Game review, 2015: Western Carolina

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” section, The Post and Courier

Photo gallery, The Post and Courier

School release

Video from WCSC-TV, including interviews with Mike Houston, Mitchell Jeter, Dominique Allen, and Rudder Brown

Video from WCIV-TV

Box score

The Citadel 28, Western Carolina 10.

Random thoughts and observations:

– Another day of threatening weather led to another night of disappointing attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium. The crowd of 8,048 was into the game (and the corps of cadets had another strong performance), but Jim Senter has to hope for sunny skies when Charleston Southern comes to town in two weeks.

– The Citadel averaged 5.9 yards per play, including 4.9 yards per rush and 17.5 yards per pass attempt (on six throws). Western Carolina averaged 4.9 yards per play, including 5.1 yards per rush and a relatively anemic 4.7 yards per pass attempt (with Troy Mitchell throwing the ball 40 times).

In last season’s matchup, the Catamounts averaged 9.2 yards per rush and 10.0 yards per pass attempt. Western Carolina had ten plays from scrimmage that went for 20+ yards in that 2014 contest; on Saturday night, WCU had only three.

– At one point early in the second half, Bulldog B-backs carried the football seven straight times, including all six plays on the second series of the third quarter. There was just a bit of murmuring in the stands, but the runs up the middle had a purpose.

Of the 32 offensive snaps for The Citadel following those “seven plays of stubbornness”, the Bulldogs averaged 6.7 yards per play, including ten first downs and three touchdowns.

– It’s possible that offensive coordinator Brent Thompson may have regretted the second-and-1 pass play the Bulldogs tried near the end of the first half, the only play call I questioned on Saturday. Dominique Allen’s throw was poor, and was intercepted.

It was the third time in two games The Citadel had thrown the ball on 2nd-and-short (and the second time on Saturday). Just as a reminder, in conference play last season the Bulldogs only threw the ball in that situation four times (in seven league matchups).

– Later in the contest, Allen more than made up for his bad throw in the first half. He threw a gorgeous seam pass to Rudder Brown early in the fourth quarter that set up The Citadel’s third touchdown.

On the play, Brown essentially stiff-armed a defender for almost 25 yards. That’s a pretty fair stiff-arm.

– In general, the victory over Western Carolina reminded me of the win last season against Gardner-Webb. That was another game in which the Bulldogs were trailing midway through the third quarter, but wound up winning going away, partly because the other team’s defense was worn out with 20 minutes still to play.

Two differences: this year, it happened earlier in the season, and Western Carolina was a better opponent.

– While The Citadel was the better team on Saturday night and fully earned the victory, it didn’t hurt to catch a break or two. The biggest break of all was on the muffed pitch play that resulted in a recovered fumble-TD by Jorian Jordan.

If Western Carolina had fallen on the ball, would the resulting change of momentum (and immediate loss of seven points) have changed the game’s outcome? I don’t think so…but I’m glad we didn’t have to find out.

– Many of the fans were pleased to hear the band’s rendition of the “Hawaii 5-0” theme, complete with the obligatory surfboard.

The band needed to play a little more during the game, in my opinion. It was a tough night for the sound system operators, who received a deserved warning from the referee for playing music as Western Carolina lined up on offense. Even worse, someone slipped “Come On Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners into the music rotation. Awful.

– The game program’s recap of the victory over Davidson included a reference to the 69 points scored against the Wildcats being “the 3rd highest point total in program history”.

It is actually the fifth-highest point total in program history, but it appears that the 1909 victory over Porter (99 points scored by The Citadel) and the 1913 win against Furman (75 points) are both being disregarded.

This is wrong. Those Marion Square teams should be recognized. They are part of the fabric that makes up football at The Citadel. Plus, 75 points against Furman! That will always count, thank you very much.

– The program also includes an article on the golf team, and how it is honoring an alumnus who was killed in action.

– As mentioned earlier, the corps of cadets brought plenty of energy to the stadium. I thought the ACU look was fine, though I wouldn’t want to see it become a regular option.

I know a few of the sophomores were disappointed not to get overnights, but hey — it’s The Citadel, that’s part of the deal. (And 25 years from now, you’ll be the one telling cadets about how that’s part of the deal.)

– He didn’t have a particularly good night, but I’m glad that The Citadel has seen the last of WCU quarterback Troy Mitchell. I just automatically assumed that whenever the Catamounts faced a 3rd-and-long, Mitchell would lead the Bulldogs’ defense on a merry chase that would result in a 20-yard run or a 40-yard pass.

Mitchell has been a fine player, and worthy opponent, for four years.

– Last week’s game lasted exactly three hours. This week: three hours and four minutes. The man in the red cap controls all time and space.

– The Citadel still leads FCS in rushing offense, well ahead of Kennesaw State (!), which is in second. (Kennesaw State also runs the triple option.)

Last year’s leader in rushing offense, Cal Poly, is currently sixth. I think that is very impressive, considering the Mustangs’ two games have been at Montana (a win) and at Arizona State (a loss, but Cal Poly gave the Sun Devils all they wanted).

Next week: Georgia Southern, in Statesboro. That should be interesting. I’ll have a post previewing that game later in the week.

Below are some photos, including shots of the pregame scene and the on-field action (most of which are annotated). They aren’t necessarily good photos. Then again, when are they?

2015 Football, Game 2: The Citadel vs. Western Carolina

The Citadel vs. Western Carolina, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 12. 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 Western Carolina-The Citadel from The Post and Courier

Pregame “notes” from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Western Carolina

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Mark Speir on the SoCon teleconference

Mike Houston’s 9/9 press conference (includes comments from Tevin Floyd, Dominique Allen, and Mariel Cooper)

The Mike Houston Show (radio)

Game story for Mars Hill-Western Carolina from the Asheville Citizen-Times 

– Tevin Floyd was the SoCon Defensive Player of the Week after making eight tackles and returning an interception for a touchdown against Davidson. You may recall that as a freshman in 2013, Floyd recovered a fumble for a touchdown in the Bulldogs’ 28-21 victory over Western Carolina in Cullowhee.

From my preview of last season’s game:

…the Catamounts currently sport a 5-2 record that includes three SoCon victories, including two straight.

That 3-0 SoCon record is a very big deal for WCU, given that the Catamounts entered this season having only won four league games since 2006. Western Carolina had lost 29 of its last 30 conference matchups prior to 2014.

WCU hasn’t been 3-0 in the league since 1994. If the Catamounts win on Saturday, they will match their best-ever league start.

It has taken time, but Mark Speir appears to have things moving in the right direction in Cullowhee. A competitive WCU program is good for the league, in my opinion.

Western Carolina won that game against The Citadel, 29-15, and moved to 6-2 for the 2014 season. The Catamounts then hit a major roadblock, getting drilled 51-0 by Chattanooga.

WCU lost at Samford the week after that, and later lost to Alabama, but picked up a home victory over VMI in between those losses. Western Carolina finished with a 7-5 record.

The Catamounts finished the 2014 season with the program’s first winning year on the gridiron since 2005; its most wins in a campaign since 2001; and its best record in league play since 1992. It was a largely gratifying season for the Western Carolina faithful, and probably something of a relief as well.

Now the question for Mark Speir is this: what can you do for an encore?

It could be argued that one of the tougher things to do in college sports is to put together two straight good years after enduring many, many bad seasons. That is what Western Carolina is attempting to do in 2015.

More than a few people have newly-found confidence in the Catamounts. WCU was picked to finish third in the SoCon in the coach’s preseason poll; the league’s media voters thought even more of Western Carolina, ranking it second in the conference.

It’s not altogether surprising that folks like the Catamounts’ chances. The SoCon release notes that 23 players listed as starters returned from last year’s squad, including all eleven on the offensive side of the ball.

However, there are still some doubters when it comes to Western Carolina, and that’s perfectly understandable.  Like I mentioned earlier, repeating success after a long period of failure isn’t easy.

Just ask The Citadel about the 2013 season.

In 2012, the Bulldogs were 7-4, finishing off the campaign with three straight victories and a winning league record. It was the first winning season for The Citadel in five years and only the second winning year since 1997. The five SoCon triumphs were the most since 1992.

Hopes were high the following year. The Citadel returned many of its top players, and fans were ready for a great season.

Instead, the Bulldogs only won five games. It turned out not to be the start of something big; rather, it was the end of an era.

There are no guarantees.

Statistical comparisons, 2014 SoCon games only (seven contests):

– The Citadel averaged 75.4 plays per game; Western Carolina averaged 66.1 plays per game.

– The Bulldogs’ time of possession per game: 32:40. The Catamounts averaged 29:57 per game.

WCU actually held the ball longer than its opponents in five of seven games. UTC had an almost 2-to-1 edge in time of possession against Western Carolina, skewing that particular statistic to a certain degree. The other league team that out-possessed the Catamounts: The Citadel.

– The Citadel’s offense averaged 5.6 yards per play; that includes 5.4 yards per rush and 6.8 yards per pass attempt. Western Carolina’s defense gave up 5.9 yards per play in league action, including 5.3 yards per rush and 7.1 yards per pass attempt.

– Western Carolina’s offense averaged 6.1 yards per play, including 4.8 yards per rush and 8.1 yards per pass attempt. The Citadel’s defense allowed just over 7 yards per play, including 5.7 yards per rush and 9.1 yards per pass attempt.

– The Catamounts were sacked five times in league action in 2014, while the Bulldogs’ D had eight sacks in seven SoCon contests.

– The Citadel’s 3rd-down conversion rate was 46.3%, while Western Carolina’s defense allowed opponents to convert 3rd downs 50% of the time.

Conversely, WCU’s offense converted 3rd downs at a 45.2% clip, while the Bulldogs’ defense allowed SoCon opponents to a 3rd-down conversion rate of 41.5%.

– On 4th down, The Citadel’s offense converted 12 of 20 4th-down attempt (60%), while the Catamounts’ D held opponents to a 40% 4th-down conversion rate (4-10).

Western Carolina’s offense was 7-10 on 4th down in league play (70%). The Bulldogs allowed a 4th-down conversion rate of 52.9% on defense.

– In the Red Zone, The Citadel’s offensive TD rate was 67% (18-27). WCU’s defense had a red zone TD allowed rate of only 41.7% (10-24).

The Catamounts’s offense scored touchdowns on 13 of 17 red zone possessions (76.5%), while the Bulldogs allowed TDs 15 of 25 times opponents moved inside the 20 (60%).

Western Carolina’s defense close to the goal line in league play was impressive last season, and a not-insignificant factor in the team’s win-loss record.

As its league campaign progressed, WCU started allowing more and more yards on defense. After a fine effort against Wofford (273 total yards allowed), the rest of the season for the Catamounts’ D went like this: 400 yards given up versus Mercer, 443 allowed to The Citadel, 512 to Chattanooga, 461 to Samford, and 471 to VMI.

In those last three games, WCU opponents scored 112 points.

Western Carolina threw the ball 39.7% of the time in league play. Passing yardage accounted for 52.7% of the Catamounts’ total offense in SoCon action.

Troy Mitchell is Western Carolina’s alltime leader in total offense, a mark he set last week. A fair amount of that yardage has come against The Citadel:

– Troy Mitchell vs. The Citadel, 2012: 117 rushing yards, 67 passing yards (2 rushing TDs)
– Troy Mitchell vs. The Citadel, 2013: 106 rushing yards, 136 passing yards (1 passing TD)
– Troy Mitchell vs. The Citadel, 2014: 131 rushing yards, 292 passing yards (1 passing TD)

There aren’t many quarterbacks who have rushed for over 100 yards three different times against the Bulldogs. The native of Texas will have a chance to go 4-for-4 on Saturday.

Mitchell isn’t the only Catamount who has had success running the football against the Bulldogs. Halfback Darius Ramsey had two 100+ yard performance versus The Citadel as a freshman and a sophomore. Last season, Ramsey settled for 72 yards (and a TD) on nine carries. His backup, Detrez Newsome, ran for 123 yards and two TDs on only eleven rushing attempts.

The starters on Western Carolina’s offensive line average 6’2″, 288 lbs. There is a lot of experience on the o-line, though left tackle Zach Weeks is a redshirt freshman.

Spearman Robinson is a preseason all-conference wideout selection. Robinson is big (6’4″, 215 lbs.) and has good speed. He had eleven touchdown receptions last year.

His first TD catch of this season came on the first play from scrimmage against Mars Hill last week. Detrez Newsome threw a halfback pass to Robinson that went for 75 yards.

Karnorris Benson is also a talented receiver. He is a redshirt senior who caught 12 touchdown passes two seasons ago.

Western Carolina will miss Terryon Robinson, who had a huge game against The Citadel last year (10 catches, 183 yards). He reportedly broke his wrist just before the season started.

WCU will throw the ball to its tight ends as well. 6’4″, 240 lb. Tyler Sexton caught three touchdown passes last season; the sophomore had five receptions last week against Mars Hill.

The Catamounts usually feature four down linemen on defense (as part of a base 4-3), but as always, that might be adjusted against The Citadel’s triple option attack. During his radio show, Mike Houston mentioned “split fronts” as a look the Bulldogs’ offense might see on Saturday.

Though he did not play in the opener (injury precaution) and is not listed as the starter on Western Carolina’s depth chart, expect defensive tackle Helva Matungulu (6’5″, 290 lbs.) to get a lot of playing time on Saturday.

Matungula is originally from Kenya, and played Rugby 7s before arriving in Cullowhee. Mike Houston specifically referenced Matungula (“he’s an outstanding player”) during the SoCon teleconference.

DT Ezavian Dunn (6’2″, 300 lbs.) started seven games as a freshman.

Defensive ends John McBeth and Caleb Hawkins have combined to start 57 games. Hawkins, in particular, will be a very tough matchup for The Citadel’s offensive line.

Linebacker Daniel Riddle had 74 tackles last season, third-most on the squad. Another ‘backer, Tyson Dickson, missed half of the 2014 season with injury, but did play against The Citadel — and made 16 tackles in that contest.

