College Football Week 8, 2021: Saturday notes and observations

Tuesday notes and observations (discussion of future non-conference schedules, including a couple of matchups not “officially” released yet)

Wednesday notes and observations (lots of statistical comparisons between WCU and The Citadel, along with a look at FCS in general from a stats perspective)

Thursday notes and observations (roster review, broadcast information, etc.)

The Post and Courier game preview

This is mostly just a quick post on gameday to list the lines…

Also, there is this. From The Citadel’s game notes:

On this date… [October 23]

In 1976, The Citadel went on the road and scored the first 26 points on the way to a 26-7 road victory over Air Force. The Bulldogs took advantage of a short field to take the lead on a three-yard touchdown run from Andrew Johnson. Paul Tanguay kicked field goals of 47 and 37 yards around a six-yard touchdown pass from Mary Crosby to Al Major. Ralph Ferguson put the game away in the fourth quarter with a 31-yard interception return for a touchdown.

I actually wrote about this game several years ago. I’ve always felt it was a bit underrated as a notable victory by the Bulldogs. Here is a fairly extensive review of the contest:

The Citadel 26, Air Force 7

By the way, if you’re into old games (and this one came with the AFA coach’s show highlight package, which was terrific), I highly recommend checking out The Citadel Football Association’s list of available DVDs:

Link

Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 10-point favorite over Western Carolina. The over/under is 66½.

That line is about what it “should” be, according to my metrics. As for the over/under, that’s a lot of points — but my numbers indicate the potential for an even higher-scoring contest.

Other SoCon lines (VMI is off this week):

  • Chattanooga is a 3-point favorite at Samford (over/under of 64)
  • ETSU is a 1½-point favorite at Furman (over/under of 45)
  • Mercer is a 7-point favorite over Wofford (over/under of 45½)

Those three lines accurately reflect the schools’ respective power ratings (well, at least my power ratings).

I am experimenting with a totals calculator, beginning this week, and it suggests that ETSU-Furman might be lower-scoring than that over/under number. We shall see. I am not overly confident in my projections.

Other lines/totals in FCS of some interest:

  • Dayton is a 1½-point favorite at Valparaiso; the Flyers should be more heavily favored
  • James Madison is a 14-point favorite at Delaware; the power ratings suggest the future Sun Belt program should be an 18-to-20 point favorite
  • Kennesaw State is a 1-point favorite at Campbell; my numbers really like the Owls in that matchup

That is about it this week. The actual lines dovetailed rather well with the power ratings, all things considered.

Some over/unders that were flagged on my calculator:

  • LIU-Central Connecticut State (51½); Georgetown-Bucknell (45½); North Carolina Central-Morgan State (37½) — the system suggested the over is definitely in play for those three games
  • Northern Iowa-South Dakota State (49½); James Madison-Delaware (48½); Missouri State-North Dakota State (48½); Rhode Island-Villanova (50½); Southeastern Louisiana-Northwestern State (73½); Weber State-Eastern Washington (63½); Prairie View A&M-Southern (53½) — all of those contests are under plays

Again, this is a first-week experiment that I expect to go very badly. As always, this exercise is for recreational purposes only; I’m not putting any money on any of these games.

Okay, it’s time for football…

College Football Week 8, 2021: Wednesday notes and observations

The Citadel’s game notes for the Western Carolina matchup

Tuesday notes and observations, which mainly consists of a review of The Citadel’s future non-conference football schedules, with additional information included

The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service: sunny, with a high near 79°

Link to my working spreadsheet for FCS statistics (through October 16)

Okay, some comparisons between The Citadel and Western Carolina. As always, keep in mind there are 128 FCS teams.

Also, a word on definitions: adjusted yards per rush and adjusted yards per pass are averages with sack yardage included in the passing totals, rather than the rushing numbers. I believe these more accurately reflect a team’s ability on the ground and through the air, both offensively and defensively.

I also calculate Red Zone proficiency by estimated points per Red Zone possession, rather than scoring rate. All of that is included in the spreadsheet.

The Citadel’s offense vs. Western Carolina’s defense

  • The Citadel’s offense is 60th in yards per play (5.45), while Western Carolina’s defense is 120th in yards per play allowed (6.68).
  • The Bulldogs are 40th in adjusted yards per rush (5.09), while WCU is 117th in adjusted rush yards allowed (5.83).
  • The Citadel has an adjusted yards per pass on offense of 6.94, which ranks 40th nationally; however, it is worth noting that the Bulldogs have attempted 71 passes, third-fewest in FCS. The Catamounts’ D ranks 113th in adjusted yards allowed per pass (7.74).
  • On offense, the Bulldogs have run the ball 80.8% of the time, the 3rd-highest rate nationally (behind Davidson and Kennesaw State, and just ahead of North Dakota State and Lamar). Opponents have rushed on 55.1% of plays from scrimmage against Western Carolina’s defense (38th-most among FCS squads).
  • The Citadel’s offensive third down conversion rate is 44.2%, 22nd in FCS. Defensively, Western Carolina has allowed a third down conversion rate of 45.8% (111th).
  • The Bulldogs are 8 for 20 on 4th down attempts (40.0%). The Catamounts have only faced three 4th-down attempts by an opponent (allowing a first down on two of those occasions), tied for the fewest faced by a defense in all of FCS.
  • Conversely, The Citadel’s twenty 4th-down tries is tied for the 7th-most in FCS. That brings me to “go rate”, my statistic for showing how aggressive a team is on 4th down. The Citadel is 6th nationally in go rate, at 42.6%.
  • In the Red Zone, The Citadel’s offense ranks 62nd in efficiency by my metrics, while WCU’s defense ranks 126th, third-worst in FCS (ahead of only Holy Cross and last-place Georgetown).

Western Carolina’s offense vs. The Citadel’s defense

  • Western Carolina’s offense is 81st in yards per play (5.16), while The Citadel’s defense is 114th nationally in yards allowed per play (6.60).
  • The Catamounts are 53rd in adjusted yards per rush (4.84); the Bulldogs’ D is 107th in FCS in that category (5.61).
  • WCU is 90th in adjusted yards per pass (5.39), with the crew from Cullowhee averaging 44.3 throws per contest (which is the 6th-highest rate in FCS). Meanwhile, The Citadel is 116th in adjusted passing yards allowed per play (116th).
  • On offense, Western Carolina has run the ball 40.6% of the time, which is the 15th-lowest rate in the subdivision. The Bulldogs’ opponents have rushed on 56.0% of their plays from scrimmage (29th-most in FCS).
  • Western Carolina’s offensive third down conversion rate is 35.5% (76th nationally). The Citadel’s defensive third-down conversion rate is 45.2%, which ranks 110th — one spot ahead of the Catamounts’ defense.
  • WCU is 6 for 13 on 4th-down attempts (46.2%), 69th in FCS. The Citadel has allowed four successful 4th-down conversions on 6 tries by its opponents. The Bulldogs are in a tie for 9th-fewest 4th-down attempts faced with several teams (including Furman and Wofford).
  • The Catamounts are 49th in go rate (23.6%).
  • In the Red Zone, Western Carolina’s offense ranks 101st overall by my numbers, while the Bulldogs’ D is 59th.

A few other stats of note:

  • The Citadel remains 6th in net punting (41.79), while Western Carolina is 59th (36.32). Montana continues to lead the nation in this category (44.8).
  • For the season, the Bulldogs have a turnover margin of exactly zero, having gained and lost the same amount of turnovers (7). Western Carolina has a net of -8, for an average of -1.33 per game (ranking in the bottom 10 nationally).
  • This week, I compiled the stats for Havoc Rate. The Citadel’s defense has the 5th-lowest Havoc Rate in FCS (10.8%). I discussed this statistic in a post I made in July In the spring, the Bulldogs had a Havoc Rate of 14.38%, which was below average but still better than the current output. The squad must increase its number of disruptive and negative plays (to be fair, last week was a respectable one in that department for The Citadel’s D).

