Game Review, 2019: Georgia Tech

The Citadel 27, Georgia Tech 24 (OT).

That happened. Yes, it did.

Links of interest (a lot of options this week):

Game story, The Post and Courier

School release from The Citadel

School release from Georgia Tech

AP game story

NCAA.com game story

Game story, Atlanta Journal-Constitution [headline over article: “Jackets Haunted and Stunned”]

Game analysis, CBS Sports

“The Citadel Adds To Illustrious History”

– Gwinnett players play role in shocker

Video highlights package from The Citadel

Postgame on-field interview of Brent Thompson (via Fox Sports South twitter)

Game highlights from the ACC Digital Network

– Postgame quotes (including those for Brent Thompson, which are at the bottom of the page)

Postgame press conference for Geoff Collins

– Postgame press conference for Georgia Tech players

“Condensed” video of The Citadel-Georgia Tech (about 23 minutes)

Box score

Key statistics:

The Citadel Georgia Tech
Field Position* 21.56 (-17.69) 39.22 (+17.69)
Success Rate* 39.72% 47.62%
Big plays (20+ yards) 3 6
Finishing drives (average points)* 4.0 4.6
Turnovers 1 0
Expected turnovers 1.72 0.66
Possessions* 9 9
Points per possession* 2.67 2.67
Offensive Plays* 72 42
Yards/rush* (sacks taken out) 4.76 7.59
Yards/pass attempts* (incl. sacks) 5.20 6.73
Yards/play* 4.79 7.29
3rd down conversions* 8 of 15 (53.3%) 3 of 8 (37.5%)
4th down conversions 1 of 1 0 of 1
Red Zone TD%** 0 for 2 (0%) 1 for 1 (100%)
Net punting 38.0 35.0
Time of possession 41:50 18:10
TOP/offensive play 34.86 seconds 25.95 seconds
Penalties 5 for 55 yards 8 for 80 yards
1st down passing* 0/1 5/7, 97 yards, sack
3rd and long passing* 0/1, interception, sack 0/3, sack
4th down passing 0/0 0/0
1st down yards/play* 5.45 9.45
3rd down average yards to go* 7.40 7.25
Defensive 3-and-outs+* 2 3

*overtime stats not included; Georgia Tech’s kneel-down at the end of the first half also not included
** Georgia Tech’s end-of-regulation drive not included in Red Zone TD rate

After I had finished compiling the above stats, I just shook my head. The Citadel finished second-best in all of the “Five Factors”, and did not fare well in many of the other categories.

Yet in actuality, the Bulldogs maintained control of the game throughout the contest. It could also be argued that if Brandon Rainey had not been injured, The Citadel probably would have won in regulation.

That time of possession advantage the Bulldogs had was incredible and ultimately decisive; essentially, the entire game turned on the basic fact that Georgia Tech couldn’t score if it didn’t have the ball — and the Yellow Jackets rarely possessed the pigskin.

A few quick notes:

– Without the 3rd-and-31 situation in the second quarter, The Citadel’s average yards-to-go on 3rd down would be 5.7, a much more palatable number.

– Besides time of possession, the other key stat was third down conversion rate (and of course those two categories are inter-related). When you include the Bulldogs converting their sole fourth down attempt, The Citadel eventually moved the chains 9 out of 15 times it faced third down in regulation play.

I don’t know what The Citadel’s record is for time of possession in a game, but I’m going to guess that 41:50 is the new standard for the Bulldogs’ contests against FBS teams.

– Georgia Tech’s first-half penalties were critical (and mostly inexcusable) mistakes, and also out of character. The Yellow Jackets had only committed four penalties *total* in their first two games.

Random thoughts:

– The Citadel became the first FCS squad this season to beat a team from a “Power Five” conference.

– I am fairly sure The Citadel is the largest underdog (26 points) to win outright so far this year in a game involving at least one FBS team.

– Georgia Tech’s decision to punt on 4th-and-5 at the Bulldogs’ 36-yard line on the Yellow Jackets’ first drive of the game set the tone for the contest, and not in a good way for the home team. That is absolutely a “go for it” situation, particularly in a game in which possessions are going to be limited.

Naturally, the punt was a touchback, and (almost as naturally) The Citadel immediately embarked on a nine-play drive that resulted in the game’s first touchdown.

That drive included two tough third-down runs from Rainey and Clay Harris.

– Conversely, Brent Thompson should receive credit for his decision to go for it on 4th-and-1 from The Citadel’s own 34-yard line, with less than six minutes remaining in a tie game and a backup quarterback at the controls.

A punt there would have handed the ball back to a Georgia Tech offense that had the momentum. It was worth the risk, and Thompson wound up with the reward after a two-yard run by Harris.

– The end-around to Raleigh Webb on the next play was also an excellent call that built off of the fourth-down conversion.

– The TD pass from Rainey to Webb was on a 2nd-and-6 down-and-distance situation, and just two plays removed from Nkem Njoku’s 25-yard run into Yellow Jackets territory. It was an excellent time to call a pass play.

– Chris Beverly managed to knock Tobias Oliver out of bounds on his long kick return, and it was a good thing, because I believe otherwise Oliver may have gone all the way.

– Geoff Collins seemed miffed at the officials for how the end of the fourth quarter played out, prior to the pseudo-TD and subsequent tying field goal.

I re-watched it. This is what happened:

  • The clock stopped with 34 seconds remaining after an injury to Bulldogs defensive tackle Dewey Greene IV (who had a huge sack two plays earlier).
  • Georgia Tech running back Jordan Mason then rushed 18 yards to The Citadel’s 12-yard line for a first down. The clock was halted with 27 seconds left to move the chains.
  • The clock re-started, and then with 23 seconds left Georgia Tech was called for a snap infraction, penalizing the Yellow Jackets five yards.
  • That necessitated a 10-second runoff, to 13 seconds. The referee announced that information, and then stated the clock would re-start on the “ready to play” signal — which it did.
  • Collins then called a timeout just before the ball was snapped, at the 6-second mark.

I think Collins was upset because he did not think the clock would re-start at the 13-second mark. That isn’t what the referee said, however.

As a result, the Yellow Jackets went from having the football at the 12-yard line with 23 seconds left and one timeout, to having it at the 17-yard line with 6 seconds left and no timeouts — and they didn’t even run a play.

Georgia Tech had used a timeout very early in the 3rd quarter when there was confusion over an offensive formation on the second play of the half. The Yellow Jackets could have used that timeout at the end of the game.

– I was always relieved when Tobias Oliver wasn’t playing quarterback for Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets seemed more dynamic whenever he was in the game, including as a kick returner. The stats reflect that as well.

I don’t think the flip-flopping of the QBs helped Georgia Tech much, including in the overtime session, when Lucas Jackson came in at quarterback on 3rd down and promptly got sacked by Joseph Randolph II.

– On the positive side of the ledger for Collins, his hat was nice — very clean look. I also liked the cap he wore for a game earlier this season that just had the “T” logo.

– With 1:13 remaining in the game and Georgia Tech driving, a chant of “DEFENSE!” from the crowd could clearly be heard on the TV audio feed. Major props to the fans (and cadets) in attendance.

– It was a rough-and-tumble football game, with more than a few injuries for both teams. I hope that the Bulldogs came out of it without any serious issues. Obviously, the injury to Brandon Rainey will be something to watch.

Just a few tweets to consider (I could have linked several thousand)…

 

Now the players and coaches have to forget about this victory, great as it was, and get ready for Charleston Southern. The Buccaneers led a good North Carolina A&T team in the fourth quarter on Saturday before losing 27-21. That one won’t be easy.

I’ll write about that game later this week.

2019 Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. Towson

The Citadel vs. Towson, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 3:00 pm ET on August 31, 2019.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Kevin Fitzgerald will handle play-by-play, while former Bulldogs quarterback Dominique Allen supplies the analysis. Emily Crevani is the sideline reporter. 

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 sideline reporter will be Jay Harper.

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

Notes from The Post and Courier

Willie Eubanks is the modern-day E.F. Hutton for The Citadel’s football team

– Game notes from The Citadel and Towson

SoCon weekly release

CAA weekly release

Preview on The Citadel’s website

Preview on Towson’s website

Preview from Towson’s campus newspaper, The Towerlight

– Bulldogs’ defense must do a better job against Towson QB

Brent Thompson’s opening-week press conference (8/26)

The Dogs:  Episode 1 — Camp

Football-related stuff I’ve written this summer:

– Success on 4th down brings national renown

– Ruminating about ratings: preseason numbers for The Citadel, SoCon, FCS, and more

– “Advanced” statistics from The Citadel’s 2018 football season

– Inside the Numbers, Part 1: The Citadel’s 2018 run/pass tendencies and yards per play statistics, with SoCon/FCS discussion as well

– Inside the Numbers, Part 2: The Citadel’s 2018 4th down decision-making, plus Red Zone stats, 3rd down conversion info, etc.

– Football attendance at The Citadel (and elsewhere) — an annual review

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

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

– Homecoming at The Citadel — a brief gridiron history

Although The Citadel doesn’t open until October 1, many cadets have already signified their intention to compete for places on the eleven, and manager [Frank] Eason will not lack for candidates. The soldier laddies are very enthusiastic about football, which was strictly prohibited until last session, when the Board of Visitors relented and allowed the classes to play one another.

It will be the initial season for the Citadel boys on the gridiron, and it is superfluous to add, the best wishes of many score young ladies are with the soldier laddies in their ambition to defeat other football teams.

The Evening Post, August 29, 1905

This season, The Citadel will only have radio affiliates in Charleston, Columbia, and Sumter. It will be the first time in many years that the network will not have a presence in the Upstate.

Just out of curiosity, I decided to see how that compared to other SoCon teams. As it turns out, The Citadel still has one of the larger affiliate networks in the league.

  • Western Carolina: Asheville, Sylva, Franklin, on-campus
  • Furman: Greenville, on-campus
  • UTC: Chattanooga
  • ETSU: Johnson City (“tri-cities”)
  • Mercer: Macon
  • Wofford: online only
  • VMI: online only (from what I can tell)
  • Samford: none

All of the schools (except Samford, obviously) simulcast online. VMI has had an affiliate network in the recent past, but it is not mentioned in the school’s 2019 media guide, leading me to believe it no longer exists.

Western Carolina appears to be the only school besides The Citadel to have radio affiliates in multiple markets.

Ted Byrne will serve as analyst for the football games this season. Byrne, of course, has been a radio voice in the Lowcountry for a long time, and had stints as the “Voice of the Bulldogs” (in the early 1990s) and as play-by-play man for College of Charleston hoops. He also spent several years in the radio booth at Georgia Southern.

In recent years, Byrne has co-hosted The Citadel’s tailgate show. He worked as an analyst for Bulldogs football in 2006 as well.

Byrne’s first association with The Citadel dates back to 1982, when he called baseball games at College Park. He filled in for the original “Voice of the Bulldogs”, George Norwig, for a 1984 football game against Georgia Tech, and was a sideline reporter in the mid-1980s.

Thus, he has been an on-again, off-again radio presence at school athletic events for 37 years. The only other person I can remember with a similar stretch was Norwig, who was in the booth for the Bulldogs from 1948 to 1985. Of course, Norwig’s run was mostly continuous.

(My thanks to Charleston media expert Joe Wright for the information about Byrne’s early days in the Lowcountry radio scene.)

The Citadel’s director of athletics, Mike Cappacio, sat down with Lowcountry personality Quintin Washington last month for a 15-minute interview. You can view it on YouTube.

They discussed football, baseball, basketball, and the endowment, among other things. To be honest, I wasn’t pleased at all with one of Capaccio’s comments about hoops, but I’ll put that aside for the time being. For this post, I’ll stick to his football-related observations.