Sertonuse Harris is a LB/DB combo type who was a second-team All-SoCon pick by the coaches last year. Cornerback Trey Morgan was a preseason all-league choice. He had six interceptions last year.

Western Carolina’s depth chart lists two possible starters at placekicker, Logan Howard and Blake Metcalf. Last week, Howard converted the PATs while Metcalf was the kickoff specialist.

According to the team’s website, Logan Howard has “a black belt in martial arts and is a three-time world champion kick boxer.”

WCU has a new starting punter this season, redshirt freshman Ian Berryman. Kickoff returns are handled by Detrez Newsome and Karnorris Benson, while C.J. Goodman is the Catamounts’ punt returner.

Chandler Addertion is in his third season as Western Carolina’s long snapper.

Odds and ends:

– The ESPN3 production will feature Kevin Fitzgerald as the play-by-play announcer and Sadath Jean-Pierre as the analyst. Fans of the Bulldogs know former defensive back Jean-Pierre, a 2013 graduate of The Citadel.

Fitzgerald is a recent graduate of Syracuse who has called games in a variety of sports, including radio play-by-play for the women’s basketball team at the University of Vermont. This summer, he was the voice of the Fort Wayne TinCaps, a class A affiliate of the San Diego Padres.

– WCU did not play a game in SoCon action last season that was decided by fewer than 12 points. However, the Catamounts were 4-1 in league games decided by two touchdowns.

Western Carolina lost two non-conference games by five points last year. The Catamounts lost 36-31 in the season opener at South Florida (a game the Catamounts led at halftime), and 19-14 at Presbyterian.

The Blue Hose had two pick-6 TDs in the latter contest, the second coming with less than two minutes remaining in the game. WCU’s offense was victimized by five turnovers, including four interceptions thrown by three different quarterbacks (Troy Mitchell got hurt midway through the third quarter).

– The Catamounts’ roster features 53 players from the state of North Carolina, by far the most from any state (as would be expected).  There are 25 natives of Georgia on the team, and 7 South Carolina residents.

I was a little surprised that there are as many Catamounts from Kenya as there are from Tennessee (one each).

The aforementioned Helva Matungulu is from Nairobi. The one native of the Volunteer State, freshman defensive back Mikey White, went to Science Hill High School in Johnson City; that’s the same school sharing a stadium this season with East Tennessee State.

– Western Carolina’s opponent last week, Mars Hill, travels to Chattanooga this Saturday to take on the Mocs. That game starts at 1:00 pm ET. Later in the afternoon, there may be some comparing of scores in the tailgating areas — or there may just be more eating and drinking.

Mars Hill, of course, is the alma mater of Mike Houston. On the CBS online college football schedule, the school is listed as “MARS”.

– WCU had a good home crowd last week, with an announced attendance of 12,348. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a sizable number of those fans make it down to Charleston on Saturday.

– Western Carolina-The Citadel is the first SoCon league game of the season, and the only one on this week’s schedule. In fact, there is only one conference matchup per week for the next four weeks.

There won’t be a full slate of conference games until October 10, when all eight SoCon teams compete in league action.

Mark Speir pointed out during the SoCon teleconference that after Saturday night, Western Carolina won’t be playing another league game for almost a month. The same is true for The Citadel.

– Per the WCU game notes, this is the earliest league road opener for the Catamounts since playing The Citadel in Week 2 in 1998.

– Western Carolina’s release also listed the three times in recent history that a matchup between the two schools has been moved or postponed: 1989 (thanks to Hurricane Hugo, with the game played at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia); 1999 (Hurricane Floyd); and 2001 (9/11).

– In a now-annual tradition, I want to officially criticize Western Carolina for blowing a chance at having a truly fantastic school nickname back in 1933, when “Catamounts” was chosen. The runner-up choice was “Mountain Boomers”.

Mountain Boomers! How can you not pick Mountain Boomers as your nickname when you have the opportunity? C’mon.

– Western Carolina was The Citadel’s opponent the last time the South Carolina Corps of Cadets was not in attendance for a home game at Johnson Hagood Stadium. That happened on November 20, 2004 (a 17-0 victory for the Bulldogs), while the corps was on Thanksgiving break.

After the game, a meeting of The Citadel’s Board of Visitors was held. Action was taken:

The Board of Visitors passed a resolution that The Corps be present and in uniform at all Citadel home football games in the future. The resolution passed unanimously.

That is why The Citadel now always concludes the regular season on the road.

– Saturday’s game is Military Appreciation Night. At halftime, the Parris Island Marine Band will perform. It always puts on a good show.

– This game has been designated as a “white-out”. Fans are supposed to wear white; the Bulldogs are expected to wear white jerseys and white pants with their white helmets. I’m unsure if the corps of cadets will wear their standard summer leave uniforms, or if they will be wearing “dress whites” (which I believe would be unprecedented).

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 3-point favorite over Western Carolina on Saturday. The over/under is 55.

– Unfortunately, the long-range weather forecast is not promising. Showers and thunderstorms on Saturday are “likely”, according to the National Weather Service. There is a 50% chance of rain on Saturday night.

I expect this game to be close. It could go either way, though to be honest I am a bit pessimistic about the Bulldogs’ chances. Which, to be fair, is my default outlook…

Last season, Western Carolina had seven rushes of 20+ yards against the Bulldogs. There were also three pass plays of 20+ yards.

Most of WCU’s cast of characters from that game are back, most notably Troy Mitchell. The Citadel has not had much luck in recent years defending dual-threat QBs, and that certainly includes Mitchell.

He isn’t perfect, though. In three games against the Bulldogs, Mitchell has thrown four interceptions. It’s also true that The Citadel has won two of the three games in question.

While the Bulldogs did what they had to do against Davidson, I was a little concerned that The Citadel’s defense only registered one sack (plus one hurry) against nineteen pass attempts. On the other hand, having a passes defensed rate of 42% tends to alleviate that issue.

Comparing how Western Carolina did last week against Mars Hill versus how The Citadel performed against Davidson is pointless. Neither SoCon team was challenged, though Mars Hill is probably better than Davidson.

WCU more or less took most of the second quarter off against the Lions, while the Bulldogs never let up versus the Wildcats. That’s of no real consequence, though.

I think it’s going to be a high scoring game. I feel reasonably confident about that, so a 13-9 final is inevitable.

At any rate, I’ll be there on Saturday. Can’t wait.

Go Dogs!

Game review, 2015: Davidson

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” section, The Post and Courier

Photo gallery, The Post and Courier

School release

Video from WCSC-TV, including interviews with Mike HoustonDominique Allen, Isiaha Smith, James Riley, and Tevin Floyd

Box score

The season opener went about as well as could have been expected, at least on the field. Random thoughts and observations:

– The announced attendance of 8,665 seemed accurate. The two storms that passed over Johnson Hagood Stadium in the 90 minutes preceding the game certainly had a negative impact on attendance in general and walkup sales in particular.

We may have to wait another week to see if the initiatives aimed at improving attendance have had a significant effect.

– The Citadel averaged 8.1 yards per play, including 7.8 yards per rush and 13.4 yards per pass attempt. The yards per pass completion was also 13.4, as Dominique Allen completed all five of his pass attempts (including a TD toss to Jorian Jordan).

– I really liked the pass play call on 2nd-and-1 from the Davidson 26 (during The Citadel’s second offensive series). That was a good tendency-breaker, as the Bulldogs only attempted four passes in 2nd-and-short situations all of last season.

The play itself was well conceived and executed. Dominique Allen waited patiently for Isiaha Smith to make his move, and for Jorian Jordan to run his route (which cleared out space on the right side of the field). Smith had all kinds of room to maneuver after catching the ball.

– Obviously, the defense had a good night as well. Besides pitching a shutout, the Bulldogs held Davidson to 2.2 yards per play. That included a meager 1.6 yards per rush and 3.1 yards per pass attempt.

The Citadel intercepted more passes on Saturday night (four, including a pick-6 by Tevin Floyd) than it did all of last season (three). The four interceptions led all of FCS after Week 1.

– After a sack by Mitchell Jeter in the second quarter, the PA played “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” (the Dan Tyminski/Soggy Bottom Boys version). Major, major props to the individual responsible for that musical cue.

– After one game, The Citadel leads FCS in rushing offense (with almost 100 more yards than second-place Southeastern Louisiana). Interestingly, the FCS national leader in passing offense after the first week of the season is…VMI.

– Eric Goins had touchbacks on seven of his nine kickoffs. That is outstanding. I think it’s fair to say the crowd was very appreciative of his efforts, too.

– The Citadel only had five penalties, though a couple were ill-timed (one led to the Bulldogs’ only punt). As Mike Houston pointed out in his post-game press conference, however, only two of the penalties were committed by the first team offense or defense.

Davidson was only called for four penalties.

– Rod Johnson’s “fumble” probably wasn’t a fumble (there is actually a good angle of that play in The Post and Courier‘s photo gallery linked above; see picture #3). The Citadel won 69-0, though, so we’ll let the official off the hook this week.

I was glad to see Johnson score a touchdown later in the game after being denied one on the earlier call.

– By now if you read anything I write, you know I’m not a fan of The Citadel’s “uniform program”. I’ll gladly make an exception for last night’s togs, though. The Bulldogs looked good.

– Fans will have to get used to longer games now that all home contests are on ESPN3. Saturday night’s game took exactly three hours to play.

– The team’s performance was matched by its fellow members of the corps of cadets. I thought the corps was really good on Saturday night. The overnights for the sophomores, juniors, and seniors were deserved (and I say this as an old fogey).

I expect nothing less than the same next week. I hope the corps brings it again when Western Carolina comes to town.

– The “featured Bulldog” in Saturday’s game program was accounting major Tevin Floyd. The “fall feature” that focuses on other Bulldog athletes also profiled a football player: Caroline Cashion.

– On a personal note, I can now say that I’ve seen in person both of The Citadel’s highest-scoring games against Davidson: last night, and the 56-21 victory in 1974. The latter contest was the second game I ever attended at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

Those are also the two games that bookend the Bulldogs’ current nine-game winning streak against the Wildcats.

– While it’s fun to watch The Citadel score ten touchdowns in a game, next week’s SoCon opener against Western Carolina will be a far different test. More on that in my preview later this week.

For now, here are a few pictures. These are the best I had, which should tell you something about the ones that I’m not posting. I’m a bad photographer with a mediocre camera, and the weather didn’t help matters either…

2015 Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. Davidson

…But one day, when across the Field of Fame the goal seemed dim,
The wise old coach, Experience, came up and spoke to him.
“Oh Boy,” he said, “the main point now before you win your bout
Is keep on bucking Failure till you’ve worn the piker out!”

“And, kid, cut out this fancy stuff — go in there, low and hard;
Just keep your eye upon the ball and plug on, yard by yard,
And more than all, when you are thrown or tumbled with a crack,
Don’t sit there whining — hustle up and keep on coming back;

“Keep coming back with all you’ve got, without an alibi,
If Competition trips you up or lands upon your eye,
Until at last above the din you hear this sentence spilled:
‘We might as well let this bird through before we all get killed.’

“You’ll find the road is long and rough, with soft spots far apart,
Where only those can make the grade who have the Uphill Heart.
And when they stop you with a thud or halt you with a crack,
Let Courage call the signals as you keep on coming back.

“Keep coming back, and though the world may romp across your spine,
Let every game’s end find you still upon the battling line;
For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name,
He writes — not that you won or lost — but how you played the Game.”

– from “Alumnus Football”, by Grantland Rice

The Citadel vs. Davidson, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 5. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Kevin O’Rourke 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.

The Citadel Sports Network — Affiliates

Charleston: WQNT 1450AM (Flagship)
Columbia: WQXL 1470AM/95.9FM
Greenville: WLFJ 92.9FM/660AM
Orangeburg: WORG 100.3FM
Sumter: WDXY 1240AM/105.9FM

From three weeks ago: my de facto preview of the upcoming season for The Citadel, which is something of a statistical review of last year. Math is involved.

Other topics related to The Citadel’s football program that I’ve written about over the past few months:

– A post in which I somehow wrote about both FCS non-conference football schedules and “The Man in the Brown Suit”
– A brief overview of the SoCon’s 2015 football signees
My take on the school’s recent football uniform history (written before the latest “unveiling”)
– The “Gridiron Countdown” series of posts, including analysis of attendance issues, among other things

Links of interest:

Season preview from The Post and Courier

– Game-week depth chart report from The Post and Courier

STATS SoCon preview (The Citadel is picked to finish next-to-last)

– College Sports Madness SoCon preview (The Citadel is picked to finish sixth)

– SoCon media and coaches’ preseason polls (The Citadel is picked to finish next-to-last in both polls)

– Game notes from The Citadel and Davidson

SoCon weekly release

Pioneer League weekly release

Pioneer League preseason poll

FCS Coaches poll

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Mike Houston’s 9/1 press conference (includes comments from Sam Frye and Tevin Floyd)

Paul Nichols previews the game on his coach’s show

Davidson College was founded in 1837, and established on land purchased from William Lee Davidson II . The school is named for his father, a Revolutionary War general who was killed in battle in 1781.

The college was originally established as a Presbyterian institution and is still affiliated with that church, though mandatory chapel was discontinued more than four decades ago. Davidson is located just north of Charlotte, with a 665-acre main campus. Most of Davidson’s 2,000 students live on that campus.

The college has an endowment of around $650 million. The school motto is Alenda Lux Ubi Orta Libertas, which is a Latin phrase that translates as “Let Learning Be Cherished Where a Basketball Goal Has Arisen”.

Davidson played its first football game against outside opposition in 1898, losing its opener 11-0 to North Carolina but following that up with an 6-0 victory over South Carolina. The next year, five games were played; that 1899 campaign also featured a loss to UNC and a win over the Gamecocks. Indeed, Davidson’s first four seasons of football all included victories over South Carolina, three by shutout.

That is, if 1898 was actually Davidson’s first season of football. The most recent online edition (2013) of the school’s football media guide includes two games allegedly played in 1897, and the Davidson “Quick Facts” sheet also lists 1897 as being the first year in program history.