A statistical tour of FCS, beginning with offensive productivity:

  • Eastern Washington leads the nation in offensive yards per play (7.78). The rest of the top five includes South Dakota State, Southeastern Louisiana, North Dakota State, and Nicholls State. ETSU is 6th. The national average is 5.39.
  • The bottom five in offensive yards per play: Lehigh (2.61, last), Bucknell, Grambling State, LIU, and Morgan State.
  • In adjusted yards per rush, South Dakota State ranks first, at 6.56. Second through fifth: North Dakota State, Southern, Nicholls State, and Abilene Christian. The top 25 includes four SoCon teams: ETSU, Chattanooga, Mercer, and Wofford. The national average is 4.72.
  • The bottom five in adjusted yards per rush: Georgetown (2.06), LIU, Albany, Robert Morris, and Alabama State.
  • For adjusted yards per pass, Eastern Washington leads the way at 9.54 per pass play, ahead of South Dakota State, Davidson, Southeastern Louisiana, and Princeton. While Davidson ranks third in this category, it should be noted that the Wildcats have only attempted 53 passes this season, the fewest in all of FCS. They have made them count, though.
  • The national average is adjusted yards per pass is 6.07. ETSU and Mercer both are in the top 25, while the bottom five includes Lehigh (just 2.18 yards per pass play), Bucknell, Grambling State, Morgan State, and Mississippi Valley State.
  • I mentioned the most run-oriented teams above. The teams most likely to pass are Presbyterian (70.7% of the time), Western Illinois, Dixie State, Houston Baptist, and Alabama A&M. Samford is in the top 10.
  • Southeastern Louisiana’s offensive third down conversion rate of 59.5% leads the nation. Others in the top five: Eastern Washington, Davidson, Dartmouth, and Merrimack. ETSU, Samford, and Mercer join The Citadel in the top 25. The national average is 37.2%.
  • On average, teams convert 4th-down attempts at a 49.5% clip. Alas, poor Lehigh is somehow 0 for 10 on 4th down this season. It has been a very tough season for the Mountain Hawks, which have scored only nine points in six games.
  • As expected, Presbyterian is far and away the leader in 4th-down attempts, with 45. Stetson is a distant 2nd (29 tries). Monmouth, Central Connecticut State, and Merrimack round out the top 5. 
  • Presbyterian has an astronomical go rate of 93.8%, having only punted twice while attempting no field goals. Other teams that are more than willing to go for it on 4th down (though not as often as the Blue Hose) include Stetson (55.8%, second-highest), Southeastern Louisiana, Merrimack, and Davidson.
  • The team least likely to go for it on 4th down? That would be Chattanooga (4.2%). Other programs taking a more conservative approach include Missouri State, Eastern Kentucky, Grambling State, and Montana State. 
  • Per my metrics, the most efficient Red Zone team is Georgetown; however, the Hoyas have a win/loss record of just 1-4, in part because in five games they have only reached the Red Zone 12 times. Among teams with at least 30 Red Zone possessions, the top outfit is Southeastern Louisiana, which is in the discussion for having the nation’s best offense. Three SoCon teams (Samford, ETSU, and VMI) also fare well in this category.
  • Samford has the fastest offense in FCS (18.24 seconds per offensive play). Other teams lining up to snap the football as soon as they can include Presbyterian, Austin Peay, Eastern Washington, and Charleston Southern. Western Carolina is 10th, while The Citadel is 64th. The national average is 27.01 seconds per play.

Now, let’s look at the defenses:

  • Jackson State leads FCS in yards allowed per play, surrendering just 3.61 on average. JSU’s defense has been one of the two or three best units in the subdivision. Second through fifth in yards allowed per play: Princeton, Harvard, James Madison, and North Dakota State. Three SoCon teams rank 32nd through 34th — respectively, Chattanooga, Mercer, and ETSU.
  • James Madison is the standard-bearer for adjusted yards allowed per rush (2.84). Defending national champion Sam Houston State is 2nd, followed by Harvard, Villanova, and Princeton. 
  • The worst rush defenses are Youngstown State (6.76), Texas Southern, Alabama A&M, Western Illinois, and Lehigh.
  • The top defenses against the pass are Jackson State (adjusted yards per pass of 3.55), Prairie View A&M, Princeton, Florida A&M, and North Dakota State. Deion Sanders’ squad also leads FCS in total sacks and sack rate (12.3%).
  • The bottom five versus the pass: Southern Utah (allowing an adjusted rate of 10.57 yards per play), Central Connecticut State, LIU, Hampton, and Maine.
  • Opponents have rushed against VMI at a higher rate more than any other team (65.4% of the time). As mentioned last week, the Keydets have faced several run-heavy offenses (including Davidson, Wofford, and The Citadel), which accounts for that.
  • Harvard’s opponents have a pass play rate of 64.1%, most in the subdivision; one reason for this is that the 5-0 Crimson have only trailed in one game all season, and even then it was for less than ten minutes.
  • Yale’s defensive third down conversion rate of 21.3% leads the country. Other teams doing a great job of getting off the field on third down include North Dakota State, James Madison, Weber State, and Cornell. Among SoCon squads, Chattanooga leads the line at 14th nationally.
  • The bottom five in defensive third down conversion rate: LIU (60.0%), Southern Utah, Brown, Illinois State, and Jacksonville State. I will point out here that the Sharks have faced three FBS opponents this season, and that has definitely had a negative impact on their stats.
  • My numbers suggest that North Dakota State has the best Red Zone defense in FCS. The only caveat is that the Bison have only faced seven Red Zone possessions all season. Of course, that also says something about NDSU’s defense.
  •  I mentioned Havoc Rate above when comparing Western Carolina and The Citadel. The leading team in Havoc Rate in FCS is, not surprisingly, Jackson State (25.0%). The rest of the top five: Stephen F. Austin, Florida A&M, James Madison, and Sam Houston State. 
  • Wofford has the lowest Havoc Rate in the nation (9.40%). The SoCon has a whole is very deficient in this area; only ETSU and Chattanooga are above the national average.

More to come later in the week…

College Football Week 7, 2021: Thursday notes and observations

Tuesday notes and observations (including a statistical overload, featuring The Citadel and Furman but with some comments on FCS in general)

The Citadel’s game notes

Furman’s game notes

SoCon weekly release

The Brent Thompson Show

Furman Football, Monday episode

Paladins’ Shiflett:  a quarterback playing wide receiver (and well)

Guide to gameday in and around Paladin Stadium (don’t bring any turkey calls)

Broadcast information

The Citadel at Furman, to be played at Paladin Stadium in Greenville, SC, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on October 16, 2021.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Mark Childress will handle play-by-play, while Cole Neely supplies the analysis. The game will also be available on ESPN College Extra.

The contest can be heard on radio via The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station. Other stations carrying the game include WQXL in Columbia (100.7 FM/1470 AM) and WDXY in Sumter (105.9 FM/1240 AM).

Luke Mauro (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze.

“Live Stats” for the game

The kickoff time for this game is 6:00 pm ET (or maybe 6:05 pm ET, as it is listed in a couple of places), which struck more than a few people as odd. I don’t think it will have any bearing on the outcome of the contest, but I’m also not sure why Furman decided on a late afternoon/early evening start time. In terms of the calendar, this is the latest home night game in program history.

The reasoning behind waiting for darkness certainly isn’t about tradition. In fact, this is the first time The Citadel and Furman will have played a night game at Paladin Stadium since it opened in 1981. I do not know if the two schools ever played an evening contest at Furman’s previous home field, Sirrine Stadium, either (to be honest, I’m not sure what the lights situation was there).

This is also Furman’s first home night game since the Paladins played Chattanooga in 2016. That matchup was a “blackout” game for the Paladins, as the team wore black jerseys and the home partisans were encouraged to sport black as well. The Mocs won that evening, 21-14.

