Game Review, 2019: Elon

Links of interest:

– Game story, The Post and Courier

Game story, Burlington Times-News

– WCSC-TV game report (video)

– School release

– Game highlights (video)

– Box score

Key stats:

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

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

Observations based on the above statistics:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Random thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll post about that game later this week.

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

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

 

 

 

2019 Football, Game 2: The Citadel vs. Elon

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

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

The contest can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station. 

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

The Citadel Sports Network — 2019 radio affiliates

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

Links of interest:

– Preview from The Post and Courier

– News from Camp Bulldog

– Game notes from The Citadel and Elon

– SoCon weekly release

CAA weekly release

Preview on The Citadel’s website

– Preview on Elon’s website

– Phoenix seeks fixes up front

Elon head coach Tony Trisciani on the CAA teleconference

The Dogs:  Episode 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

The loss to Towson dropped the Phoenix to #12.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Odds and ends:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other links related to The Citadel’s upcoming gridiron campaign:

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

Homecoming at The Citadel — a brief gridiron history

– Also of note, an interview of new Southern Conference commissioner Jim Schaus by Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier. Here is a friendly tip for the incoming commish:  we do not want Tuesday and Wednesday night football games.

Just say no.

For the seventh consecutive season, it is time to comprehensively review this all-important topic!

Below, I’ll list which teams The Citadel’s opponents face before and after playing the Bulldogs. I’ll also discuss other items of varied importance, including schedule-related information, history, trivia, and other completely useless facts. There is also an audience participation segment. You’ve been warned.

For reference purposes, I’ve compiled the master schedule for the SoCon in a Google spreadsheet. I hope this may come in handy for anyone interested:  Link

This year, the Bulldogs will play 12 games, with one bye week. We begin with the opener, which will be held at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium.

August 31: The Citadel opens at home against Towson. The last time the Bulldogs played their opener at home versus a D-1 opponent, in 2015, they defeated Davidson 69-0. My guess is that this game will be more competitive than that one. The Citadel has only played twice on August 31 in its football history, losing both of those contests.

The Tigers were last seen on the gridiron losing at home to Duquesne in the FCS playoffs, 31-10. Towson won its opening game last year against Morgan State, one of seven victories in 2018 for Tom Flacco and company (including a 44-27 win over The Citadel).

After playing the Bulldogs, Towson returns home the following week to face North Carolina Central. On September 14, the Tigers begin CAA play at Maine. The overall schedule for the Tigers looks imposing; it features a game at Florida.

Incidentally, future Towson games versus FBS opponents include road contests against Maryland, West Virginia, and (somewhat curiously) San Diego State. That latter game is scheduled to take place in 2021; even though it is still two years away, I am going to confidently nominate Towson-San Diego State as the most random D-1 matchup for that season.

September 7: The Bulldogs goes on the road to play Elon, the second of four consecutive non-conference matchups for The Citadel to begin the year. The Bulldogs are 1-3 all-time on September 7.

The Citadel last played Elon on November 9, 2013, when the Bulldogs prevailed on the road 35-10. In terms of the calendar, this will be the earliest meeting on the gridiron between the two schools. The only other September encounter was an 18-15 Phoenix victory at Elon on September 24, 2011.

While Elon made the FCS playoffs last season, the Phoenix are looking to break a three-game losing streak that put a damper on the 2018 campaign, including a 19-7 postseason defeat at Wofford. The game against the Bulldogs will be the 2019 home debut for the Phoenix, after an opening game on the road versus MEAC power North Carolina A&T.

Elon starts CAA play the week after facing The Citadel, traveling to Richmond to face the Spiders on September 14. That contest is followed by a matchup at Wake Forest and a home game against James Madison.

Few teams in FCS have a tougher August/September slate than the Phoenix. It is also worth mentioning that Elon has a new head coach — though there is program continuity, with former defensive coordinator Tony Trisciani assuming the role.

Unlike The Citadel, Towson, and many other FCS teams, Elon will only play 11 regular-season games in 2019.

September 14: The Citadel travels to Atlanta to square off against the Ramblin’ Wreck of Georgia Tech. It will be the Cadets’ first September matchup versus a P5 opponent since 2014 (Florida State).

This date has historically been relatively kind for the Bulldogs, as the program has a 4-1 record on 9/14. On the other hand, The Citadel has never beaten the Yellow Jackets in ten attempts (with the last meeting occurring in 2001).

Georgia Tech opens the post-PJ era with a Thursday night game (on August 29) at Clemson, a difficult way for new head coach Geoff Collins to begin his tenure. After a home game versus South Florida (also a tough test), the Yellow Jackets play The Citadel before a bye week on September 21.

By then, Georgia Tech fans should know just how difficult the transition away from the triple option attack will be.

September 21: The fourth and final regular-season non-conference opponent for the Bulldogs is Charleston Southern. While September 21 was great for Earth, Wind, & Fire, with blue talk and love and a lot of dancing, it hasn’t been a date to remember for The Citadel, which is 1-7-1 all-time on 9/21.

The Bulldogs will try to chase the clouds away for the second year running against the Buccaneers. Last season’s game was postponed from an original September 15 kickoff to November 29, a rare Thursday night game at Johnson Hagood Stadium. The Citadel won 43-14.

