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 As a bonus, the SS numbers are based on another statistic that is currently out of date!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.

Comparing FCS non-conference football schedules

Yes, it’s early February, and the return of football is still many months away (well, if you don’t count recruiting and spring practice). All the more reason to post about it, I suppose.

This is going to be a relatively short post about scheduling tendencies, but first allow me a brief digression on a completely different football topic…

There was a recent article in The Times and Democrat (Orangeburg, SC) about the fabled “man in the brown suit”. This is a football tale that not every fan of The Citadel knows about, mainly because A) it happened in 1937, and B) it happened in Orangeburg.

It’s an amusing story, one with similarities to the much better known situation that occurred in the 1954 Cotton Bowl, when Tommy Lewis was “too full of Alabama”. I might argue that the goings-on at the Orangeburg County Fairgrounds in 1937 were a bit more comic in nature, however.

At any rate, it’s a reminder of long-ago days gone by. I suspect younger alums might be surprised to know that The Citadel has played 34 football games in Orangeburg over the years, from a 1916 victory over Clemson to a 1959 win versus Wofford. The Bulldogs also faced Furman and South Carolina in The Garden City.

I am not completely sure, but I think all of those games took place at the fairgrounds, and the corps of cadets was in attendance for most (if not all) of them.

– Okay, back to scheduling.

I got the idea for this post after reading a story about Delaware and Delaware State agreeing to resume their series in 2016. The paragraph that jumped out to me:

The game helps to lock in Delaware’s non-conference scheduling pattern for more than the past decade. Home games against FCS opponents, and road games versus FBS squads. Delaware has not traveled for a regular season, non-conference FCS game since going to The Citadel in September 2002.

I was really surprised when I read that. Could it really be true that in the regular season, Delaware hasn’t played an out-of-conference road game against an FCS foe for twelve years?

Actually, it isn’t true. The internet strikes again!

However, it’s not like the Blue Hens were making a habit of playing such games. Between 2003 and 2014, Delaware played exactly one (1) non-conference FCS regular-season road game. In 2008, UD traveled to Greenville and tangled with Furman. That’s it.

I decided to look at the schedules for a select group of institutions over that same twelve-year period to see if UD’s non-league schedule was unusual, or if it was actually not out of place. I concentrated on east coast FCS schools that typically had conference schedules of eight games from 2003-14, which would give them roughly the same number of OOC scheduling opportunities as Delaware.

There are some caveats. Some of the schools on the list occasionally played seven-game league slates. For example, the SoCon did so in five of the twelve years. CAA schools played a nine-game conference schedule in 2003.

Also, not all schools played a uniform number of regular-season games. When FCS schools had a chance to play 12-game seasons, they generally did — but not all of them always did. There are also a couple of 10-game seasons in the mix.

With that in mind, here is a table listing 16 FCS schools and their schedules in three categories: number of regular-season games played against out-of-conference opponents on the road; number of FBS opponents; and number of non-D1 opponents.

2003-2014 schedules FCS – road non-con. FBS non-D1
The Citadel 7 16 4
Delaware 1 8 10
Furman 12 12 2
WCU 7 18 9
Wm. & Mary 11 12 2
UNH 8 11 0
JMU 7 10 3
Villanova 13 11 0
Richmond 10 11 0
Chattanooga 12 15 4
Delaware St. 16 5 8
SC State 12 12 10
Hampton 16 2 7
Elon 14 7 6
Wofford 7 12 9
Maine 11 12 3

Okay, now for the “exceptions and oddities” section…

– Determining whether or not a school was an FCS or FBS opponent could sometimes be tricky. For this table, I am listing Old Dominion’s 2013 team as an FCS squad. If you think ODU should be classified as FBS for that season (which was the first year of the Monarchs’ transition to FBS), then subtract one from The Citadel’s “FCS road non-conference” category and add it to the “FBS” column.

On the other hand, Hampton’s 2014 meeting with ODU went down as a contest against an FBS team.

Meanwhile, I counted Charlotte as an FCS road opponent for James Madison (that game was also played in 2014). Chattanooga played at Western Kentucky in 2006, while the Hilltoppers were still in FCS, so the game is listed in the FCS group for the Mocs.

– Occasionally a school would be a non-conference opponent in one season, then later become a league foe. For example, The Citadel played at VMI three times while the Keydets were a member of the Big South — but in 2014, the game in Lexington was a SoCon game.

That was the case for several other schools as well, including Maine (which played at Albany twice during this period in OOC matchups) and South Carolina State (which played at Savannah State before the Tigers joined the MEAC).

– While the category says “FCS road non-conference”, there are actually a few neutral-site games mixed in as well. All of them are HBCU “classics”. Hampton played four such contests during the twelve-year period, while South Carolina State and Delaware State played one each.

– Speaking of Delaware State, in 2003 the Hornets played an OOC game at Florida A&M. Yes, they did.

That’s because at the time FAMU was making a quixotic attempt to join Division I-A. In 2003, the MEAC schools played only seven league games (though several of them played the Rattlers as a “non-conference” game).

– Villanova played 13 FCS road non-conference opponents from 2003-2014. Seven of those games were fairly easy trips for the Wildcats, as they were matchups with Penn at Franklin Field.

– Of the sixteen schools that were profiled, Western Carolina played the most FBS teams during the time period (18), but The Citadel played the most power-conference squads (all 16 of the Bulldogs’ FBS opponents were from the five major conferences). The Citadel also had the widest variety of FBS opponents, playing 14 different schools from all five power leagues from 2003-2014.

