likely the folks running CSU understand it all too well, and have decided to employ a “bullying through the media” approach in an effort to get what they want.

We saw this last year, with CSU hoops coach Barclay Radebaugh’s public complaints about basketball scheduling, which were also aimed at College of Charleston. That tactic worked so well that neither The Citadel nor CofC will be playing the Buccaneers in roundball this season, either.

The same thing is probably going to happen with regards to football.

In fact, I have a suggestion for the administration at The Citadel. If the people running Charleston Southern are going to have this kind of attitude when it comes to varsity athletics, then I see no need for any of The Citadel’s teams to compete against CSU. Our students deserve better.

The pictures this week are not good. They rarely are, but this time I had some additional problems. I have been unable to order them properly, for which I apologize. They also are not annotated, though I may be able to go back later and add some descriptive comments for some of them.

 

a

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

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

The contest will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Kevin Fitzgerald providing play-by-play and Sadath Jean-Pierre supplying the analysis.

The game can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station. WQNT will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game. 

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

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

Links of interest:

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

– Game notes from The Citadel and Charleston Southern

SoCon weekly release

Big South weekly release

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Jamey Chadwell on the Big South teleconference

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

The Mike Houston Show (radio)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Odds and ends:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fans are supposed to wear light blue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll be there anyway.

 

Gridiron Countdown: The Citadel competes to win games — and fans

Also in the “Gridiron Countdown” series:

Preseason ratings, featuring The Citadel (and the rest of the SoCon)

What teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before facing The Citadel?

How can The Citadel can attract bigger crowds to its home football games? When it comes to that issue, almost every Bulldog fan has an opinion or two. Or three or four.

To be sure, I have shared more than a few of my own thoughts in the past about attendance issues.

The Citadel is making a concerted, sustained effort to sell season ticket packages this year. I know this firsthand, as in early June I got a call from a sales representative asking me to renew my season tickets, which I did.

Then the ticket office called me again the following week. They wouldn’t take yes for an answer!

I had no problem with that at all. From my vantage point, I am pleased that the school is leaving no stone unturned in its attempts to put more people in the seats, even those stones that have already been turned once before.

An argument could be made that an emphasis on ticket sales is also reflected in the recently updated staff directory. There has been quite a bit of updating to do as of late.

It isn’t easy to make a dent in the Charleston entertainment market. Folks who live in the Holy City have options when it comes to their discretionary income (it’s a big reason people like living there).

The idea behind this post (as it was last season) is to highlight competition The Citadel will face for each of its six home dates in 2015. Some of that competition is gridiron-related, but not all of it.

Ken Burger, the former sports columnist for The Post and Courier, noted in his columns on more than one occasion that Charleston is not really a “sports town”. Everyone working in sports in the local area knows this, and has to account for it.

Anyway, let’s get started.

September 5 — The Citadel vs. Davidson, 6:00 pm ET

South Carolina won’t be a factor on this date, as the Gamecocks play North Carolina on Thursday night in Charlotte. Clemson hosts Wofford at 12:30 pm, a game that will be televised on ACC Network affiliates and streamed on ESPN3.

Also taking place on September 5:

– “The Producers” (Dock Street Theatre)

The show starts at 7:30 pm.

– Lowcountry Jazz Festival (North Charleston Coliseum)

As always, multiple jazz performers will be featured. Saturday night’s lineup includes Jonathan Butler and Marcus Anderson. Also appearing is saxophonist Euge Groove, remembered by 1980s pop music aficionados for his solo on Exposé’s #1 smash hit, “Seasons Change“.

Seasons change, feelings change
It’s been so long since I found you
Yet it seems like yesterday-eeyay

September 12 — The Citadel vs. Western Carolina, 6:00 pm ET

At 12:30 pm, Clemson will play Appalachian State in Death Valley (another game that will be streamed on ESPN3). South Carolina has a 7:30 pm matchup with Kentucky at Williams-Brice Stadium that will be televised on the SEC Network.

Another potential game of interest will take place in Orangeburg. The kickoff for Coastal Carolina-South Carolina State is 6:00 pm.

Other events on September 12:

– Charleston Battery vs. Louisville City FC (Blackbaud Stadium)

The city’s professional soccer team has a home game scheduled to kick off at 7:30 pm on this date.

– North Charleston Pops! (North Charleston Performing Arts Center)

The night’s fare is a salute to John Williams, featuring themes from movies such as Star Wars and Jaws.

– Shaggin’ On the Cooper (Mt. Pleasant Pier)

The rug starts getting cut at 7:00 pm, with the Ocean Drive Party Band on hand to provide the music.

September 26 — The Citadel vs. Charleston Southern, 6:00 pm ET

The Gamecocks will host UCF (time to be announced later). Clemson is off this week (as is South Carolina State).

Non-football options on September 26:

– Taste of Charleston (Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park)

This is the leadup to the main event, which takes place Sunday at Boone Hall Plantation. As for the Saturday evening soirée, food is provided by caterers; entertainment includes a “singer/songwriter showcase”.

Clearly, dinner at Johnson Hagood Stadium is a much better alternative. Enjoy some boiled legumes served up by Tony the Peanut Man, and eat a couple of occasionally heated hot dogs.

– “Heist, Heist Baby!” (Church Street)

The description of this play (a production of the Black Fedora Comedy Mystery Theatre):

A Priest, a Rabbi, and a Clown walk into a Bank…and thereafter little is as it seems in this corny comic stage caper where volunteer audience actors take a crack at portraying the craziest characters yet to come out of the theatre where the audience is the star.