I have to say that I don’t recall too many successful “blackout” contests, regardless of school. I distinctly remember South Carolina playing a much-hyped “blackout” game in Columbia against Florida in 2001. The Gators dominated the Gamecocks, 54-17. Via the Associated Press:

Rex Grossman and his teammates were more amused than overwhelmed when much of the record 84,900 at Williams-Brice Stadium turned out in black.

“It was fun,” Grossman said. “It was like they weren’t even there. They were blacked out. Then we drove them out, they left.”

Even Florida Coach Steve Spurrier chuckled at the sight. “One of our receivers said, ‘Coach, it was nice of them to wear all black so we can pick the ball out of the sky,”’ he said.

I believe Furman will wear its traditional purple jerseys on Saturday night. Just as well, I suppose.

On Monday, Furman radio voice Dan Scott asked Clay Hendrix: “Are the players excited about playing a night game here?”

Hendrix: “I have no idea. You’ll have to ask them, we haven’t talked about it.”

Roster review:

– Of the 112 players on The Citadel’s online roster, 61 are from South Carolina. Other states represented: Georgia (18 players), Florida (11), North Carolina (9), Virginia (4), Alabama (2), Texas (2), and one each from New York, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Tennessee.

Tight end Hayden Williamson played his high school football in Okinawa, Japan.

– Of the 110 players on Furman’s online roster, 11 are from South Carolina. More Paladins are from Georgia (26) than any other state. Other states represented: Florida (17 players), Tennessee (17 players), North Carolina (10), Texas (8), Alabama (3), Kentucky (3), Ohio (3), Illinois (2), Pennsylvania (2), and one each from Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia.

It is not surprising that only 10% of Furman’s roster hails from the Palmetto State, as that is an inevitable result of recent recruiting by the Paladins. In the last two years, the program has largely eschewed South Carolina in favor of bringing in talent from other states, including a notable dip into the Texas high school ranks.

It should be said that Furman has traditionally recruited Georgia (and to a lesser extent Tennessee) for players as much, if not more, than South Carolina, so this isn’t necessarily a new development. However, the absence of S.C. signees in FU’s last two recruiting classes has understandably received some negative feedback from the local high school community. Wofford also drew the ire of that group for only signing one player from South Carolina.

Hard feelings could be attributed in part to this specific recruiting cycle’s mountain of COVID-19 issues. Some of the locals were particularly upset that in a very difficult year for high school players, Furman’s and Wofford’s classes were almost exclusively from out of state.

I don’t really have a strong opinion on this topic. I will say that Furman and Wofford are private schools, and have no responsibility to recruit players from South Carolina. It can be a tough look at times, to be sure. It might also be an issue for things like attendance (although that is probably debatable).

Instinctively, it seems to me that Furman and Wofford are better off as football programs when they regularly bring in at least a few S.C. players each year. After all, while the Paladins only have 11 players from South Carolina, 8 of them are on the current two-deep.

I suspect that Furman (and probably Wofford) will sign several Palmetto State products in the coming year.

One thing that sometimes gets lost in the discussion, though, is the fact that Furman’s student body is mostly from out of state. Getting hard numbers can be tricky, but one source states that only 27.7% of FU’s undergraduates are from South Carolina. The nature of the institution as a whole (and how it has changed over the years) is surely a factor in the Paladins’ recruiting outlook.

Brief lines/odds discussion:

Furman is an 11½-point favorite over The Citadel; the over/under is 50½.

Other SoCon lines: Mercer is a 12½-point favorite over VMI (over/under of 63½); Samford is a 6-point favorite at Wofford (over/under of 72½); and East Tennessee State is a 2½-point favorite at Chattanooga (over/under of 51).

None of those spreads surprised me except for VMI-Mercer. The Bears should be favored, but 12½ is a lot of points against a team that won the league last season and just beat Chattanooga.

A few lines from the FCS world that I thought were a little strange (for recreational purposes only, as I live in South Carolina where gambling is still illegal):

  • Colgate-Cornell: this is a pick’em, but Cornell should be favored at home, perhaps by as much as a touchdown; the over/under is only 34½ (?!)
  • Princeton-Brown: the Tigers are a 16½-point road favorite; the spread probably should be higher
  • Bucknell-Fordham: to be fair, Christy Mathewson’s alma mater is not good, but the Rams as 24½-point favorites might be a bit much
  • Monmouth-Campbell: I know it is a long road trip for Monmouth, but I think the wrong team (Campbell, by 4½ points) is favored
  • Robert Morris-North Alabama: another long road journey, another game in which it is possible the wrong team (UNA) is favored — this time by 10½ points
  • Tarleton State-Dixie State: repeating myself, but Tarleton State should be a slight favorite, not the homestanding Trailblazers (by 2½ points)

Feel free to silently cackle when my guesses inevitably go 0-6.

The weekend is almost here, for which we are all grateful…

College Football Week 7, 2021: Tuesday notes and observations

The Citadel’s game notes for the matchup against Furman

Furman has a new quarterback

The weather forecast for Saturday in Greenville, per the National Weather Service: a 40% chance of showers, with a high of 78°. The nighttime low temperature (kickoff is at 6:00 pm ET) is projected to be 48°.

Paladin Stadium seats approximately 16,000 spectators. This summer, a new playing surface was installed, FieldTurf’s “Revolution 360”.

Furman will be honoring former coach Dick Sheridan at Saturday’s game. Sheridan, of course, is best remembered for leading the famed maroon and orange of Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School to the South Carolina 4-A state title in 1971.

The Paladins had a new starting quarterback for their game against Wofford. True freshman Jace Wilson (5’11”, 176 lbs.) had a solid afternoon against the Terriers, completing 60.9% of his passes, with a touchdown and no interceptions, averaging 8.2 yards per attempt.

Wilson (a native of Texas) also had six rushing attempts for 26 yards and a TD. While his individual numbers on the ground were relatively modest, his presence as a potential threat to run helped Furman a great deal in its overall rushing attack. The Paladins ran for 289 yards against the Terriers (5.67 yards/rush), with halfback Devin Wynn accounting for 204 yards (and two touchdowns) on 31 carries.

For the game, Furman averaged 6.46 yards per play; in the prior four contests, FU had averaged just 4.79 yards per play. After running the ball on 53.4% of its offensive plays from scrimmage in those first four games, Furman rushed on 68.9% of its plays versus Wofford.

The Paladins had a decided edge in total plays (74 to 44), with almost a 10-minute advantage in time of possession. FU converted third down attempts at a 66.7% clip (while Furman’s defense held Wofford to just 2 of 8 on third down tries).

Link to my working spreadsheet for FCS statistics (through October 9)

Here are some quick comparisons (and remember, there are 128 teams in FCS), in chart form. Obviously, the defensive numbers/rankings are for yards/conversions/points allowed, etc. Also obviously, the chart is kind of clunky.