– “We need to work with our schedule to be more realistic, I will say….we don’t need to be playing two ranked teams, or three ranked teams, and then an ACC team, and then go into our conference, because our conference is a monster…so, not that we [want] an easy schedule, but we need a little break…”

I understand what he is saying here, but four years ago nobody knew how good Towson and Elon were going to (potentially) be. There is an element of the unknown when it comes to college football scheduling.

Besides, going out of its way to schedule the Little Sisters of the Poor is not really how The Citadel has ever operated. After all, the military college has fought an uphill battle for over 80 years as a member of the Southern Conference. At various points in the football program’s history, Clemson, South Carolina, West Virginia, Virginia Tech, East Carolina, and Marshall have all been league opponents (just to name a few).

The Bulldogs didn’t back down from those challenges then, and they shouldn’t now. It isn’t part of the school’s ethos.

– “We want to play close to home…three to five hours [away] at the maximum…We don’t need to be taking a trip to Towson…Our philosophy is changing, and we want to play close [to home].

I think this outlook is mostly about budgeting. Capaccio also referenced the ability of fans to travel to away games, which is a legitimate consideration.

Let me present another point of view, however. In 2009, I made the trip to New Jersey to watch The Citadel play Princeton. As I wrote then (and still believe now):

One thing that needs to happen, though, is that every few years the school needs to play a game in the northeast. The contingent of alums and other supporters that came to cheer on The Citadel at Princeton was truly impressive. Those folks deserve to see more games, and I hope that administrators at The Citadel keep that in mind.

It also doesn’t hurt to promote the school in other parts of the country. After the game I took the train back to New York, and sat next to an intelligent young Princeton student who was very proud of her school. She wanted to make sure I liked the campus (which I did). She was blissfully unaware a football game had been played that day, which didn’t really surprise me that much. She also had never heard of The Citadel, which did surprise me a bit.

Of course, there are people in South Carolina who have never heard of Princeton (and there are almost certainly people in New Jersey who have never heard of Princeton, as well as people in the Palmetto State unfamiliar with The Citadel).  I also realize that one person doesn’t make a survey.  Still, it’s a reminder that it doesn’t hurt to get the school’s name out there.

That was true then, and it is still true. Also, it really isn’t that much different, logistically, to travel from The Citadel to either Towson or Samford — and the football team makes the road trip to Birmingham every other year (including this season).

– Capaccio mentioned future opponents would include Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Campbell, and Presbyterian. All of those were publicly known except perhaps for Presbyterian. He did not mention other scheduled matchups that have been reported in various places — Clemson, Mississippi, and Appalachian State.

– He also named South Carolina State as a good potential opponent for The Citadel, and in that I concur. Cappacio also mentioned wanting to continue the series with Charleston Southern. I am fine with that as well, as long as those games are always played at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Otherwise, no way.

– Capaccio likes the idea of playing Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, and similar (Group of Five) teams in the region, because he says A) the money isn’t much different from playing an ACC/SEC school, and B) The Citadel can be more competitive against those types of schools.

Here are the guarantees The Citadel will be receiving from FBS schools over the next few years:

  • 2019: Georgia Tech — $400,000
  • 2020: Clemson — $300,000
  • 2021: Coastal Carolina — $315,000
  • 2023: Georgia Southern — $320,000
  • 2024: Clemson — $300,000
  • 2025: Mississippi — $500,000

I believe the package for the games against Clemson also includes tickets for The Citadel to sell, which is not insignificant.

I guess a case could be made that from a net revenue perspective, playing Georgia Southern and Coastal Carolina is almost as beneficial as playing the P5 schools. However, there is quite a difference between $315,000 and $500,000.

As far as being competitive is concerned, I would suggest that the Bulldogs have been quite competitive at times against certain SEC schools in recent years (one in particular).

Also, the difference in what I might call “national awareness” between P5 and G5 teams is substantial — and that carries over into recruiting, branding, recognition, etc.

When it comes to scheduling, The Citadel’s goal should be to have a non-conference slate that best positions it for a possible bid to the FCS playoffs. That means playing an all-D1 schedule, but not necessarily loading up on multiple FBS opponents per year. There has to be a balance.

I don’t think there is anything structurally wrong with this year’s schedule. It is difficult, but everyone knows that. If the Bulldogs have a successful season, they will likely make the playoffs. If they don’t, they won’t. That is how it should be.

– With regards to the East stands, “it’s all about fundraising right now”. Capaccio noted that The Citadel Real Estate Foundation is involved. He also said the school had put together “a detailed plan” to begin a $2 million fundraising campaign “to get that project off the ground”.

– The new artificial turf is supposed to be installed at Johnson Hagood Stadium in late November. I hope the installation is delayed by about a month.

– “I’ve empowered a lot of our senior staff to take different roles so I can get out and raise money…if you’re going to make a difference here, it’s going to come through fundraising.”

I wish Capaccio all the best in that endeavor.

Towson was 7-5 last season. After a 6-1 start (which included a 44-27 home victory over The Citadel), the Tigers lost four of their last five games, including a playoff loss to Duquesne.

Three of the losses were probably understandable. Towson lost a shootout at Delaware, a tough game versus Maine (a team that specialized in winning tough games), and a home contest to James Madison (which was simply a better team).

However, the home loss to Duquesne in the first round of the FCS playoffs was harder to explain. The favored Tigers lost 31-10.

One possible factor: it rained heavily during that game, and Towson’s offense struggled mightily in the wet weather. Star quarterback Tom Flacco was 10-33 passing for 127 yards, and was sacked four times.

As far as the end-of-season decline in Towson’s fortunes was concerned, head coach Rob Ambrose thinks he knows what happened.

“Last year, we set the finish line too short, and it was obvious,” Ambrose said. “They wanted to win, they wanted to get respect, they wanted to beat national competition, and we did. But we got to the playoffs and were like ‘All right, we did it.’ No, that was just the beginning.”
Ambrose says his team can no longer be so easily satisfied — it has to strive to be among the best FCS programs in the country.
“From my perspective, the big-picture goal is not to make the playoffs,” Ambrose said. “The big picture goal is to make the playoffs every year, … which is where James Madison has been. It’s where Delaware has been historically.”

He reiterated that during Monday’s CAA conference call.

It seemed like we were inadvertently pleased with crossing the finish line, one that shouldn’t have even existed. So we’ve kind of moved that finish line back a little bit. Understand that the grind is a little bit longer. We go about it with a workmanlike attitude, that we have a lot of work to do, that we want to be explosive in how we do it, we want to be composed, and we want to have fun. And these guys have…held up to that bargain pretty well.

When asked about the Bulldogs’ offense and defense, Ambrose stated:

We’re going in with a little bit of unknown, especially versus their defense, and a natural schematic challenge on how well we can be disciplined to defend the triple option.

He was also questioned about playing The Citadel in Charleston:

We’re talking more about how to prepare for the weather…football fields are football fields, fans are fans. We’re going to play as hard as we can play until they tell us we can’t play anymore.

I broke down Towson’s 2018 season from a statistical perspective in various key categories, separating the seven FCS wins from the four FCS losses.

First, the victories:

Offense Plays Yds/Play Rush attempts Rush yds/play Pass plays Pass yds/att RZ TD conv RZ TD attempts
at Morgan St 67 5.98 35 5.03 32 7.03 3 7
at Villanova 90 5.87 49 4.76 41 7.20 4 5
The Citadel 64 9.50 41 8.15 23 11.91 2 6
Stony Brook 68 6.46 35 3.43 33 9.67 4 6
Wm@Mary 68 6.71 38 7.03 30 6.30 4 6
at Albany 81 6.94 40 6.28 41 7.59 5 8
at Elon 83 5.86 34 5.85 49 5.86 5 6
7 games 521 272 249 27 44
6.68 5.81 7.63 61.36%

 

Defense Plays Yds/play Rush attempts Rush yds/play Pass plays Pass yds/att RZ TD conv RZ TD attempts
at Morgan St 61 2.74 35 2.23 26 3.42 0 1
at Villanova 60 8.17 23 5.08 37 10.08 4 4
The Citadel 87 4.64 71 4.80 16 3.94 1 2
Stony Brook 64 5.38 30 3.83 34 6.74 2 2
Wm&Mary 73 3.19 33 3.18 40 3.20 1 3
at Albany 57 8.18 23 5.78 34 9.79 2 2
at Elon 59 4.03 37 6.19 22 0.36 1 2
7 games 461 252 209 11 16
5.08 4.43 5.85 68.75%

Towson ran the ball 52.21% of the time in its seven wins. The Tigers averaged slightly over 74 plays per game in those contests.

Win or lose, Towson was not particularly good at converting on third down. In its victories, TU only succeeded at a 37.5% clip (which was actually a lower percentage than in the Tigers’ four FCS losses).

Now, the same statistics in those losses to Delaware, Maine, James Madison, and Duquesne.

Offense Plays Yds/Play Rush attempts Rush yds/play Pass plays Pass yds/att RZ TD conv RZ TD attempts
at Delaware 83 5.43 40 5.65 43 5.23 3 7
Maine 77 4.77 35 4.86 42 4.69 2 5
JMU 84 6.13 30 5.57 54 6.44 1 3
Duquesne 80 4.46 43 5.81 37 2.89 0 4
4 games 324 148 176 6 19
5.22 5.49 4.98 31.58%

Defense Plays Yds/play Rush attempts Rush yds/att Pass plays Pass yds/att RZ TD conv RZ TD attempts
at Delaware 63 5.40 31 1.13 32 9.53 5 6
Maine 61 6.69 27 7.11 34 6.35 3 3
JMU 69 8.35 45 9.27 24 6.63 4 6
Duquesne 70 6.09 49 6.00 21 6.29 2 3
4 games 263 152 111 14 18
6.66 6.17 7.32 77.78%

Towson’s offense really struggled in the red zone in its four losses, with a poor 31.58% TD rate. The difference in red zone success in the Tigers’ wins and losses was dramatic.

Not on these charts, but definitely worth mentioning, is Towson’s defensive third down conversion rate. In TU’s victories, opponents only made third down conversions 33.33% of the time. In these four losses, however, that rate jumped up to 46.67%. Towson’s D was less effective in the red zone, too.

TU ran the ball 45.68% of the time in those defeats.

Usually, turnovers are a big factor in a team’s wins and losses, but that wasn’t the case for Towson in 2018. Against FCS teams, TU had a turnover margin of zero (13 giveaways, 13 takeaways). The Tigers were +1 in their seven wins and -1 in the four losses.

Towson didn’t really have a lot of turnovers in its games, offensively or defensively.

Last season, Towson was picked to finish 10th in the 12-team CAA. The Tigers wound up with a 5-3 conference record, good for a tie for 3rd in the league.

This year, TU is the preseason #2 pick in the conference, behind James Madison. Clearly, there are high expectations for the program in 2019.

Towson’s offense is led by New Jersey native Tom Flacco (6’1”, 205 lbs.), a redshirt senior who spent time at both Western Michigan and Rutgers before finding his way to TU.

Last year, Flacco (the younger brother of former Ravens and current Broncos QB Joe Flacco) had an outstanding campaign, completing 61.3% of his passes, with 28 touchdowns against 11 interceptions. He averaged 7.4 yards per pass attempt, not accounting for sacks (Towson quarterbacks were sacked 35 times in 12 games).

In last season’s game against The Citadel, Flacco completed 15 of 22 passes for 253 yards and 2 TDs. He was intercepted once. However, he hurt the Bulldogs even more with his running ability, as he finished with 15 rushes for 185 yards (including a 78-yard run).

Saturday’s game will not be the first time Flacco has suited up for Towson in the Charleston metropolitan area. Flacco played baseball for Towson this past spring, serving as the Tigers’ right fielder.

In a late-season series at Patriots Point against College of Charleston, he was 3 for 9 in three games, with a stolen base, two runs scored and an error. Towson lost all three contests to the Cougars.

Versatile all-purpose back Shane Simpson (5’11”, 190 lbs.), a redshirt senior from Easton, Pennsylvania, is Towson’s first option out of the backfield. He rushed for 64 yards and a score versus the Bulldogs in last year’s game, and also caught three passes.