– The ten games Delaware played versus non-D1 schools were all against the same opponent — West Chester.

What does it all mean? Probably not much, to be honest.

However, the question “Is Delaware’s non-league schedule that much different from other FCS schools?” can be answered. It certainly is.

For one thing, the Blue Hens had a rather “contained” scheduling policy all the way around. Besides the regular matchups with West Chester, Delaware played only three different FBS opponents, as six of the eight games against the higher division were meetings with Navy.

Every other school on the list played at least seven regular-season non-conference road games from 2003-2014. Also, only Wofford and South Carolina State played as many non-D1 games; two of the sixteen institutions (fellow CAA football travelers Villanova and Richmond) didn’t play any.

When I first looked at UD’s past schedules, I was a bit puzzled by the one regular-season non-league road game that Delaware did play, that 2008 matchup with Furman. There was no “return” game, as the Paladins did not travel to Newark for a rematch.

As was explained to me by the partisans at the UFFP, however, that’s because Furman bought out the return game when it got a chance to play Missouri instead (for a considerable amount of money, obviously).

The result of that move by Furman? Well, it opened up a spot on Delaware’s schedule that was eventually filled by…Delaware State.

So, I guess I’ve come full circle with this post.

SoCon football geography: where are the prime recruiting areas for the league?

On Thursday, Benn Stancil of the analytics website Mode published an article called “Where Football Players Call Home“. It includes an interactive map that shows the hometowns of every Division I (FBS and FCS) football player, using ESPN as its information resource. The map further breaks down the findings by conference, team, and position.

You could spend hours looking at the various combinations offered up by the map. I’m not saying it would be healthy, but you could do that…

Some of the results are predictable. While big population centers like Los Angeles and Houston are responsible for the most players in terms of volume, the southeast produces the most on a per capita basis.

Then there is the reach of a program, in terms of how wide a recruiting area it has. Stancil came up with a measure of a school’s geographic diversity, describing it as follows:

 I calculated a rough measure of geographic diversity, based on how many states are represented on each team and how many players come from each state. For example, a team with 50 players from one state would have the lowest diversity score, while a state with one player from each of the 50 states would have the highest.

It probably doesn’t come as a shock that the “least diverse” schools from a geographic perspective are located in large, talent-rich states. The 22 least diverse football programs are all from California, Florida, and Texas. They have no need to expand their recruiting areas, so they don’t.

It is also not surprising that the list of most geographically diverse schools includes all of the Ivy League institutions and a couple of the service academies.  Notre Dame and Holy Cross are also near the top in this category. So are two D.C. schools, Georgetown and Howard.

The Mode map accounts for 907 Southern Conference football players on league rosters in 2013, with another 18 from “unknown or unmapped locations”.

Fulton and Gwinnett counties each had 35 SoCon players, part of the talent overload in metro Atlanta. Cobb County had 23 and DeKalb 15.

Other areas of interest to SoCon recruiters: the Charlotte area (including Mecklenburg County, home to 31 league players); Hillsborough County, FL (with 14 players, the most from a county outside the league’s geographic base); Wake County, NC (19); Guilford County, NC (14); Jefferson County, AL (20); Hamilton County, TN (16); and Spartanburg County, SC (17).

Odds and ends from perusing the map of the 2013 SoCon:

– Hennepin County, Minnesota, had four SoCon players. Three of them were at Wofford.

– Mobile County, Alabama, had nine players in the league. Eight of them were Bulldogs — four from Samford, and four from The Citadel.

– Even though it isn’t in the league’s geographic footprint, I think it’s surprising that only five of last season’s SoCon players hailed from Texas. Also, there were only three players from Mississippi, two from Louisiana, one from Oklahoma (The Citadel’s Nick Jeffreys), and none from Arkansas.

– In order, from most geographic diversity to least in 2013:

Wofford
Elon
The Citadel
Furman
Samford
Appalachian State
Western Carolina
Chattanooga
Georgia Southern

– As for the new members, Mercer would have slotted in between Chattanooga and Georgia Southern. It will be interesting to see if that program continues to recruit mostly close to home in future years.

VMI would have been between Samford and Appalachian State. In what may illustrate one of the issues the Keydets have had in trying to be competitive on the gridiron, VMI had the least geographically diverse squad in the Big South last season.

While the state of Virginia has a lot of talented football players, the dilemma for VMI is that A) many other instate schools are recruiting those players, and B) being a military college significantly reduces the number of potential recruits.

The school needs to extend the geographic reach of its recruiting efforts if it wants to establish football relevancy in the Southern Conference. That may be difficult, given certain restrictions.

All in all, I thought this was a neat tool. It may also help to demonstrate which areas will be swarmed with recruiters in the weeks leading up to Signing Day…

McAlister Musings: Forget about being close, just win

Statistics are through January 13, 2014

– The Citadel’s record: 4-14, 0-3 SoCon
– SoCon rank in offensive efficiency (through three games): 3rd
– SoCon rank in defensive efficiency (through three games): last
– SoCon rank in free throw shooting (through three games): last
– SoCon rank in 3-point shooting percentage (through three games) 1st

Yes, the offensive statistics through three league games aren’t bad at all. The Citadel has shot the ball well in its last three games, and fared well on the offensive glass. The Bulldogs also committed fewer turnovers in those three games (though still too many).

However, The Citadel still managed to lose all three of those games, blowing double-digit second-half leads in two of them. For a team that desperately needs a win (or two, or three, or four), it was rather dispiriting.