  FU offense National rank TC defense National Rank
Yards/play 5.15 82 6.76 118
Adj yds/rush 3.89 102 5.55 110
Adj yds/pass 6.79 41 8.17 119
3rd down conv % 44.9% 22 50.0% 121
4th down conv % 75.0% T11 60.0% T90
4th down att 4 T114 5 T10 (fewest)
RZ est. pts/poss 4.53 82 4.82 52
Run play % 56.5% 33 54.0% 48
         
  TC offense National rank FU defense National rank
Yards/play 5.78 42 5.8 74
Adj yds/rush 5.43 22 5.01 77
Adj yds/pass 7.3 18 6.68 76
3rd down conv % 40.0% 50 38.3% 68
4th down conv % 50.0% T59 0.0% T1
4th down att 16 T10 2 T1 (fewest)
RZ est. pts/poss 5.12 46 5.00 T60
Run play % 81.3% 3 52.8% 55

A few other stats of note:

  • Presbyterian leads all of FCS in fourth down conversion attempts, with 37 through 5 games. No other team is even close.
  • Not surprisingly, the Blue Hose are also last in total punts (2). PC’s net punting average is just 9.5, so perhaps it is just as well that Kevin Kelley’s squad (almost) never punts.
  • Speaking of punting, The Citadel is 6th in net punting (42.86). Matt Campbell’s 84-yard punt last week (which was downed at the 1-yard line) was the longest punt by a Bulldog since World War II. 
  • Montana is 1st nationally in net punting (45.08). Furman is 108th (31.96).
  • The Citadel and Furman both have an overall turnover margin of +1 through 5 games.
  • Campbell (the university, that is, not the punter) has the best turnover margin in FCS, at +2.40 per game, while Presbyterian has the worst (-2.60). In related news, Campbell played PC earlier this season; the Fighting Camels won 72-0, intercepting 7 Blue Hose passes and recovering 3 Presbyterian fumbles. Campbell itself committed no turnovers during the contest.
  • Furman is 32nd in average time of possession; The Citadel is 59th. The Paladins average 27.23 seconds per offensive play, while the Bulldogs average 28.12.
  • Samford (18.33 seconds per offensive play) is the fastest offense in FCS, which is not exactly a shock. Presbyterian is 2nd, while Western Carolina is 5th and Charleston Southern is 6th. One of the slower teams in this category is North Dakota State (125th nationally, at 32.39 seconds).
  • As far as penalties are concerned, FU is tied for 17th nationally in fewest penalty yards per contest (42.0). The Citadel is 37th (49.8).
  • The Citadel is also one of 12 FCS teams averaging more than 10 yards per accepted penalty; in other words, when the Bulldogs are flagged, it is often a “major” infraction.
  • Bucknell has the fewest average penalty yards in FCS (24.8), while Tennessee State is the most-penalized squad in the country (92.0 yards per contest). TSU is the only FCS team averaging more than 10 accepted penalties per game.
  • Despite losing last week, South Dakota State’s offense still leads the nation in yards per play (8.03); The top SoCon teams in yards per play are ETSU (7th overall) and Mercer (9th). Lehigh (2.61) is last in the subdivision.
  • Lehigh is at the bottom of a number of offensive categories, including points per game (1.5; the Mountain Hawks have scored 9 points in 6 games). Lehigh is the only FCS team yet to score a touchdown.
  • Only one team defense in FCS has yet to intercept a pass. That team is Jackson State, coached by Deion Sanders (who had 14 interceptions in college, and 53 more in his Hall of Fame NFL career).
  • However, Jackson State actually has an elite D, ranking at or near the top in several FCS defensive categories. One reason JSU might not have any interceptions is that opposing QBs are often sacked before they have a chance to throw a pick; the Tigers rank first overall in sacks (27 in 5 games) and sack rate (13.5%).
  • Jackson State is 3rd nationally in yards allowed per play, behind only Princeton (which is first, allowing just 3.23 yards per play) and Prairie View A&M.
  • Per my numbers, Southeastern Louisiana has the nation’s most efficient Red Zone offense. The Lions have parlayed that into a 4-1 record. On the other hand, the team ranked second in the category, Bethune-Cookman, is 0-6. The Wildcats can score, but alas, they are scored upon even more (38.5 ppg allowed).
  • The best Red Zone defense in FCS, at least as far as my metrics are concerned, belongs to North Dakota State. Three schools in the Ivy League (Penn, Dartmouth, and Harvard) rank 2-3-4, with the Bison’s in-state rival North Dakota rounding out the top 5.
  • Butler has the leakiest Red Zone defense in the nation; Western Carolina has the next-worst unit.
  • Montana State averages an interception every 14.36 pass attempts by an opponent, best in FCS (the Bobcats have 11 picks in 6 games). Furman ranks 19th in this category (21.67), while The Citadel is 62nd (36.75).
  • VMI’s opponents have run the ball on 67.3% of plays from scrimmage against the Keydets’ defense, by a considerable margin the largest percentage in all of FCS. One reason: VMI’s schedule so far this year has included Davidson (first in offensive run play percentage), The Citadel (third), and Wofford (tenth). That is the kind of thing which can distort certain statistics, especially early in the season.

More to come later in the week…

College Football Week 5, 2021: Friday notes and observations

Why the coveted Silver Shako matters

Thursday notes and observations (including a myriad of statistics)

Tuesday notes and observations (lines/odds and conference realignment discussion)

Starting QB for VMI “not revealed quite yet”

This is just a very quick post. The main purpose of it is to provide a link to my working spreadsheet for FCS statistics through Week 4. I thought there might be some interest (there also might be no interest whatsoever).

Anyway, here it is:

Assorted 2021 FCS statistics through September 26

It is admittedly rather cumbersome, and you will have to decipher a few space-saving acronyms, but it shouldn’t be too bad. Note that there are no overall subdivision totals included.

The NCAA has posted attendance numbers through September 26. Not every team has played a home game yet, and a couple of schools didn’t release attendance totals, which makes things more complicated. Anyway, I’ve cleaned up the NCAA’s chart a bit to make things more readable. Here are how things currently stand in the subdivision in terms of home attendance:

Rank Institution Games Avg Att Stadium Capacity Pct Capacity
1 Jackson State 1 33,652 40,000 84.1%
2 Montana 2 25,419 25,217 100.8%
3 James Madison 2 22,169 24,877 89.1%
4 Harvard 1 20,748 30,323 68.4%
5 Jacksonville State 2 19,820 24,000 82.6%
6 Montana State 2 19,452 17,777 109.4%
7 Texas Southern 1 18,297 22,000 83.2%
8 Southern 2 15,614 28,500 54.8%
9 South Dakota State 1 15,162 19,340 78.4%
10 North Dakota State 2 15,137 18,700 80.9%
11 North Carolina A&T 1 15,009 21,500 69.8%
12 Norfolk State 1 14,012 30,000 46.7%
13 Eastern Ky. 2 13,627 20,000 68.1%
14 Delaware 1 13,351 22,000 60.7%
15 Cornell 1 12,555 21,500 58.4%
16 Missouri State 2 11,993 17,500 68.5%
17 Alabama A&M 1 11,500 21,000 54.8%
18 Youngstown State 2 11,194 20,630 54.3%
19 Alabama State 2 11,163 26,500 42.1%
20 Cal Poly 1 11,075 11,075 100.0%
21 NC Central 1 10,918 10,000 109.2%
22 Furman 2 10,916 16,000 68.2%
23 Central Arkansas 2 10,501 8,500 123.5%
24 Elon 2 10,305 11,250 91.6%
25 New Hampshire 1 10,247 11,015 93.0%
26 North Dakota 1 10,143 12,283 82.6%
27 Villanova 2 10,110 12,000 84.3%
28 UC Davis 1 9,865 10,849 90.9%
29 The Citadel 2 9,504 11,500 82.6%
30 Western Carolina 2 9,354 13,742 68.1%
31 Northwestern State 1 9,146 15,971 57.3%
32 Towson 1 9,109 11,198 81.3%
33 Weber State 2 9,012 16,500 54.6%
34 ETSU 2 8,868 7,694 115.3%
35 Mercer 1 8,727 10,200 85.6%
36 McNeese 1 8,665 17,810 48.7%
37 Abilene Christian 2 8,568 9,000 95.2%
38 Northern Arizona 1 8,564 7,000 122.3%
39 Prairie View 2 8,476 15,000 56.5%
40 Holy Cross 1 8,211 23,500 34.9%
41 Illinois State 1 8,148 13,381 60.9%
42 Arkansas-Pine Bluff 2 8,145 14,500 56.2%
43 Albany 1 8,144 8,500 95.8%
44 Chattanooga 1 8,115 20,668 39.3%
45 Stephen F. Austin 3 8,097 14,575 55.6%
46 Tarleton State 2 8,094 9,000 89.9%
47 Sacramento State 1 8,067 21,195 38.1%
48 Morgan State 1 8,035 10,000 80.4%
49 Southern Illinois 2 7,978 15,000 53.2%
50 North Alabama 2 7,857 14,215 55.3%
51 Sam Houston 1 7,728 14,000 55.2%
52 Dixie State 2 7,468 5,500 135.8%
53 Nicholls 1 7,314 10,500 69.7%
54 Southern Utah 1 7,096 8,500 83.5%
55 Northern Iowa 1 6,886 16,324 42.2%
56 Murray State 1 6,874 16,000 43.0%
57 Morehead State 1 6,607 10,000 66.1%
58 Richmond 2 6,526 8,700 75.0%
59 Eastern Illinois 1 6,424 10,000 64.2%
60 Kennesaw State 1 6,348 8,300 76.5%
61 William & Mary 1 6,162 12,400 49.7%
62 Marist 1 6,154 5,000 123.1%
63 Indiana State 2 6,096 12,764 47.8%
64 Tennessee Tech 2 6,018 16,500 36.5%
65 Stony Brook 2 5,971 12,300 48.5%
66 UT Martin 1 5,869 7,500 78.3%
67 Bucknell 1 5,856 13,100 44.7%
68 Rhode Island 1 5,735 6,555 87.5%
69 Northern Colorado 2 5,687 8,500 66.9%
70 Lehigh 2 5,576 16,000 34.9%
71 Lamar 1 5,411 16,000 33.8%
72 Western Illinois 1 5,385 16,368 32.9%
73 Butler 1 5,371 5,647 95.1%
74 Idaho State 2 5,332 12,000 44.4%
75 Maine 2 5,295 10,000 53.0%
76 South Dakota 1 5,247 9,100 57.7%
77 Brown 1 5,244 20,000 26.2%
78 Sacred Heart 2 5,233 4,000 130.8%
79 Idaho 1 5,214 16,000 32.6%
80 Dartmouth 1 5,121 11,000 46.6%
81 St. Thomas 1 5,051 5,025 100.5%
82 VMI 2 5,043 10,000 50.4%
83 Campbell 2 5,005 5,500 91.0%
84 Samford 2 4,965 6,700 74.1%
85 Austin Peay 1 4,821 10,000 48.2%
86 Wofford 1 4,597 13,000 35.4%
87 Eastern Washington 1 4,523 8,600 52.6%
88 Hampton 1 4,500 12,000 37.5%
89 Yale 2 4,452 64,269 6.9%
90 Gardner-Webb 2 4,440 8,500 52.2%
91 Princeton 1 4,429 30,000 14.8%
92 Drake 2 4,355 14,557 29.9%
93 Monmouth 1 4,235 4,200 100.8%
94 Bethune-Cookman 1 4,173 9,601 43.5%
95 Davidson 2 4,143 4,500 92.1%
96 SE Missouri State 2 3,986 10,000 39.9%
97 Valparaiso 1 3,856 5,000 77.1%
98 Merrimack 1 3,827 3,500 109.3%
99 Central Conn. State 2 3,809 5,500 69.3%
100 Charleston Southern 1 3,801 4,000 95.0%
101 Fordham 1 3,752 7,000 53.6%
102 Portland State 2 3,610 7,200 50.1%
103 Columbia 2 3,602 17,000 21.2%
104 Dayton 2 3,387 11,000 30.8%
105 Lafayette 2 3,177 13,132 24.2%
106 Delaware State 3 3,137 7,000 44.8%
107 Robert Morris 1 2,514 3,000 83.8%
108 Tennessee State 1 2,513 67,500 3.7%
109 Georgetown 1 2,509 2,500 100.4%
110 Colgate 3 2,464 10,221 24.1%
111 Duquesne 1 2,454 2,200 111.5%
112 Presbyterian 2 2,443 6,500 37.6%
113 San Diego 2 2,339 5,792 40.4%
114 Bryant 1 2,276 4,400 51.7%
115 Wagner 1 2,271 3,300 68.8%
116 Houston Baptist 1 2,135 5,000 42.7%
117 Incarnate Word 2 2,075 6,000 34.6%
118 Stetson 2 1,397 6,000 23.3%
119 St. Francis (PA) 2 1,353 3,500 38.7%

College Football Week 5, 2021: Thursday notes and observations

Tuesday notes and observations, including lines/odds and conference realignment discussion

SoCon weekly release

VMI game notes

The Citadel game notes

Almost one-fourth of VMI’s roster is from the Richmond, VA metropolitan area

VMI “braces to restrict The Citadel’s option”

Broadcast information

VMI at The Citadel, The Military Classic of the South, to be played on Sansom Field at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium in Charleston, South Carolina, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on October 2, 2021.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+ and televised on the following TV stations:

  • ECBD (Charleston, SC)
  • WHDF (Huntsville/Florence, AL)
  • WMUB (Macon, GA)
  • WMYT (Charlotte, NC)
  • WWCW (Lynchburg/Roanoke, VA)
  • WYCW (Greenville, SC/Spartanburg, SC/Asheville, NC).

Pete Yanity will handle play-by-play, while Jay Sonnhalter supplies the analysis.

The contest can be heard on radio via The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station. Other stations carrying the game include WQXL in Columbia (100.7 FM/1470 AM) and WDXY in Sumter (105.9 FM/1240 AM).

Luke Mauro (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze.

Roster review:

– Of the 114 players on The Citadel’s online roster, 62 are from South Carolina. Other states represented: Georgia (18 players), Florida (11), North Carolina (9), Virginia (5), Alabama (2), Texas (2), and one each from New York, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Tennessee.

Tight end Hayden Williamson played his high school football in Okinawa, Japan.

– VMI has 108 players on its online roster. Of those, 74 are from Virginia. As mentioned in an article linked above, 25 of those players are from the Richmond metropolitan area.

Other states represented on the Keydets’ squad: North Carolina (8 players), Pennsylvania (4), Maryland (3), Alabama (2), Georgia (2), New Jersey (2), South Carolina (2), Tennessee (2), West Virginia (2), and one each from Arizona, Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Texas, and Ohio.

Defensive lineman Terrell Jackson is from Washington, DC.

While only four VMI players are from Pennsylvania, it should be noted that they include quarterback Seth Morgan and star wideout Jakob Herres. Another wide receiver from the Keystone State, sophomore Julio DaSilva, is on the two-deep as well.

Potential area code confusion: 

From the aforementioned story in The Richmond Times-Dispatch:

Keydets from the Richmond area, according to [running back Korey Bridy], will occasionally identify their place of origin by simply saying, “We’re from the four,” as in the 804, the area code for Virginia’s capital.

Charleston, SC is located in the 803 area code. Lexington, Virginia has an area code of 540.

Stats of interest for The Citadel, VMI, and the rest of the SoCon. A few notes:

  • I include sacks in passing yardage statistics rather than rushing, like the NFL (but unlike the official NCAA stats). Hence the “adjusted” tag.
  • There are 128 FCS teams. Five of them are “transitional” schools, but all of them are playing FCS schedules and thus are included in the overall national rankings here. The NCAA separates their stats from the rest of the subdivision for some bizarre reason, but I do not. For the record, the five schools in question are Dixie State, Merrimack, North Alabama, St. Thomas, and Tarleton State.
  • All of these statistics include games played inside and outside the division (in other words, FBS and D2 games are part of the mix). Given that teams have only played three or four games so far this season, this is definitely something to keep in mind.