Charleston Southern’s 2019 slate begins with a trip to Furman and a game at South Carolina. CSU will host North Carolina A&T the week before it plays The Citadel, and will have a bye week following the game against the Bulldogs.

New CSU head coach Autry Denson may have wished for a more manageable stretch of games to begin his career. He will also be the third straight first-year coach The Citadel will face during this part of the season.

September 28: The Citadel starts SoCon play at Samford. The Cadets are 5-5 on September 28, with the first victory on this date a 1-0 forfeit win over Fort Moultrie in 1912.

In case you were wondering about that one, the soldiers led 13-7 in the 4th quarter when The Citadel scored a tying touchdown. However, before the Bulldogs could kick a PAT that would have given them the lead, Fort Moultrie’s players walked off the field in protest, as they felt the TD had been scored with the help of fan interference.

The opening paragraph of the game story is suggestive:

[On] Saturday afternoon, at Hampton Park, despite the protests of the police and other officials, it proved a hard matter for bashful spectators to tell whether the enthusiastic rooters or the elevens from The Citadel and Fort Moultrie were playing the game. This deplorable state of affairs was the cause of the boys from the island forfeiting the game with a technical score of 1-0 in favor of the Cadets, in the beginning of the fourth quarter. Practically every spectator present appointed himself a field judge, and proceeded to interfere with the players throughout the game, in the meantime taxing his lungs in an endeavor to announce decisions to the State at large.

The Charleston Evening Post, September 29, 1912

Samford’s first game of the season will be on August 24, one week before any of its conference brethren, as the Birmingham Bulldogs play Youngstown State in the FCS Kickoff game. That matchup will be held at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama.

SU then travels to Tennessee Tech on August 31 before enjoying the first of two bye weeks. Samford’s season resumes with a game at Wofford on September 14, followed by three consecutive home games — against Alabama A&M, The Citadel, and Furman.

Samford, like all but two SoCon schools, will play 12 regular-season games in 2019. SU’s final game of the campaign is at Auburn.

October 5: It will be Parents’ Day at Johnson Hagood Stadium, and VMI comes to Charleston. The Citadel is 6-4-1 on October 5, with the tie coming in 1985 — against none other than VMI.

The Keydets open their season at Marshall in the Lee Moon Invitational, followed by a home game versus D-2 Mars Hill. VMI starts its SoCon campaign at East Tennessee State before stepping out of conference again for a game in Lexington versus Robert Morris.

After another home game, this time against Wofford, VMI travels to Charleston for the Military Classic of the South, the legendary battle for the coveted Silver Shako. The Keydets are at home versus Samford the following week, so VMI will have consecutive games against teams called Bulldogs.

VMI plays two FBS games in 2019, with the second a November 16 matchup at Army. The Keydets’ only win in that series came in 1981, coincidentally (or perhaps not so coincidentally) the last time VMI had a winning season on the gridiron.

October 12: The Citadel plays Western Carolina. The program is 6-8 all-time on October 12, with the most notable of the six victories a 20-14 win at Army in 1991.

It was the first time The Citadel had ever defeated the Bulldogs of the Hudson, and it spoiled Homecoming Day at Michie Stadium for the home fans. Jack Douglas and Everette Sands both scored touchdowns, and Rob Avriett kicked two field goals. Meanwhile, the defense forced five turnovers.

Western Carolina opens the 2019 season by hosting Mercer. The Catamounts take on North Carolina State the following week before returning to Cullowhee to face D-2 North Greenville. After a bye week, Western Carolina is at Chattanooga on September 28, and then home to Gardner-Webb the week before playing The Citadel.

For the Catamounts, the game against the Bulldogs is the first of three straight contests versus Palmetto State opposition. On October 19, Western Carolina is at Wofford, and the following week WCU entertains Furman for Homecoming.

Western Carolina finishes the season with a relaxing matchup at Alabama.

In a bit of a scheduling fluke, five of the SoCon’s nine teams are off on October 12. There are two league games, WCU-The Citadel and Samford-VMI. Everyone else is on cruise control.

October 19: One of the teams with a bye week on October 12 is Furman, which will be The Citadel’s opponent on October 19. It will also be the Paladins’ Homecoming.

The Bulldogs are only 4-10 on this date, though one of the wins was a scintillating 66-0 victory over Porter Military Academy. That came in the same year (1912) The Citadel was awarded the aforementioned 1-0 forfeit victory over Fort Moultrie, establishing the Bulldogs as the top football-playing military outfit in the Low Country.

The News and Courier‘s headline above the game story described Porter as ‘plucky’ and also stated that the “game was a good one in spite of the score…Porter played [a] hard game, while Cadets’ work was loose in spots”. Whatever you say, nameless sportswriter (who undoubtedly had a relative playing for Porter).

On the same page of the game story, there was also an advertisement for castor oil with the tagline “Children like it — it does ’em good”. Sure.

Okay, back to the 21st century…

Furman begins its season by hosting Charleston Southern, and then plays consecutive road games against FBS opponents. The Paladins travel to Atlanta to face Georgia State, and then journey to Blacksburg to tangle with Virginia Tech.

FU plays three straight SoCon opponents (Mercer, ETSU, at Samford) before that bye week. After its game versus The Citadel, Furman has two straight road contests, playing Western Carolina on October 26 and Chattanooga the following week.