In those two losses (at home against Chattanooga and on the road versus Wofford), the Bulldogs basically let one player on each team dominate them inside and on the boards. Both UTC’s Z. Mason and Wofford’s Lee Skinner had what amounted to career nights against The Citadel, combining for 17 offensive rebounds and 19 made 2-point field goals (on 31 attempts).

Because of that, the Bulldogs are currently last in league play in defensive rebounding percentage. The Citadel is also last in the SoCon in forcing turnovers. The Bulldogs have given their opponents so many “extra” chances to score that even solid perimeter defending hasn’t been enough.

In the “bad luck” category: The Citadel has done a good job keeping its SoCon opponents off the foul line (ranking 4th in the league in that category). However, those opponents are shooting 77.1% from the charity stripe, the highest percentage against any team in the league.

In the “not bad luck” category: The Bulldogs picked a bad time to go into a free throw shooting slump. No team has shot worse from the foul line than the Bulldogs in league action.

This comes after The Citadel did a fine job shooting free throws during the non-conference slate. However, the Bulldogs have not gone to the foul line enough all season as it is.

The Citadel is shooting slightly less than one free throw attempt for every field goal try (33%). The national average for FTA/FGA is 41%.

Of course, three games don’t reflect the entirety of the season, and the Bulldogs struggled mightily out of conference. The Citadel has as many losses to non-D1s as it does victories over D-1s, having lost to West Alabama and beaten Presbyterian.

For the season, The Citadel is in the bottom 50 nationally in offensive turnover rate, FTA/FGA, two-point field goal percentage, steals rate (offense), defensive rebounding percentage, steals rate (defense), and defensive turnover rate. Thanks to all those issues, the Bulldogs also rank in the bottom 50 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

In the Kenpom ratings, The Citadel is currently ranked 339th out of 351 Division I teams.

On the plus side, The Citadel has done a good job beyond the arc, both on offense and defense.

The Bulldogs’ tendency to throw the ball away on a semi-regular basis has been a problem for the past three seasons, as has the defensive issues. I will say that the defending has improved this season, at least on opponents’ initial shots. However, the inability to control the defensive glass has crushed The Citadel.

On his postgame radio show after the loss to Wofford, Chuck Driesell said of his team that “we’re getting close”.

With all due respect to Driesell, I don’t think he can say that. Not right now, anyway.

The goal for this season can’t be to have a record like last year (8-22) or the year before (6-24). This isn’t about trying to eke out a couple of victories or break a losing streak.

Getting close, in the context of this season, is putting together consecutive wins, and building on that — winning four out of six, seven out of ten, etc. Falling short in SoCon games isn’t getting the program to where it needs to be.

Because make no mistake, the Southern Conference is not good this year. It wasn’t very good last year either, but in 2013-14 the league has been dreadful.

There is no reason The Citadel can’t win a bunch of SoCon games, and the next couple of weeks will present the Bulldogs multiple opportunities to bounce back from their bad start in conference play.

On Thursday, The Citadel travels to Greensboro to face the Spartans. UNCG isn’t that bad, relative to the rest of the league, but this is a chance for the Bulldogs to win a road game.

UNCG actually has a turnover rate that is worse than The Citadel’s. Now, the Bulldogs haven’t proven capable of forcing many TOs all season, but this will be one game in which they have a shot at improving on that statistical category. If they can do so, they can win the game.

On Saturday, The Citadel hosts Furman, and then plays Appalachian State at McAlister Field House the following Thursday. I think the Bulldogs should win both contests. Not “can win”, but “should win”. Furman isn’t any better than The Citadel, and Appalachian State has arguably been worse so far this season.

In other words, the Bulldogs ought to win at least two of their next three games. If they don’t, it will be a disappointment.

After the loss to Elon, the sixth straight for the Bulldogs, Chuck Driesell had this to say:

You look at the stats and you think we could have won this game. But we were playing a good team on their home court. We kept our composure, but a couple of breaks didn’t go our way. But more guys are stepping up; everybody’s starting to come around.

I hope so. There would be nothing better than some positive news from the hardwood. Good basketball makes for a shorter winter.

Otherwise, Punxsutawney Phil will see his shadow at McAlister Field House once again.

A brief review of The Citadel’s 2013 football season

Edit: less than 24 hours after I posted this, Kevin Higgins resigned as head coach of The Citadel to take an assistant coaching position at Wake Forest. Obviously that makes part of the review a bit dated, but I’m leaving the post unchanged from when it went up. 

In my preview of The Citadel’s 2013 football campaign, I wrote the following:

…this could be a season of what-ifs rather than the big-win campaign that is the hope for Bulldog supporters. As always when it comes to the gridiron, the margin for error at The Citadel is small. To illustrate this, think of the task the team faces this year from what might be called the most negative point of view:

– The Citadel will play four opponents that are either FBS or transitioning to FBS (and thus will have more scholarship players). Three of those games will be on the road.

– The Citadel will play two other opponents that defeated the Bulldogs last season by a combined score of 66-17. Both of those teams return most of their key players.

– One opponent hasn’t lost to the Bulldogs during Kevin Higgins’ tenure as head coach of The Citadel, while another has beaten The Citadel four times in the last five meetings.

– Of the remaining four opponents, last season The Citadel trailed one of them midway through the third quarter; was in a one-point game late in the third quarter to another; barely held off a late rally from a third; and was tied at halftime with the fourth.

I guess I could say I told you so, except I really can’t. I thought the Bulldogs would be a little better than they were, despite the seemingly difficult schedule. I was hoping that The Citadel would contend for the league title and/or a playoff berth.