First, offensive statistics:

Team Yds/Play Rank Adjusted Yds/Rush Rank Adjusted Yds/PA Rank
The Citadel      5.58 50      5.09 39      7.61 19
VMI      5.01 79      5.06 41      4.96 98
Chattanooga      4.54 99      4.68 55      4.36 115
ETSU      6.82 10      6.05 9      8.08 11
Furman      4.79 86      3.27 119      6.63 50
Mercer      6.82 11      6.03 11      8.47 9
Samford      5.94 32      4.18 77      6.94 33
WCU      5.38 60      5.53 23      5.28 86
Wofford      5.48 56      5.08 40      6.14 59

 

Team 3D conv rate Rank RZ TD% Rank TFL allowed/play Rank % Rush plays Rank
The Citadel 43.6% 33 66.7% 51           8.2% 54   80.4% 3
VMI 38.8% 55 78.6% 22           9.1% 69   47.1% 83
Chattanooga 32.6% 86 68.4% 40           7.9% 42   54.7% 40
ETSU 47.1% 15 54.5% 78           5.2% 5   61.8% 18
Furman 39.7% 50 30.0% T121           8.5% 60   53.4% 47
Mercer 51.4% 6 81.8% 15           6.9% 24   67.5% 8
Samford 46.2% 23 65.2% 52           9.0% 67   36.2% 119
WCU 38.8% 54 47.1% 96           6.4% 18   39.5% 107
Wofford 32.5% 87 50.0% T86           6.4% 17   63.1% 15

One oddity in the rankings is that The Citadel is 50th nationally in yards per play despite ranking higher in both of the component stats (yards per rush and yards per pass attempt). That is largely due to the Bulldogs’ 80.4% rush rate; only Davidson and Kennesaw State have run the ball more on a per-play basis.

To further explain: as a group, FCS teams have averaged 5.34 yards per play through September. That number includes 4.64 yards per rush and 6.03 yards per pass attempt, a differential of 1.39 yards. 

However, the overall run/pass play ratio for FCS outfits is almost exactly a 50-50 proposition (50.0015%, favoring pass plays ever so slightly). The Citadel gets “passed” (quite literally) in the yards per play category by teams that throw the ball more often — which, as can be seen, is almost every team in the subdivision.

South Carolina State ranks 49th nationally in yards per play (5.59), one spot ahead of The Citadel, despite ranking behind Charleston’s Bulldogs in both yards per rush and yards per pass attempt. That is because Buddy Pough’s squad has a much more balanced run/pass ratio (rushing on 46.5% of its plays from scrimmage).

There are four FCS teams currently averaging more than 7.5 yards per play. It will not surprise anyone to learn that they are North Dakota State, South Dakota State, Eastern Washington, and James Madison. 

South Dakota State leads the nation in adjusted yards per pass attempt (10.23), while NDSU currently is at the top of the adjusted yards per rush category (8.56).

The bottom five in yards per play: Grambling State (2.50, lowest in FCS), Bucknell, Lehigh, Mississippi Valley State, and LIU.

Looking at SoCon teams, it is clear that to date ETSU and Mercer have had the conference’s most efficient offenses, with good-to-excellent numbers across the board. The Buccaneers could stand some improvement in the red zone, but other than that there can be no complaints from the fans of those teams — not on offense, anyway.

Just for clarification, East Tennessee State ranks just ahead of Mercer in yards per play (6.824 to 6.823). The extra decimal place does not appear on the chart above.

I included a column for tackles for loss on a per-play basis, because I thought it was interesting. From The Citadel’s perspective, a tackle for loss on 8.2% of all offensive plays from scrimmage is not really acceptable. Negative plays are drive killers, particularly for offenses that do not produce a lot of big plays.

Defensive numbers:

Team Yds/Play Rank Adjusted Yds/Rush Rank Adjusted Yds/PA Rank
The Citadel      6.96 118      5.56 102      8.52 114
VMI      5.92 79      5.67 106      6.39 64
Chattanooga      4.89 32      4.07 27      5.53 31
ETSU      4.81 27      4.05 25      5.22 22
Furman      5.56 55      4.63 53      6.52 68
Mercer      4.38 14      3.46 12      5.23 23
Samford      5.36 43      5.01 74      5.68 37
WCU      7.02 120      5.72 108      8.45 113
Wofford      5.76 69      5.64 105      5.92 41

 

Team 3D conv rate Rank RZ TD rate Rank TFL/play Rank % Rush plays vs Rank
The Citadel 50.0% 120 55.6% 38      4.7% 125     52.6% 56
VMI 47.8% 112 64.3% 68      6.0% 112     65.9% 2
Chattanooga 33.3% 32 57.1% 41    10.9% 29     44.3% 107
ETSU 40.3% 76 53.3% 29      8.0% 76     35.0% 124
Furman 40.4% 77 72.7% 91      7.4% 92     50.8% 67
Mercer 40.0% 74 55.6% 36      7.0% 98     47.8% 85
Samford 43.6% 91 66.7% 76      6.5% 106     48.6% 80
WCU 45.1% 102 88.0% 122      8.2% 73     52.4% 59
Wofford 43.6% 93 50.0% 26      6.4% 107     55.9% 37

 

Chattanooga, East Tennessee State, and Mercer have the best defensive statistics in the conference through September. The SoCon as a whole has struggled on this side of the ball — take a look at those third down conversion against rates, yeesh. Getting off the field on third down has been a major problem for most of the league’s teams. 

I included the rushing play percentage category for defense, even though obviously that is opponent-driven for the most part. It is a bit curious that VMI has been rushed against (on a per-play basis) more than any FCS team except for Bucknell.  

These numbers for The Citadel will not shock any Bulldogs fan who has been watching the games. The sole highlight, I suppose, is that The Citadel’s defense has done a decent job in the Red Zone. Opponents have largely rushed and passed against the Bulldogs with impunity.

Princeton leads FCS in yards per play allowed, at 2.61 (albeit while only playing two games, against the less-than-stellar competition of Lehigh and Stetson). James Madison and North Dakota State rank second and third. Deion Sanders’ Jackson State squad is fourth, just ahead of Prairie View A&M.

The bottom five: LIU (allowing 8.42 yards per play, worst in the subdivision), Texas Southern, Southern Utah, Central Connecticut State, and Southeast Missouri State.

To be fair to LIU, it has played three games thus far, and all three have been against FBS opponents (FIU, West Virginia, and Miami of Ohio). The Sharks get a well-deserved break this weekend before resuming their season next Saturday against St. Francis (PA).

Some miscellaneous stats:

Team TO margin/gm Rank TOP Rank Penalty yds/gm Rank Net punting Rank
The Citadel -0.33 T76 31:17 51 40.00 26 40.93 14
VMI -0.50 T81 27:52 101 64.00 T94 38.50 31
Chattanooga 0.67 T34 32:34 26 50.00 T49 40.25 17
ETSU 1.25 T19 33:06 18 63.75 93 36.43 57
Furman 0.00 T57 31:27 45 48.75 42 34.27 83
Mercer -0.33 T76 31:18 50 31.33 9 26.17 123
Samford 0.25 T51 24:35 125 50.25 54 38.79 28
WCU -0.75 T90 30:59 56 53.25 T65 34.91 72
Wofford 0.00 T57 29:48 73 38.00 19 33.80 93

Apologies for the formatting of that table; I realize it is even clunkier than usual.

It is a little strange to see The Citadel not near or at the top in terms of time of possession, but even stranger that Wofford is averaging under 30 minutes TOP per contest.

A few FCS national leaders in each category:

  • Turnover margin: Campbell leads (2.67 per game), a possible benefit of having played Presbyterian. Others in the top five: UC Davis, James Madison, Northern Iowa, and Alcorn State. Brown and the aforementioned Blue Hose are the bottom two, with the Bears enduring a -3 TO margin/game through two contests.
  • Time of possession: Yale is dominating this stat, averaging 37:42 TOP, though the Elis have only played two games. Also in the top five: Central Connecticut State, Princeton, Kennesaw State, and Butler. On the other end of the spectrum, Grambling State is averaging just 22:44 TOP per game and thus ranks last.
  • Penalty yards per game: New Hampshire is averaging only 20.75 penalty yards per game, the cleanest number in the subdivision. Other teams avoiding yellow flags include Bucknell, Howard, Delaware, and Idaho State. Only one team is averaging more than 100 yards per game in penalties — Yale. As already mentioned, that school has played just two games thus far.
  • Net punting: Idaho State has a net punting average of 46.07, which leads the nation, ahead of Montana, Missouri State, Davidson, and Illinois State. You only get one guess as to which team is in last place, with a net punting average of just 9.0. Yep, Presbyterian. No wonder Kevin Kelley doesn’t want to punt. (The Blue Hose have only punted twice.)