However, the college’s website references the 1897 “season” as simply consisting of matchups against area club teams. The two would-be 1897 opponents mentioned in the media guide are the same two schools that Davidson officially played in 1898 — North Carolina and South Carolina. Neither of those schools includes an 1897 game versus Davidson in their media guides.

Meanwhile, the College Football Data Warehouse lists four opponents for Davidson in 1896. It also identifies the Wildcats’ first opponent in 1897 as North Carolina State, not North Carolina (and lists a different score than the school media guide). Just to make things more interesting, NC State does list Davidson as one of its 1897 opponents.

All in all, I’m a bit undecided on the “When was Davidson’s first season?” question.

The Wildcats (a moniker acquired in 1917) continued to play regional opponents throughout the early part of the 20th century, including The Citadel. The first gridiron matchup between the two schools, in 1909, ended in a 0-0 stalemate.

In 1936, Davidson joined the Southern Conference, the same year The Citadel and Furman became members. The initial league campaign was a promising one for the Wildcats, as they finished 5-4 overall with a 4-3 record in the SoCon. However, that would be the last time Davidson finished with a winning record in conference play until 1954.

Davidson found something of a gridiron savior in the mid-1960s, with the arrival of Homer Smith as head coach. Smith, one of the more respected coaches of his generation, gradually built a title contender, thanks in part to instituting a two-platoon system that featured many more scholarship players. Everything came together in 1969.

That season, Davidson went 7-4, with a 5-1 record in the Southern Conference, sharing the league title and grabbing a berth in the Tangerine Bowl. It was the only time Davidson ever got even a piece of the conference crown. Incidentally, the Wildcats’ solitary SoCon loss in 1969 was a 34-28 setback at The Citadel.

Smith had a reputation as an offensive mastermind, and that is reflected in some of Davidson’s 1969 games. The Wildcats put 77 on the board against Furman, and 59 more versus VMI.

Entering the league finale against East Carolina, Davidson needed a win to clinch a tie for the conference title. ECU led 27-0 with less than a minute remaining in the first half, but Davidson scored six unanswered touchdowns and won, 42-27.

Things went south for the football program in a hurry, though, after that 1969 season.

It wasn’t exactly a surprise. Prior to the 1969 season, Homer Smith told reporters that football was unwanted at Davidson by “most of the faculty and staff…at least 80%. These people are working, some feverishly, to do away with subsidized college football.”

Smith also claimed the same was the case for Davidson basketball (!), but that Lefty Driesell’s teams had been successful enough to essentially pay for themselves.

(The column linked above mentions that Furman had also moved at that time to reduce its football budget. Furman eventually reversed course. Davidson did not.)

By February of 1970, Homer Smith was no longer Davidson’s football coach. Smith left (eventually taking the job at Pacific) after Davidson’s board of trustees slashed the football budget by almost half.

Over the next three seasons, Davidson won a total of six football games. Then as the 1973 season wound down, the administration at Davidson went one step further, in the process winning that year’s “Worst Communicators” award by acclimation. While the team was on the road at Air Force, a press conference was called. I’ll let John Kilgo (at that time writing for The Robesonian) describe what happened:

Davidson decided to de-emphasize football. There would be no more football scholarships. They would be distributed on a basis of “need” only.

The press was brought in and told what the decision was — but no one bothered to pick up the phone and relay the word to [head coach Dave Fagg] or Athletic Director Tom Scott. Fagg, who was aware the action might be taken, was notified officially by a newsman who called to question him.

When Fagg and his team got back to [campus on] Sunday, Davidson president Sam Spencer was out of town. He had still not bothered to inform his athletic director or head football coach that the football picture had been completely changed.

If you’re thinking that the Davidson administration couldn’t have possibly been more obtuse, you’re wrong:

The Spencer Administration did not accept [head coach Dave Fagg’s] advice about scheduling. The coach wanted to play other schools that award scholarships on a need basis. This would have taken Davidson out of the Southern Conference football picture.

Dr. Spencer obviously disagreed.

He feels Davidson can play what he calls “the less ambitious schools” in the Southern Conference. Dr. Spencer was not available for comment, but when asked to identify some of these colleges, a Davidson spokesman replied: “That’s a good question. I could not name the so-called less ambitious schools in the Southern Conference.”

Kilgo theorized that Spencer was referring to Furman, The Citadel, VMI, and Appalachian State. However, he pointed out that Davidson had struggled against those schools even with scholarship players — and that it was “not clear how [Davidson hoped] to compete against them [with] no players on football grants.”

In 1974 Davidson won two games, beating Hampden-Sydney and Defiance College (both Division III programs). A victory over D-3 Kenyon was the Wildcats’ only triumph in 1975.

In those two years, Davidson played a total of six Southern Conference games, two each against VMI, The Citadel, and Appalachian State. The Wildcats lost all six contests by an average score of 48-6.

By 1976, Davidson was ready to make a move. At least, that was the idea.

Davidson College announced Tuesday [June 22, 1976] it is dropping out of the Southern Conference, where it has been a member for 40 years, to seek “national-level” basketball competition…

…[Davidson officials] consider as a possibility joining a new conference being discussed by six Southern schools. They include East Carolina, South Carolina, the University of Richmond, William and Mary, and Virginia Military Institute.

That potential league didn’t happen. Davidson leaving the SoCon in 1977 didn’t happen either:

Davidson College announced the school will not leave the Southern Conference in July [of 1977] as previously announced.

“Being in the Southern Conference gives our minor sports a chance to compete in postseason play,” said athletic director Thom Cartmill. “There is an automatic NCAA tournament bid, and it makes scheduling easier.”

In other words, Davidson didn’t wind up in a new conference. The school thus had to decide whether to compete as an independent in basketball (and presumably most, if not all, of its other sports) or remain in the SoCon. It chose the safer route.

By this time basketball was the only varsity sport for which Davidson was offering athletic grants-in-aid. It seems rather clear that by then, Davidson had caught the “big time hoops” bug for good, and that sport has been the school’s primary (if not sole) focus for the past forty years when it comes to decision-making on the athletics front.

It is obvious (at least to me) that the most influential person in the history of Davidson athletics is Charles G. “Lefty” Driesell. Davidson had never won the Southern Conference title in hoops before Driesell’s arrival in 1960; by the time he left after the 1969 season, basketball was part of the college’s ethos.

I think it is fair to suggest that if it weren’t for Lefty Driesell, Davidson would no longer have a Division I athletics program. It is likely the school would have dropped down to Division III during the early 1970s if not for the success of his basketball teams.

Davidson did not technically compete for the SoCon title from 1974 to 1982, playing only one or two league schools (usually Furman and/or The Citadel) in most of those seasons. By 1983, though, the rest of the SoCon was ready for Davidson’s football program to participate in the league, or else the college would need to find a new conference to call home.

Since it didn’t have a lot of options at the time, Davidson agreed to play a league slate in football (a minimum of five games at first, later apparently increased to six). The immediate problem was that the Wildcats and the other conference schools already had their schedules set for the next several years, so a compromise was reached. What a compromise it was.

Davidson wound up playing in “designated league games” against the likes of Lafayette (twice), Penn (twice), James Madison (three times), and Bucknell (three times).

If you think that was bizarre, it gets better. Davidson’s games in 1985 against Bucknell, Penn, and James Madison all counted in the standings. The Wildcats’ games against Western Carolina, Furman, and The Citadel all counted in the standings that year too — but only for Davidson.

Western Carolina, Furman, and The Citadel were not credited with a league victory after each defeated Davidson, because the other league members that didn’t get to play the Wildcats were not about to let those schools get an edge in the standings by picking up what was assumed to be an easy win (and in fact, those three schools outscored Davidson that season by a combined total of 102-7).

Things didn’t get much better for the Wildcats in 1986. The squad went 0-9 overall, including a number of blowouts (63-14 versus Marshall; 63-6 against Appalachian State; 59-0 versus Furman).

In a four-year stretch between 1985 and 1988, Davidson won a combined total of two games (both against Wofford).

In the latter two of those four difficult seasons, the Wildcats were no longer playing in the Southern Conference.

A request by Davidson for an exemption from playing league football was rebuffed by the rest of the conference membership. The school’s administration had earlier elected to place its football program in the newly formed Colonial League (later renamed the Patriot League).

The decision basically put the rest of Davidson’s varsity sports in limbo, though the college actually remained in the Southern Conference for all sports except football and women’s hoops (which was dropped by Davidson in 1986) through the 1987-1988 school year.

Davidson competed as an independent in men’s basketball for two seasons, then joined the Big South for two years. The school would eventually return to the SoCon in all sports but football, starting in 1992-1993.

Of course, Davidson left the league again last year, this time for the Atlantic 10. However, from this point on in its varsity sports history I’m going to focus on Davidson’s football program.

Two years in the Colonial League were enough for Davidson, which went 0-7 in league play in those two seasons. The school’s board of trustees voted to move the program to Division III, though that stance would soon become moot; a 1991 NCAA bylaw change mandated that Division I schools would have to conduct all sports at the D-1 level (a decision occasionally referred to as the “Dayton Rule”).

The program proceeded to compete as a I-AA independent for the next decade, generally playing D-3 schools during that time. The change in schedule led to more wins; Davidson went 5-3 in 1990, won five more games in 1992, and added six victories in 1993 and 1996.

Head coach Tim Landis won eight games in both 1998 and 1999, but then departed after seven seasons. He was replaced by Joe Susan, a former Princeton assistant coach.

The new boss led the Wildcats to a perfect 10-0 season, the most wins in school history. He then immediately left Davidson to become an assistant coach at Rutgers.

Susan is now the head coach of Bucknell. The coach he replaced at Bucknell was the same coach he had replaced at Davidson — Tim Landis.

Davidson joined the Pioneer Football League for the 2001 season, and its football program has remained in that conference ever since. The Pioneer League is a football-only conference for schools that compete at the Division I level but don’t offer athletic scholarships in the sport.

For the past two years, the Pioneer League’s champion has received an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs. There are eleven current conference members: Davidson, Campbell, Stetson, Jacksonville, Morehead State, Valparaiso, Butler, Dayton, Drake, Marist, and San Diego.

Mercer, of course, played in the league for one season before joining the SoCon last year.

Davidson’s win-loss record while a Pioneer League member has ranged from decent to really bad. The “really bad” includes the last few seasons.

The program has won only eighteen games in the last seven seasons, and has only one victory over the past two years. Unfortunately for Davidson, even that lone win carries a huge asterisk.

You can watch highlights of Davidson’s 56-0 victory over College of Faith (NC), assuming CoF’s uniforms don’t give you a headache. You can also read comments from an anonymous Davidson player on Reddit that were posted soon after the contest. Here are the first two:

I play for Davidson College, the team that played CoF last week. This was the most embarrassing [] ever…We had our starters out before the end of the first quarter and barely ran our offense because we felt bad for almost putting up 50 in the first half. If we had just kept playing I don’t see how we could’ve scored less than 150. They were so bad and it sucks as a player to have to try and justify any reason why we should’ve been playing them to other people. It was embarrassing as an athlete. But I suppose it’s a win, and we’re moving on to the rest of our schedule now.

Also they didn’t have athletic trainers… A bunch of their players got hurt and our trainers had to handle it for them.

The NCAA doesn’t think College of Faith is a legitimate school, and isn’t counting statistics for any future games played against it or any other schools the NCAA doesn’t deem “countable opponents”. In fact, College of Faith was specifically referenced when the NCAA made the ruling this past May.

Davidson had provisionally scheduled a game against College of Faith for this season, too, but in March the college replaced CoF on the schedule with Kentucky Wesleyan (which was another school that had played CoF last year).

(As an aside, East Tennessee State had also scheduled College of Faith for this year, but dropped CoF and replaced it with…Kentucky Wesleyan.)

When Davidson defeated College of Faith last season, it marked the first career victory as a head coach for Paul Nichols. It is also his only career victory as a head coach after two seasons at Davidson.

That is a far cry from his career as a player. Nichols was Davidson’s starting quarterback in 2000 when the Wildcats went undefeated.

Putting aside the College of Faith game for a moment, it does appear that Davidson made progress in 2014, at least when compared to its wretched 2013 campaign, a year in which Davidson lost every game it played by at least thirteen points.

Last season, Davidson lost one game in five overtimes (against Dayton), another by one point (at Campbell; the Wildcats led until the final minute), and a third by six points (versus Stetson).

There were also some blowout losses. VMI beat Davidson 52-24, while Princeton defeated the Wildcats 56-17.

A trip to Des Moines did not go well, as Drake manhandled Davidson 51-14. The Wildcats were also thrashed on their own Senior Day, 56-0, by Jacksonville. In those two games, Davidson was outscored in the first half by a combined 72-0.

It didn’t help Davidson’s cause when starting quarterback J.P. Douglas was suspended from the team in October following an on-campus altercation. Douglas was charged with assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury. The charges were later dropped, but his gridiron career with the Wildcats was already over by that point.

Here is a comparison of The Citadel and Davidson in select statistical categories for the 2014 season. The Citadel’s stats are for SoCon games only (seven contests). Those opponents: Wofford, Chattanooga, Western Carolina, Mercer, Furman, Samford, and VMI.

For Davidson, I decided to throw out the College of Faith game, so the statistics below are for the other 11 games the Wildcats played last season. Davidson’s opponents in those eleven games: Catawba, VMI, Morehead State, Princeton, Dayton, Drake, Campbell, Stetson, Jacksonville, Marist, and Valparaiso.

 

Davidson The Citadel
Offense yards/pass attempt 5.6 6.8
Offense yards/rush attempt 3.55 5.35
Offense yards per play 4.64 5.56
Offense points per game 20.27 24.86
Penalties per game 5.9 5.3
Offense 3rd down conv % 33.9 46.3
Offense 4th down conv % 58.6 60
Offense Red Zone TD% 62.2 66.7
Defense yards/pass attempt 9.2 9.1
Defense yards/rush attempt 4.98 5.69
Defense yards allowed/play 6.66 7.02
Defense points allowed/game 43.36 25.86
Defense 3rd down conv % 50.3 41.5
Defense 4th down conv % 61.1 52.9
Defense Red Zone TD% 70.3 60
Time of possession 29:35 32:40

The one common opponent for the two teams last season was VMI. Both games were played at Foster Stadium in Lexington, VA.