That didn’t happen. It didn’t come close to happening, either.

The Bulldogs’ disappointing season was all the more frustrating by the way the season played out in the Southern Conference. The league wasn’t nearly as good as expected.

Appalachian State proved to be eminently beatable, and Georgia Southern was certainly no well-oiled machine. Wofford finished 5-6.

It was all there for The Citadel, ready for the taking…and the Bulldogs finished with a losing record.

Entering 2013 there were concerns about the defense, particularly the D’s ability to stop the run. How did the defense fare?

Comparing 2012 and 2013 (league contests only, per game average):

2012 points allowed: 26.75
2013 points allowed: 23.25

2012 total yards allowed: 395
2013 total yards allowed: 362.38

2012 rush yards allowed: 237.13
2013 rush yards allowed: 178.75

2012 pass yards allowed: 157.88
2013 pass yards allowed: 183.63

These numbers show some improvement from 2012 to 2013, which might surprise a few people. On a per-play basis, the defense improved from 5.75 yards per play (2012) to 5.47 (2013), though the yards allowed per pass attempt increased (from 6.5 in 2012 to 7.2 in 2013).

The Citadel forced twelve turnovers in league play this season, similar to 2012 (eleven). The Bulldogs recovered five fumbles in 2013, which matched 2012’s total.

The defense was credited with 28 passes defensed in eight conference games in 2013. Exactly 25% of those (seven) resulted in interceptions. That is slightly above the national average for defensed passes; basically, the Bulldogs intercepted one more pass in league play than would have been expected. That isn’t insignificant, especially if you think of the “extra” pick as, say, Mitchell Jeter’s grab in the Appalachian State game.

In all, The Citadel had breakups/interceptions on 13.7% of opponents’ passes in 2013 SoCon action. That was a slight improvement on 2012 (12.4%).

Ideally, the Bulldogs would have a higher percentage of passes defensed than 13.7%, though to be honest I suspect the benchmark for excellence in this area varies depending on defensive concepts. For example, Tulane tied for the national lead in FBS this past season in passes defended, with 84 in 12 games. The Green Wave had a breakup/pick rate of 20.7%.

However, Michigan State’s defense was arguably the most highly regarded in the entire country this year, and the Spartans’ PD rate was 14.4%. That didn’t stop MSU’s Darqueze Dennard from winning the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s best defensive back.

– Incidentally, Dennard was a “two-star” recruit from Dry Branch, Georgia.

The comparative per-game statistics in league play for The Citadel’s offense aren’t as positive.

2012 points: 29.75
2013 points: 24.25

2012 total yards: 382.5
2013 total yards: 350.25

2012 rush yards: 299.5
2013 rush yards: 256.63

2012 pass yards: 83.0
2013 pass yards: 93.63

The Bulldogs averaged just over six yards per play in 2012, but that number fell to 5.4 y/p in 2013. Rushing yards per play declined from 5.8 to 5.1.

While The Citadel’s passing yardage increased by over ten yards per SoCon game, that was due to an increased number of attempts (more than three per contest). The Bulldogs’ yards per pass attempt actually declined, from 7.2 (2012) to 6.4 (2013).

The Citadel threw the ball on 18.3% of its 2012 plays. That percentage increased to 22.6% in 2013.

It won’t surprise anyone reading this that in terms of total offense, The Citadel’s numbers were worse at the start of the conference season than at the end. The Bulldogs struggled out of the gate, averaging 314 yards per contest in their first three SoCon games, but by the end of the campaign seemed to have mostly put things together (404 yards per contest in the three final conference matchups).

The spring practice/preseason concentration on diversifying the offense backfired. It’s as simple as that.

The Citadel’s offense suffered a dropoff in “red zone” efficiency in 2013. When The Bulldogs advanced inside the opponents’ 20-yard line in 2012, they scored a touchdown 69% of the time. This past season, The Citadel scored TDs on only 60% of its trips inside the 20.

(Note: red zone numbers are for all games, not just Southern Conference matchups. All the other statistics I’ve mentioned above are for league games only.)

I think if the offense had performed at its 2012 levels in 2013, the Bulldogs would have finished no worse than 6-6 and probably should have been 7-5 (and maybe even 8-4). However, instead of finishing 5-3 in SoCon play (as it did in 2012), The Citadel was 4-4. That doesn’t even account for the embarrassing loss to Charleston Southern in the season opener.

The game against the Buccaneers probably didn’t help the Bulldogs’ confidence for the start of the league campaign, and so after five games The Citadel was 1-4 and the hopes and aspirations for 2013 were just about kaput. Breaking down the remaining seven games, the Bulldogs essentially performed up to preseason expectations (2-2 against App/GSU/UTC/Sam, wins over Elon and VMI, a loss to Clemson).

It was that early-season boondoggle that did in the Bulldogs. Furman played very well over the second half of 2013, but wasn’t nearly as good when the season began. The Citadel should have won that game, particularly given the Paladins’ QB issues at the time.

Against Wofford, the Bulldogs didn’t score an offensive touchdown. We all know what happened against Charleston Southern.

When Phil Kornblut asked Kevin Higgins to describe the season (prior to the game against Clemson), the coach was candid:

It was disappointing, for sure. We had much higher expectations than that. We played a lot of close football games throughout the season, [but] that’s not an excuse. We were hoping to finish a couple of those games off, but didn’t…the one positive was our guys kept fighting [and] never gave up.