We are just 48 hours from kickoff for The Military Classic of the South. The coveted Silver Shako will be at stake, and a sellout crowd celebrating Parents’ Weekend will be watching the action.

Among the spectators, by the way, will be a contingent of about 500 Keydets, including VMI’s band. The atmosphere should be outstanding; I’m hoping the game will be as well.

I can’t wait for Saturday.

College Football Week 5, 2021: Tuesday notes and observations

Brent Thompson’s Monday press conference (9/27)

The Citadel’s game notes for its matchup against VMI

VMI has been rewarded for its patience

– The weather forecast for Saturday afternoon in Charleston, per the National Weather Service: sunny, with a high of 81°.

– The early lines are out. The Citadel is favored over VMI by 1½ points; the over/under is 65½.

I have no idea why the Bulldogs are favored in this game. My own numbers, which are admittedly experimental in nature and not to be trusted, suggest that VMI should be favored by around 9 points. 

When the coveted Silver Shako is at stake, however, anything can happen. 

– Other SoCon lines:

  • Chattanooga is favored over Western Carolina by 21½ points (over/under of 57½)
  • East Tennessee State is favored over Wofford by 14½ points (over/under of 49½)
  • Mercer is favored over Samford by 7½ points (over/under of 68½)

Furman is off this week.

– Also of note from a local or semi-local perspective: South Carolina State is favored by 7½ points over Bethune-Cookman; Kennesaw State is a 2½-point favorite over Jacksonville State; Davidson is favored by 10 points at Stetson; North Carolina A&T is favored by 19½ points over Robert Morris; Richmond is a 12½-point favorite over Elon; and Campbell is a 3-point favorite at North Alabama.

Presbyterian and Charleston Southern are both idle this weekend.

Above, I mentioned my experimental power ratings for FCS teams. This is just a tryout and probably won’t come to anything, but I decided to compare my numbers to the spreads for all FCS vs. FCS contests and see how many outliers there were.

I basically came up with seven games (not including VMI-The Citadel) in which my ratings differed from the opening line by more than a touchdown. Here they are, with my system’s pick against the spread in bold:

  • Sacred Heart-Howard: the Pioneers are 4-point favorites at HU
  • Duquesne-Merrimack: the homestanding Warriors are favored by 3 points
  • Dayton-Morehead State: the Flyers are 2½-point road favorites
  • Brown-Bryant: the Bears are 1½-point road favorites
  • Delaware State-Wagner: the Seahawks are a 1½-point favorite at home
  • Dixie State-South Dakota State: the mighty Jackrabbits are 45-point favorites
  • Central Arkansas-Abilene Christian: ACU is a 1-point favorite at home

Yes, six of the picks are road teams. Feel free to giggle when all of the home teams cover this weekend.

Some FCS conference realignment news: Texas A&M-Commerce, which won the D2 football national title in 2017, announced today it is moving up to FCS and will be a member of the Southland Conference. For you old-timers, this is the school that until 1996 was called East Texas State. Its most notable football alums: Dwight White, Harvey Martin, and Wade Wilson.

Of course, conference realignment rumors (and actual moves) are all the rage right now, both at the FBS and FCS level.

Austin Peay is leaving the OVC for the A-Sun. An OVC school that does not play football, Belmont, is headed to the MVC — and yet another OVC member, Murray State, is widely rumored to be moving as well.

Texas A&M-Commerce probably won’t be the only Division II school to move up, either. There are a host of D2 programs all over the nation reportedly interested in the verdant pastures of Division I. In the southeastern part of the country, keep an eye on (among others) Valdosta State, West Georgia, West Florida, and Queens University of Charlotte.

West Florida, Valdosta State, and Texas A&M-Commerce are the last three national champions in football at the Division II level.

Queens is a small private school (less than 2,000 undergraduates) that does not sponsor football. It does have a dominant swimming program (both men’s and women’s), and its men’s hoops squad beat Howard last season and only lost to George Mason by one point.

Per Wikipedia, the Queens Sports Complex includes a statue of Rex (the school’s mascot), which is “the largest standing lion sculpture in the world.” That sounds D1 to me…

Also, while I haven’t heard anything yet about Anderson University moving up to D1, it did hire Bobby Lamb to start its football program — and has more students than Queens (which, like Anderson, is in the South Atlantic Conference). Anderson’s enrollment has more than doubled over the last 15 years.

Just something to think about.

College Football Week 1, 2021: Tuesday notes and observations (ratings and rankings)

Monday’s notes and observations

Let’s talk about ratings and rankings for a moment…

There are a lot of computer ratings out there, and some of them include FCS schools. Below is a chart of the SoCon schools in which ten such ratings systems are listed, with their respective preseason rankings of each school compiled and averaged.

Key: 

Please note that I am just listing in-conference ordinal rankings before the first games were played last week; for example, Samford is the highest-rated SoCon team in the Massey Ratings, with VMI second and Chattanooga third. In terms of their ranking within FCS, those schools entered the 2021 fall campaign ranked 42nd (Samford), 51st (VMI), and 53rd (Chattanooga) by Massey.

 

2021 PreseasonMDLBECVSGRRatings avg
Samford11112352332.20
VMI22526134112.70
Chattanooga34433421253.10
Furman57381643424.30
ETSU75658215644.90
Wofford46264766775.50
Mercer83847577566.00
The Citadel68775988887.40
WCU99999899998.90

A few quick observations:

– In general, the computer ratings systems do not favor SoCon schools. An extreme example of this is the Dunchess Ratings, where the highest-ranked league team (VMI) is only 57th nationally. Western Carolina ranks next-to-last in all of FCS in that system.

– The highest-ranked conference squad in any of the ratings systems is Samford, ranked 13th by the Born Power Index. SU fares better in the computer ratings systems than any other league team, both by average and from a median perspective (not ranking lower than third in the SoCon in any of the surveyed systems).

– The computers do not know what to make of Furman this season. ETSU is also a source of considerable confusion.

I also averaged four “human” polls — the SoCon media and coaches’ polls, and the predicted order of finish for Lindy’s magazine preview and The Analyst.

2021 FallLindy’sSoCon MediaSoCon coachesThe AnalystRank avg
Chattanooga31111.50
VMI22322.25
ETSU14433.00
Samford74254.50
Furman64544.75
Mercer46665.50
Wofford57876.75
The Citadel88787.75
WCU99999.00

These rankings tend to mirror each other much more than the computer ratings systems. The humans do not think as much of Samford as the computers do, but like East Tennessee State a lot more than the machines.

I have to wonder if the computers like Samford’s offensive output (this might also explain the ratings systems’ inexplicable love affair with Ivy League teams). On the other hand, there might be a mathematical bias against ETSU’s tendency to play close games.

Flesh-and-blood observers are more inclined to look at the overall record from the previous season, and extrapolate from that — regardless of how that record came to be.

Does any of this matter? Not really. Ultimately, we won’t need computers or preseason polls, as everything will be settled on the field.

(Hopefully.)

FCS vs. FBS, 2021 — a quick rundown

Other preseason posts:

There are 117 FCS vs. FBS games this fall. Of the 128 programs in FCS (a total that includes schools transitioning to D1), 97 will face at least one FBS opponent during the autumn campaign.

