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.

Comparing FCS non-conference football schedules

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Okay, back to scheduling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McAlister Musings: Forget about being close, just win

Statistics are through January 13, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A brief review of The Citadel’s 2013 football season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2012 points allowed: 26.75
2013 points allowed: 23.25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2012 points: 29.75
2013 points: 24.25

2012 total yards: 382.5
2013 total yards: 350.25

2012 rush yards: 299.5
2013 rush yards: 256.63

2012 pass yards: 83.0
2013 pass yards: 93.63

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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