Davidson-VMI box score

The Citadel-VMI box score

Davidson describes its offensive package as “multiple”. Last season, the Wildcats threw the ball (or were sacked attempting to pass) 56.6% of the time. Passing yardage accounted for 64.6% of Davidson’s total offense. [Note: those numbers do not include the game against College of Faith.]

Taylor Mitchell will start at quarterback for the Wildcats. He started the final four games of last season following J.P. Douglas’ arrest.

Mitchell, a 6’1″, 191 lb. sophomore from Buford, Georgia, was 81-161 passing last season, with two touchdown passes against eleven interceptions, averaging 4.78 yards per attempt.

Running back Jeffrey Keil rushed for 725 yards and eight touchdowns last season, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. He was named the Pioneer League’s Offensive Freshman of the Year.

Another sophomore running back, Austin Wells, saw considerable time last season and also serves as the team’s primary kick returner.

Davidson’s best offensive player is probably senior wideout William Morris, a 6’1″, 179 lb. native of Dallas. Morris (a first-team all-Pioneer League selection in 2014) caught 98 passes last year for 1,224 yards, averaging 12.5 yards per reception.

Morris had 16 receptions for 208 yards against VMI last season. The Citadel’s defense will certainly have him on its radar.

Average size of Davidson’s presumptive starting offensive line (per its two-deep): 6’1″, 291 lbs. The five players combined to start 48 games for the Wildcats last season.

Both right tackle Josh Daryoush and right guard Matt Brantley started all 12 games for Davidson in 2014. Caleb Krause, the center, has started 31 games for the Wildcats during his career.

Last season, Davidson operated out of a 4-3 base defense (which I’ve also seen listed as a 4-2-5). The Wildcats could have a very different look on Saturday, of course, given the Bulldogs’ triple-option attack.

Defensive end Chris Woods, a senior from Burlington, North Carolina, received some preseason honors. He had 5.5 tackles for loss last season.

Woods only weighs 214 lbs., the lightest member of Davidson’s defensive line. Defensive tackles Grant Polofsky and Alex Behrend both started 11 games last year.

Linebacker Zach Popovec started nine games as a freshman. Fellow outside ‘backer Ricky Tkac is the leading returning tackler for the Wildcats.

Senior cornerback William Curran started seven games last season. The other three listed starters in the secondary combined to start just two games in 2014.

Sophomore placekicker Trevor Smith had a solid year for Davidson in 2014, making 9 of 13 field goals and 28 of 29 PATs. He made a 44-yarder against Dayton (sending that game into OT), his longest made field goal of the season.

John Cook shared punting duties in 2014. He averaged 36 yards per punt, with a long of 55.

None of his punts were blocked, while 3 of his 26 punts landed inside the 20 (with no touchbacks). Cook is also the backup quarterback for Davidson.

Long snapper Conrad Mueller is in his second year in that role for the Wildcats.

The Wildcats averaged 20.7 yards per kick return last season, slightly better than average nationally (and almost two yards per return better than The Citadel). Davidson’s kick coverage units were inconsistent from game-to-game; Princeton, in particular, dominated the special teams battle when the two teams played.

Davidson only returned one punt all season (for seven yards). I thought that was a typo at first, but it isn’t.

Odds and ends:

– Paul Nichols is only 34 years old, and the Davidson head coach also has a very young coaching staff. College graduating class years of his eleven assistants: 2005, 2008, 2012, 2011, 2007, 2001, 2012, 2010, 2013, 2014, and 2015.

– Dave Fagg was the head football coach at Davidson (his alma mater) for two separate stints, 1970-1973 and 1990-1992. He was also the head wrestling coach at The Citadel for one season, 1964-1965 (serving as an assistant football coach for the Bulldogs in 1964). There probably are not too many people who have been Division I head coaches in both football and wrestling, and at different schools.

– Davidson has 95 players on its roster (as of August 28), and they come from 24 different states. North Carolina is home to 21 of those players, while 15 are natives of Georgia. Other states with significant representation: Florida and Ohio (nine each), Texas (eight), and Maryland (five).

Nick Wheeler and Derek Jones, both sophomores for the Wildcats, were classmates at Eagle High School in Eagle, Idaho.

Junior linebacker Nate Casey (Tega Cay/Westminster Catawba Christian) and freshman offensive lineman Daniel Runck (Mt. Pleasant/Wando) are the only two South Carolina residents on the squad.

– Of those 95 players, there are 13 seniors, 19 juniors, 29 sophomores, and 34 freshmen. Last season, Davidson reportedly had 77 freshmen and sophomores on its roster.

– After playing The Citadel, Davidson will host Catawba next Saturday. The Wildcats then have a week off before beginning Pioneer League play on September 26, travelling to Kentucky to face Morehead State.

– Earlier in this post I quoted from a John Kilgo article, a stinging criticism of the actions of Davidson’s administration circa 1973. Kilgo has been an institution in the Charlotte sports community for more than 50 years.

He co-wrote Dean Smith’s as-told-to autobiography (the two were good friends) and hosted Smith’s TV show. Kilgo also enjoyed a noteworthy career as a radio commentator, and was a writer/publisher for a variety of newspapers.

In the mid-1960s, he was Davidson’s sports information director. For the past 15 years, he has been the play-by-play voice for Davidson men’s basketball.

– Per Davidson’s game notes, 34 members of the Wildcats’ 1965 squad will be in attendance on Saturday, dressed in red and seated behind the Davidson bench. According to Paul Nichols on his preview show, two assistant coaches from that year will be there as well: Dave Fagg and Dick Tomey.

After leaving Davidson following the 1966 season, Tomey would eventually have a long, successful career as a head coach at three schools: Hawai’i, Arizona (including the “Desert Swarm” years), and San Jose State.

– Famous people who attended Davidson but did not graduate include Woodrow Wilson, William Styron, and Stephen Curry.

If you’re wondering why I wrote the previous sentence in that manner, it’s because Davidson’s list of alumni athletes on Wikipedia includes Curry but notes in parenthesis that he “did not graduate”, singling him out despite the fact he is far from the only listed ex-player not to get his degree from the school. Apparently Curry’s lack of a college diploma is a cause of angst in certain quarters.

– Mike Houston has faced Davidson once as a head coach. In 2013, his Lenoir-Rhyne team defeated the Wildcats 34-18. In that game, Lenoir-Rhyne rushed for 419 yards; the Bears also scored a touchdown on a 98-yard kickoff return. Davidson’s William Morris, then a sophomore, had 119 yards receiving and a TD.

The contest was Paul Nichols’ second game in charge of the Wildcats, and his home debut.

– The Citadel leads the alltime series against Davidson 31-21-4 and has won the last eight matchups (and 14 of the last 15). The two teams’ last meeting was in 1985, a 31-0 victory for the Bulldogs.

Despite the fact the two programs haven’t met on the gridiron in 30 years, Davidson has played The Citadel more times than any other school except VMI (which has faced the Wildcats on 58 occasions).

– The Citadel’s fans are being encouraged to wear light blue to the game against Davidson (this request was also printed on the season tickets). Presumably the team will wear the traditional home uniform of light blue jerseys with white pants. At least, I hope so.

– Mike Houston’s radio show will air on Wednesday nights this season from 7-8 pm. It will originate from Fiery Ron’s Home Team BBQ in West Ashley. Mike Legg will host the show, which will be broadcast on WQNT (1450 AM) in Charleston.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 41.5 point favorite over Davidson on Saturday.

This game is not expected to be close, and I don’t really think it will be. However, I am less than comfortable with the premature enumeration of fowl.

Regardless, I’m not expecting an absolute shellacking. Davidson’s tendency to throw the football more often than not could pose problems for the Bulldogs; the program in recent years has not been noted for stellar pass D.

Offensively, The Citadel should move the ball without too much difficulty, though the Wildcats’ statistics against the run last season were not that bad. The key will be making sure all the skill position players are on the same page, which could be an issue with a new quarterback, and the fact that it is the opening game of the season.

The experience and ability of the Bulldogs’ offensive line should be a major advantage for The Citadel, however.

Assuming a victory, the final score probably won’t be the best way to evaluate the Bulldogs on Saturday. Consistency of execution on offense, playmaking on defense, success on special teams — those are the elements that will matter in the long run.

I’m looking forward to this game. I’ve been looking forward to it since last season ended.

Haven’t we all.

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.

Gridiron countdown: what teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before facing The Citadel?

Ah, it’s a now-annual July topic. This season, I am delving a little further into the schedules, and noting which teams The Citadel’s opponents face after playing the Bulldogs.

Here we go…

September 5: Davidson makes its first appearance at Johnson Hagood Stadium since 1985, which was also the last time the Bulldogs and Wildcats met on the gridiron. As for 2015, it is the season opener for both teams, so Davidson naturally won’t have an opponent in the week prior to its trip to Charleston. The Wildcats’ most recent game was a 27-13 setback at Valparaiso to close out the 2014 campaign.

After playing The Citadel, Davidson will face Catawba the following week in its home opener at Richardson Stadium.

September 12: Western Carolina is the opposition for the Bulldogs, and the Catamounts will come to the Holy City after opening the week before in Cullowhee against Mike Houston’s alma mater, Mars Hill.

I don’t think WCU’s players and coaches will be looking ahead, not with The Citadel being the SoCon opener for both schools. However, a few of the Catamounts’ fans may do so, as Western Carolina plays at Tennessee on September 19.

September 19: The first road game of the season for The Citadel will be a short one, as the Bulldogs travel to Statesboro to play Georgia Southern. It will be the second home game of the season for the Eagles, as GS welcomes Western Michigan to Paulson Stadium on September 12.

Georgia Southern opens its season at West Virginia in a game that has “early upset potential” written all over it. I predict lots of Red Bull will be consumed in that contest.

In terms of scheduling, playing the Eagles after they come off games against WVU and Western Michigan (which will be one of the favorites to win the MAC) may not be such a bad thing for The Citadel. Of course, if Georgia Southern is 0-2 by that point, maybe it would be a bad thing. I don’t know.

Georgia Southern goes on a classic Sun Belt conference road swing after the matchup with The Citadel, travelling to Idaho and Louisiana (to play ULM) in consecutive weeks.

September 26: Charleston Southern comes to town to play the Bulldogs. Just like last season, CSU will play a Thursday night game the week before its game against The Citadel, giving it a couple extra days for recuperation and preparation.

The opponent for Charleston Southern on September 17 is another group of Buccaneers, as CSU hosts East Tennessee State and its resurrected football program. It will be ETSU’s first football road game since a contest at Wofford on November 8, 2003.

That game against East Tennessee State comes five days after Charleston Southern travels to Alabama to face a Sun Belt outfit, Troy. CSU begins its season with a home matchup versus North Greenville.

After playing The Citadel, Charleston Southern has a week off before beginning its Big South campaign with a home game against Monmouth.

October 3: There is no game this week for The Citadel. Not coincidentally, I’ll be on vacation.

October 10: Wofford is the Parents’ Day opponent this year for The Citadel. It will be the second SoCon game for both teams, as the Terriers will travel to Mercer on October 3 for their league opener.

Wofford’s early-season non-conference slate includes games at Clemson and (bizarrely, at least to me) at Idaho. After playing The Citadel, the Terriers host Western Carolina.

October 17: The Citadel makes the trek to Alabama to tangle with another group of Bulldogs, those representing Samford. It will be SU’s second meeting with a military college in back-to-back weeks, as it plays VMI in Lexington on October 10.

Samford opens with three home games (including a matchup with Chattanooga) before going on the road to face Louisville and VMI. There is an off week in between the games versus the Cardinals and Keydets.

After returning home to play The Citadel, Samford travels to Western Carolina. The October 17 game in Birmingham is SU’s only home contest between September 19 and October 31, a situation similar to that of the next opponent on The Citadel’s schedule.

October 24: Furman hosts The Citadel for the first time since 2012, with the Paladins having a week off before facing the Bulldogs. It will be Homecoming weekend at Furman.

The Paladins are at Chattanooga on October 10, and will travel to Samford on October 31. The game against The Citadel will be Furman’s lone home game between October 3 (South Carolina State) and November 14 (Mercer).

October 31: The Citadel hosts Mercer on Halloween (a day game, thankfully). It will be the second straight week the Bears will have squared off against a military college, as Mercer plays at home versus VMI on October 24.

The Bears are back in Macon on November 7, playing Chattanooga.

November 7: The final home game of the season for the Bulldogs is a big one. It will be Homecoming weekend at The Citadel, and VMI will arrive in Charleston to battle for the coveted Silver Shako.

The Keydets are at home against Wofford the week before making the trip to face the Bulldogs, and will return to Lexington the following week for VMI’s regular-season finale, versus Western Carolina.

November 14: The last SoCon game of the season for the Bulldogs is a road matchup against Chattanooga. As mentioned above, the Mocs are at Mercer on November 7. The week after playing The Citadel, Chattanooga meets Florida State in Tallahassee.

November 21: The Citadel travels to Columbia to play South Carolina. The two programs have split their last two meetings in the Palmetto State’s capital city.

The Gamecocks will be playing the second of three consecutive home games to complete the regular season. The contest versus the Bulldogs is sandwiched between games against Florida and Clemson.

The Bulldogs face one team coming off a “bye” week (Furman), and another that will have two extra days off (Charleston Southern). Obviously, Davidson won’t have played the week before facing The Citadel, either.

There is only one “triple option preview” situation this season. VMI will play Wofford the week prior to its game versus The Citadel, which incidentally was also the case last year.