Furman’s last two regular-season games are at Wofford and home against Point University, an NAIA school located in West Point, Georgia. The Paladins wanted a sixth home game, and wound up with the Skyhawks, which were 3-8 last year.

While there has been some gentle (and not-so-gentle) online mockery of Furman for scheduling that game, I am slightly more sympathetic to the Paladins’ plight — there are limited options when you have an open date the final week of the season. I also have to wonder if the league office could have rearranged the conference slate a little bit in order to help Furman out.

On Point’s website, I noticed that while the football team’s season opener at Kennesaw State (yes, the Skyhawks are playing two FCS teams this year) is just noted as a regular game, the matchup versus the Paladins is listed as an “exhibition game” — at least, for Point. That is something you see occasionally in college hoops when a D-1 squad plays a non-division opponent, but in football it is rather unusual. Actually, I’m not sure I’ve seen that before for a gridiron matchup.

Also, Point plays its home football games at Ram Stadium, which is located just across the state line in Valley, Alabama.

October 26: Homecoming at The Citadel, for the 92nd time. Mercer will become the Bulldogs’ 18th different Homecoming opponent. The Citadel is 7-6-1 on October 26.

This will be the second time in three seasons The Citadel has played its Homecoming game in October, after 50 straight years of the event being held in November. That is just one of many facts about The Citadel’s Homecoming history you can learn in this inspirational post: Link

Mercer is just one of two SoCon teams that is only playing 11 regular-season games (Wofford is the other). The Bears do have six home games, though.

MU opens at Western Carolina, and then immediately has a bye week prior to its home opener on 9/14 against Austin Peay. The Bears’ other non-conference home game is versus Campbell.

After a second bye week on October 12, Mercer plays consecutive games against military colleges, hosting VMI the week before facing The Citadel. The Bears then have a home game against Samford, so MU will also have two straight games against teams with the nickname “Bulldogs”.

(The “two straight Bulldogs” thing is about to become a theme, so get ready.)

After its own Homecoming against Wofford, Mercer will finish with two straight road games, travelling to East Tennessee State and North Carolina.

November 2: For the third straight week, The Citadel will be involved in a Homecoming game, as the Bulldogs make the journey to Johnson City to play East Tennessee State. On this date, the Bulldogs have an all-time record of 4-6.

ETSU opens the season at Appalachian State, then plays three straight home games, against Shorter (a D-2 school), VMI, and Austin Peay (joining Mercer as one of the two SoCon schools to host the Governors this season).

After a bye week on October 12, the Buccaneers travel to Chattanooga for a Thursday night game, then make the trek to suburban Birmingham to play Samford, prior to the game versus The Citadel. Thus, ETSU will also have consecutive games against teams nicknamed “Bulldogs”.

Following two more league matchups, East Tennessee State will close its regular-season campaign with a game at Vanderbilt.

November 9: Better late than never, The Citadel finally gets a bye week. Ten straight games to open a twelve-game season is less than ideal.

The Bulldogs are the only SoCon team with a bye week in November. Those in charge of scheduling in the league office did The Citadel no favors, to say the least.

November 16: After the week off, The Citadel makes another trip to Tennessee, this time to play Chattanooga.

The Bulldogs are 7-9 on November 16. One of the seven victories for The Citadel was a 3-0 triumph over Clemson in 1916, a contest played on a Thursday afternoon in Orangeburg.

“JOY AND GLADNESS ARE SUPREME HERE” screamed The News and Courier‘s sports headline the following day. The newspaper extolled the virtues of the Bulldogs’ Johnny Weeks, “quarterback extraordinaire and captain unequaled…one of the greatest, if not the greatest gridironists ever turned out by the Marion Square institution.”

The victory all but clinched The Citadel’s second consecutive state championship, as the only remaining game on the Bulldogs’ schedule was against South Carolina, a Thanksgiving Day affair that the newspaper stated for the Gamecocks to win would take “more than a miracle”. (The scribe who penned that sentiment was correct, as The Citadel would go on to defeat South Carolina 20-2.)

Chattanooga has two Thursday night home games this season, its opener against Eastern Illinois and the game versus ETSU that was mentioned earlier in this post. The Mocs arguably have the most difficult non-conference schedule in the league, one that includes road games versus Jacksonville State and Tennessee and a home tilt against James Madison.

Those games are all in a row following the Eastern Illinois game. The Mocs then play two league games before a 10/12 bye week. UTC, like Mercer, has both the “Bulldog double” and the “Military College double”, as it finishes the season with a game at Samford, a home contest versus The Citadel, and then plays at VMI.

Prior to that three-game stretch, Chattanooga has back-to-back games versus Wofford (road) and Furman (home). That is a tough slate, and UTC will also be breaking in a new head coach (Rusty Wright).

Okay, here is the audience participation section of this post. Feel free to skip ahead to November 23 (but let’s be honest; if you’ve somehow come this far, you can read another extra few paragraphs):

The Citadel has played a few Friday night contests in its history, though not many after World War II. Several of them were games played at the Orangeburg County Fair.

I only know of two games played at the “modern” Johnson Hagood Stadium on a Friday. One was against Furman in 1953, and from what I gather was an experiment to see if more people would go to the game. (The answer to that question: uh, no.)