Higgins is expected to still be the coach next season, and I’m okay with that. However, there are some Bulldog supporters who think a change should have been made, and I don’t think it’s ridiculous to feel that way.

There is a lot of frustration in the fan base with the struggles of the football program over the last two decades, and Kevin Higgins has now been the coach for nine seasons. He took over a program that could be reasonably described as unstable. That should be kept in mind when evaluating his time at the school. However, some aspects of his record are, well, not so good:

– He has only had a winning record twice in nine campaigns
– He has not defeated Wofford in nine seasons
– His record against Furman is 3-6
– His two losses to Charleston Southern rank among the worst in school history

That said, there are some things Higgins can’t control.

It’s not his fault the band isn’t allowed to play more often. Higgins isn’t responsible for the maddening videoboard/loudspeaker/music choices. He’s not the reason The Citadel’s video streaming setup never seems to work. He didn’t make the ludicrous (and potentially damaging) decision to play a road game at Charleston Southern next year.

I mention those things (among other issues) only because sometimes the team’s performance gets lumped in with all the other stuff that people complain about when it comes to the football program and the department of athletics in general. There is a fair amount of unease among The Citadel’s faithful fans, but a lot of it is not related to actual gridiron activity.

I am not certain what Higgins’ contract status is; there seems to be some confusion on that subject. Normally I am not a fan of retaining a coach who has just one remaining year on his contract, but I am willing to make an exception in this case (and again, I’m not sure he’s got only one year left anyway).

One reason I am amenable to giving Higgins a little more rope is that next year will be transitory in many respects, particularly with regards to the Southern Conference itself. I’m more than a little curious to see how things “play out” with the change in league membership.

Another factor is something Higgins mentioned to Phil Kornblut. This year’s team really did keep fighting. It certainly didn’t quit. I’ve said this before, but that is to the players’ credit, and it’s also a positive when discussing the coaching staff. Higgins didn’t “lose” the team in circumstances which were possibly conducive to doing just that. That’s a mark in his favor.

Next year’s slate is going to be a difficult one. It will probably be tougher than this year’s was supposed to be.

I’ll be ready for spring football, though. I may be already…

2013 Football, Game 11: The Citadel vs. VMI

The Citadel vs. VMI, the Military Classic of the South, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 1:00 pm ET on Saturday, November 16. The game will not be televised, although it will be streamed on Bulldog Insider (subscription service) and can be heard on radio via the thirteen affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze roaming the sidelines and Walt Nadzak providing pre-game, halftime, and post-game commentary.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for the network; the station will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game. It is also possible to listen to the game via a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Note that 1:00 pm ET start time, an hour earlier than for the past two home games. Don’t be late!

Also: The Citadel’s basketball team will be playing North Greenville at McAlister Field House on Saturday, with tipoff scheduled for 7:05 pm ET. If you have your ticket from the football game, you can watch the basketball game for free.

The hoopsters won their first game of the season on Tuesday, beating Presbyterian 82-68 in the home opener. The team shot well against PC, and held off the Blue Hose down the stretch despite a fair amount of foul trouble.

I hope a lot of Bulldog fans make Saturday a personal football/basketball doubleheader.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

VMI game notes

SoCon weekly release

Big South weekly release

Kevin Higgins on the SoCon media teleconference

Sparky Woods on the Big South media teleconference (beginning at the 18:20 mark)

The Kevin Higgins Show

Advertisement for VMI-The Citadel (video)

Ben Dupree is the reigning SoCon offensive player of the week

Dupree once found out that wearing flip-flops can be problematic

Game story from The Post and Courier on The Citadel’s win over Elon

Game story from the Burlington Times-News on The Citadel’s win over Elon

This preview is going to be a little lighter on the usual historical/statistical minutiae (possibly a blessing in disguise), as I’m on the road much of this week.

Just a lot of “odds and ends” observations…

The game story from the Burlington (NC) newspaper included two quotes that I want to highlight:

Obviously, it’s a low point right now for Elon football

The above comment is from Elon head coach Jason Swepson. He is in his third season, but it may be his last if he keeps having to make pronouncements like that one. It’s not the way the school wanted to exit the SoCon before starting gridiron action in the CAA next season.

Yeah, since I’ve been on the team, it’s probably the lowest we’ve come as a Phoenix, or the Phoenixes, or whatever you want to call us

That was said by Elon’s starting quarterback, Mike Quinn. “Phoenix, or the Phoenixes, or whatever you want to call us” is so…expressive.

I missed this article that ran last week in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, but better late than never. Both Appalachian State and Georgia Southern currently have losing records against league teams, and I get the impression that doesn’t hurt the feelings of SoCon commissioner John Iamarino one bit.

VMI played its final Big South conference game last week against Gardner-Webb, and a funny thing happened. VMI won.

It wasn’t even close, as the Keydets prevailed 27-9. Gardner-Webb owns victories this season over Wofford and Furman, so yes, this was an upset.

How did it happen? Well, mostly it happened because A) VMI’s defense has been improving over the course of the season, and B) Gardner-Webb couldn’t get out of its own way.

Gardner-Webb opened the game by fumbling a snap into its own end zone, where VMI senior linebacker Weston Reber fell on the ball for a touchdown. G-W fumbled again on its next drive, setting up a Keydet field goal.

Those were two of Gardner-Webb’s five turnovers. The Runnin’ Bulldogs also committed thirteen penalties, and shanked a punt that went for just six yards. It just wasn’t G-W’s day.