Getting closer to kickoff…

Gridiron countdown: preseason ratings, featuring The Citadel (and the rest of the SoCon)

Also part of the “Gridiron Countdown” series:

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

The Citadel competes to win games — and fans

Independence Day has come and gone, which means the home stretch of the college football offseason is drawing closer. That first college football weekend can’t get here fast enough.

There is still time to kill, though. With that in mind, I decided to take a brief look at a preseason ratings system that was released this week, the Massey Ratings.

Ken Massey is a math professor at Carson-Newman whose ratings system was used (with several others) for fifteen years by the BCS. He has ratings for a wide variety of sports, but most of the attention surrounding his work has been focused on college football.

A quick introduction of the Massey Ratings, from its website:

The Massey Ratings are designed to measure past performance, not necessarily to predict future outcomes…overall team rating is a merit based quantity, and is the result of applying a Bayesian win-loss correction to the power rating.

…In contrast to the overall rating, the Power is a better measure of potential and is less concerned with actual wins-losses.

…A team’s Offense power rating essentially measures the ability to score points. This does not distinguish how points are scored, so good defensive play that leads to scoring will be reflected in the Offense rating. In general, the offensive rating can be interpretted as the number of points a team would be expected to score against an average defense.

Similarly, a team’s Defense power rating reflects the ability to prevent its opponent from scoring. An average defense will be rated at zero. Positive or negative defensive ratings would respectively lower or raise the opponent’s expected score accordingly.

…the Massey model will in some sense minimize the unexplained error (noise). Upsets will occur and it is impossible (and also counter-productive) to get an exact fit to the actual game outcomes. Hence, I publish an estimated standard deviation. About 68% of observed game results will fall within one standard deviation of the expected (“average”) result.

Preseason ratings are typically derived as a weighted average of previous years’ final ratings. As the current season progresses, their effect gets damped out completely. The only purpose preseason ratings serve is to provide a reasonable starting point for the computer. Mathematically, they guarantee a unique solution to the equations early in the season when not enough data is available yet.

So there you go. Basically, preseason ratings are almost meaningless, which makes them perfect for a blog post!

One of the interesting things about the Massey Ratings is that all college football teams are included — not just FBS and FCS squads, but D-2, D-3, NAIA, junior colleges, even Canadian schools. In all, there are preseason ratings for 924 colleges and universities.

The Citadel is #174 in the preseason ratings. How does that compare to the teams on the Bulldogs’ schedule?

  • Davidson — #584
  • Western Carolina — #168
  • Georgia Southern — #86
  • Charleston Southern — #162
  • Wofford — #182
  • Samford — #146
  • Chattanooga — #95
  • Furman — #205
  • Mercer — #267
  • VMI — #272
  • South Carolina — #28

As you can see, there isn’t a great deal of difference between The Citadel and most of the teams on its schedule.

Massey gives the Bulldogs a 1% chance of beating South Carolina. Of course, that is notably higher than the odds offered by The State newspaper when the two teams met in 1990 (the publication infamously opined that all the Gamecocks would have to do to win the game was “show up”; it didn’t quite work out that way).

Meanwhile, Davidson is listed as having a 0% chance of upsetting The Citadel, which is a function of the Wildcats having not beaten a legitimate team (no, College of Faith doesn’t qualify) since November 2012. The Wildcats are rated next-to-last among all FCS schools, ahead of only East Tennessee State, which relaunches its program this season and has a preseason rating of #651.

Another startup program, Kennesaw State, is actually rated ahead of Davidson (the Owls carry a #519 preseason rating). Kennesaw State begins its gridiron history with a Thursday night game at ETSU. It’s a shame they couldn’t work Davidson into a three-way round-robin.

Among all FCS schools, Chattanooga is rated 5th; Samford, 22nd; Charleston Southern, 33rd; Western Carolina, 36th; The Citadel, 38th; Wofford, 42nd; Furman, 56th; Mercer, 84th; VMI, 85th; and Davidson, 124th.

The highest-rated FCS team overall is (no surprise) four-time defending subdivision champ North Dakota State, rated #47 in all of D-1. Last year’s runner-up, Illinois State (#64 in D-1), is second among FCS squads.

A few other schools that may or may not be of interest:

  • Alabama — #1
  • Ohio State — #2
  • Oregon — #3
  • Georgia — #4
  • TCU — #5
  • Michigan State — #6
  • Baylor — #7
  • Arkansas — #8
  • Auburn — #9
  • Georgia Tech — #10
  • Stanford — #11
  • Clemson — #12
  • Florida State — #17
  • Notre Dame — #32
  • Duke — #41
  • North Carolina — #61
  • Navy — #73
  • Air Force — #80
  • Georgia Southern — #86
  • Coastal Carolina — #98 (#7 in FCS)
  • Appalachian State — #105
  • Old Dominion — #119
  • Liberty — #128 (#17 in FCS)
  • Army — #132
  • Colorado State-Pueblo — #134 (#1 in D-2)
  • James Madison — #147 (#23 in FCS)
  • Richmond — #148 (#24 in FCS)
  • Fordham — #150 (#26 in FCS)
  • William & Mary — 158 (#29 in FCS)
  • Harvard — #160 (#31 in FCS)
  • Georgia State — #178
  • Presbyterian — #188 (#48 in FCS)
  • Lenoir-Rhyne — #190 (#13 in D-2)
  • Delaware — #194 (#51 in FCS)
  • South Carolina State — #206 (#57 in FCS)
  • Charlotte — #226
  • Elon — #250 (#78 in FCS)
  • Gardner-Webb — #258 (#80 in FCS)

Sure, this is relatively light fare. Right now, though, it’s all we have.

Keep counting down the days…

Riley Report: Previewing the 2015 baseball season for The Citadel

BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL

Links of interest:

Schedule and Roster

Season tickets are on sale now

“Quick facts” from the school website

Preview of the upcoming season for the Bulldogs from the school website

Preview article in The Post and Courier

Preview article from 843Sports.com

College Baseball Today‘s national rundown (The Citadel is picked to finish 5th in the league, and is ranked 193rd out of 301 D-1 teams)

SoCon preview, Baseball America (Drew Ellis is BA‘s preseason Freshman of the Year)

SoCon preview, College Baseball Daily (The Citadel is picked to finish last in the league)

SoCon preview, D1Baseball.com (The Citadel is picked to finish 8th in the league)

SoCon preview, Perfect Game (The Citadel is picked to finish 6th in the league)

SoCon preseason polls (The Citadel is tied for 7th in the coaches’ poll, and is 6th in the media poll)

SoCon preseason all-conference teams (Skylar Hunter and Johnathan Stokes made the second team)

Skylar Hunter named to the preseason NCBWA All-America third team

Two quick comments before getting started:

1) Unless I state otherwise, all statistics that follow are for Southern Conference games only. That’s because A) it is easier and generally fairer to compare teams within a specific subset, and B) ultimately, conference play is what most of the season is all about. I do recognize the limitations of the sample size when making comparisons or analyzing trends (The Citadel played 26 league contests in 2014).

2) This year’s preview includes the return of SS+ and SS-, the most meaningless SoCon baseball stats ever created by yours truly. They are also the only SoCon baseball stats created by yours truly. As a bonus, the SS numbers are based on another statistic that is currently out of date!

I’ll explain in detail later in the post.

The last five seasons for The Citadel’s baseball program have gone like this:

– 2010: League champions in the regular season; won the conference tournament
– 2011: Last place
– 2012: Transition season
– 2013: Good year; just missed winning the SoCon tourney
– 2014: Last place

Last year wasn’t a lot of fun for the Diamond Dogs. Expectations were fairly high, but actual results were rather low.

It isn’t like the league got a lot better last year, either. Here are the conference RPI rankings for that same five-year period:

– 2010: 10th
– 2011: 14th
– 2012: 7th
– 2013: 12th
– 2014: 13th

(Note: the numbers in this section are for all games.)

What must The Citadel do to improve in league play? Well, before answering that question, it might be instructive to see just what kind of league the SoCon was in 2014. I’m not talking about power ratings; no, I’m talking about…power.

I’ll put it like this: in 2014, the SoCon was college baseball’s version of a slow-pitch softball league.

The conference led all of D-1 in runs scored per game. SoCon teams averaged 6.05 runs per contest, the only league to break the six-run barrier (the national average was almost a full run less, at 5.08 runs per game).

How did league teams score those runs? By swinging from the heels. SoCon squads averaged 0.73 home runs per contest, again leading the nation.

They also struck out 7.06 times per game, most in D-1 (okay, maybe that wasn’t quite like slow-pitch softball). There were plenty of pitches thrown when SoCon teams were playing, as when not striking out or hitting homers batters were willing to take a walk. The league was fifth (out of 31 conferences) in walks per game.

Oh, and forget about bunting: no conference averaged fewer sacrifice hits.

Four SoCon teams finished in the top 10 nationally in home runs per game: Davidson (3rd), Georgia Southern (6th), Samford (8th), and Western Carolina (10th). Appalachian State and Wofford finished in the top 25 in that category as well.

Meanwhile, The Citadel was last in the league in home runs per game. Obviously, a good part of that is a function of park effects. Not all of it, though.

Given the style of offense employed by most of the league’s teams, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that SoCon pitchers piled up lots of strikeouts, with a K/9 that ranked third nationally (and that almost one-third of those strikeouts came on called third strikes, the fifth-highest percentage among conferences).

Okay, now for some SoCon-only statistics (with innings pitched totals, “0.7” equates to two-thirds of an inning; “0.3” equals one-third of an inning).

Here are batting totals for the league teams in 2014 in conference action:

TEAM AVG AB R HR SLG BB HBP SO OBP OPS
UNCG 0.322 867 163 19 0.461 85 11 141 0.384 0.845
Davidson 0.308 906 182 29 0.472 96 24 218 0.384 0.856
Furman 0.305 920 169 17 0.435 123 20 173 0.391 0.826
App St 0.294 934 176 26 0.454 100 17 165 0.369 0.823
Samford 0.279 941 193 29 0.446 98 28 205 0.361 0.807
W. Carolina 0.279 870 177 28 0.441 108 30 195 0.372 0.813
Elon 0.278 927 151 21 0.412 105 14 205 0.357 0.769
The Citadel 0.277 881 131 17 0.381 95 30 167 0.361 0.742
Wofford 0.251 844 136 22 0.374 89 38 167 0.344 0.718
Ga Southern 0.248 899 135 18 0.364 110 26 215 0.344 0.708
TOTALS 0.284 8989 1613 226 0.425 1009 238 1851 0.367 0.792

 

Pitching totals, 2014 league games only:

TEAM ERA IP R ER BAA WP HBP BB/9 K/9 HR/9 BABIP
Ga Southern 2.82 239 107 75 0.248 11 22 3.01 7.53 0.64 0.299
W. Carolina 4.32 231 128 111 0.265 32 23 3.90 8.38 0.86 0.323
Samford 4.81 236 157 126 0.273 22 31 4.27 7.25 0.84 0.318
Davidson 4.82 222 147 119 0.268 22 19 3.53 7.30 1.01 0.304
Wofford 5.59 227 168 141 0.294 26 20 4.28 8.13 1.15 0.348
Elon 5.75 234.7 180 150 0.288 24 29 3.95 5.91 0.92 0.313
UNCG 6.13 211.3 188 144 0.310 26 40 4.73 7.20 0.51 0.367
Furman 6.15 228.3 173 156 0.288 35 17 4.26 8.12 0.91 0.346
App State 6.27 224 186 156 0.306 28 20 3.17 6.79 1.13 0.346
The Citadel 6.51 225.7 179 163 0.304 26 17 4.83 6.50 0.96 0.343
TOTALS 5.30 2279 1613 1341 0.284 252 238 3.98 7.31 0.89 0.331

 

Fielding totals, 2014 SoCon games:

Team Chances PO A E FLD% DP SBA CSB SBA% PB DER
W. Carolina 984 693 265 26 0.974 18 15 13 0.536 4 0.6824
Furman 993 685 281 27 0.973 18 28 10 0.737 3 0.6614
Wofford 942 681 235 26 0.972 17 25 11 0.694 1 0.6604
G Southern 1046 717 295 34 0.967 19 34 17 0.667 6 0.7078
The Citadel 964 677 255 32 0.967 22 29 8 0.784 2 0.6605
Elon 1005 704 264 37 0.963 17 19 5 0.792 19 0.6939
Samford 1046 708 297 41 0.961 28 19 10 0.655 4 0.6897
UNCG 897 634 227 36 0.960 25 22 12 0.647 7 0.6385
Davidson 920 666 216 38 0.959 16 22 8 0.733 3 0.6994
App State 1009 672 293 44 0.956 28 37 6 0.860 1 0.6573
TOTALS 9806 6837 2628 341 0.965 208 250 100 0.714 50 0.6752

 

I thought it was interesting that the defensive efficiency rating in conference play (.675) was lower than when all games played by league teams were taken into consideration (.688). Of course, park effects would be one potential reason for the discrepancy.

Speaking of park effects, that brings me to my fabled statistical concoctions, SS+ and SS-, and an explanation.

It’s obvious that statistics can be skewed by park effects. The Citadel plays in a “pitcher’s park”. Western Carolina quite clearly does not. I try to account for this.

First, I use the Park Factors calculated by college baseball statistics guru Boyd Nation. His numbers are based on all games played at a school’s home park over the four seasons from 2010-2013. That gives us a chance to make a valid comparison, based on the “building blocks” of the game — runs. Teams want to score runs, and teams want to prevent them. How they do so doesn’t really matter in the long run.

There are a couple of caveats. One is relatively minor, while the other may or may not be.

The four-year period in question includes one year in the pre-BBCOR era, and three years after the new bat standards went into effect. That could have a marginal impact on the ratings, though to be honest I don’t think it’s that big a deal.

However, a slightly larger problem is that these aren’t the updated park factors. Ideally, I would base 2014’s numbers on park factors from 2011-2014, but Nation hasn’t released the data from last year yet (and probably won’t for another month or two). Despite that, I forged ahead.