The other was the last game of the 1969 season, versus Chattanooga. I don’t know why that game was played on a Friday.

If anyone reading this does know why, I would appreciate it if you replied to this post with the reason (or you could tweet the explanation to me; just go to @SandlapperSpike).

Thanks in advance. Now to the final regular-season game.

November 23: The twelfth contest of the campaign is a home matchup versus Wofford. The Bulldogs are 6-7 all-time on November 23.

The Terriers are only playing 11 regular-season games, which is not a huge surprise, as Wofford hasn’t played a 12-game regular season schedule since 2002, eschewing four subsequent opportunities to add a 12th game.

Wofford has only five home games, as its three non-conference matchups include two road affairs — the season opener at South Carolina State, and a November 2 game at Clemson. The Terriers’ first bye week immediately follows the SCSU contest.

After the bye week, Wofford hosts Samford and Gardner-Webb before traveling to VMI. The second bye week of the season precedes a Homecoming game versus Western Carolina.

The Terriers finish the regular season with games against Furman and The Citadel (the latter contest in Charleston).

A quick summary:

  • Teams that will have “extra prep time” before playing The Citadel: Furman (and Towson, I suppose)
  • Teams that have road games the week before playing the Bulldogs: Elon, East Tennessee State, Chattanooga
  • Teams that play Wofford during the season before playing The Citadel (“option preview”): Samford, VMI, East Tennessee State, Chattanooga
  • Teams that play Furman during the season before playing the Bulldogs (another type of “option preview”): Charleston Southern, Chattanooga, East Tennessee State, Mercer, Wofford

Getting closer to the opening kickoff…

2019 preseason college football rankings, featuring The Citadel (and the rest of the SoCon)

A few links of interest:

Hero Sports FCS Preseason Top 25 (The Citadel is ranked 25th)

Hero Sports FCS Preseason All-American teams (Bulldogs punter Matthew Campbell in on the third team)

Homecoming at The Citadel — a brief gridiron history

 

It must be June, because the college football preview magazines are on the street. What follows is a quick review of the mags’ rankings from The Citadel’s perspective, with a few other tidbits thrown in for good measure.

Not included in this writeup: my annual look at the preseason Massey Ratings. I’ll discuss those in a future post.

Street & Smith’s FCS top 25 has James Madison at #1, with North Dakota State ranked second. South Dakota State is 3rd, followed by Eastern Washington and Jacksonville State. Four of those five teams were in the magazine’s preseason top 5 last year as well.

Wofford is ranked #8, and Furman is #14. Others of interest: Towson (9th), Elon (18th), and North Carolina A&T (19th).

The magazine’s preseason All-America squad includes Wofford offensive lineman Justus Basinger (named the SoCon’s top NFL prospect), East Tennessee State defensive back Tyree Robinson, and Furman specialist Grayson Atkins (honored as a placekicker on this list).

This year’s SoCon preview was authored by Pat Yasinskas, who is currently based in Tampa. In his reportorial career, Yasinskas (a native of Pennsylvania) has primarily written about the NFL, covering the Carolina Panthers for The Charlotte Observer and the NFC South for ESPN.com.

To be honest, I am unsure how much time the graduate of Saint Leo University has spent following the Southern Conference. I found two twitter accounts for him, both inactive.

At any rate, the league preseason rankings for S&S:

1 – Wofford
2 – Furman
3 – East Tennessee State
4 – Chattanooga
5 – Mercer
6 – Samford
7 – The Citadel
8 – Western Carolina
9 – VMI

With regards to The Citadel, Yaskinskas writes that the Bulldogs have “a chance to be competitive, mainly because 10 starters return on offense. The development of quarterback Brandon Rainey will be a key.” He also references new defensive coordinator Tony Grantham and linebacker Willie Eubanks III.

Charleston Southern is projected to finish third in the Big South. Monmouth is the pick to win that league instead of Kennesaw State, which might raise a few eyebrows (and the Owls did not make Street & Smith‘s preseason top 25).

Towson is ranked second in the CAA, while Elon is picked to finish fifth.

S&S has South Carolina State finishing fourth in the MEAC, with North Carolina A&T the favorite in that conference. Other top-dog choices in FCS leagues include Eastern Washington, James Madison, Princeton, North Dakota State, Duquesne, Jacksonville State, Colgate, San Diego, and Nicholls.

In the shadowy world of FBS, Georgia Tech (which will host The Citadel on September 14) is projected to finish last in the ACC’s Coastal Division.

Lindy’s ranks North Dakota State #1 in its FCS preseason poll. The rest of its top 5:  South Dakota State, Kennesaw State, Jacksonville State, and UC Davis.

Wofford is ranked #13, East Tennessee State #17, and Furman #20. Other teams of note include Towson (6th) and North Carolina A&T (22nd).

The Lindy’s preseason first team All-America squad for the FCS includes Tyrie Adams of Western Carolina, who is listed not as a quarterback but as an all-purpose player. Two ETSU defensive stalwarts, defensive lineman Nasir Player and the aforementioned Tyree Robinson, are also on the first team. (Player is a product of Ridge View High School in Columbia.)