Simpson was the CAA’s Special Teams Player of The Year, and made several All-American teams as a kick returner. He had a 96-yard kickoff return for a TD versus Stony Brook.

Towson has a deep corps of receivers, and the top two targets from last year both return.

Redshirt senior Shane Leatherbury (5’11”, 190 lbs.) had 67 receptions for the season, with 7 of those going for touchdowns. Leatherbury, who hails from Salisbury, Maryland, previously attended Seton Hill College and Wor-Wic Community College. He was a first-team all-CAA pick in 2018.

Jabari Allen (6’4”, 205 lbs.), a junior from Spotsylvania, Virginia, had 53 catches in 2018, including 8 TDs. Allen, who became more of a factor as the season progressed, can be a very difficult matchup for opposing defensive backs.

Several other wideouts are potential gamebreakers, ranging from the small (5’7″, 160 lb. sophomore speedster D’Ago Hunter) to the large (6’3″, 205 lb. freshman Daniel Thompson IV).

TU’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’4”, 317 lbs. The o-line will not be as experienced this season, as the Tigers lost three starting offensive linemen from last year’s squad – the center, right guard, and right tackle.

Towson thus brought in a lot of offensive linemen in the offseason. That group includes several transfers and, interestingly, two players from Europe.

Roman Wahrheit (6’6”, 335 lbs., from Germany) and Vaino Paakkonen (6’5”, 325 lbs., from Finland) are both big, and though they are a sophomore and freshman respectively, they are definitely not teenagers. According to one website that I perused which focuses on overseas football players, Paakkonen is at least 22 years old.

I should also mention that Paakkonen’s previous football team (in Finland) was the Porvoo Butchers.

While the European players could wind up being mainstays for the program down the road, I’m not sure how much Towson is going to get out of either one of them right away as they acclimate to a new level of football (and a new country). That is particularly the case for Paakkonen, who was late getting to campus because of a visa problem.

One newcomer who is expected to start on Saturday, though, is a player who may be reasonably familiar with his surroundings.

Demarcus Gilmore (6’4”, 360 lbs.) should line up at right tackle for the Tigers. Gilmore went to Newberry High School, and played in the Shrine Bowl. He has spent the last two years at Pasadena City College in California.

One other note on the offense: last year’s offensive coordinator was Rob Ambrose’s brother Jared, who is now the OC at Delaware. Rob Ambrose is assuming the offensive coordinator duties this season.

There was also a coordinator change on defense for Towson, as last year’s DC, Lyndon “No, not that one” Johnson now oversees special teams for the Tigers. The new defensive coordinator is Eric Daniels, who was at Briar Cliff College (IA) last year. Daniels was once the linebackers coach at SMU when June Jones was at the helm of that program.

Defensively, Towson used a 4-3 front last season, but (like The Citadel) it is moving to a 3-4.

There is a lot of uncertainty about the personnel the Tigers will be featuring on defense. I believe that is at least partly (if not mostly) by design.

Robert Heyward (6’0″, 235 lbs.), a redshirt senior inside linebacker from Savannah, was a preseason first-team all-CAA selection. Heyward, who had 10 tackles against The Citadel last year, was singled out for praise by Brent Thompson during the coach’s press conference on Monday.

Redshirt senior Ricky DeBerry (6’2″, 245 lbs.), who started at defensive end last year, has (apparently) moved to linebacker in the 3-4 scheme. DeBerry, a native of Richmond who began his collegiate career at Oklahoma, was an active defender versus the Bulldogs, with 9 tackles.

Jesus Gibbs (6’4″, 275 lbs.) was expected to be an impact transfer for the Tigers on the defensive line, but the redshirt freshman (who spent the 2018 fall semester at South Carolina) reportedly has been struggling with an injury and may not play on Saturday. If he does play, he could be a difference-maker. As a high school senior, he was rated the 10th-best recruit in the state of Virginia by ESPN.

It seems likely that Bryce Carter (6’1″, 265 lbs.) will start, probably on the d-line, but possibly at outside linebacker. Carter is a redshirt junior from Steelton, Pennsylvania, who started all 12 games for Towson last season, leading the team with 6 1/2 sacks.

Another player of similar size who could see plenty of time at either DE or linebacker is Marcus Bowman (6’1″, 255 lbs.), a junior college transfer. Bowman was the #29-ranked player in Maryland as a high school senior.

This is speculation, but I would not be overly surprised if Towson employed a “big body” at nosetackle against The Citadel. Two candidates to fill that role are redshirt junior Tommy Danagogo (6’3″, 305 lbs.) and 6’2″, 285 lb. Tibo Debaille, who is from Belgium. Neither played much last season, to be sure.

Troy Vincent Jr. (5’11”, 205 lbs.), who played his first two years of college football for North Carolina State, can play linebacker or defensive back. Vincent’s father, Troy Vincent Sr., was an outstanding NFL cornerback who is now an executive with that league.

Robert Topps III (6’3″, 200 lbs.), a transfer from Kansas, can play both cornerback and safety, and probably will.

According to media reports out of New Jersey, Towson will eventually have the services of former Michigan defensive lineman Ron Johnson, who was originally going to transfer to Rutgers for this season. However, Johnson will instead transfer to Towson (where he will be immediately eligible). It seems unlikely the 6’4″, 267 lb. four-star recruit could play for TU on Saturday, but you never know.

Aidan O’Neill (6’1″, 195 lbs.), a senior from New Paltz, New York, will be Towson’s regular placekicker for a fourth consecutive season. O’Neill was 22 for 29 on field goal attempts last season en route to first-team All-CAA honors. He was 42 of 43 on PATs.

O’Neill has made 53 field goals during his career, with a long of 55 yards.

Towson will have a new punter this season, Marshall transfer Shane McDonough (6’1″, 210 lbs.). McDonough will also serve as the team’s kickoff specialist.

If you’re counting, that is now three guys named Shane who start for the Tigers. Alan Ladd would be so proud.

Odds and ends:

– Per the 1905 newspaper article referenced above, cadets apparently didn’t have to report to The Citadel that year until October 1. The first football game in that very first season was played on October 14.

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service: partly sunny with a high of 86 degrees, and a 60% chance of showers and thunderstorms. Yikes.

I am a little bit worried about the chance for a lightning delay or two. The presence of Hurricane Dorian in the Atlantic is also of concern.

Per one source that deals in such matters, Towson-The Citadel is (as of Wednesday evening) a pick’em, with an over/under of 65 1/2.

When that line opened on August 6, the Tigers were only a 1 1/2 point favorite, but evidently much of the money wagered on the game for the next two weeks was on Towson, because at one point the spread moved to 4 1/2. However, it has suddenly (and substantially) moved in the other direction over the past two days.

By the time you read this, it may have moved another couple of points one way or the other.

Other lines involving SoCon teams:  Furman is a 20-point favorite over Charleston Southern, while Wofford is a 21-point favorite at South Carolina State.

Mercer is a 3-point favorite at Western Carolina; Samford is a 19 1/2 point favorite at Tennessee Tech; East Tennessee State is a 32 1/2 point underdog at Appalachian State; VMI is a 39-point underdog at Marshall; and Chattanooga is an 8-point favorite versus Eastern Illinois.

Samford is trying to rebound from a 45-22 drubbing last Saturday at the hands of Youngstown State in the FCS Kickoff Classic. None of the other league teams has played yet in 2019, obviously.

– Also of note: Elon is a 3 1/2 point favorite at North Carolina A&T, and Georgia Tech is a 36-point underdog at Clemson on Thursday night.

The biggest favorites in the FCS ranks are Kennesaw State (51 points over Point University) and North Dakota State (48 points over Butler). Incidentally, the game between NDSU and Butler is being played at Target Field in Minneapolis.

Furman will play Point University in its regular-season finale.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 50th in FCS, while Towson is 26th. For some reason, Samford’s loss last week cost the Bulldogs four spots in the rankings.

Massey projects the Cadets to have a 39% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of Towson 34, The Citadel 30.

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

Other rankings this week of varied interest:  James Madison 7th, Youngstown State 10th (up four spots), Villanova 13th (up 19 places), Kennesaw State 21st, Colgate 22nd (down 11 notches), Wofford 24th, Elon 32nd, Furman 36th (down 8 places), Samford 42nd (down 18 spots after its loss), North Carolina A&T 52nd, Mercer 53rd, Chattanooga 54th, East Tennessee State 61st, Western Carolina 79th, Charleston Southern 88th, South Carolina State 92nd, VMI 94th, Davidson 114th, Presbyterian 122nd, and D-1 “transitional” school Merrimack 126th and last.

– Towson’s notable alumni include actor Charles S. Dutton, television host Mike Rowe, and sports radio broadcaster Joe Miller.

– As was mentioned in the preview for last year’s matchup, varsity teams at Towson were generally known as the Golden Knights until the early 1960s, when the tiger began to become the preferred mascot among students and alumni. A leading proponent in favor of switching to “Tigers” was John Schuerholz, the Hall of Fame baseball executive who guided both the Kansas City Royals and Atlanta Braves to World Series titles. Schuerholz, who graduated from Towson in 1962, is also a long-time benefactor to the school. Towson’s baseball stadium is named for him (and his father).

– Towson’s roster in its media guide includes 35 players from Maryland. Other states represented:  Pennsylvania (14 players), New Jersey (11), Virginia (8), New York (7), Delaware (4), North Carolina (3), California (3), Florida (2), and one each from Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, and South Carolina. (The one product of the Palmetto State is, as previously mentioned, offensive lineman Demarcus Gilmore of Newberry.)

There are four Tigers who hail from outside the United States, representing Canada, Germany, Belgium, and Finland.

No member of Towson’s team is an alumnus of Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. The absence of players who have worn the famed maroon and orange will undoubtedly come back to haunt Rob Ambrose. It is hard to imagine a school with designs on national honors failing to recruit anyone from one of the great pigskin powers of our time — or any other time, for that matter.

– 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 includes seven Bulldogs who started all 11 games last season, five on offense and two on defense.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 0-2 for games played on August 31. The Bulldogs have only played five games in the month of August in their gridiron history, with two of those contests resulting in victories:

  • August 30, 2003: The Citadel walloped Charleston Southern, 64-10, before 15,219 fans at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Ern Mills had 194 yards rushing (including a 90-yard scamper) and two touchdowns. The Bulldogs’ defense added two TDs of its own (Anthony Roberts’ pick-six was followed up by Julian West’s fumble return) and also picked up a safety.
  • August 30, 2008: There were 11,247 patrons were on hand to see the homestanding Bulldogs hammer Webber International, 54-7. Bart Blanchard was 12-14 passing with 2 TDs. Both touchdowns went to Andre Roberts, one for 78 yards. Roberts added a 64-yard punt return TD. The Bulldogs led 38-0 at halftime.

I think this is going to be a close game. It may be high scoring, although sometimes these early-season contests can throw a curveball when it comes to predicting how offenses will fare against defenses.

The Citadel has to control the football. It would also help if the Bulldogs could break some long gainers. In last season’s matchup, The Citadel had 87 offensive plays from scrimmage, but just four of them went for 20 yards or more. Towson had eight such plays while only snapping the ball 64 times.

Special teams play is often a key factor in season openers, and The Citadel has had some coaching turnover in that area. The Bulldogs had very good special teams units last season, and that needs to continue in 2019.

I hope Johnson Hagood Stadium is packed, though the weather could be a hindrance in that regard. The tailgating scene should be excellent anyway, as it usually is.

Is there anything more to say? No, there is not.

It’s time for football season. I’m ready, you’re ready, the players are ready, the coaches are ready, General and Boo are ready, everybody is ready.

Go Dogs!

Success on 4th down brings national renown

Last year, I wrote this before the season began:

I believe fourth down is underutilized in college football. Too many times, a team punts when going for it is the proper call.