Riley Park has a Park Factor (PF) of 83, by far the lowest in the league. Childress Field at Hennon Stadium, home of Western Carolina, has a PF of 123, which is the highest in the SoCon for the 2010-13 period.

I took the PF for every team’s home park, came up with a “road park factor” based on the different road stadia each team played in during the 2014 season, and combined them. Each school thus has a total park factor that is based on where it actually played all of its conference games.

Keep in mind that teams played an odd number of home/road games (and some games were rained out, so not every team played the full allotment of 27 league contests). In my formula, I do account for the different number of home/road matchups.

Okay, here we go:

TEAM Home PF Road PF Combined PF Runs SS+
Samford 102.00 94.20 97.66666667 193 1.976109215
Davidson 92.00 111.25 101.24000000 182 1.797708416
App State 115.00 102.80 107.96153850 176 1.630210189
UNCG 106.00 99.25 102.62500000 163 1.588306943
Furman 108.00 105.80 106.73076920 169 1.583423423
W. Carolina 123.00 102.25 113.42307690 177 1.560528993
Elon 99.00 101.00 99.88888889 151 1.511679644
Wofford 88.00 100.91 93.46153846 136 1.455144033
The Citadel 83.00 105.82 92.65384615 131 1.413864674
Ga Southern 102.00 94.00 97.55555556 135 1.383826879
TOTALS 101.08 101.47 101.27692310 1613 1.59266292

Samford, which scored more runs than any team in the league, did indeed have the best offense, even taking park factors into account. This table also suggests that despite finishing third in the league in runs scored, Western Carolina’s offense was actually slightly below league average.

To have had an offense that would essentially match Samford’s production, The Citadel would have had to score 183 runs in conference play last season (7.03 runs/game). The Bulldogs actually scored 131 (5.04 runs/game).

To be a league-average offense, The Citadel needed to score 148 runs (5.69 runs/game).

Now for the pitching/defense:

TEAM Home PF Road PF Combined PF RA SS-
Ga Southern 102.00 94.00 97.55555556 107 1.096810934
W. Carolina 123.00 102.25 113.42307690 128 1.128518142
Davidson 92.00 111.25 101.24000000 147 1.451995259
Samford 102.00 94.20 97.66666667 157 1.607508532
Furman 108.00 105.80 106.73076920 173 1.620900901
App State 115.00 102.80 107.96153850 186 1.722835768
Wofford 88.00 100.91 93.46153846 168 1.797530864
Elon 99.00 101.00 99.88888889 180 1.802002225
UNCG 106.00 99.25 102.62500000 188 1.831912302
The Citadel 83.00 105.82 92.65384615 179 1.931921959
TOTALS 101.08 101.47 101.27692310 1613 1.59266292

Ugh. Not a good look for The Citadel, which allowed the seventh-most runs in SoCon play, but was in reality the worst team in the league at preventing them. Wofford also fares a bit worse when using this metric.

To match the pitching/defense of Georgia Southern, The Citadel would have had to allow only 102 runs in league action (3.92 runs allowed/game). The actual total: 179 (6.88 runs allowed/game).

For league-average pitching/defense, The Citadel’s number was obviously the same as the offensive break-even point, 148 runs (5.69 runs allowed/game).

Now it’s time to take a look at The Citadel’s prospects for 2015. The difference in experience between the position players and pitchers is noticeable.

SoCon-only batting statistics (from 2014) for returning Bulldogs. It’s not a long table:

Player AB R HR BB K AVG OBP SLG% OPS
J. Stokes 97 13 2 11 15 0.289 0.351 0.412 0.763
Bret Hines 57 7 0 2 3 0.281 0.290 0.333 0.623
R. Kilgallen 63 10 1 9 16 0.254 0.365 0.333 0.698
Austin Mapes 14 2 0 2 2 0.286 0.375 0.286 0.661
C. Walsh 20 1 0 1 4 0.200 0.227 0.300 0.527
S. Windham 10 1 0 4 5 0.200 0.400 0.200 0.600
Bailey Rush 18 1 0 1 6 0.167 0.211 0.167 0.378
B. Charpia 3 0 0 0 3 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000
S. Hansen 0 2 0 1 0 0.000 1.000 0.000 1.000
Totals 282 37 3 31 54 0.259 0.328 0.337 0.665

– Total SoCon at bats in 2012 for 2013 returnees: 705
– Total SoCon at bats in 2013 for 2014 returnees: 900
– Total SoCon at bats in 2014 for 2015 returnees: 282

Now that’s a dropoff. There are opportunities galore for position players in 2015. Basically, the Bulldogs appear set at shortstop (with Johnathan Stokes), catcher (Ryan Kilgallen) and maybe third base (potentially a platoon situation). That’s about it.

In 2014, Bulldog returnees had hit 30 home runs in SoCon play during the previous season. This year, that number is three.

From the school’s preview:

The offense will rely on the tradition hallmark of Citadel baseball – doing the little things which produce runs in a variety of ways but does not rely on the long ball – as the departed players accounted for 75 percent of the team’s extra base hits and nearly 70 percent of the RBIs.

Not relying on the long ball definitely goes against the grain when it comes to playing in the Southern Conference. While most of their league opponents will zig, the Bulldogs plan to zag.

Last season, The Citadel had an OBP of .361 in conference play, 7th-best in the league. If the Bulldogs are going to succeed at “small ball” in 2015, they will need to get on base at a better clip, something closer to the team’s OBP in 2013 SoCon action (.404).

Johnathan Stokes had one stolen base in 2014 SoCon play, the only steal in a conference game among Bulldog returnees. Overall, The Citadel was 12 for 20 in stolen base attempts in SoCon action last year, after going 33 for 48 in league games in 2013. It’s hard to swipe a bag when you don’t get on base.

A couple of names to watch who aren’t listed in the above table:

– Drew Ellis was named the preseason SoCon freshman of the year by D1Baseball.com. Ellis (6’4″, 225 lbs.) is a native of Columbia who swings the bat from the left side (but throws from the right). He’ll be competing for a spot at first base.

Shy Phillips played this fall on the football team, of course, but the freshman is also a talented baseball prospect who committed to The Citadel in that sport before his senior season on the gridiron (where the Hartsville resident promptly played well enough to make the Shrine Bowl). Phillips (6’0″, 165 lbs.) will be in the mix for a place in the outfield.

SoCon-only pitching statistics (from 2014) for returning Bulldogs:

Pitcher ERA IP R ER HR BAA K/9 BB/9 BABIP
Austin Mason 5.20 36.3 23 21 3 0.271 6.19 4.46 0.313
L. Meachem 1.69 5.3 1 1 0 0.200 8.44 3.38 0.267
Zach McKay 1.93 9.3 5 2 0 0.222 6.75 4.82 0.267
Skylar Hunter 2.65 17.0 5 5 1 0.155 7.41 6.88 0.186
P.J. Krouse 3.18 5.7 2 2 0 0.333 3.18 1.59 0.350
James Reeves 3.44 18.3 7 7 2 0.253 12.76 1.47 0.362
Zach Lavery 4.50 8.0 6 4 0 0.300 4.50 0.00 0.333
Nate Brecklin 9.66 4.7 7 5 1 0.440 3.86 7.71 0.455
Zach Sherrill 10.44 14.7 19 17 3 0.385 6.14 6.14 0.400
Ross White 11.00 9.0 11 11 0 0.429 6.00 9.00 0.500
Brett Tompkins 12.38 8.0 11 11 3 0.303 4.50 7.88 0.269
A. Livingston 12.94 16.0 26 23 1 0.400 7.88 6.19 0.468
Kevin Connell 15.89 11.3 21 20 4 0.407 5.56 8.74 0.400
C. Walsh 40.91 0.7 3 3 1 0.500 13.50 40.50 0.500
Totals 7.24 164.3 147 132 19 0.313 6.97 5.32 0.356

– Total SoCon innings pitched in 2012 for 2013 returnees: 225.7
– Total SoCon innings pitched in 2013 for 2014 returnees: 197.0
– Total SoCon innings pitched in 2014 for 2015 returnees: 164.3

There are spots to be won on the pitching staff, too, but for another reason. Plenty of Bulldog hurlers got a taste of the action in 2014. However, there weren’t many who had a great deal of success in league play.

As a group, The Citadel’s pitchers didn’t strike out batters as much in 2014 league games (K/9 of 6.50) as they did in 2013 (7.42). Worse, the BB/9 rate went up dramatically (from 2.56 to 4.83).

The gopher ball was also more of a problem in 2014, with an significant increase in HR/9 (from 0.73 to 0.96). Add it all up, and you get a team ERA (6.51) almost two runs per game higher than it was in 2013 league play (4.69).

There are several freshmen who will be candidates for the bullpen, and possibly the starting rotation. I want to make a couple of quick observations about two of the returning hurlers, though:

James Reeves only threw 18.3 innings in SoCon play due to injury. He is back this season, and if his elbow is okay the Summerville native should be a dependable fixture in the weekend rotation.

Reeves pitched very well last year before being shut down. The lefty was also solid in league play in 2013, with a 2.53 ERA that year, allowing just one home run in 32 innings.

Zach Sherrill had knee surgery in the offseason. Sherrill was a very effective (and frequently-used) reliever in 2013, but struggled last season. If he can return to his form of two years ago, he will once again be a weapon in the bullpen.

While Sherrill clearly got rocked at times in 2014 (allowing 3 homers in SoCon play after giving up none in league action the year before; he also walked too many batters), it’s also true he could use a little more defensive help. Sherrill’s BABIP in 2013 was .281; last year, that shot up to .400 (which was also reflected in his batting average against).

A few defensive numbers on which to ruminate:

– The Citadel’s DER in 2012 SoCon play: 68.8% (league DER: 68.4%)
– The Citadel’s DER in 2013 SoCon play: 68.9% (league DER: 66.1%)
– The Citadel’s DER in 2014 SoCon play: 66.0% (league DER: 67.5%)

– Double plays turned by The Citadel in 2012 SoCon play: 25
– Double plays turned by The Citadel in 2013 SoCon play: 14
– Double plays turned by The Citadel in 2014 SoCon play: 22

– Stolen bases allowed by The Citadel in 2012 SoCon play: 47 (78.3% success rate for opponents)
– Stolen bases allowed by The Citadel in 2013 SoCon play: 29 (74.4% success rate for opponents)
– Stolen bases allowed by The Citadel in 2014 SoCon play: 28 (80.0% success rate for opponents)

– Errors committed by The Citadel in 2012 SoCon play: 39
– Errors committed by The Citadel in 2013 SoCon play: 57
– Errors committed by The Citadel in 2014 SoCon play: 32

I should point out that the DER numbers mentioned above are not park-adjusted. Given the spaciousness of Riley Park, it may be that the Bulldogs were a little better defensively than the seventh-best defensive squad in a ten-team league (Georgia Southern led the SoCon with a DER of 70.8% in conference games).

Having said that, even if you bump the Bulldogs up a notch or two, they still wind up average or slightly below average defensively. Average or slightly below average is simply not good enough.

We’ve got to pitch and defend,” [Fred] Jordan said. “We feel like we should have enough starting pitching, and the back end of our bullpen is very experienced. We hope we will pitch extremely well. Defending? Some of the new faces are going to have to get their feet wet, and we’ll have to be patient with that. But if you can pitch and defend, you have a chance.”

The SoCon’s reshuffling means that this year three new schools are in the league (Mercer, East Tennessee State, and VMI), while four have departed (Georgia Southern, Appalachian State, Elon, and Davidson). The conference now has nine baseball teams (Chattanooga dropped its program over thirty years ago).

Mercer and East Tennessee State were most recently in the Atlantic Sun conference, and both made regional appearances two years ago (2013). That season, the Bears were the regular season league champions, while ETSU won the A-Sun tournament under the tutelage of noted clutch hitter Tony Skole.

The Buccaneers had a losing season last year, though they were competitive (27-30). Mercer won 38 games (the fifth consecutive season the Bears had won at least that many games), but went 2-and-BBQ in the conference tourney.

Both East Tennessee State and Mercer should fit right in with the bombs-away nature of the SoCon. Mercer was 15th nationally in home runs per game last season, while ETSU was tied for 24th overall in the category.

VMI was 25-23 last year, with an 11-16 record in the Big South. In stark contrast to the Bucs and Bears, the Keydets hit just 11 home runs in 48 games. The paucity of circuit clouts was a two-way street, however, as VMI’s pitchers only allowed 16 homers in 2014.

In December, VMI named Jonathan Hadra as its new baseball coach, after Marlin Ikenberry unexpectly resigned. Hadra, a 2004 graduate of the school, is the only first-time head baseball coach in the SoCon this season.

ETSU has a relatively new park, Thomas Stadium (referred to colloquially as “The Thom”; at least, that is what Wikipedia claims). It opened in 2013. In a bit of a scheduling fluke, The Citadel’s baseball team will not travel to any of the three new members in 2015. Mercer, ETSU, and VMI all play the Bulldogs in Charleston.

Of course, those three schools will make a return trip to Riley Park for the 2015 Southern Conference baseball tournament, which returns to the Holy City this season.

With eight league opponents this season, The Citadel will play 24 SoCon contests, twelve at home (ETSU, Mercer, VMI, Wofford) and twelve on the road (Western Carolina, UNCG, Samford, Furman). The league opener for the Bulldogs is March 27 in Cullowhee, against WCU.

The non-conference schedule is interesting. There are no early-season “tournaments” at Riley Park this season, however.

The Citadel’s non-league slate includes a fair share of games against former league opponents (College of Charleston, Georgia Southern, and Elon). Air Force comes to town for the opening weekend. The Bulldogs also have three-game home series with Lafayette, UMBC, and Alabama State.

The Citadel plays midweek games against North Florida and several in-state squads, including Coastal Carolina, Winthrop, and Charleston Southern. As always, The Citadel has a home-and-home with South Carolina.

Also as always, there will be no games versus Clemson. The Tigers have not played the Bulldogs in Charleston since 1990.