Towson quarterback Tom Flacco is the magazine’s first-team quarterback and its preseason MVP for the entire division. His teammate, placekicker Aidan O’Neill, is also on the first team.

The magazine also has a preseason second team, which includes Wofford offensive lineman Justus Basinger and Furman “bandit” linebacker Adrian Hope. Towson running back/kick returner Shane Simpson is the all-purpose designee on the second team.

The national preview (which focuses on North Dakota State) was written by George Gordon. I could not find any background information on him. I am assuming he is not related to any of the Civil War/British generals who also share his name; he presumably has no association with well-known law enforcement officer James W. Gordon or noted library sciences advocate Barbara Gordon, either.

The preseason SoCon rankings, per Lindy’s:

1 – Wofford
2 – East Tennessee State
3 – Furman
4 – Samford
5 – Mercer
6 – Chattanooga
7 – Western Carolina
8 – The Citadel
9 – VMI

A brief blurb about The Citadel in the magazine states that defensive lineman Joseph Randolph II is “one of the league’s underrated players”.

On the one hand, ETSU is picked to finish higher in the league standings by Lindy’s than just about any other source. On the other, the magazine references Logan Marchi as returning at quarterback for the Buccaneers, which will not be the case.

Charleston Southern is the preseason #5 team in the Big South, while South Carolina State is picked to finish fourth in the MEAC.

Teams expected by Lindy’s to win their respective FCS leagues include Colgate, Duquesne, Jacksonville State, Kennesaw State, Nicholls, North Carolina A&T, North Dakota State, Princeton, San Diego, Southern, Towson, and UC Davis.

Georgia Tech is picked to finish last in the ACC Coastal Division, and is ranked the #90 FBS team overall.

As was the case last year, Athlon does not have an FCS conference preview section. Craig Haley of STATS FCS Football has again written the magazine’s national preview of the division, with a Top 25 ranking list, an All-America team, and projected playoff qualifiers. The entire section takes up only four pages in Athlon‘s 304-page tome.

Haley’s top 5: North Dakota State, James Madison, South Dakota State, Eastern Washington, and UC Davis.

Wofford is 10th in this poll, and Furman is 16th. Those two teams are the only SoCon squads projected to make the FCS playoffs, and their meeting in Spartanburg on November 16 is one of ten “must-see matchups” listed by the magazine.

Also ranked:  Towson (#11) and Elon (#21). Both are also expected to advance to postseason play as at-large picks out of the CAA, with James Madison the pick to win that league. Other conference favorites include Colgate, Duquesne, Eastern Washington, Jacksonville State, Kennesaw State, North Dakota State, Nicholls, San Diego, and North Carolina A&T.

Athlon‘s preseason All-America team features just one SoCon player, with Nasir Player of ETSU again receiving recognition from a major publication. As was the case with Lindy’s, Towson’s Aidan O’Neill is the placekicker.

Georgia Tech fares no better in Athlon than it does in Street & Smith‘s or Lindy’s, as the Yellow Jackets are picked to occupy the cellar of the ACC Coastal Division (with a 4-8 overall record). The preseason national FBS ranking for Georgia Tech by the magazine is #75.

A couple of other notes:

– Phil Steele is not releasing an FCS preview magazine this season. I think the nation will survive.

– Athlon features a list of “The 100 Twitter Accounts to Follow” for college football. Shockingly, @SandlapperSpike did not make the cut. Clearly this an outrage.

While quite a few individuals on Athlon‘s list are represented on my own timeline, there are several people mentioned by the magazine that you couldn’t pay me to follow — in particular, the business/media analysis twitter picks, namely the deadly duo of Darren Rovell and Richard Deitsch. Frankly, life is too short to follow either one of those two killjoys.

Finally, my favorite tweet over the last week or so:

A glance at the 2018 SoCon non-conference football slate

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

– Preseason rankings and ratings

– Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium: the annual review

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

Also of interest from around the internet:

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

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

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

Cadets (not cats) and bulldogs living together

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

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

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

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

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

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

Around the league…

Chattanooga:

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

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

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

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

East Tennessee State:

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

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

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

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

Furman:

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

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

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

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

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

Mercer:

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

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

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

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

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

Samford:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Citadel:

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

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

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

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

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

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

VMI:

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

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

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

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

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

Western Carolina:

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

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

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

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

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

Wofford:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A brief overview of the FCS as a whole…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Schools that have never made the NCAA Tournament — the 2018 edition

Previous entries on this subject: The 2017 edition  The 2016 edition The 2015 edition The 2014 edition The 2013 edition The 2012 edition  The 2011 edition  The 2010 edition

All season records through February 25

As the regular season comes to a close in Division I basketball, the next two weeks will be filled with action, as conference tournaments begin across the nation. March Madness will arrive, with teams dreaming of boogieing down on the biggest dance floor of them all, the NCAA Tournament.

Most of those dreams will not come true; most of them won’t come close to coming true. There are 351 D-1 institutions that play men’s basketball, and only 68 of them will make the NCAAs. For some of those schools, though, the failure to make the tourney is a common occurrence — in fact, it is all they have ever known.

There are 29 schools that have been full members of Division I for at least a decade, but have never made a trip to the NCAAs. Now, there are 14 other schools in the division that have also never crashed the party, but there is a distinction to be made between schools that are fairly recent arrivals in D-1 (such as Central Arkansas or Bryant) and longtime never-beens (like Hartford or Western Illinois).