Choice comments from Weston Reber:

“I just saw the ball on the ground,” said Reber, referring to G-W quarterback Lucas Beatty, who had lost the ball after having trouble fielding a low snap.

“I was on a lineman and I said, ‘I’m getting this damn ball, this thing is mine!’ It was a foot away and it kept rolling and kept rolling, and when it rolled over the [goal line] I just took off and dove on it.”

Reber laughed and jokingly added: “Hopefully, they will take away some demerits from me for the touchdown!”

I wouldn’t count on it…

Sparky Woods, discussing matters during his media teleconference:

We would like to defeat Citadel [sic] so we could continue this reign the Big South has over the Southern Conference.

He did mention that a year from now, he might feel differently about the conference dynamics, given VMI will be in the SoCon next season. Of course, it’s not a given that Woods will be in charge of the Keydets when the school returns to the league.

VMI’s victory over Gardner-Webb was only its second win of the season, and first over a Division I opponent. Woods is in his sixth season in Lexington, and has won only 15 games during that time.

A new AD, Dave Diles, has taken over at VMI, and Diles will have a decision to make about Woods’ future after the season.

VMI is last in the Big South in the following categories: scoring offense, total offense, rushing offense, offensive third down conversion rate, scoring defense, pass defense, defensive third down conversion rate, kickoff return average, kickoff coverage average, and net punting.

Keydet opponents average 6.2 yards per play. VMI is allowing an average of 35.0 points per contest.

The Keydets can point to some positives. VMI leads the Big South in passing offense (though it is next-to-last in pass efficiency), and its red zone defense is actually quite respectable (allowing 4.6 points per opponent possession inside the 20).

The negative to that red zone defense statistic is that opponents have had 47 such possessions.

VMI also has a knack for inducing penalties. I’m not sure how that happens, but VMI leads the Big South in the category, and it’s the second year in a row VMI opponents have been prone to committing infractions when facing the Keydets.

Last year, by far The Citadel’s worst game of the season in terms of penalties came at VMI. Those mistakes almost cost the Bulldogs the victory. That is something to watch on Saturday.

Redshirt senior A.J. Augustine will start at quarterback for VMI against The Citadel, the third straight start for the native of St. Petersburg. It’s too bad he’s not a native of St. Augustine.

Augustine replaced Eric Kordenbrock, who had started most of VMI’s games at the position since midway through his freshman year. He is the alltime leader in passing yardage for the Keydets.

Kordenbrock suffered a serious concussion against Presbyterian, during a play that resulted in an ejection for a Blue Hose player. As a result, Kordenbrock’s college career is over.

Running back Derrick Ziglar rushed for 94 yards and a TD against Gardner-Webb. He had rushed for 100+ yards in the previous two games, becoming the first Keydet with back-to-back 100-yard rushing games in four years.

VMI’s top receiver is Sam Patterson, who is averaging 17 yards per catch. Patterson has seven touchdown receptions and has caught at least one TD pass in four of his last five games.

Earlier in the year, Patterson had back-to-back 100-yard receiving games, the first VMI player to do that since 2005.

VMI’s starting offensive line averages 6’4″, 289 lbs. The biggest of the group is 6’8″, 325 lb. Andy Marcotte.

The starting center for the Keydets, Will Lucas, is a native of Hartsville. He was the only VMI player named to the Big South’s preseason all-conference team.

Another Keydet who turned up on a couple of preseason “watch lists” was tight end Mario Thompson. Unfortunately, three weeks ago Thompson suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Weston Reber, the player with the potentially demerit-erasing fumble recovery against Gardner-Webb, is VMI’s leading tackler. He has one more stop than free safety Alex James.

Outside linebackers Logan Staib and Chris Harper lead the team in tackles for loss and sacks, respectively. Cornerback James Fruehan has two interceptions; seven of his teammates have one each.

VMI’s defense will line up against The Citadel in a 3-4, or a “three down look”, or a five-man front…pick your terminology.

As mentioned earlier, the Keydets have shown some improvement on D in recent weeks and won’t lack confidence from last year’s game against the Bulldogs. In that contest, The Citadel did not score an offensive touchdown in the second half.

VMI placekicker Dillon Christopher was named the Big South special teams player of the week for his performance against Gardner-Webb, which included a 52-yard field goal. Earlier this season, Christopher made a 45-yarder, so he’s got a strong leg. He has been a bit inconsistent, though, and is 7-12 on field goal attempts for the season.

He is also the kickoff specialist for the Keydets. Christopher has six touchbacks in 38 kickoffs this year.

David Eberhardt is averaging 39.0 yards per punt for VMI. So far this season, only one of the Keydets’ 65 punts has been blocked, which is better than VMI’s recent history in that department.

Ripped from the pages of The Citadel’s game notes…

The Citadel is 0-5 against VMI on November 16. Saturday’s date? November 16. Uh-oh.

The Bulldogs did beat Clemson on November 16, 1918. Perhaps the department of athletics should have tried to flip the dates for the VMI and Clemson games this season.

Saturday is the “Hall of Fame Game” at Johnson Hagood Stadium. This year’s honorees: Chip Cannon, Lance Hansen, Jim McMillan, Dan McDonnell, Richard Moore, and Joe Turbeville. Congratulations to all.

Richard Moore may be the least-known of the six. He probably needs to get a little more attention. Moore (class of 1953) was the rifle coach at The Citadel from 1959-62. To quote the press release:

The Bulldogs were undefeated in shoulder-to-shoulder competition during those four seasons and regularly defeated teams from Army, Navy and Air Force.  The Bulldogs finished first in the Hearst National Rifle Match, which equated to national championships, in 1959, ’60 and ’61.