Boyd Nation put together a preseason “strength of schedule” feature on his website for this season. Of course, no one knows in February what a team’s actual strength of schedule will be.

That said, I was curious as to how programs put together their non-conference schedules. Ranking the preseason SoS numbers, this is how it shakes out for the SoCon:

119 – Samford
149 – UNCG
180 – VMI
184 – Furman
186 – The Citadel
187 – East Tennessee State
197 – Western Carolina
208 – Mercer
280 – Wofford

The two teams that finished 1-2 in the preseason SoCon media poll have two of the three (presumed) weakest OOC schedules.

Just in case you were wondering, here are a few other teams’ non-conference SoS rankings:

1 – Stanford
2 – Cal State Fullerton
3 – Fresno State
4 – Pacific
5 – San Diego

(1 through 5 are California Dreamin’)

25 – Coastal Carolina
38 – Indiana (Chris Lemonis, immediately followed by…)
39 – Louisville (…Dan McDonnell)
45 – Liberty (ranked in Baseball America‘s preseason Top 25)
51 – Georgia Southern
55 – Clemson
59 – Appalachian State
85 – Kennesaw State (also ranked in Baseball America‘s preseason Top 25)
87 – College of Charleston

128 – Vanderbilt (the defending national champion, almost immediately followed by…)
130 – Virginia (…last season’s runner-up)
132 – Elon
168 – North Carolina
172 – North Carolina State
176 – South Carolina
237 – Winthrop
258 – Charleston Southern
296 – Army
300 – Lehigh
301 – Navy (there are 301 D-1 teams)

In the end, none of that will likely mean anything. It’s just early-season fun.

Odds and ends:

– Just like last season, this year’s edition of the Bulldogs will include three Austins and three Zachs. Five of the six Austins/Zachs are pitchers.

– In a further attempt to encourage fans to buy scorecards, The Citadel will also feature twins, freshmen Philip and Jacob Watcher. Both are expected to see plenty of time in the infield and on the hill.

– Zach Sherrill and the Watcher brothers are three of seven players on the roster from Sumter, which appears to be making a 21st-century attempt to become the Official Small Town of The Citadel. I am sure that Orangeburg, Camden, and possibly Kingstree will continue to battle for that title, however (although there is no player from Orangeburg on this year’s roster, which could come back to haunt Fred Jordan).

– The tallest of the Bulldogs is senior righthander Brett Tompkins, who is 6’5″. There are seven players listed on the roster at 5’9″; I bet at least one of them is shorter than that.

– Of the 45 players on the roster, 38 are from South Carolina. Of the seven Bulldogs from out of state, freshman catcher Justin Craft‘s hometown (Waldorf, Maryland) is the longest distance from Charleston.

– There are eighteen “true” freshmen among the Diamond Dogs, along with three redshirt freshmen.

– New volunteer assistant coach Aaron Gershenfeld was a catcher at Louisville, where he played for former Bulldogs Dan McDonnell (the Cardinals’ head coach) and Chris Lemonis (now helming the program at Indiana). Gershenfeld is slated to be the team’s hitting coach and will also work with the catchers.

I’m looking forward to the 2015 campaign. Unfortunately, I’ll have to be a bit of a fair-weather fan (literally) for the first month or so, as my blood is still a bit thin. I’ll be faithfully watching the SoCon Digital Network, though, and listening to cult faves Andy and The Chief (“This is the out we came here for!”).

Having said that, the weather for the opening weekend looks promising, and I plan to be at Riley Park for at least one game of the series against Air Force. I hope a lot of other fans make an appearance, particularly on Opening Day — which also happens to be Friday the 13th. Don’t let triskaidekaphobia stop you from seeing the Diamond Dogs.

The Citadel is not favored to win the Southern Conference this season. Truth be told, the Bulldogs are not expected to be serious contenders for the title, as this year’s team will feature a lot of players who weren’t starters in 2014, along with a bunch of freshmen. Rebuilding is a word being thrown around in some circles.

A lack of experienced players, some freshmen, rebuilding. Hmm…that reminds me of something:

We are not reloading; we are in a rebuilding process.  Our team is made up of reserves of past years and freshmen who will get the opportunity to play this year and hopefully be up to the challenge…Our baseball accomplishments measured by victories this year could be moderate.  From our players we need a dedication of purpose, firm self-discipline and tenacious determination.  Hard work and aggressive play must overcome our limitations.

We will be playing off the enthusiasm of youth, and that should result in some entertaining baseball.  We must judge this team on the basis of their performance, according to their individual abilities and improvement throughout the season.  We want to teach them not to beat themselves and to always play with a fighting spirit and essential mental toughness.

We need to stay out of the way of line drives and recover foul balls so that we can stay within our budget.

– Chal Port, from The Citadel’s 1990 Baseball Media Guide

Go chase down those foul balls. It’s time for baseball season.

Social media and the SoCon: the age of Twitter and Facebook

Last week, I saw a ranking of college sports twitter feeds posted at Tennessee’s athletics website. I thought it was interesting, though I wouldn’t want to draw any immediate conclusions from the data.

I decided to see how the SoCon schools compared to each other when it comes to Twitter and Facebook presence. This proved to be difficult, because schools don’t necessarily approach Twitter and/or Facebook in similar ways.

The league is almost evenly split between schools that have football-specific twitter feeds and those that do not. Samford has nine different sports with dedicated twitter feeds; meanwhile, Wofford doesn’t have any. There is significant variance in the number of Facebook pages created by the individual schools. Those are just a few of the differences.

Part of the reason for the contrasting approaches is probably manpower, and part of it is likely philosophical. Not everyone thinks having multiple Twitter feeds and Facebook pages is such a great idea for smaller schools. Says one social media consultant:

In college sports, unlike professional sports, fans usually have an allegiance to a school, not a team. To say that fans would be annoyed by news from other school sports in their Twitter feed might be an error…

We found that the majority of…fans appreciated news from other sports, and wanted one main feed where they could get all the news. Most of the sports communicators I’ve talked with at non-BCS schools say their fans feel the same way. Their allegiance is to the school, not a particular team.

The opportunity to showcase the team across multiple channels is much more important to a school than having a sport-specific Twitter feed or Facebook page…smaller schools (non-BCS schools) need to think about scale, not volume…Their fans bases are simply too small.

Another consideration is the percentage of people who use the different social media elements. A survey taken at the end of last year suggested that usage among internet users breaks down this way: 67%, Facebook; 16%, Twitter; 15%, Pinterest; 13%, Instagram; and 6%, Tumblr.

I would say that if your school decides to have a dedicated feed for a sport on Twitter, then it should have a Facebook page for that sport as well — and vice versa. I also am of the opinion that Instagram is on the rise, and that not using YouTube to promote your school and its teams is a major mistake.

Included in my mini-survey are all current SoCon schools, the school that just left (College of Charleston), and the three schools that will enter the league next year (East Tennessee State, Mercer, and VMI). The numbers listed (“follows” and “likes”) are as of the weekend of July 13-14.

What follows are a few observations, and then some tables, with two caveats:

1) I may have missed a couple of school feeds/pages. If I did, it’s not my fault. It’s the fault of the school(s), for not making it simple for an easily confused person like myself to find their feeds/pages.

2) Twitter and Facebook are far from the only things happening in social media, of course. For example, The Citadel has done an excellent job in recent months using YouTube, and it is not alone on that front. A few schools have taken a spin with Pinterest.  Instagram has been embraced by several of the league members (as well as the SoCon office itself). However, Twitter and Facebook are the focus of this post.

– The league website has a “Social Media Directory” that needs to be updated. For one thing, CofC isn’t in the conference any more [Edit 8/16: the CofC links have now been removed from the directory]. The feeds themselves also need to be checked; some are not valid, and there are also a number of omissions.

I don’t really blame the SoCon office for this as much as I do the individual schools. It’s probably very difficult, if not impossible, for the league office to keep up with team-specific feeds.

On the other hand, someone at the conference probably ought to know that @CoachMikeDement shouldn’t be the listing next to UNCG’s “Head MBB Coach” line, since he hasn’t been the Spartans’ coach for over a year and a half. Wes Miller is clearly upset about this.

– Speaking of UNCG, its AD, Kim Record, is on Twitter, and she is listed as such in the SoCon directory…but her feed is protected.

– Furman’s most-followed feed is its general athletics feed, which is not a surprise. The second-most followed Furman feed, however, is for a coach of a program that has yet to win a game. The Paladins will start playing men’s lacrosse in 2014, and head coach Richie Meade (formerly the longtime lacrosse coach at Navy) has 1024 followers.

– The twitter feed for Furman’s baseball program is run by players.

– Davidson, a basketball-first (if not only) school if there ever was one, doesn’t have a dedicated feed for men’s hoops, and head coach Bob McKillop isn’t on Twitter.

– At least one SoCon head football coach follows two different Jenn Brown accounts.

– Chattanooga’s wrestling feed has 2574 followers, which stacks up fairly well when compared to other programs across the country. The most I found for a collegiate wrestling feed was for Oklahoma State (11857). Defending national champion Penn State has 5750.

The other two SoCon schools with wrestling feeds are Appalachian State and The Citadel, though I should mention that UNC-Greensboro has a dormant feed as well (one that became inactive when the school dropped its wrestling program).

– Several SoCon schools have twitter feeds for their equipment room/staff. They tend to be fairly well-followed, too, partly because equipment room staffs from across the country all follow each other. Equipment guys circle the wagons.

– The new head football coach at East Tennessee State, Carl Torbush, isn’t on Twitter. However, there are two different parody Carl Torbush accounts, though both are inactive. ETSU’s athletics twitter feed is following one of them.

– I only found one other fake twitter feed for a conference football coach. Western Carolina’s Mark Speir has been so honored. Also parodied: SoCon commissioner John Iamarino.

– As of this weekend, Samford only had 44 followers for its men’s hoops feed, but that’s because it only established the feed on July 2.

– VMI seems to have two different official university (non-athletic) twitter feeds. Neither has many followers; perhaps I’m just missing the “real” feed.

– Of the six SoCon schools that have dedicated twitter feeds for both baseball and men’s basketball, five of them have more baseball feed followers, which may say something about the league’s status in each sport. I didn’t include College of Charleston in that group of six since it is no longer in the league, but it also has slightly more baseball feed than hoops feed follows.

– East Tennessee State doesn’t have a football twitter feed yet, or a pigskin Facebook page, but it does have a notable fan “bring/brought back football” presence for Twitter and Facebook.

– Wofford athletics only follows one feed, that of PGA pro (and Wofford alum) William McGirt. Similarly, the Facebook page for Wofford athletics only “likes” one entity — the 2012 Southern Conference basketball tournament.

– GSU head football coach Jeff Monken takes it one step further than Wofford, however. Just like Jay Bilas, Monken doesn’t follow anybody.

– With VMI being admitted to the league, the Southern Conference facebook page made sure it “liked” VMI’s university facebook site. Unfortunately, it appears the actual “active” VMI school facebook page is this one.

– UNCG is the league school with the most sport-specific Facebook pages, having one for eleven different varsity sports.

– I found a few sport-specific facebook pages that are essentially dormant. However, they are still “official”, and since they have not been deleted I included them in the tables.

– Of the lower-profile SoCon sports, volleyball may be the most active in terms of social media. Seven conference schools feature Facebook pages for volleyball, and that doesn’t include CofC or ETSU, both of which also have pages for their volleyball teams. CofC and ETSU join six SoCon schools that also have twitter feeds for volleyball.

Some of the Twitter and Facebook statistics for follows/likes are grouped in tables below. I didn’t list all the sports feeds/pages that are on Twitter/Facebook, just some of the ones that tend to draw the most interest.

Twitter

Athletics
Appalachian State 10644
The Citadel 2292
Davidson 3970
Elon 4300
Furman 2951
Georgia Southern 8493
Samford 3131
UNC-Greensboro 3466
UT-Chattanooga 4144
Western Carolina 3773
Wofford 3171
College of Charleston 4726
East Tennessee State 2651
Mercer 1578
Virginia Military Institute 1521

Football
Appalachian State 1133
The Citadel 692
Furman 759
Samford 939
UT-Chattanooga 900
Mercer 1270
Virginia Military Institute 261

Head Football Coach
Appalachian State 2585
The Citadel 555
Furman 236
Georgia Southern 4515
Samford 1005
UT-Chattanooga 571
Western Carolina 1301
Mercer 679
Virginia Military Institute 382

Men’s Basketball
Appalachian State 700
The Citadel 190
Elon 956
Furman 149
Samford 44
UNC-Greensboro 866
UT-Chattanooga 637
College of Charleston 2135

Head Men’s Basketball Coach
The Citadel 335
Furman 675
Georgia Southern 730
Samford 370
UNC-Greensboro 7572
UT-Chattanooga 2438
Western Carolina 1418
East Tennessee State 412
Virginia Military Institute 584

Women’s Basketball
Appalachian State 1338
Davidson 102
Elon 341
Furman 416
Georgia Southern 347
Samford 398
UNC-Greensboro 505
UT-Chattanooga 827
College of Charleston 590
East Tennessee State 374

Baseball
Appalachian State 2141
The Citadel 1263
Davidson 444
Elon 1015
Furman 427
Georgia Southern 1030
Samford 1206
UNC-Greensboro 332
College of Charleston 2413
East Tennessee State 579
Mercer 561

Facebook

Athletics
Appalachian State 5946
The Citadel 2301
Davidson 4771
Elon 4426
Furman 2629
Georgia Southern 12302
Samford 3590
UNC-Greensboro 6276
UT-Chattanooga 6459
Western Carolina 13546
Wofford 4586
College of Charleston 2405
East Tennessee State 3951
Mercer 1865
Virginia Military Institute 3632

Football
Appalachian State 45948
The Citadel 2117
Elon 867
Georgia Southern 3482
Samford 256
Western Carolina 235
Mercer 2244

Men’s Basketball
Appalachian State 2474
The Citadel 74
Davidson 554
Elon 982
UNC-Greensboro 1491

Women’s Basketball
Appalachian State 61
Davidson 187
Elon 648
Furman 612
Georgia Southern 241
UNC-Greensboro 476
UT-Chattanooga 731
College of Charleston 221
East Tennessee State 552

Baseball
Appalachian State 1659
The Citadel 408
Elon 307
Furman 177
Georgia Southern 745
Samford 1282
UNC-Greensboro 170
East Tennessee State 274

Conference realignment, SoCon style: finally, expansion rather than contraction

Previously in this series:

SoCon style: history repeats itself

SoCon style: some actual news and a little speculation

SoCon style: the football/hoops conundrum

SoCon style: a look at the varsity sports portfolios of candidate schools

SoCon style: it is definitely nitty-gritty time now

Links of interest (a lot of them)…

From The Post and Courier:

SoCon commish has had enough

Q-and-A with the commissioner

New members bring “stability” to SoCon

SoCon wrap, extreme makeover edition

From the Chattanooga Times Free Press:

Southern Conference adds three members

SoCon expects to hold steady at 10 schools

From the Burlington Times-News:

Southern Conference steps towards stability by adding three future members

From The Macon Telegraph:

Mercer heading to Southern Conference

Audio interview (three parts) with Mercer’s AD

From The Roanoke Times:

VMI accepts invitation to rejoin Southern Conference

From the Johnson City Press:

ETSU accepts invitation to Southern Conference

From the SoCon:

Audio of the teleconference announcing the additions

Not linked: a horrendous column on the conference’s football situation from the Asheville Citizen-Times. In the piece, factual errors were interspersed with snide and generally uninformed commentary.