Of those schools with 10+ years in D-1 but no bids to show for it, 17 of them have been in D-1 for 30 years or more and are still waiting. For fans of UMKC, Stetson, or Denver (just to name three such schools), watching the CBS selection show with no vested interest in the brackets is a sad but seemingly inevitable tradition.

When I started writing about this topic in 2010, I listed the twenty schools with the longest waits for an NCAA tourney bid. That was eight years ago. Sixteen of those schools are still waiting to hear their name called on Selection Sunday. One of the four institutions no longer on the list, Centenary, eventually dropped out of D-1 after 50 years, never making the tournament.

However, there is hope. No fewer than five first-timers made the field of 68 in 2017. Two of them were relatively new to Division I (North Dakota and Northern Kentucky). UC Davis had been in D-1 since 2005, so it had bided its time, as had Jacksonville State (a member of the division since 1996).

Then there was Northwestern, one of the “Forgotten Five”. Now the Forgotten Five is known as the Forgotten Four, as the Wildcats became the last major-conference school to make an initial appearance in the NCAAs.

Before diving into this year’s rundown of the longtime non-invitees, there is another list of schools worthy of mention. There are numerous institutions that have made at least one NCAA appearance, but haven’t been back to the tournament in at least 20 years. A few of those schools have actually waited longer for a return to the NCAA tournament than most of the no-timers.

First (or perhaps last?) among this group of schools is Dartmouth. In both 1942 and 1944, the Big Green advanced to the NCAA title game. Dartmouth has made seven total appearances in the tournament, but last made the NCAAs in 1959.

That unfortunate streak will continue for another year, as the Big Green will not qualify for this season’s Ivy League conference tournament.

Other schools that have made at least one appearance in the NCAA Tournament, but haven’t been back since 1998 (or earlier) while continuously in D-1:

Tennessee Tech (last made the NCAAs in 1963), Columbia (1968), Bowling Green (1968), Rice (1970), VMI (1977), Duquesne (1977), Furman (1980), Toledo (1980), Loyola of Chicago (1985), Brown (1986), Jacksonville (1986), Marshall (1987), Idaho State (1987), Marist (1987), Loyola Marymount (1990), Idaho (1990), Louisiana Tech (1991), Towson (1991), St. Francis-PA (1991), Rutgers (1991), Howard (1992), Georgia Southern (1992), Campbell (1992), Fordham (1992), East Carolina (1993), Rider (1994), Tennessee State (1994), Tulane (1995), Canisius (1996), Colgate (1996), Drexel (1996), Montana State (1996), Northern Illinois (1996), Portland (1996), San Jose State (1996), Santa Clara (1996), ULM (1996), Western Carolina (1996), Charleston Southern (1997), Fairfield (1997), Texas State (1997), TCU (1998), Eastern Michigan (1998), Illinois State (1998), Navy (1998), Nicholls (1998), Prairie View A&M (1998), and San Francisco (1998).

Of note: Seattle (which made the NCAA championship game in 1958 thanks mostly to Elgin Baylor, but which last made the tournament field in 1969) and Houston Baptist (a tourney team in 1984) both left Division I and then later returned. Thus, they haven’t been in D-1 for all the years after making their most recent NCAA tourney appearances.

Seattle spent 15 years out of D-1, so it has not made the tournament in 34 non-consecutive Division I seasons. Houston Baptist has been absent from the NCAA tournament for 12 non-consecutive D-1 seasons.

Of the teams listed above, TCU is the only one with a reasonable chance of receiving an at-large bid this season. Indeed, the Horned Frogs have had a very solid 2017-18 campaign, and are likely to make the field.

Other schools mentioned above that would be favorites, or at least realistic contenders, to win their league tourneys: Loyola of Chicago, Idaho, Campbell, Marshall, Towson, Toledo, Illinois State, Nicholls, and Navy.

Now it is time to begin the rundown of the schools that have never made the NCAAs in at least a decade of trying. As mentioned earlier, there are 29 such schools.

The NCAA Tournament began in 1939. In 1948, the NCAA reorganized itself, and established separate divisions (college and university) for its member institutions. Of the schools that since 1948 have continuously been in what we now call Division I, four have never made the tournament field. All of them theoretically could have been in the tournament beginning in 1939, so for these four schools the wait is actually longer than their history as official members of Division I.

Due to Northwestern finally breaking through last season, this group of schools is now known as the “Forgotten Four”. The class of 1948 (or 1939, if you’re so inclined):

– William and Mary: William and Mary has been to its league championship game nine times in its history. Every time, it would have received a bid to the NCAAs with a victory.

The Tribe is 0-9 in those games. Two have come in the last five seasons.

This season, William and Mary has an overall record of 18-11 (11-7 CAA). The Tribe won’t be favored in the league tournament in Charleston, and has a brutal bracket (Towson, and if it wins then probably College of Charleston in the semifinals).

However, the Tribe is an excellent offensive team. Two games of hot shooting could put W&M in the conference final yet again.

– The Citadel: The Bulldogs have lost at least 20 games in seven of the last eight years, including this season’s campaign (10-20, 5-13 in the SoCon).