It goes deeper than that, though. The best way to approach most offensive possessions, especially those that begin less than 70 yards from the end zone, is to assume that the offense is already in “four-down territory”.

Doing so means a team can be more creative with offensive playcalling. For a team like The Citadel, that can really open up the playbook.

In general, I was more than satisfied with Brent Thompson’s approach on fourth down in 2018. In eleven games, The Citadel went for it on 4th down 38 times, which was third-most in all of FCS. The Bulldogs were successful 23 times, for a better-than-average 60.5% (the mean for FCS teams last year was 47.2%). Among teams in the sub-division, only Southern Utah converted more often on 4th down than The Citadel.

Those were statistics that I covered earlier, in one of my many (way too many) statistically-oriented posts. What I would like to do with this particular post, though, is to illustrate the “power” of 4th down by taking a long look at one of the more amazing seasons in recent years from the perspective of fourth down conversions. I’m talking about last year’s Army team.

A quick summary of the Black Knights’ campaign: an 11-2 record, with one of the two defeats an overtime loss at Oklahoma. The victories included a sweep of Navy and Air Force and four other wins over bowl teams, the last of those a 70-14 destruction of Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl.

The schedule also had some soft spots (two FCS teams, a brand-new-to-FBS Liberty squad, and 1-11 San Jose State), but it was nevertheless a very impressive campaign, and one that featured a fourth-down philosophy based on analytical research:

The analytics come in mostly on fourth-down decisions. Army is among dozens of Division I football schools that subscribe to Championship Analytics, which provides weekly customized statistical breakdowns for each team based on opponent, with recommendations on when to kick, go on fourth down, go for 2 and more.

“I’m not a math guy,” [said Army head football coach Jeff Monken]. “I’m not an analytical thinker. I’m a PE major and proud of it.”

But when presented with the statistics that showed Army should be more aggressive on fourth down, Monken quickly embraced a by-the-numbers approach.

“It made way too much sense to me to argue with,” he said, adding. “I think it really fits what we do.”

Before discussing Army’s 4th-down decision-making and success rate, it is well worth mentioning the Black Knights’ 3rd-down statistics last season, which were outstanding on both sides of the ball. 

On offense, Army was 112 for 196 (57.14%) on 3rd down in 2018, best in all of D-1. It helped that the Cadets only needed on average 5.4 yards to go on third down, which ranked first in FBS. 

Defensively, Army held opponents to a 3rd-down conversion rate of 26.56%, fourth-best in FBS. Third-down success was based on what happened on the first two downs, as Army’s opponents averaged 8.4 yards to go on third down — and yes, that was the highest yards-to-go average for any defense in the sub-division.

Thus, the Black Knights’ enormous time of possession advantage (holding the ball for 38:33 per game, by far tops in D-1) wasn’t strictly because of its ball-control offense. The defense also contributed by forcing 4th downs and getting off the field.

There is a reason why Mack Brown, the new-old coach at North Carolina, hired Army defensive coordinator Jay Bateman to become the new DC for the Tar Heels.

Now, that is what Army did on third down. However, the Black Knights weren’t automatically lining up in punt formation if they failed to convert on 3rd down. Far from it.

Army failed to gain a first down (or touchdown) on 84 of its 196 3rd-down attempts last season. So what did it do on the next play? Here is the breakdown:

  • 3 times: There was no next play, because Army turned the ball over on 3rd down (two interceptions and a lost fumble)
  • 12 times: Army tried a field goal (making 8 of them)
  • 33 times: Army punted
  • 36 times: Army went for it on 4th down

Yes, the Black Knights had more 4th-down attempts than punts. How unusual was that? Well, Army was the only FBS team to go for it more often than punt (two FCS squads, Davidson and Kennesaw State, also did this).

Georgia Tech came close (35 punts, 34 fourth-down attempts), and so did Florida Atlantic (+2) and Air Force (+4). On the FCS side of the ledger, The Citadel’s +14 (52 punts, 38 fourth-down attempts) ranked 8th overall in this particular “Punts vs. 4th down attempts” category, one that frankly I just made up because I thought it was interesting.

Florida Atlantic actually led FBS in 4th-down conversion attempts, with 44 (the Owls were successful 24 times). FAU was 5-7 last season, which raises the possibility that part of the reason Lane Kiffin went for it on 4th down so often was because his team was trailing at the time.

However, Florida Atlantic also led FBS in 4th-down conversion attempts in 2017 (39, tied with Northwestern). The Owls won 11 games that season, so being aggressive on 4th down appears to be a consistent strategy for Kiffin. The teams that are most likely to go for it on 4th down are generally option outfits, so in that respect FAU has been a bit of an outlier over the last two seasons.

Not surprisingly, Georgia Tech led the ACC in terms of being most aggressive on 4th down (Boston College was second). The SEC team most likely to go for it on 4th down last year was South Carolina, which was a return to form of sorts for the Gamecocks (which led the conference in this area in 2011, 2013, and 2014, albeit under a different coaching staff).

Teams that were more likely to punt (or attempt a field goal) than go for it included Fresno State, LSU, Utah State, Texas A&M (Jimbo Fisher has historically been very conservative in his decision-making), Central Michigan, and Maryland. Another team that did not go for it on fourth down as often as might have been anticipated: Georgia Southern.

The most incredible thing about Army and 4th down last year wasn’t the amount of attempts, though. It was the number of successful conversions. The Black Knights were 31 for 36 on 4th down, an astonishing 86% success rate that topped all of FBS. 

Nobody else in the country came close to combining such a high volume of attempts with that type of success. For example, Texas converted 80% of its 4th-down tries, second-best nationally by percentage, but only attempted 15 of them all season.

If you add those 31 successful 4th down plays to Army’s already impressive 3rd-down numbers, you get a 3rd-4th down “combination conversion” rate of 73%, which is A) a stat I may have just created, and B) simply ridiculous. 

One reason Army was so good on 4th down is that it often did not have far to go for a first down. Of the Black Knights’ 36 attempts, 28 of them were 4th-and-1 or 4th-and-2 plays. Army was 25 for 28 in those down-and-distance situations.

The yards-to-go statistic on third down (5.4) I mentioned earlier in this post had a lot to do with that. Army set up a lot of short 4th-down plays by what it did on 3rd down.

What the Black Knights didn’t do quite as successfully, though, was get well ahead of the chains on first down (only 5.3 yards per play on 1st down, 101st in FBS). This was your classic “three yards and a cloud of dust” offense, except that Army played most of its games on artificial turf. Big plays were not a regular staple of the attack.

Below is a chart of all 81 of Army’s 4th-down decisions from last season.

  • # = 4th down situations
  • P = punts
  • FGC = made field goals
  • FGX = missed field goals
  • C = successful 4th-down conversion attempts
  • X = failed 4th-down conversion attempts

Army 2018          #          P        FGC        FGX         C         X
    4th and
1 25 2 0 0 21 2
2 5 0 0 0 4 1
3 9 5 2 0 2 0
4 5 4 0 0 1 0
5 4 1 0 2 1 0
6 4 2 2 0 0 0
7 5 3 1 0 0 1
8 3 1 1 0 1 0
9 6 4 0 1 0 1
10 2 2 0 0 0 0
11 2 2 0 0 0 0
12 4 3 1 0 0 0
13 1 0 0 0 1 0
14+ 6 4 1 1 0 0
Total 81 33 8 4 31 5

As you can see, Army only punted on 4th-and-1 twice last year. The circumstances that led to those punts were quite similar:

– Against Air Force, Army faced a 4th-and-1 on its own 41-yard line. The Black Knights led 14-0 at the time, and it was early in the third quarter.

– Against Navy, Army faced a 4th-and-1 on its own 12-yard line. The Black Knights led 10-0 at the time, and it was early in the fourth quarter.

In both games Army was up two scores, playing a rival, and there were a limited amount of possessions in each contest (due to the nature of the offenses). Thus, on both occasions, Jeff Monken elected to punt. This certainly made sense, particularly in the Navy game, when Army was backed up to its own 12. 

As it happened, Navy actually scored a touchdown on its ensuing series, so that decision to punt didn’t really work out for the Black Knights.

Incidentally, in both situations, Army faced a 3rd-and-6, gained five yards to set up a 4th-and-1, and then punted.

Army went for it all five times it had a 4th-and-2, making four of them. The one failure came against the Midshipmen, when a rush attempt at the Navy 43-yard line only resulted in a one-yard gain.

There was more variety on 4th-and-3. Five of the nine times Army faced that down-and-distance situation, it punted. The Black Knights also attempted two field goals (going 2-for-2), and went for it twice (succeeding both times).

Army led by at least a touchdown all five times it punted on 4th-and-3. The Black Knights also led by at least 7 points all four times it punted on 4th-and-4, and led by a TD the one time it punted on 4th-and-5.

The line of scrimmage for the four times Army went for it on 4th-and-3, 4th-and-4, or 4th-and-5:  its own 32, the opposition 47, the opposition 28, and the opposition 26. The Black Knights averaged 22.25 yards on those four plays (with one TD). 

That 4th-down play on its own 32 came in the season opener at Duke. Trailing 31-14 in the fourth quarter, Army gained 13 yards on 4th-and-3. This could be considered more of a “desperation” decision, as opposed to most of the other down-and-distance calls Monken made during the campaign.

I also decided to see how many yards Army gained on its successful 4th-and-1 and 4th-and-2 plays, just to see how many “explosive” plays the Black Knights garnered. There were not a lot (although the 52-yard gain against Air Force came in handy, as the Cadets scored on the next play):

  • 4th-and-1, opp 35: 1 yard
  • 4th-and-1, own 34: 3 yards
  • 4th-and-1, opp 21: 4 yards
  • 4th-and-1, opp 8: 2 yards
  • 4th-and-1, opp 34: 7 yards
  • 4th-and-1, own 49: 1 yard
  • 4th-and-1, opp 15: 7 yards
  • 4th-and-2, opp 46: 7 yards
  • 4th-and-1, own 46: 14 yards
  • 4th-and-1, opp 10: 2 yards
  • 4th-and-1, opp 32: 2 yards
  • 4th-and-2, opp 2: 2 yards (TD)
  • 4th-and-2, opp 9: 2 yards
  • 4th-and-1, own 42: 52 yards
  • 4th-and-1, own 49: 1 yard
  • 4th-and-2, opp 32: 7 yards
  • 4th-and-1, own 34: 14 yards
  • 4th-and-1, opp 25: 5 yards
  • 4th-and-1, own 17: 3 yards
  • 4th-and-1, opp 27: 2 yards
  • 4th-and-1, opp 2: 2 yards (TD)
  • 4th-and-1, opp 31: 1 yard
  • 4th-and-1, own 44: 5 yards
  • 4th-and-1, opp 14: 2 yards
  • 4th-and-1, opp 35: 3 yards

That 4th-and-1 play from its own 17-yard line came at Buffalo, with 1:05 remaining in the first half and Army leading 21-7.

What Monken and Army did last season may start to become a trend. This statistic was published following last year’s regular season (but prior to the bowl games):

Teams are going for it on fourth down an average of 1.683 times per game during the 2018 season, which is by far the highest rate over the last 10 years. Overall, it’s a 22.8 percent increase from the 2009 season when teams went for it on fourth down 1.371 times per game.

Of course, that average doesn’t apply evenly to teams. Army went for it on fourth down 2.769 times per game, which is obviously higher than average — but even higher when considering the percentage of fourth downs faced, because of the way the Black Knights limited possessions. Army went for it 44.4% of the time on fourth down.

This interactive chart includes similar numbers for all of the FBS teams. It’s a very interesting (and well-constructed) graphic.

(Of note, there is a small error in its stats for Army; I believe that is because a field goal attempted on 3rd down at the end of the first half against Liberty was counted as a 4th down situation.)

That graphic accompanies this solid article focusing on Washington State’s 4th-down tendencies under Mike Leach.

The Citadel went for it on fourth down 36.9% of the time on fourth down last season. That was the second-highest rate in the SoCon, behind only VMI (39.5%).