Arguably the most successful coach in Citadel history, Moore’s four teams captured Southern Conference and state championships each year and along the way, three shooters – Robert Metsker ’60, David Edgerly ’62 and Keels Dickson ’62 – all earned All-America citations, becoming the first Citadel program to showcase three All-Americans.

State, conference, and national championships. That works for me.

Moore’s tenure as the rifle coach ended when he was transferred for a tour of duty in Vietnam, which serves as a reminder that the game against VMI is also Military Appreciation Day.

A few weeks ago, I wrote that my preview of the VMI game might be just one sentence: “The Dogs better not lose to VMI.”

I decided a few more sentences wouldn’t hurt, but the bottom line is that this is a must-not-lose game for The Citadel.

That was true last year, too, and the Bulldogs hung on for a victory in a game that was a little too close for comfort. The Citadel can’t afford to let VMI hang around on Saturday, as the Keydets may have a little more confidence this time around that they can pull off the upset.

In a season that has been more of a struggle for The Citadel than was anticipated, it is now even more critical that the coveted Silver Shako is retained.

Of course, it’s always important to keep the greatest trophy in all of sports in Charleston, where it belongs.

2013 Football, Game 10: The Citadel vs. Elon

The Citadel at Elon, to be played in Elon, North Carolina, at Rhodes Stadium, with kickoff at 1:30 pm ET on Saturday, November 9. The game can be heard on radio via the thirteen affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze roaming the sidelines.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for the network; the station will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each football game. It is also possible to listen to the game via a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Elon game notes

SoCon weekly release

Kevin Higgins on the SoCon media teleconference

Jason Swepson on the SoCon media teleconference

The Kevin Higgins Show

“Sunday Lifts” — The Citadel Strength and Conditioning

Vinny Miller had a good game against Samford

Elon video highlights against Chattanooga

Elon video highlights against Appalachian State

No major changes for Elon during its bye week

Elon football wasn’t supposed to struggle like this. Under Pete Lembo, the Phoenix enjoyed a solid five-year run, contending for the Southern Conference title several times. While Elon never could quite finish first, the school did make an appearance in the FCS playoffs in 2009.

It wasn’t all seashells and balloons for Lembo, possibly the only SoCon coach to have had one of his own players attempt to fight him on the sidelines during a game. However, Lembo parlayed his fine work at Elon into a gig at Ball State, where he has continued to win games (fashioning a 24-11 record in Muncie through Wednesday’s action).

His successor, Jason Swepson, hasn’t been so lucky. Swepson is now 10-21 in his career as the Elon head man.

Maybe, though, it’s less about Swepson and more about the program. In the five seasons prior to Lembo’s arrival, Elon’s cumulative record on the gridiron was 14-42.

It could be that with the way the football program is currently constituted, Elon cannot win consistently at the D-1 level. That isn’t what its upwardly mobile administration wants to hear, of course.

“This is going to be a sixty-minute football game….probably go into overtime.” — Elon head coach Jason Swepson, referring to his squad’s upcoming game against The Citadel.

Playing a sixty-minute game has been a problem for the Phoenix, at least in terms of offense. In six of Elon’s eight games against D-1 opposition, it has failed to score a touchdown in the second half.

Elon was shut out by Georgia Tech, 70-0, a game which featured a running clock. The Phoenix managed a third-quarter TD versus North Carolina A&T but lost, 23-10.

After scoring two touchdowns in the fourth quarter against Appalachian State, no Phoenix player since then has entered the end zone in the second half. That’s a four-game stretch which includes an OT loss to Western Carolina, breaking a 33-game Catamount losing streak versus Division I opponents.

The WCU setback dropped Elon to 2-7 on the season. After being off last week, the Phoenix is finishing the 2013 season with home matchups versus The Citadel and Georgia Southern before travelling to Birmingham to face Samford.

Of the 122 schools listed in the FCS statistical database, Elon is 89th in scoring offense — and also 89th in scoring defense.

The run/pass ratio for the Phoenix from last year to this season is essentially unchanged. In 2012, 53% of Elon’s plays from scrimmage were passes; this year, 52%.

Elon’s yards per rush has increased from 2.58 (in 2012) to 3.90 (this season), a step forward. However, its yards per pass has declined from 7.99 to 6.22. Thus, its yards per play has been reduced from 5.4 to 5.1.

The Phoenix’s offense has not been particularly good in the red zone, averaging 4.65 points per trip. In the SoCon, only Furman and The Citadel have fared worse inside the 20. (The Bulldogs are last in the league in red zone points efficiency, at just 4.55 points per trip.)

Elon is next-to-last in the league in offensive third down conversion rate, at just 33.6%.

The Phoenix ranks next-to-last in the SoCon in total defense, ahead of only Western Carolina. It is dead last in the league in pass defense (though its defensive pass efficiency ranking is more respectable).

Elon is seventh in the league in rushing defense. In general, the Phoenix D has struggled to get off the field. While its defensive third down conversion rate is middle-of-the-pack, Elon has allowed more first downs than every league team save WCU.

Elon has been okay when it comes to turnover margin (+1 for the season).

Also, for whatever reason, opponents are more likely to commit penalties when playing Elon than most other teams. This reminds me a little bit of last year’s VMI team.

That worries me because the game in Lexington was the one time last season The Citadel committed an unusual number of infractions. The lack of discipline almost cost the Bulldogs the contest.