At one point this year, it appeared that The Citadel might be finally turning the corner. It didn’t.

– Army: The Cadets (13-16, 6-12 in the Patriot League) will be a major underdog in their conference tournament, as they were last year. In fact, Army has been 6-12 in conference play in each of the last two seasons.

If the Black Knights were to beat Loyola of Maryland on Wednesday, they would face top seed Bucknell on Thursday. That does not bode well for continuing to play over the weekend.

– St. Francis College: It has been three years since the Terriers were one game away from the NCAA tournament. Things didn’t go well that night for St. Francis.

This year, SFC is 13-17 overall, 10-8 in the NEC. The Terriers are much improved from last season, when they didn’t even qualify for the league tournament. As the five seed, SFC would probably have to win three road games to win the conference tourney. Unlikely, but not completely impossible.

Next up on the list of teams never to have made the tournament: “The Dour Duo”, two New England state schools that have been members of D-1 since 1962. Both are members of the America East conference.

– New Hampshire: In their previous three seasons, the Wildcats won a combined 59 games. UNH could never get past the league tourney semifinals, however.

This season, New Hampshire is 10-19 (6-9 in the America East), and has lost four straight games. Back to square one.

– Maine: Over the past five years, the Black Bears have won 6, 3, 8, 7, and (this season) 6 games.

New Hampshire and Maine play each other in the Hockey East tournament’s opening round, which may be of more interest to the two schools right now.

The rest of the rundown:

– Denver (D-1 from 1948 to 1980, then back to the division in 1999): Denver is 14-14 overall, 8-6 in the Summit League. The conference tournament is being held in Sioux Falls, and the two South Dakota schools (USD and SDSU) are the favorites.

According to kenpom, Denver has a 2.8% chance of winning the league tournament. Hey, it’s better than no chance at all.

– UT-Rio Grande Valley (class of 1969): Whether it has been known as UT-Pan American or UT-Rio Grande Valley, hoops success has always been hard to come by for the school located in southern Texas.

This year’s 15-15 record (6-7 in the WAC) is an improvement over recent years, as the Vaqueros had not broken the 10-win barrier in their last four campaigns. Expecting UT-RGV to make much noise in the league tournament may be a bit much to ask, at least this season, with New Mexico State the solid favorite in the WAC.

– Stetson (class of 1972): This year has been fairly typical for the Hatters, which are 12-19 overall, 4-10 in the Atlantic Sun. Stetson did make the league tournament this season, but that is only because the A-Sun is down to eight members (the Hatters will be the 7 seed).

As always, this post will note that the school’s most famous basketball player is the late Ted Cassidy. You rang?

– Grambling State (class of 1978): After being arguably the worst D-1 basketball program of them all over the last decade, this has been an excellent year for GSU hoops. At one point the Tigers won 11 straight games and held the nation’s longest active win streak, which deservedly grabbed a lot of attention.

Alas, Grambling State is banned from postseason play due to APR issues, so it will be at least another year before the Tigers can make their first NCAA tournament appearance.

– Maryland-Eastern Shore (D-1 in 1974-75, then back to the division for good in 1982): Three years ago, UMES won 18 games. Outside of that one spectacular outlier of a season, however, the Hawks have lost at least 20 games in fifteen of the last sixteen seasons, including this year (6-24, 2-13 in the MEAC).

– Youngstown State (D-1 in 1948, then returning to the division in 1982): The Penguins are 8-23, 6-12 in the Horizon League.

It is puzzling that YSU, a school with a significant winning tradition in football, has never been successful in basketball at the D-1 level. (The same could be said for Grambling State, too.)

– Bethune-Cookman (class of 1981): The Wildcats are 17-12 overall, 11-4 in the MEAC. That league mark currently leads a very balanced conference (at least at the top).

Bethune-Cookman has won five straight games and would love to carry that momentum into The Scope for the MEAC tournament. Could this be the year for the Wildcats?

– Western Illinois (class of 1982): The Leathernecks are 12-15 overall, 3-11 in the Summit League. Earlier, I mentioned that kenpom gave Denver a 2.8% chance of winning the Summit League tournament.

WIU has a 0.2% chance.

– Chicago State (class of 1985): In the two seasons before this one, the Cougars had a combined total of four D-1 victories. This year, Chicago State has none. The Cougars are 2-28 overall, 0-13 in the WAC.

On the bright side, CSU’s women’s basketball team recently broke a 59-game losing streak.

– Hartford (class of 1985): The Hawks are having a fine season. Hartford is 18-11 overall, 11-4 in the America East.

WCSC-TV sportscaster Kevin Bilodeau and the rest of Hartford’s faithful fans are hopeful this could be the year, but Vermont is the kingpin in the AE, and will be very hard to beat. That said, only Hartford alum Dionne Warwick knows for sure what the future holds.

– UMKC (class of 1988): UMKC is one of a fistful of WAC schools that have never been to the NCAAs. The Kangaroos are ahead of Chicago State in the “likely to break through” category, but that’s not saying a whole lot.

UMKC is 10-20 this season, 5-8 in league play. However, the Kangaroos have won four of their last five games and could be tough to bounce in the conference tournament.

– Sacramento State (class of 1992): Sacramento State is 6-23 overall, 3-13 in the Big Sky. This isn’t going to be the year.