Davidson went for it 55.6% of the time, by a wide margin the highest percentage in D-1. Kennesaw State ranked 2nd in FCS (43.6%), while VMI was 6th, The Citadel 8th, and Samford 11th.

In case you were wondering (because I was), Davidson averaged just two punts per game, fewest in FCS. The Wildcats only attempted four field goals all season, tied for second-fewest (with Jacksonville) in the sub-division. Only Presbyterian (three) attempted fewer field goals in D-1.

Towson’s 25.3% rate ranked 23rd. The Tigers did not really punt that often, but they attempted 29 field goals, tied for second-most in FCS (only Arkansas-Pine Bluff tried more).

Charleston Southern (14.0%) was 100th in go-for-it rate. The Buccaneers had only 14 fourth-down conversion attempts in 2018.

Another 2019 opponent for the Bulldogs, Elon, had a go-for-it rate of 18.9%, which was 68th nationally, and slightly below the FCS average (20.6%).

What follows is a table of all the teams in the Southern Conference. This statistic includes all games, including non-conference contests:

Team 4th down go for it rate
VMI 39.5%
The Citadel 36.9%
Samford 32.5%
Wofford 22.9%
Western Carolina 19.5%
Chattanooga 18.6%
Furman 17.8%
East Tennessee State 16.0%
Mercer 12.7%

There is clearly a difference in approach among the league teams. For example, Mercer (112th nationally) only attempted 10 fourth-down conversions all season. Part of that may have had to do with the Bears’ outstanding punt unit, as Mercer led FCS in net punting in 2018.

In the interest of equal time, it should be pointed out that generally conservative decision-making can be successful, too.

As mentioned earlier, Georgia Southern took this path last season (12.4% “go for it” rate), and proceeded to win 10 games in a bounce-back season. Excellence in other facets of the game justified a more punt-driven philosophy. Just to highlight two areas of superiority:  GSU placekicker Tyler Bass was 19 for 21 on field goal attempts, and the Eagles only committed five turnovers all year (with no interceptions).

Two of the three lowest rates in the “go for it” category in FCS were James Madison (7.1%, lowest in the sub-division) and North Dakota State (8.5%). It didn’t seem to be a problem. Teams that frequently dominate games usually don’t have to take many risks.

Maine would never have been described as dominant last season. That said, the Black Bears won 10 games anyway, despite a 4th down “go for it” rate of just 13.6%, leading FCS in total punts (96, by far the most in FCS). The flagship school of the Pine Tree State parlayed an outstanding run defense (best in the nation) and gritty situational football into the undisputed CAA title.

It isn’t easy to win a road playoff game with double-digit totals in both punts and penalties (11 each), but that is exactly what Maine did last year at Weber State. The Black Bears did not attempt a fourth down conversion in that contest (and were only 3 for 15 on third down conversion attempts). However, Weber State was held to -1 yard rushing (a total that includes sacks).

Basically, there are a lot of ways to win a football game.

I’ll wrap this up with a re-post of my recommended fourth down decision chart for The Citadel. This is unchanged from last season.

4th-down decision chart

Assorted explanations and observations:

– There are six colors represented on the chart. Three of them are self-explanatory — green (go for it), yellow (field goal attempt), and red (punt).

– Another color, light green, indicates an area where the coach has to decide whether to go for it or attempt a field goal. This is dependent on game conditions, ability of the kicker, etc. Obviously, a chart like this should vary at least slightly for each game.

– The field goal parameters are based on a field goal unit with average accuracy and a realistic distance capability limit of 52 yards. Last year was obviously much better from a field goal kicking perspective for The Citadel, but I decided not to further adjust for accuracy due to sample size issues.

– There are two other color areas on the chart to discuss. One (which is light blue) is called “General’s Choice” and named after (of course) General.

This is a section in which the Bulldogs’ statistics from their most recent seasons tend to suggest that punting is probably the percentage play. The sample size is limited, however, and some available statistics suggest that going for it may be a reasonable decision.

– There is also a gray section that I named “Boo Territory”, after the reportedly more hyper and aggressive of the school’s two mascots.

Most of the time, punting is the play in this section. There are a surprising number of analytical sources which would advocate going for it in this area, though.

The Citadel’s historic statistical profile (“historic” meaning the last few years under Mike Houston/Brent Thompson) doesn’t truly justify that level of aggression, however. That is why the section isn’t green (or even light blue).

On the other hand, going for it in Boo Territory could be a game-changer — and faking a punt in this area could also be a consideration.

The season is here! The season is here!

We’re all grateful for that, so much so that we won’t even mind our team punting in opposition territory on fourth and short.

(Okay, maybe not that grateful.)

Inside the Numbers, Part 2: The Citadel’s 2018 4th down decision-making, plus Red Zone stats, 3rd down conversion info, SoCon discussion, and more (including coin toss data!)

This is Part 2 of my annual “Inside the Numbers” post. Why is it in two parts? Well, because it is a big ol’ pile of words and numbers, and couldn’t be contained in just one post.

If you happened on this part of the writeup first, you may want to first go to Part 1 for the introduction. You can read Part 1 right here.

Referenced throughout this post will be The Spreadsheet.

Let’s start this part of the post with the Red Zone, an area of the field which apparently got that moniker from none other than Joe Gibbs.

  • The Citadel’s offensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2016: 64.5%
  • The Citadel’s offensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2017: 43.3%
  • The Citadel’s offensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2018: 66.7%

Better, much better. 2017 was a disaster in the Red Zone, but in 2018 the Bulldogs finished a respectable 4th in the league.

There is still room for improvement, though. My suggestion: figure out why scoring from inside the 20-yard line against VMI is so difficult.

In the last four games against the Keydets, The Citadel has only scored 6 touchdowns in 20 trips to the Red Zone. That is maddening. The ability to finish drives is paramount when the coveted Silver Shako is on the line.

When all games are taken into account, the Bulldogs had a Red Zone TD rate of 63.6% last season, good for 42nd nationally (they were 90th in 2017). Davidson, which scored touchdowns on 35 of 40 trips inside the 20-yard line, led FCS (87.5%). Also in the top five: Robert Morris, Jacksonville, North Dakota State, and North Carolina A&T.

While it helps to be proficient in the Red Zone, it isn’t an automatic indicator of success. Davidson, the subject of some discussion in Part 1 of this post, had crazy offensive numbers but was 6-5 overall (still a sizable improvement over previous years for the Wildcats).

Meanwhile, Robert Morris scored TDs in 29 of 37 Red Zone opportunities, but finished 2-9, which can happen when opponents average 43.5 points per game. Jacksonville allowed 38.7 points per game, and thus JU wound up 2-8.

On the other hand, North Dakota State and North Carolina A&T won a lot of games, as did UC Davis (6th in this category), South Dakota State (7th), San Diego (8th), Kennesaw State (10th), and Princeton (11th).

Samford was 12th, Furman 15th, Mercer 34th, South Carolina State 46th, VMI 58th, ETSU 68th, Presbyterian 71st, Wofford 73rd, Elon 90th, Western Carolina 92nd, Towson 94th, James Madison 96th, Chattanooga 98th, Charleston Southern 101st (after finishing 6th nationally in 2017), and Alabama State 124th and last (at 34.5%).

Eastern Washington had the most Red Zone opportunities in FCS, with 76 (converting 65.8% of them into TDs). James Madison had the second-most RZ chances in the subdivision (69); the Dukes also finished second in Red Zone opportunities in 2017.

Presbyterian only entered the Red Zone 17 times last season, fewest in FCS.

As far as FBS teams are concerned, UCF led the way, with a TD rate in the Red Zone of 79.7%. Following the Knights in this category were Miami (OH), Houston, Washington State, and Navy.

Other notables: Clemson (6th), Army (tied for 16th), Georgia Southern (19th), Alabama (30th), Oklahoma (32nd), Coastal Carolina (75th), South Carolina (tied for 100th), Southern California (109th), LSU (119th), and Arkansas (130th and last, at 43.2%).

The top five in Red Zone chances: Alabama (79 in 15 games), Syracuse (75 in 13 games), Clemson (75 in 15 games), Ohio (72 in 13 games), and North Carolina State (71 in 13 games).

Oklahoma was 7th, Army tied for 24th (as did Georgia Tech), South Carolina tied for 34th, and Akron finished at the bottom (only 21 times inside the 20-yard line in 12 games).

  • The Citadel’s defensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2016: 66.7%
  • The Citadel’s defensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2017: 81.8%
  • The Citadel’s defensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2018: 58.6%

Again, this was a big improvement from 2017. The Citadel finished 3rd in the SoCon in defensive Red Zone TD rate.

The best defensive team in conference play in the Red Zone was Chattanooga, followed by Furman.

Nationally, The Citadel finished 36th in defensive Red Zone TD rate (the Bulldogs were 117th in 2017). North Carolina A&T, with a 31.0% rate, topped FCS. The Aggies were followed by North Dakota State and three northeastern programs — Holy Cross, Colgate, and Dartmouth.

James Madison was 6th, Chattanooga 7th, South Carolina State 19th, Elon 29th, Mercer 60th, Charleston Southern 61st, ETSU 63rd, Furman 65th, Western Carolina 78th, Wofford 81st, Samford 105th, Towson 106th, VMI 112th, and Morehead State 124th and last (opponents scored 42 TDs in 49 Red Zone possessions against the Eagles — 85.7%).

Quick note: Furman’s defense allowed touchdowns on 14 of 25 Red Zone trips in conference play (56%). The Paladins’ non-league opponents, however, scored on 85.7% of possessions that ventured inside the 20, which is why nationally FU is a bit lower (62.5%) than in the SoCon stats.

That discrepancy is a sample-size issue, though, and one I thought worth mentioning. Thanks to a cancellation caused by Hurricane Florence, Furman only had two non-conference opponents, and they were Clemson and Elon. Clemson was 4 for 5 scoring TDs inside the 20-yard line, and Elon was 2 for 2.

The more you know…

Princeton’s opponents only made 17 trips to the Red Zone in 10 games, fewest in all of FCS. Colgate, Dartmouth, and North Dakota State were also stingy when it came to letting teams get close to their respective end zones.

The Citadel was 61st overall, facing 41 Red Zone possessions in 11 contests. VMI tied for allowing the most opponent appearances inside the 20, with 61 in 11 games, sharing that dubious mark with Robert Morris and Northern Colorado.

Mississippi State led FBS in defensive Red Zone touchdown rate, at 29.4%. Others in the top 5: Auburn, Michigan State, Oregon, and Clemson.

Alabama tied for 56th, South Carolina was 65th, and Coastal Carolina was 103rd. None other than Oklahoma (!) finished last. The Sooners allowed TDs on 45 of 54 Red Zone trips by their opponents (83.3%).

The fewest Red Zone appearances by their opponents: Fresno State, with just 27 in 14 games. The most allowed: Connecticut, with 67 in 12 games.

  • The Citadel’s offensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon play, 2016: 50.4%
  • The Citadel’s offensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon play, 2017: 38.7%
  • The Citadel’s offensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon play, 2018: 45.3%

The Bulldogs finished second in the league, behind Samford (48.2%). The league average in 2018 was 39.7%. The Citadel also had the most third down conversion attempts in SoCon action.

This was another category in which Davidson (55.6%) finished first in FCS. Princeton, North Dakota State, and Yale joined the Wildcats in the top 5. Kennesaw State was 6th, Samford 10th, and The Citadel 22nd.

Furman was 24th, Western Carolina 27th, Wofford 40th, Towson 42nd, Chattanooga 44th, ETSU 61st, Elon 62nd, Mercer 72nd, VMI 92nd, Presbyterian 93rd, South Carolina State 115th, Charleston Southern 119th, and Savannah State (which is moving to D-2) 124th and last, at 23.7%.

Army led FBS in 3rd-down conversion rate (57.1%). Boise State was 2nd, followed by Alabama, Oklahoma, and UCF.