Elon quarterback Mike Quinn is a junior in his first year as the starter. He has completed 64% of his passes, with 14 TDs and only 5 interceptions. Quinn is currently on a streak of 207 consecutive pass attempts without an interception, which is a single-season SoCon record.

He is averaging 6.2 yards per attempt, though, which actually isn’t much higher than what The Citadel’s passers have averaged (5.9).

The Phoenix has three running backs who each have between 300 and 400 yards rushing. Tracy Coppedge has the best yards per carry average of the trio, but he also has lost four fumbles.

Rasaun Rorie has been Elon’s leading receiver. He has 51 catches, with four of those going for touchdowns. Kierre Brown, a preseason second-team All-SoCon pick, has 38 receptions out of the slot. Tight end Doug Warrick has three TD catches.

Elon’s offensive line averages about 6’4″, 282 lbs. None of the five starters weighs 300+ lbs. Center Clay Johnson was a preseason second-team all-conference selection.

The Phoenix will be seeing a triple option team for the third time this season, having already faced Georgia Tech and Wofford. During the SoCon teleconference, Jason Swepson said Elon would use two different defensive fronts against The Citadel.

He also mentioned that Elon is “banged up on defense.” On Saturday, the Phoenix will be without the services of defensive end Jordan Jones and defensive back Akeem Langham.

Jones, suffering from a high ankle sprain, has 34 career starts, including the first eight games of 2013. Langham has started five games this season, four at cornerback and one at strong safety. His football career may be in jeopardy after sustaining two concussions in a four-week span (and at least his third while in college).

Middle linebacker Jonathan Spain is probably Elon’s best defensive player. A preseason first-team All-SoCon selection, Spain is the second-leading tackler for the Phoenix.

Fellow linebacker Alexander Dawson leads the team in stops, with 61. Free safety Chandler Wrightenberry has been credited with 47 tackles.

John Silas hasn’t started a game yet for Elon, but the backup linebacker has 48 tackles. Also of note: Elon has had three different players start at nosetackle this season.

Elon’s placekicker is freshman John Gallagher. He is 7-16 on field goal attempts this season, with a long of 48.

Gallagher also kicks off for the Phoenix; 19 of his 41 kickoffs have gone for touchbacks. The Phoenix leads the SoCon in kickoff coverage.

David Petroni was the SoCon special teams player of the week in Elon’s loss to Appalachian State, and may have had an even better game in the Phoenix’s win over Furman.

In that contest, FU’s average starting field position was its own 19-yard line, and Petroni’s performance was a big part of the reason why the Paladins faced a “long field” much of the afternoon. For the season, he has placed 28 punts inside the 20-yard line (out of 53 kicks).

Kierre Brown is Elon’s primary kick returner, while cornerback David Wood has been the first choice for returning punts.

Odds and ends:

– Prior to last year’s victory over Elon, The Citadel had lost three straight Homecoming games. After beating Samford on Saturday, the program is on a two-game Homecoming winning streak, which is definitely preferable.

– That win over the Phoenix broke a four-game slide in the series, which The Citadel currently leads 7-5. After Saturday’s game, it may be a long time before the schools meet again on the gridiron, with Elon moving to the CAA after this school year.

– Speaking of the CAA, Elon released its 2014 league schedule this week. It appears the school was given a break in terms of travel for next season. However, 2015 is likely to be a different story, with the Phoenix probably making trips to New Hampshire, Maine, Stony Brook, and (in non-conference play) Boston College.

Logan Airport could be Elon football’s home-away-from-home in 2015.

– Elon is averaging 8,430 fans per home game. Against Chattanooga in the most recent contest at Rhodes Stadium, the attendance was 6,547.

Last year, Elon only drew 6,158 for a game versus Furman, leading to Jason Swepson’s immortal comment that “it felt like a coffin out there.” It will be interesting to see if the atmosphere on Saturday is equally as funereal.

– I’ve written about Elon’s move to the CAA before, as part of a discussion about the overall restructuring of the Southern Conference. Maybe this move will work out for the school, but things could get difficult in a hurry for Elon.

That would be especially true if the CAA goes through even more membership changes. I wouldn’t be surprised if at least three schools currently competing in football in the CAA leave the conference in the next two years.

– Darien Robinson caught eight passes last week, most of them of the shovel-pass variety. As per The Citadel’s game notes, that’s the most receptions for a Bulldog since Kevin Higgins switched to the triple option in 2010.

Robinson entered the game with 17 career receptions.

– One of Robinson’s catches on Saturday came from a pass thrown by Jake Stenson. With that completed pass, Stenson now has a passer efficiency rating of 234.40.

– Ryan Bednar, injured in the game against Samford, is listed on the two-deep and is expected to play.

Saturday will be the final conference game of the year for The Citadel, and while the season has not lived up to expectations, the Bulldogs will have a chance to even their SoCon record at 4-4. Finishing .500 in the league wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

It is also a chance to win a game at a place where The Citadel has struggled in recent years, having not won at Rhodes Stadium since 2006. In 2011, the Bulldogs lost in overtime, but the 2009 game was a debacle. (Among other things, Elon had 29 first downs to The Citadel’s 5.)

Elon has had two weeks to prepare for the triple option, but has also had two weeks to think about its loss to Western Carolina. That might not be ideal.

I really enjoyed what I saw from the Bulldogs against Samford — not just the win, but the resolve. Now the team needs to continue that push on the road.

That’s not always easy, but I like The Citadel’s chances on Saturday.