Several columnists in the league’s geographic footprint decided to pen a “woe is the SoCon” story. The problem was that some of them had obviously not been paying attention to the league since around 1985.

Our nation’s long national nightmare is over…for a little while, anyway. The Southern Conference has added three schools while not losing any other schools in the same 24-hour period. Progress!

SoCon officials said their goal was to replace those schools without expanding its traditional Southern-states footprint.

“We’re not chasing dollars, we’re not chasing markets,” said Wofford [Director of Athletics Richard] Johnson. “We’re chasing what’s best for our student-athletes, and going back to why conferences exist, where athletes are an extra-curricular activity and we can minimize missed class time.”

[The] Citadel athletic director Larry Leckonby said the new league “is really solidified with 10 members who all want to be in the SoCon. They want to be in a geographic conference where we can bus our teams everywhere and give fans a chance to watch all the games if they choose to.

“Most leagues in today’s world have certainly gone beyond regional footprints for other reasons.”

This was a theme repeated throughout the league meetings. Unsaid but implied: the CAA is crazy to have a Boston-to-Charleston geographic footprint.

Time will tell if that is true or not (I tend to think it is), but at any rate the league can’t worry about the likes of Elon, Davidson, or College of Charleston. It has to move on without those schools and the FBS dreamers at Appalachian State and Georgia Southern. Did it get it right with Mercer, ETSU, and VMI?

Most observers seem to think adding Mercer was an excellent move for the SoCon, even if the Macon school is just re-starting its football program. Mercer will be a contender in baseball (38+ wins in each of the last five seasons) and men’s hoops (regular-season Atlantic Sun champs in 2013) as soon as it joins the conference, and has the resources to be competitive in football sooner rather than later.

It’s a good thing the school has those resources, as the Bears’ football program will begin conference play in the SoCon in 2014. Mercer is going to gradually phase in scholarships under Bobby Lamb, the former Furman coach now overseeing things in Macon. In an interview with The Greenville News, Lamb described the enthusiasm for football at Mercer:

We sold 4,000 season tickets, and to put that in perspective, the most I ever sold at Furman was 1,100. The interest we generated was so great that we went ahead and set up for a second level on [the stadium]. What we’ve got down here is pretty special.

Mercer already has a competitive football-specific website: Link

The school last fielded a football team in 1941. The schedule for the Bears that year:

Georgia
Georgia Southern
Wofford
Rollins
Presbyterian
Mississippi College
Newberry
Samford
UT-Chattanooga

There is just a hint of back-to-the-future with Mercer and the Southern Conference, even though Mercer (unlike ETSU and VMI) has not previously been a member of the league. Mercer will be the 44th different school to join the SoCon.

The geography of the Southern Conference will benefit Mercer. Its school president noted this in an op-ed in The Macon Telegraph:

This move will also reduce travel burdens for our student-athletes, whose first priority must always be their work in our classrooms and laboratories. The average distance from Mercer to the nine other Southern Conference member institutions will be approximately 40 miles less than the average distance to Atlantic Sun institutions.

The travel burdens will be reduced to an even greater degree for our student-athletes in football, who will move from competition in the Pioneer Football League to the more geographically compact Southern Conference.

One other thing: while The Citadel’s basketball team has never won the Southern Conference tournament, the hoops program does have one post-season tournament title to its credit. In 1927, The Citadel won the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA) tournament. In the final, the Bulldogs defeated none other than Mercer (42-41).

That was the last time The Citadel beat Mercer on the hardwood, though the two schools have only played once since 1930. Now they will be competing on the same circuit again. Does that portend a tournament championship for the Bulldogs? (Please let the answer be yes.)

East Tennessee State won the A-Sun baseball tourney this season, and it wasn’t a fluke. That program is on the rise under head coach (and noted clutch hitter) Tony Skole, thanks in part to a new baseball facility. ETSU’s success or failure as a member of the Southern Conference may have a lot to do with another new facility, one for its soon-to-be-reborn football program.

ETSU is scheduled to start playing a full SoCon slate on the gridiron in 2016. By that time, a new football stadium will presumably be in place or well on its way to completion. If it is not, then the SoCon will probably be perceived as having made a mistake in issuing an invitation to the school.

No one wants to play football games in the Mountain States Health Alliance Athletics Center, better known as the “Mini-Dome”. Truth be told, playing basketball games in the building isn’t exactly anyone’s idea of a good time, either.

That may be why there has apparently been some discussion about ETSU moving its men’s and women’s basketball games to Freedom Hall — no, not the University of Louisville’s old arena, but a facility located in downtown Johnson City. The linked article also contains this passage:

But before basketball or football, ETSU has stated their new performing arts center comes first and the university does have its eyes on one piece of land in particular.

That doesn’t sound overly promising for the sports programs.

East Tennessee State was clearly invited back to the SoCon for the benefit of Chattanooga and Western Carolina (and perhaps Samford to a lesser extent). The addition of ETSU gives those schools a closer geographic match for the purposes of travel and/or rivalry.

There are other positives about ETSU. Just to name one of them, I wouldn’t be surprised if the decision by the league and the City of Asheville to extend their agreement for Asheville to host the conference’s basketball tournaments was partly influenced by the Buccaneers’ fan base. That contract will now run through 2017.

Let’s face it, though: when it comes to football, the school currently has no players, no coach, and no stadium. There seems to be no agreement on where a new stadium would be located or when work on its construction would begin.

East Tennessee State will also have to add up to three women’s sports for Title IX reasons (due to the resumption of football), or drop a similar number of men’s sports.

While VMI has been the most-critiqued new addition by the league, ETSU may actually be the biggest risk. I hope the school is ready to take this step.

I would prefer being sure about it.

Ah yes, VMI, a school with a football program one publication described thusly:

You could…say the VMI football program has an upside, in the sense that it really doesn’t have anywhere to go but up.

During the SoCon teleconference, Jeff Hartsell asked the question that had to be asked. What are VMI’s plans for improving football? Will it make an effort to improve football? John Iamarino’s response:

They’ve taken some internal steps, I think, with regard to how they fund the program, how they allocate resources. They are quite aware that football is very important at VMI and certainly to the Southern Conference. I’ve often said, and it’s true I believe, nobody joins a conference to be the doormat, and I know that’s the case with all of [the new members].

None of them are coming in wanting to be at the bottom of the league. Everybody is going to be competitive. We hope that being in the Southern Conference will aid recruiting efforts at VMI, and at Mercer, and at East Tennessee State. That’s what we’ve been told by their administrators and head coaches when we’ve visited those campuses, and we trust that will be the case.

When VMI left the SoCon and moved to the Big South, its recruiting suffered, which may have come as a surprise to certain officials in its administration. Obviously, VMI doesn’t recruit in the same way as some other schools. It has a more limited pool of candidates from which to draw. However, even within that group of potential recruits, the level of competition (to include conference affiliation) does matter.

Being in the SoCon will indeed help VMI. However, it will help all the schools in the league. VMI may get better recruiting classes, but its competition will be better too.

If VMI wants to truly be competitive on the gridiron, it has to be flexible. That doesn’t mean lowering standards. It means giving its coaches and students a fair chance to be successful on the field.

When it comes to football, a commitment has to be made by the folks running the show in Lexington. We will see if that happens.

VMI’s women’s sports were not discussed during the teleconference. I wish someone had asked about them, specifically whether or not VMI will be required to add another women’s sport sponsored by the SoCon.

The school’s varsity sports portfolio for women, while understandably limited (only 10% of Keydets are female), doesn’t quite match up with the league. VMI doesn’t have women’s teams in SoCon staples like basketball, softball, volleyball, cross country, tennis, or golf — but it does have water polo and swimming teams for women.

While it is fair to wonder if VMI can be competitive in football (and in its other varsity sports), it appears that the remaining league members were happy to welcome VMI back to the fold. One school that wasn’t too thrilled about VMI, however, was soon-to-depart Elon:

Sources have said Elon and [school president Leo] Lambert, specifically, have not supported East Tennessee State and VMI for potential Southern Conference inclusion.

That revelation raised some eyebrows, particularly in conjunction with John Iamarino’s rather curt (especially for him) statement on Elon’s move, in which he referred to “Elon’s negative view of the diversity” of the SoCon.

Did Elon’s leadership have a problem with public schools? What were Elon’s relations with the existing SoCon public schools? And which schools did Elon want to add to the league in the first place?

Lambert attempted some damage control, as described in a later article:

“It is absolutely the opposite of the truth [that Elon opposed VMI],” Lambert said. “The fact of the matter is we were active proponents of VMI. I love VMI.”

Lambert said the last vote Elon participated in regarding Southern Conference expansion was to authorize campus visits for East Tennessee State, Mercer and VMI.

“Elon voted for all of them. So that’s the record,” Lambert said. “It was unanimous across the conference. That’s the record.”

Asked about Elon’s collective comfort level with East Tennessee State, Mercer and VMI as prospective Southern Conference members, Lambert responded: “In the final analysis, we voted for all three. But as we were talking about all three, Elon was always really excited about VMI. I think the world of VMI. It’s an excellent school.”

I doubt many of the folks in Lexington really believe Lambert when he proclaims his “love” for VMI. To be honest, I don’t either. Elon’s president got backed into a corner just when he thought he was going to be in extended, full-on celebration mode. (The Burlington paper also ran a column stating in part that it was “reasonable to call Elon ungrateful and greedy.”)

Lambert is well aware that while VMI may not be so hot on the gridiron (to say the least), it has a few other things going for it. History, prestige, cachet. A lot of schools, especially those striving for upward mobility and status, would like to be associated with such an institution. Lambert and Elon apparently did not, which would probably puzzle some of his peers.

After all, a future U.S. president once portrayed a VMI baseball player in a popular movie. On the other hand, probably the most famous video associated with Elon baseball is one of its star athletes starting (and then running away from) a brawl.

Lambert didn’t bother to express any affection, real or imagined, for ETSU.

I don’t enjoy “piling on” Elon — after all, four other schools have left or are leaving the SoCon — but its decision to bolt is a curious one. It is making an arguably lateral move to a more expensive conference, one that has been even more unstable than its current league. I really would like to know what schools Elon would have preferred as new SoCon members. Duke, Vanderbilt, and Boston College weren’t really options.

I will say that the CAA has its fair share of public schools, too, either as football-only (like Maine and Stony Brook) or full members (such as Towson and UNC-Wilmington). Maybe the grassy fields on the campuses of those schools are greener than the lawns of the SoCon institutions.

Some other things from the concluded SoCon meetings worth mentioning:

– This flew under the radar, but the league decided that all eligible teams should compete in conference championship events, starting in 2014-15. What that means is that the baseball, women’s soccer, and volleyball tournaments will not be restricted to just the top eight teams. In baseball, for example, there will be nine schools competing in the SoCon in that season, and even the last-place team will play in the conference tournament.

– All the departing schools are eligible for league titles in 2013-14 with the exception of football for Appalachian State and Georgia Southern (because they will be over the FCS scholarship limit and ineligible for the playoffs as a result).

– A decision on whether or not to raise exit fees won’t be made until the three new members begin participating in league meetings.

– Chattanooga AD David Blackburn said that he expected the league to stay at ten schools:

I anticipate it will stay at 10 for a little while. I think we’re all comfortable staying at 10 and making sure that we develop some quality and further cohesiveness before we just go out and land grab.

Don’t close the door on future additions, though. Furman AD Gary Clark:

We’ve just talked about making sure we do what makes the most sense for the Southern Conference, and I think right now that’s making sure we do the best job of integrating the new members, but we’re always going to be keeping our eyes open and constantly planning and talking strategically.

Of course, when talking about additions you also have to consider potential subtractions. It is my opinion that of the “core group” of seven schools, the one most likely to move is Chattanooga — but not to the OVC, a scenario that has been occasionally mooted.

I could see UTC considering a move to FBS in a few years, though, and leaving for a league like the Sun Belt. It isn’t in position to do anything like that right now, but it is something to keep in mind.

As for future additions, I suspect the SoCon will not go back to the Big South for another school, and at this point I’m not sure any school in the Atlantic Sun is on the short list. That might change if certain schools decide to add scholarships for football.

The other league worth watching, of course, is the perpetually unsettled CAA. The key school right now in that league is James Madison, which appears ready to go the FBS route. JMU is a little picky, though; it’s hoping for a CUSA invite, and likely won’t join the MAC (or Sun Belt) until it has no other options.

That’s all for SoCon realignment news and analysis — for now. The wheel keeps on turning…