Clemson was 20th, Georgia Tech 26th, South Carolina 41st, Coastal Carolina 42nd, Air Force 50th, Georgia Southern 70th, Navy 76th, North Texas 84th, New Mexico 85th, Florida Atlantic 119th, and Rice 130th and last at 28.7%.

  • The Citadel’s defensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon action, 2016: 33.3%
  • The Citadel’s defensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon action, 2017: 33.3%
  • The Citadel’s defensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon action, 2018: 35.1%

For the fourth consecutive year, the Bulldogs were very solid in this area.

Wofford led the league, at 30.4%. VMI, which allowed league opponents to convert third downs at a 48.1% clip, was last.

North Carolina A&T topped FCS with a defensive 3rd-down conversion rate of 25.4%. Jacksonville State, Weber State, Harvard, and Sam Houston State completed the top 5.

Wofford was 25th overall, The Citadel 38th, South Carolina State 44th, Elon 55th, Samford 68th, Furman 74th, Chattanooga 75th, Charleston Southern 85th, Towson 91st, ETSU 93rd, Presbyterian 95th, Western Carolina 106th, Mercer 109th, VMI 118th, and Butler (which definitely didn’t do it in this category) 124th and last, at 53.6%.

A brief comment: The Citadel opens its season this year with games against Towson and Elon (the latter on the road). It is clear the Bulldogs need to maintain these advantages in 3rd-down conversion rate on both sides of the ball. Another thing that has to happen for The Citadel to win either of those games, of course, is to force its opponents to face more third downs in the first place.

Miami (FL) allowed its opponent to convert only 25.3% of third down attempts last season, good enough to lead all of FBS. The Hurricanes were followed by UAB, Mississippi State, Army, and Cincinnati, with Clemson finishing 6th.

Alabama was 24th, Georgia Southern 62nd, South Carolina 70th, Air Force 94th, Coastal Carolina 115th, Navy 122th, Georgia Tech 129th, and Louisville 130th and last (51.9%). Bobby Petrino just couldn’t rally the defense on third down; hard to believe, isn’t it?

  • The Citadel’s defense in 2016 in SoCon action: 21 sacks, 29 passes defensed in 211 pass attempts (13.7% PD)
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2017 in SoCon action: 13 sacks, 24 passes defensed in 205 pass attempts (11.7% PD)
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2018 in SoCon action: 29 sacks, 27 passes defensed in 287 pass attempts (10.5% PD)

Note: Passes defensed is a statistic that combines pass breakups with interceptions (but plays that result in sacks are not counted as part of the PD rate).

The Bulldogs led the league in sacks last season. Notice the large increase in pass plays faced by The Citadel in 2018; VMI accounts for a good chunk of that differential, and then Samford’s Devlin Hodges never quit slinging the pigskin against the Bulldogs, either.

The Citadel had 24 “hurries”, down slightly from 2017. I’m not a huge fan of that stat, because I’m not completely sure it is consistently interpreted by all game scorers.

The Citadel’s “havoc rate” was 19.9%, up a little from 2017 (when it was 19.4%). The definition of havoc rate: tackles for loss, forced fumbles, and passes defensed, all added together and then divided by total plays.

I do not believe there is a website that compiles havoc rates for FCS teams, but Football Outsiders does track the statistic for FBS teams, so that can be a little bit of a measuring stick. A havoc rate of 19.9% would have been good enough to tie Penn State for 8th nationally in FBS in 2018.

Naturally, that 19.9% was for conference games only. For the entire season, The Citadel’s havoc rate was 19.1%.

I compiled the havoc rate for the nine SoCon teams, counting all games played and not just league contests. In the table below, “TFL” stands for tackles for loss; “FF” refers to forced fumbles; and “INT/PBU” combines interceptions with passes broken up.

Team TFL FF INT/PBU Def. Plays Havoc rate
ETSU 92 10 69 840 20.4%
The Citadel 83 12 34 675 19.1%
Furman 59 11 40 680 16.2%
Chattanooga 57 16 52 779 16.0%
Wofford 70 8 48 806 15.6%
Samford 61 9 42 790 14.2%
WCU 62 11 45 837 14.1%
Mercer 60 10 40 834 13.2%
VMI 52 3 38 837 11.1%

 

Some of the raw totals were really close, as you can see.

The top 5 “havoc rate” teams in FBS in 2018: Miami (FL), Alabama, Clemson, Michigan State, and Texas A&M. The Hurricanes had a havoc rate of 24.2%.

Louisville finished last in havoc rate, at 9.1%, well behind even Connecticut and Georgia State (which tied for next to last).

In this section, I’m going to discuss “big plays”. There are different definitions of what constitutes a big play. My methodology is simple (maybe too simple); I define “big plays” as offensive plays from scrimmage resulting in gains of 20+ yards, regardless of whether or not they are rushing or passing plays.

  • The Citadel’s offensive plays from scrimmage resulting in gains of 20 or more yards, 2016: 26 (15 rushing, 11 passing)
  • The Citadel’s offensive plays from scrimmage resulting in gains of 20 or more yards, 2017: 36 (21 rushing, 15 passing)
  • The Citadel’s offensive plays from scrimmage resulting in gains of 20 or more yards, 2018: 26 (13 rushing, 13 passing)

In 2016, 19 of the 26 big plays by the Bulldogs’ offense in conference play either resulted in touchdowns or led to touchdowns on the same drive. In 2017, however, that number fell to just 17 of 36, as the Bulldogs were woeful in the Red Zone.

Last year, 18 of 26 big plays directly or indirectly resulted in TDs, as The Citadel all but matched its 2016 numbers.

The Bulldogs need to increase their number of long running plays this season. There should be at least two big plays each game on the ground. Three per game would be even better.

  • Plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more allowed by The Citadel’s defense, 2016: 28 (9 rushing, 19 passing)
  • Plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more allowed by The Citadel’s defense, 2017: 32 (10 rushing, 22 passing)
  • Plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more allowed by The Citadel’s defense, 2018: 37 (10 rushing, 27 passing)

In 2016, 18 of 28 big plays given up led directly or indirectly to touchdowns. In 2017, 25 of 32 allowed long gainers ultimately resulted in TDs.

Last year, 23 of 37 big plays allowed immediately or eventually led to touchdowns. That isn’t a terrible rate, but 37 sizable gains given up in eight league games is obviously too many. The Bulldogs cannot afford to give up major chunks of yardage like that.

  • The Citadel’s offense on 4th down in league play in 2016: 8 for 16 (50.0%)
  • The Citadel’s offense on 4th down in league play in 2017: 8 for 19 (42.1%)
  • The Citadel’s offense on 4th down in league play in 2018: 16 of 27 (59.3%)

  • The Citadel’s defense on 4th down in league play in 2016: 5 for 9 converted against (55.6%)
  • The Citadel’s defense on 4th down in league play in 2017: 3 for 7 converted against (42.9%)
  • The Citadel’s defense on 4th down in league play in 2018: 6 for 14 converted against (49.9%

The 4th-down conversion rate for SoCon teams in league play was 56.6%.

The increasing aggressiveness on 4th-down calls by the Bulldogs is noticeable and, in my opinion, promising.

For the season, The Citadel attempted 38 4th-down conversion tries, and was successful on 23 of them (60.5%). Nationally, only VMI (45) and Southern Utah (44) attempted more among FCS teams.

The Bulldogs’ 23 made conversions ranked second overall to Southern Utah (which converted 28 times, succeeding 63.6% of the time). VMI was 21 for 45 (46.7%).

North Dakota State led the subdivision in success rate on 4th down, at 85.7%; the Bison only attempted to convert 7 fourth downs, making 6 of them. Other high-percentage 4th-down teams: Princeton, Mercer, Dartmouth, and Furman. Others in the top ten included Kennesaw State (8th) and Western Carolina (9th).

Of the top nine teams, however, only Kennesaw State (34 tries) and Princeton (23) attempted as many as 20 4th-down attempts. Mercer had 10 conversion attempts; Furman, 13.

I think there is a real advantage to be gained by succeeding on 4th down, particularly in volume. For the proof of that, all anyone has to do is look at Army, which attempted 36 4th-down tries (tied for 4th in FBS) and converted an amazing 31 of them.

Making 86.1% of so many 4th-down attempts is incredible, and a big reason why the Black Knights won 11 games, especially when you factor in the fact that Army also led all of FBS in 3rd-down conversion rate (at 57.1%).

Here is one way to think about it: Army attempted 196 third-down conversions last season, making 112 of them. However, the Black Knights eventually picked up a first down 31 times after not succeeding on third down. If you throw those into the mix, Army wound up moving the chains 73% of the time after facing a third down — which is a staggering rate.

One key reason for Army’s success on 4th down: 23 of those attempts were 4th-and-1 plays. The Black Knights made 21 of them.

Which team’s offenses weren’t good on 4th down? Well, Penn was 0 for 8 on 4th-down attempts. Then there was Howard, which converted a pedestrian 36.1% of the time, but went for it on 4th down a lot, winding up 13 for 36 on the season. Only VMI (24) had more failed 4th-down conversion attempts, and as noted above the Keydets tried more of them than any other team.

Lane Kiffin ordered up the most 4th-down tries in FBS, as his Florida Atlantic squad attempted 44 of them. At 28.6%, San Jose State had the worse 4th-down conversion rate in that subdivision.

Gentlemen, it is better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football.

John Heisman, who was possibly a bit overzealous when it came to ball control

When evaluating fumble stats, one of the guiding principles is that teams generally have a 50-50 chance at the recovery.

  • The Citadel’s offensive fumbles in SoCon action, 2016: 12 (lost 5)
  • The Citadel’s offensive fumbles in SoCon action, 2017: 17 (lost 7)
  • The Citadel’s offensive fumbles in SoCon action, 2018: 16 (lost 8)

  • The Citadel’s defensive forced fumbles in SoCon action, 2016: 13 (recovered 8)
  • The Citadel’s defensive forced fumbles in SoCon action, 2017: 9 (recovered 5)
  • The Citadel’s defensive forced fumbles in SoCon action, 2018: 12 (recovered 5)

Obviously, the defense must work hard to get luckier. Perhaps the team can search local fields for four-leaf clovers.

On average, SoCon teams lost 5.55 fumbles in league play.

  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel in SoCon action, 2016: 45
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel in SoCon action, 2017: 43
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel in SoCon action: 2018: 43

The average number of total penalties against SoCon teams in league play was 48. The Citadel actually had the fewest penalties in the conference, but there was a catch: the Bulldogs were assessed more major infractions than most, resulting in 57.8 penalty yards per game (5th-most in the SoCon).

  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel’s opponents in SoCon action, 2016: 33
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel’s opponents in SoCon action, 2017: 26
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel’s opponents in SoCon action, 2018: 37

For the first time in many years, the Bulldogs did not rank last in this category, as their opponents were actually called for more penalties last year than the norm. However, the penalty yardage assessed against The Citadel’s opposition was still below average.

  • Punts by The Citadel while in opposing territory in 2016, SoCon action: 1 (in eight games)
  • Punts by The Citadel while in opposing territory in 2017, SoCon action: 5 (in eight games)
  • Punts by The Citadel while in opposing territory in 2018, SoCon action: 4 (in eight games)

I think the Bulldogs should have gone for it on two of the four punts, to be honest, but in the end all of these moves more or less worked out for The Citadel. Perhaps the most questionable punt came in the season opener against Wofford, but the Terriers threw an interception just two plays later that set up a Bulldogs TD, so it is rather hard to argue with Brent Thompson’s decision.

The bottom line is that I’m glad there were only four.