– UT Martin (class of 1993): Last season, the Skyhawks advanced to the final of the OVC tournament, only to lose to a fellow never-been, Jacksonville State.

This season, UT Martin (10-21 overall, 5-13 OVC) did not even qualify for the league tourney.

– Quinnipiac (class of 1999): The Bobcats are 10-20 overall, 7-11 in the MAAC. There are no polls that have QU as the favorite to win the league tournament.

– Elon (class of 2000): The Phoenix are 14-16 overall, 6-11 in CAA play. Elon will be playing in an opening-round game of the league tournament, and thus has to win four games to emerge with an automatic bid. Odds of that happening are not good.

– High Point (class of 2000): High Point (14-15 overall, 9-9 Big South) is one of about eight teams that could conceivably win the Big South tournament. HPU does have a disadvantage in that it has to win four games to claim the conference tourney title, instead of three. However, the preliminary game is a home matchup against 6-25 Longwood, so the extra contest may not be an overwhelming burden.

– Sacred Heart (class of 2000): The Pioneers finished the season 10-21, 5-13 in the NEC. They did not quality for the league tournament, so Sacred Heart will have to wait for at least one more year.

– UC Riverside (class of 2002): UCR is currently eighth in the Big West standings with a 3-11 conference mark; overall, the Highlanders are 8-20.

The last-place team in the Big West does not get to play in the league tournament, so UC Riverside may need to win one of its last two games to ensure it advances to the conference tourney.

– Fort Wayne (class of 2002): The Mastodons (possibly the best nickname in D-1) are 18-13 overall, 7-7 in the Summit League. Fort Wayne is a solid outfit that won’t be favored to win the conference tourney, but won’t be an easy out either. Earlier this season, Fort Wayne beat Indiana 92-72 — in Bloomington.

Besides, as I always say: Mastodons may be extinct, but you still can’t count them out.

– Gardner-Webb (class of 2003): The Runnin’ Bulldogs are 14-17 overall, 9-9 in the Big South. As mentioned in the comment about High Point, there are about eight teams that have a realistic shot at winning the Big South tournament. G-W is one of them, and will face Winthrop in a quarterfinal contest played in Asheville, NC.

While Gardner-Webb has wins over both of the top two seeds in the league tourney, Winthrop (the 3 seed) swept the Runnin’ Bulldogs this year.

– Savannah State (class of 2003): The Tigers are only 13-16 overall, but are 10-4 in the MEAC. Savannah State is moving to Division II after the 2018-19 season, so this is one of just two remaining years in which the Tigers can make the NCAA tournament.

Originally, APR issues were going to keep SSU from participating in postseason play this season, but the school got a waiver. That means the nation’s fastest-paced team (the Tigers average almost 85 possessions per contest) will have a chance to win the MEAC tournament. They could be a serious threat in Norfolk.

– Lipscomb (class of 2004): The Bisons are 20-9, 10-4 in the Atlantic Sun. Only Florida Gulf Coast had a better conference record than Lipscomb. Of course, that was true last year as well, and FGCU won the league tournament (with Lipscomb losing in the conference semifinals).

Lipscomb has won five in a row and nine of its last ten. One of those victories was a road win over FGCU. After a couple of near misses, perhaps this could be the year of the Bisons.

Longwood (class of 2008): The Lancers are 6-25 overall, 3-15 in the Big South. After finishing last in the conference during the regular season, Longwood (which has lost 12 straight games) plays at High Point in a preliminary round tournament game. I wouldn’t put a lot of money on the Lancers advancing to the conference tourney quarterfinals.

A quick list of other Division I schools in search of their first NCAA tournament invitations, but which haven’t been full D-1 members for 10 years: Bryant, Central Arkansas, Kennesaw State, NJIT, Omaha, South Dakota, USC-Upstate, Utah Valley State, SIU-Edwardsville, Presbyterian, South Dakota, Massachusetts-Lowell, Incarnate Word, Abilene Christian, and Grand Canyon.

The last four schools on that list (Grand Canyon, Abilene Christian, Incarnate Word, and Massachusetts-Lowell) just completed their D-1 transitional phase and are eligible for an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament for the first time.

Of the “newbie” institutions, the best bets to win a conference tourney are South Dakota (which won the regular-season title in the Summit League) and Grand Canyon (the WAC school has a chance to finish with 20 regular-season victories).

Conversely, Bryant (3-28 overall, 2-16 in the NEC) did not qualify for its league tournament.

Can any of the longtime no-timers finally break through this year? Sure. There are several that would seem to have a reasonable chance of winning their respective league tournaments.

I would pay particular attention to Bethune-Cookman, Hartford, Savannah State, and Lipscomb.

If any of the never-beens make it, my main worry is that they could be forced into one of the play-in games (better known as the PIGs).

As I’ve complained about repeatedly, the play-in games limit the tournament experience of the automatic qualifiers. It is both unfair and unnecessary. If the PIGs have to exist (and there was nothing wrong with the 64-team tournament), at least make the last eight at-large teams play in them, as opposed to four teams that get automatic bids.

Automatic qualifiers should always, always be in the main draw — the real tournament.

Good luck to all the teams dreaming the biggest of dreams.

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.