Uh, okay…

– Umphrey’s McGee (Music Farm)

It’s the last of three shows for this band at the Music Farm, and it begins at 9:00 pm.

October 10 — The Citadel vs. Wofford, 2:00 pm ET

Parents’ Day festivities begin early in the morning. It’s a good day to have a built-in fan base on campus. Both Clemson and South Carolina are at home, and each has a fairly high-profile opponent (Georgia Tech and LSU, respectively).

South Carolina State is on the road. Charleston Southern may wish it was on the road too, as it’s not going to be easy to draw fans on this date for a noon kickoff against Monmouth.

Also making waves in the metropolitan area:

– “Menopause The Musical” (North Charleston Performing Arts Center):

There will be two performances, at 2:00 pm and 8:00 pm. The description:

This hilarious musical parody set to classic tunes from the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s will have you cheering and dancing in the aisles!

I believe this is called counter-programming.

– “Hay Fever” (Footlight Players Theatre)

Set in an English countryside home, each member of the eccentric Bliss family invites a guest to spend the weekend. Judith, a retired actress; David, a self-absorbed novelist; and their two children seem to live in a world that holds a very thin line between reality and fiction. Audiences will be laughing out loud at their self-centered behavior, which eventually drives the tortured guests out the door unnoticed.

It starts at 3:00 pm for anyone who enjoys portrayals of self-absorbed novelists.

– “Heist, Heist Baby!” is playing again, a 5:30 pm performance on this date.

– Town Mountain (The Pour House)

This act calls itself a “hard driving Carolina string band”. The music starts at 9:30 pm.

October 31 — The Citadel vs. Mercer, 2:00 pm ET

South Carolina State celebrates Homecoming with a 1:30 pm game versus Hampton. Meanwhile, Charleston Southern hosts Coastal Carolina.

Both Clemson and South Carolina are on the road. The Tigers are in Raleigh to take on North Carolina State in the Textile Bowl. South Carolina makes a visit to Kyle Field to play Texas A&M, with the historic Bonham Trophy on the line.

Also of note:

Well, it’s Halloween, so you know there will be a lot of parties that night in Charleston. There are also a few stage productions.

– “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (Dock Street Theatre)

The show has a 3:30 pm start time.

– “Little Shop of Horrors” (Dock Street Theatre)

Yes, it’s a doubleheader. This one begins at 7:30 pm.

– Perpetual Groove (The Pour House)

Perpetual Groove takes the stage at 9:30 pm. From what I can tell, it is a rock band from Athens, Georgia. Really, hasn’t Athens produced enough musical acts already?

November 7 — The Citadel vs. VMI, 2:00 pm ET

It’s all on the line. The Military Classic of the South. The battle for the coveted Silver Shako.

Not only that, it’s Homecoming weekend!

South Carolina is at Tennessee. Clemson hosts Florida State in a game that probably won’t be of much interest.

South Carolina State meets North Carolina A&T in Orangeburg, with kickoff at 1:30 pm.

Other events:

– North Charleston Pops! (North Charleston Performing Arts Center)

This performance features a tribute to first responders and the military. Showtime is at 7:30 pm.

– South Carolina Stingrays vs. Elmira Jackals (North Charleston Coliseum)

It is hard to imagine two communities with more in common than Charleston and Elmira, New York. If you want to watch this long-running rivalry, be in your seat by 7:05 pm.

– “Inspector NoClue’s Murder Mystery Show” (Church Street)

It’s another production from the Black Fedora Comedy Mystery Theatre. This one is “a madcap whodunit in the tradition of Clue! Mr. Body has been murdered, and while bumbling Inspector NoClue matches wits with a redneck butler, a gold-digging French maid, and a hopelessly hapless hippie…”

You get the idea.

Quick notes:

– The Scottish Games and Highland Gathering (September 19, Boone Hall Plantation) won’t interfere with any game at Johnson Hagood Stadium this season. At times, previous conflicts have been very difficult for bagpiper groupies. It is good to know those individuals won’t have to make a tough decision this year.

– The Citadel’s home football slate also avoids a conflict with the South Carolina State Fair (October 14-25).

– In the past few years, The Citadel has not been able to count on many tickets being sold to opposing fans. This year is likely to be similar in that respect, with a couple of potential caveats.

While the trip to Charleston wouldn’t be that long a trip for many Davidson fans, the school has a limited number of football supporters. Davidson averaged 3,296 fans per home game in 2014, and given the on-field struggles in recent years I’m guessing there may not be a lot of excitement surrounding the program’s opening game of the football season.

Two other opponents on the home slate, Charleston Southern and Wofford, have not really put a lot of fans in the east stands in recent meetings, at least not as many as one might expect.

The opposite has generally been true for VMI road support, however. It’s still not a lot, but it’s not bad at all considering VMI’s long, loooong slide on the gridiron, the size of the school, and the distance many of its fans have to travel.

This year, Mercer makes its first appearance at Johnson Hagood Stadium since 1931 (and of course, that was a previous iteration of the stadium). It will be interesting to see how many fans Bobby Lamb and company bring to town.

I also think that Western Carolina may have a solid showing of fan support this season, after the Catamounts had their best season in many years in 2014.

A final reminder: when it comes to increasing attendance, there is one overarching truism, that which was coined many years ago by a former assistant football coach at The Citadel:

Just win, baby.