  • Punts by The Citadel’s opponents while in Bulldogs territory in 2016, SoCon action: 1 (in eight games)
  • Punts by The Citadel’s opponents while in Bulldogs territory in 2017, SoCon action: 5 (in eight games)
  • Punts by The Citadel’s opponents while in Bulldogs territory in 2018, SoCon action: 2 (in eight games)

Don’t ask me why VMI punted on 4th and 15 at The Citadel’s 27-yard line late in the second quarter, then decided to go for it on 4th and 8 from its own 33 on the opening drive of the third quarter (in a tie game).

Ah, 4th down. That toddlin’ down…

Defining some terms (courtesy of Football Outsiders):

– Deep Zone: from a team’s own goal line to its 20-yard line
– Back Zone: from a team’s own 21-yard line to its 39-yard line
– Mid Zone: from a team’s own 40-yard line to its opponent’s 40-yard line
– Front Zone: from an opponent’s 39-yard line to the opponent’s 21-yard line
– Red Zone: from an opponent’s 20-yard line to the opponent’s goal line

On the spreadsheet I have categorized every fourth down situation The Citadel’s offense had in Southern Conference play (see the “4th down decisions” tab).

The Citadel punted on six of seven occasions in which it had a fourth down in the Deep Zone. The exception came against Furman, a “desperation” attempt down two scores with less than a minute to play.

In the Back Zone, the Bulldogs punted 9 times and went for it 5 times — against Wofford (2nd quarter, 4th-and-1, trailing by three scores), Chattanooga (4th quarter, 4th-and-2, game tied), Mercer (1st quarter, 4th-and-1, down 7-0), East Tennessee State (less than 2 minutes to play, 4th-and-5, down by 3 points), and Samford (early in the 4th quarter, 4th-and-1, trailing by 6).

The Citadel converted three of those. The successful pickup against Samford led to a 60-yard go-ahead touchdown run on the very next play. The 4th-down pass attempt versus ETSU did not go nearly as well, to say the least. The run versus UTC would have resulted in a first down, except it was fumbled away.

In the Mid Zone, the Bulldogs punted 19 times and went for it on 4th down five times, making two of those. One of the two successful conversions was a “desperation” attempt.

In the Front Zone, The Citadel had two punts (both mentioned earlier), one made field goal, and went for it nine times, converting seven of them. Six of the seven conversions were on 4th-and-1 or 4th-and-2; the other was on 4th-and-3. The two failed tries were on 4th-and-4 and 4th-and-8.

In the Red Zone, The Citadel attempted six field goals (making five), and went for it seven times (making a first down and/or touchdown on four of those).

That is an improvement over previous years. In the four preceding seasons, the Bulldogs were 2 for 8 going for it on 4th down in the Red Zone (not counting overtime games).

I also have listed what SoCon opponents did on 4th down versus The Citadel.

In the Deep Zone, it is fairly simple. Opponents punted on all eleven occasions they were faced with a fourth down.

In the Back Zone, there were 14 punts and two conversion attempts. Earlier, I mentioned VMI’s somewhat bizarre 4th-down try. The other attempt was a late-game “desperation” effort by Samford that was not successful.

In the Mid Zone, opponents punted seven times. There was one 4th-down attempt, a late-game try by Western Carolina while down 14 points. It was 4th-and-10, but the Catamounts pulled it off anyway, completing a 20-yard pass for the first down.

In the Front Zone, there was the aforementioned punt by VMI (from the Bulldogs’ 27), and five field goal attempts (two successful). On 4th-down tries, opponents were 4 for 8.

There were seven field goal attempts by the Bulldogs’ opponents in the Red Zone, with six of them sailing through the uprights. There were three 4th-down tries:

  • VMI, down 7-0 early in the 1st quarter, rushed for nine yards on 4th-and-1 from The Citadel’s 15-yard line (and scored on the next play).
  • Western Carolina, down 14 points with three minutes to play, threw an incomplete pass on 4th-and-2 from The Citadel’s 4-yard line.
  • Samford, down 15 points with just over a minute to play, threw an incomplete pass on 4th-and-2 from The Citadel’s 8-yard line.

(Note: as discussed before, overtime games are not included in these tabulations.)

A few years ago, The Citadel seemed to embark on a policy of deferring the option to the second half every time it won the coin toss. The Bulldogs won the coin toss 4 times in SoCon play in 2015, and deferred on each occasion.

In 2016, The Citadel won the coin toss 6 times in 8 league games. In five of the six games in which the Bulldogs won the toss, they deferred, just as they had done in 2015. The exception was at Western Carolina, where The Citadel elected to receive after winning the toss.

In 2017, The Citadel was 5-3 in coin toss contests, and deferred all five times it won.

So what did the Bulldogs do last year? Well, they won the coin toss four times. On two of those occasions, both at home, they deferred — but on the road at VMI and at Western Carolina, they elected to receive the opening kickoff.

I’m not sure why, unless the home/road situation was a factor. However, it had not been an issue in prior seasons.

Someone should ask Brent Thompson about this. It is certainly something that must be investigated. If necessary, Congressional hearings should be held.

There is a tab on the spreadsheet that lists game-by-game attendance (home and away) and game length (in terms of time). Home games at Johnson Hagood Stadium took on average 12 minutes less to play than contests the Bulldogs played on the road.

This was an almost complete reversal from 2017, when home games were on average 11 minutes longer than road matchups. That is because last season’s road games averaged 3:15, while the year before they clocked in at just 2:54 — a 21-minute difference. Perhaps more teams having instant replay capability resulted in increased game length.

I’m ready for football season. Isn’t everybody?

Football attendance at The Citadel: an annual review (also including SoCon discussion and assorted FCS observations)

Other recent posts about football at The Citadel:

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

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

– Homecoming at The Citadel — a brief gridiron history

This post is (mostly) about home attendance at The Citadel, a subject I’ve written about many times over the years. However, I’ll also delve into the SoCon and national FCS attendance numbers.

First, a spreadsheet:

Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium, 1964-2018

The above link is to a spreadsheet that tracks attendance for The Citadel’s home football games, and which has now been updated to include the 2018 season. The spreadsheet lists year-by-year totals and average game attendance, and the win/loss record for the Bulldogs in each season. There is also a category ranking the years by average attendance.

This year, I have also included the home win/loss records for each season.

Other columns refer to the program’s winning percentage over a two-year, three-year, five-year, and ten-year period, with the “current” season being the final year in each category. For example, the three-year winning percentage for 1970 (54.84%) is made up of the 1968, 1969, and 1970 seasons.

I include those categories mainly to see what impact, if any, constant winning (or losing) has on long-term attendance trends.

In the last few years, I have compared average attendance for the first two games of a season to the last two contests of the same campaign. Clearly, there are sample-size issues when making such a comparison (weather, opponent fan base, etc.), but I’ve decided to keep up with it anyway. I’ve added the 2018 numbers, as part of an eight-year stretch:

  • 2011 [4-7 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 12,756; final two home games, average attendance of 12,387 (including Homecoming)
  • 2012 [7-4 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 13,281; final two home games, average attendance of 13,715 (including Homecoming)
  • 2013 [5-7 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 13,370; final two home games, average attendance of 12,948 (including Homecoming)
  • 2014 [5-7 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 9,700; final two home games, average attendance of 9,563 (including Homecoming)
  • 2015 [9-4 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 8,356; final two home games, average attendance of 12,465 (including Homecoming)
  • 2016 [10-2 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 13,299; final two home games, average attendance of 13,996 (including Homecoming)
  • 2017 [5-6 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 8,718; final two home games, average attendance of 9,496 (including Homecoming)
  • 2018 [5-6 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 9,559; final two home games, average attendance of 9,511 (including Homecoming and a rescheduled game)

Since 1964, the Bulldogs’ record at Johnson Hagood Stadium is 189-117 (61.8%). The average home attendance over that time period is 13,978. However, there has not been a season in which home attendance averaged more than 13,978 since 2006.

The current stadium capacity is less than 12,000, due to the demolition of the East stands in the spring of 2017. Obviously, The Citadel cannot expect to see an increase in attendance to the levels of the early part of this century anytime soon (to say nothing of the attendance figures for the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s).

Last year’s average home attendance of 9,343 was the second-lowest for any season since attendance figures at Johnson Hagood Stadium can be accurately determined. Over the previous 54 years, only one season featured lower home attendance — 2017.

As always, it is worth mentioning that the cutoff for accuracy in attendance numbers means years like 1959 (eight wins), 1960 (Tangerine Bowl victory), and 1961 (SoCon title) cannot be included for comparison in this review, not to mention any of the other years from 1948, when the most recent iteration of Johnson Hagood Stadium opened, through the 1963 season. I am not particularly confident in any season attendance figures prior to 1964. (It could be argued that I shouldn’t be overly confident of the attendance numbers that followed, either.)

From what I can tell, the largest home attendance at any pre-1964 contest was probably for the Homecoming game against Clemson in 1948, when an estimated 16,000 fans were present for the dedication of the “new” Johnson Hagood Stadium.

In case anyone was wondering, here are the top average attendance marks over two-year, three-year, five-year, and ten-year periods:

  • Two years: 1975-76 (18,250). Rest of the top five: 1991-92, 1979-80, 1990-91, 1989-90
  • Three years: 1990-92 (17,457). Rest of the top five: 1989-91, 1978-80, 1991-93, 1975-77
  • Five years: 1988-92 (17,126). Rest of the top five: 1989-93, 1975-79, 1976-80, 1990-94
  • Ten years: 1975-84 (16,250). Rest of the top five: 1983-92, 1974-83, 1976-85, 1984-93

Average attendance by decade:

  • 1964-69: 11,998
  • 1970-79: 15,053
  • 1980-89: 15,398
  • 1990-99: 14,955
  • 2000-09: 13,850
  • 2010-18: 11,398

I wrote this in April of 2018:

One obvious issue with attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium is that currently about half of the stadium does not exist. Of course, right now nothing is going to happen on that front, because the school doesn’t have a president or a permanent director of athletics.

When the new president is in place, one of his top priorities should be getting a permanent structure built on the east side of the stadium. It should be the top priority for the new AD.

Well, The Citadel now has a new school president, and it also has a permanent AD. Despite that, there hasn’t been a lot of public discussion about the stadium.

A scan of the minutes from recent meetings of the Board of Visitors doesn’t reveal anything, either. A couple of brief snippets from the January 25/26 minutes:

Mr. [Mike] Capaccio discussed the results of recruitment efforts, competitions and practice opportunities, and a student-athlete academic summary for fall of 2018, including degrees that the student-athletes are pursuing. His noted his goal is to “pay off off past debt and to move forward” and “our fans are loyal and regularly support” Citadel teams…

…Dr. [Jay] Dowd gave an overview of fundraising for 2018 for TCF [The Citadel Foundation], TCBF [The Citadel Brigadier Foundation], and an update on TCREF [The Citadel Real Estate Foundation]. Both TCF and TCBF achieved or exceeded their 2018 goals.

During the meeting on March 1, the field did get a mention:

The donor of the new artificial turf on the field at Johnson Hagood Stadium has opted for a better quality product which has delayed the beginning of the project.

I wish there could be a little more “buzz” about the stadium, to be honest. I’ve been told that it is going to happen, which is good. It would be a touch more reassuring, though, if someone in a position of authority put his or her name on a public statement that said something along the lines of “We’ll have the new East stands ready to go by [a year in the very near future].”

Now it is time to take a look at FCS attendance across the board.

2018 NCAA football attendance (all divisions)

Jackson State led the division in average home attendance, at 24,770 (four games). That was higher than 50 FBS programs, including several bowl teams and one Power 5 school (Kansas).

JSU also had a higher average home attendance than the school average for four FBS conferences (Mountain West, Sun Belt, C-USA, MAC). Overall, Jackson State ranked 81st in NCAA home football attendance, regardless of division.

Montana was second overall in FCS, averaging 24,677 (six games). Four FCS programs ranked in the overall top 100 in home attendance — Jackson State, Montana, James Madison, and Southern.

Those four joined North Dakota State in averaging more than 18,000 fans per game. Last season, seven FCS schools hit that standard.

The Citadel ranked 24th out of 125 FCS schools, and third in the Southern Conference (behind Western Carolina and Mercer). Despite the lack of permanent seating on the east side of the stadium, the program finished in the top 30 of FCS in attendance for the twelfth time in the last thirteen years.

Here is a table that includes all 125 FCS squads (including “transitioning” North Alabama) and their respective home attendance totals/averages/rankings for the 2018 season:

Team G Total Att. Average Rank
Jackson State 4 99,079 24,770 1
Montana 6 148,064 24,677 2
James Madison 6 125,466 20,911 3
Southern 4 75,212 18,803 4
North Dakota State 10 181,055 18,106 5
Florida A&M 6 107,239 17,873 6
Jacksonville State 6 101,421 16,904 7
Montana State 7 115,299 16,471 8
Delaware 6 97,791 16,299 9
Alabama State 4 64,293 16,073 10
North Carolina A&T 5 77,468 15,494 11
Alcorn State 6 91,103 15,184 12
Alabama A&M 4 50,086 12,522 13
Youngstown State 6 69,322 11,554 14
Idaho 5 56,400 11,280 15
McNeese State 5 54,814 10,963 16
Western Carolina 5 52,900 10,580 17
Tennessee State 4 41,688 10,422 18
South Dakota State 7 71,243 10,178 19
New Hampshire 6 60,921 10,154 20
Harvard 5 49,211 9,842 21
Mercer 5 49,015 9,803 22
South Dakota 5 47,098 9,420 23
The Citadel 5 46,715 9,343 24
Northern Iowa 6 56,020 9,337 25
North Dakota 5 46,682 9,336 26
Illinois State 6 55,561 9,260 27
William & Mary 4 36,922 9,231 28
South Carolina State 5 45,871 9,174 29
Abilene Christian 5 44,953 8,991 30
Norfolk State 6 53,211 8,869 31
North Carolina Central 5 44,318 8,864 32
Idaho State 5 44,134 8,827 33
Chattanooga 5 43,761 8,752 34
Prairie View A&M 4 34,620 8,655 35
UC Davis 5 42,529 8,506 36
East Tennessee State 6 50,619 8,437 37
Elon 5 41,336 8,267 38
Weber State 7 57,817 8,260 39
Southern Utah 5 41,019 8,204 40
Grambling State 4 32,738 8,185 41
Richmond 5 40,428 8,086 42
Eastern Washington 8 63,795 7,974 43
Sam Houston State 5 39,554 7,911 44
Stony Brook 5 39,068 7,814 45
Northwestern State 5 38,914 7,783 46
Penn 5 38,839 7,768 47
Nicholls State 6 46,180 7,697 48
Central Arkansas 5 38,416 7,683 49
Yale 5 38,286 7,657 50
Austin Peay 5 37,810 7,562 51
Sacramento State 4 29,850 7,463 52
Missouri State 6 44,432 7,405 53
Eastern Kentucky 6 43,775 7,296 54
Maine 5 35,468 7,094 55
Lamar 6 42,462 7,077 56
Northern Arizona 5 35,178 7,036 57
North Alabama 5 33,774 6,755 58
Princeton 6 39,371 6,562 59
Southern Illinois 5 32,786 6,557 60
Cal Poly 6 39,175 6,529 61
Hampton 5 32,634 6,527 62
Murray State 5 30,945 6,189 63
Furman 4 24,555 6,139 64
Towson 6 36,681 6,114 65
Bethune-Cookman 4 24,310 6,078 66
Lafayette 5 29,219 5,844 67
Cornell 5 29,121 5,824 68
Tennessee Tech 5 29,053 5,811 69
Wofford 6 34,837 5,806 70
Kennesaw State 7 40,295 5,756 71
Howard 4 22,806 5,702 72
Arkansas-Pine Bluff 5 28,435 5,687 73
Columbia 5 28,435 5,687 74
Villanova 5 28,303 5,661 75
Indiana State 5 28,283 5,657 76
Holy Cross 5 27,614 5,523 77
Southeastern Louisiana 5 27,477 5,495 78
Samford 5 27,131 5,426 79
Eastern Illinois 5 26,715 5,343 80
Stephen F. Austin 4 21,189 5,297 81
Campbell 7 35,405 5,058 82
Rhode Island 5 24,662 4,932 83
Colgate 5 24,414 4,883 84
Lehigh 5 24,271 4,854 85
Morgan State 5 23,406 4,681 86
Savannah State 5 23,243 4,649 87
Morehead State 6 27,505 4,584 88
Albany (NY) 6 27,096 4,516 89
Southeast Missouri State 6 26,990 4,498 90
Texas Southern 5 21,773 4,355 91
Northern Colorado 6 25,293 4,216 92
Brown 5 20,563 4,113 93
VMI 5 20,556 4,111 94
Dartmouth 5 20,034 4,007 95
Fordham 6 23,781 3,964 96
Mississippi Valley State 4 15,580 3,895 97
Portland State 5 18,993 3,799 98
Central Connecticut State 5 18,490 3,698 99
Davidson 7 25,884 3,698 100
Incarnate Word 4 14,383 3,596 101
Bryant 5 17,831 3,566 102
Western Illinois 5 15,897 3,179 103
Gardner-Webb 6 18,842 3,140 104
Butler 5 14,997 2,999 105
Dayton 5 14,797 2,959 106
UT Martin 5 14,430 2,886 107
Sacred Heart 5 13,746 2,749 108
Monmouth 6 16,463 2,744 109
Bucknell 5 13,144 2,629 110
Wagner 4 9,070 2,268 111
Valparaiso 5 11,264 2,253 112
Houston Baptist 6 13,304 2,217 113
San Diego 5 10,653 2,131 114
Presbyterian 5 10,287 2,057 115
Stetson 6 12,008 2,001 116
Jacksonville 5 9,945 1,989 117
Drake 5 9,201 1,840 118
Georgetown 5 9,201 1,840 119
Charleston Southern 5 8,820 1,764 120
Marist 5 8,657 1,731 121
Delaware State 4 6,836 1,709 122
Duquesne 6 9,802 1,634 123
Robert Morris 5 7,614 1,523 124
St. Francis (PA) 6 7,804 1,301 125

Odds and ends:

– Furman’s home average attendance fell from 7,775 to 6,139, almost back to where FU was in 2016 (5,771). Despite that decline, Furman still outdrew Wofford for a second consecutive season, after a four-year period in which the Spartanburg school had the higher average attendance.

Of course, Furman lost a home game last year when its matchup against Colgate was canceled due to Hurricane Florence. As for Wofford, hosting a first-round playoff game did not help its attendance numbers (as only 2,157 fans were at Gibbs Stadium to see the Terriers play Elon).

– After an increase of 1,702 fans per home contest in 2017, South Carolina State slipped back to an average of 9,174 fans per game last year. While still good enough to finish in the FCS top 30, it was a per-game decline of 2,709 supporters.

SCSU’s average attendance was significantly affected by a rescheduled game against North Carolina Central, which was played in November instead of its original September 15 date. The matchup (one of many postponed by Hurricane Florence) drew only 3,996 fans.

– Three Division II schools (Morehouse, Tuskegee, and Grand Valley State) all had higher home attendance averages than four FBS institutions (Coastal Carolina, Northern Illinois, Massachusetts, and Ball State).

– Other D-2 home attendance averages of interest: Benedict (4,223); Newberry (2,971); North Greenville (3,243); Lenoir-Rhyne (4,998); Chowan (2,981); Catawba (1,903); Carson-Newman (3,639); Valdosta State (4,890); Mars Hill (3,166); Shorter (1,662).

– The three lowest average home attendance totals in FCS last year: Duquesne, Robert Morris, and St. Francis (PA), all of which play in the Northeast Conference. Duquesne won that league and its automatic bid to the playoffs.

– The lowest average home attendance for any NCAA school last season was at Earlham College (IN), of Division III, with 188 fans per contest. Earlham, which has not won a football game since 2013, suspended its football program after last season, and will not compete in 2019.

Western New Mexico had the lowest attendance in Division II, averaging 292 patrons per game. There is a discrepancy between the NCAA’s numbers and the school’s, as Western New Mexico’s statistical attendance summary is incomplete, as this boxscore may indicate. The Mustangs finished with an 0-10 record.

There were 669 football-playing colleges and universities in the NCAA’s three divisions last season.

The average home attendance for SoCon teams (all games) was 7,611, the second consecutive year league attendance has declined:

  • 2014: 8,204
  • 2015: 8,210
  • 2016: 8,386
  • 2017: 7,827
  • 2018: 7,611

As was the case in 2017, East Tennessee State could be considered the median of the SoCon in terms of home attendance, finishing fifth in the league with an average of 8,437 fans per game. League attendance could be easily broken down into two tiers, with a significant difference in average attendance between 5th-place ETSU and 6th-place Furman.

Average attendance across FCS last season was 7,325, though the median attendance was 6,527. Thus, the SoCon was above the national average in terms of attendance (6th out of 13 FCS conferences).

In terms of attendance by league games only — in other words, not counting any non-conference home games (regular or post-season) played by SoCon teams — the average attendance was 7,697, a decline of 130 fans per contest from 2017. The median attendance in this category for 2018 was 8,069, an increase of 286 fans per game from the previous season.

Eight of thirty-six conference games were attended by more than 10,000 people. The most attended SoCon matchup last season was VMI’s game at Western Carolina on September 2, with an announced attendance of 12,759.

VMI also was involved in the lowest-attended league matchup, on September 14, a home game against East Tennessee State that drew only 2,764 fans. It should be noted that ETSU-VMI was played one day earlier than scheduled, on a Friday afternoon, because of (yet again) Hurricane Florence.

Average home attendance, league games only:

  • Western  Carolina: 10,197
  • The Citadel: 9,709
  • Mercer: 9,703
  • Chattanooga: 8,685
  • East Tennessee State: 8,400
  • Wofford: 6,751
  • Furman: 6,138
  • Samford: 5,457
  • VMI: 4,234

The Citadel was easily the top overall road draw in league play last season, with the Bulldogs playing before an average of 9,400 fans in four conference contests away from home. Three of those four games (against Wofford, VMI, and Mercer) featured the top home crowd for The Citadel’s opponents in 2018. That is no surprise, given the Bulldogs’ fan base.

Samford finished second in this category (league road attendance average of 9,094). SU was the only other conference team to be the top opposition draw for multiple conference games, with Devlin Hodges and company drawing the best home crowds of the season for Chattanooga and The Citadel.

Western Carolina, which led the conference in average home attendance, was at the bottom of average attendance for league road games, at 6,420.

The average attendance at FCS games decreased by 4.5 percent in the 2018 season, reflecting a continued problem in recent years…

…Seven of the top 13 attendances came from HBCUs – historically black colleges and universities. That helped the Southwestern Athletic Conference to average an FCS-high 15,240 fans per game, with the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference ranking third out of 13 conferences at 9,815. The Missouri Valley Football Conference was second at 9,864.

On the other levels of NCAA football, the average attendance in the FBS was down 0.8 percent; Division II, 6 percent; and Division III, 9 percent.

I think it is interesting that while FBS attendance decreased only marginally last season, there was a substantial decline in attendance for FCS, D-2, and D-3 (and that the dropoff got worse further down the divisional totem pole).

One of the popular theories about declining attendance revolves around fan access to games via TV/streaming. However, very few D-2/D-3 games are televised, and streaming for teams in those divisions is certainly not as widespread as it is in FBS/FCS — yet numerous schools in D-2/D-3 have eroding attendance numbers.

Incidentally, the SWAC and the MEAC were the only two FCS leagues that did not see a decline in attendance. Some of the conferences really took a hit in 2018 (particularly the Ivy League, Southland, and Patriot League).

There are no easy answers to the attendance conundrum. However, there is consensus on the surest way to maintain and/or increase attendance. A former assistant coach at The Citadel said it best:

Just win, baby.

Football season is getting closer…

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…