The majority of the 31 FCS teams not playing an FBS outfit are from the Pioneer League and the Ivy League. None of the Pioneer League schools are tangling with an FBS team, while only one member of the Ivies will do so (Yale, which plays Connecticut).

Of the remaining 31, most have rarely (if ever) faced an FBS opponent. There are three notable exceptions, however — James Madison, North Dakota State, and Sam Houston State. Any of those three programs would be worthy adversaries for just about any FBS team, which might explain why none of them has such a squad on their respective schedules.

It is worth noting that defending SWAC champ Alabama A&M does not have an FBS opponent on its slate, either.

There are 18 FCS schools playing two FBS teams this season, and one which will play three.

That one would be LIU, which will do battle with FIU, West Virginia, and Miami (OH). I am guessing that most casual college football fans (and more than a few sportswriters) are unaware that LIU has a football program. For good or ill, a lot of people will learn about the Sharks this year. 

Not counting LIU, here is the list of the FCS schools with two FBS opponents:

  • Bethune-Cookman
  • Charleston Southern
  • Duquesne
  • Fordham
  • Gardner-Webb
  • Grambling State
  • Idaho
  • Idaho State
  • Jacksonville State
  • Maine
  • Murray State
  • Nicholls
  • Norfolk State
  • Portland State
  • South Carolina State
  • Southern Utah
  • Texas Southern
  • Wagner

Idaho is the lone FCS school playing two P5 opponents; the Vandals face Indiana and Oregon State. 

The only FCS vs. FBS contest being played at a neutral site is Jacksonville State-UAB, which will be held at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama. That game is being played on Wednesday (!), September 1.

Every other FCS vs. FBS matchup will be hosted by the FBS team.

In the 48 contiguous states category, the distance award this year for FCS vs. FBS goes to Stony Brook, which travels to Eugene, Oregon to play the Ducks. That is a trip of 2,964 miles. The longest overall voyage is by Portland State, which will journey to Hawai’i.

I’ve already mentioned the Idaho-Indiana and LIU-FIU contests; other long-distance FCS vs. FBS matchups include Monmouth-Middle Tennessee State, Duquesne-TCU, Western Carolina-Oklahoma, Eastern Illinois-South Carolina, Lafayette-Air Force, South Carolina State-New Mexico State, Central Connecticut State-Miami (FL), and Maine-Northern Illinois. A special mention must be given to Fordham, which has games at Nebraska and at FAU.

Connecticut and Massachusetts are the only FBS programs this year that scheduled two FCS teams. As noted earlier, the Huskies will play Yale; UConn also has a game versus Holy Cross. UMass faces Rhode Island and Maine.

There are 15 FBS schools that will not face an FCS squad. Those programs are Boise State, Georgia State, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Navy, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Purdue, Southern California, Stanford, Texas, UCLA, and Wisconsin.

In all, 62 G5 schools face an FCS opponent, while 53 P5 schools will do so.

The season is about to start. About time…

Looking at the numbers, 2021 preseason: 4th down decision-making

When it comes to gridiron discussion, one of my favorite topics is 4th down decision-making. This is an area of the game in which I think it is still possible to gain a competitive advantage, simply by being slightly ahead of the curve from a tactical perspective.

First, a quick list of the posts preceding this one so far in July:

As always, I begin with the statistical spreadsheet for The Citadel’s spring 2021 campaign:

The Citadel, 2021 Spring Football

One of the tabs on that spreadsheet goes into 4th down decision-making at a somewhat granular level, both for The Citadel and its opponents; another lists the success rates for short yardage plays on 3rd and 4th downs.

Did the Bulldogs go for it on 4th down more often than other SoCon schools? You better believe it:

Team (offense)4th down conv4th down att4D%4D att/gm
The Citadel193259.4%4.00
Furman91850.0%2.57
VMI101566.7%2.14
Western Carolina41330.8%2.17
Samford61250.0%1.71
Chattanooga41136.4%2.75
Mercer51145.5%1.38
ETSU2922.2%1.50
Wofford6966.7%1.80
Total6513050.0%2.22

It should be pointed out that The Citadel also faced more 4th down situations than any other SoCon team. However, the difference on a per-game basis wasn’t enormous. The Bulldogs averaged exactly nine 4th down situations per contest, which led the league, but Samford (8.86) and Furman (8.71) weren’t far behind, and the two schools with the fewest per game, Chattanooga and Wofford, each averaged seven.

Now, The Citadel did have fewer possessions per contest than other teams, and that has to be taken into account. The Bulldogs averaged 10.88 possessions per game, and so on most drives were faced with at least one 4th down call to make. 

The Citadel was very aggressive in those situations, going for a first down 44.44% of the time, the highest percentage in the conference, and considerably higher than every other squad except Chattanooga. Here is a table illustrating that:

Team (offense)4th down attPunts4D FGA4D total plays4D go rate
The Citadel323467244.44%
Chattanooga111252839.29%
Furman183766129.51%
VMI1526115228.85%
Wofford92063525.71%
Western Carolina133445125.49%
ETSU92894619.57%
Samford1233176219.35%
Mercer114676417.19%
Total1302707147127.60%

Incidentally, “4D FGA” refers to the number of field goal attempts on fourth down. Most field goal attempts take place on 4th down, of course, but not all do (end-of-half clock situations, for example). Thus, field goal attempts that took place on other downs (which happened six times in league play) are not listed on the chart. 

As expected, I did not find any punts in league games that occurred on a down other than 4th. Those halcyon days of yore, when “quick kicks” were a regular feature of the game, are gone forever.

It can occasionally be disorienting to read complete play-by-play newspaper stories from contests played decades ago, when teams frequently punted on 3rd down. They were not averse to punting on first and/or second down, either.

Indeed, The Citadel’s 12-7 Homecoming victory over Clemson in 1928, one of the more famous upsets in school history, included several first down punts by both teams. The Citadel’s second touchdown was scored directly off a botched punt snap by Clemson on first down. The Bulldogs’ first score was set up by a blocked punt that came on third down.

The Citadel blocked a third down punt for a TD in its 19-7 victory over South Carolina in 1950 as well, so maybe that strategy should make a comeback after all, at least among certain power conference teams…

I noted in a couple of previous posts that trying to compare FCS statistics for F20/S21 is largely pointless, and also a difficult task at any rate. However, while I can’t determine 4th-down situational stats for every team in the subdivision that played, a perusal of readily available information allows me to say with a reasonable amount of confidence that The Citadel’s “go rate” would have ranked third overall in FCS for the spring campaign.

The two teams ahead of the Bulldogs in this respect were Davidson (54.17%) and Eastern Illinois (47.69%). EIU, which like The Citadel is located in a town called Charleston, is a program with at least a short history of going for it a lot on 4th down; the Panthers led the nation in 4th down tries in 2019, going 28 for 52.

Alas, in spring 2021 they were not nearly as successful, only converting 10 of 31 4th down attempts en route to a record of 1-5.

Davidson finished the spring season 4-3, but that included an FCS playoff appearance, as the Wildcats won the automatic bid out of the non-scholarship Pioneer League. Davidson was 15 for 26 on 4th down attempts, to go along with six 4th down field goal tries and just 16 punts — the only team in all of D-1 to have attempted more 4th down conversions that punts/FGA combined.

I also ran the numbers for FBS, with one caveat. I could not find a way to remove field goal attempts that were not 4th-down plays from the list, and I was not about to go through 551 game summaries. Sorry, but I do have my limits.

Therefore, the FBS numbers that follow are possibly off by a percentage point — probably no more than that, though (and in most cases less), and for some teams they will be completely accurate. Any change would be a slight increase in the go rate.

Last year’s leading riverboat gambler in the bowl subdivision, to the surprise of no one, was Lane Kiffin, with Mississippi going for it 33 times (with only a combined 37 punts/FGA). That adds up to a go rate of 47.14%, easily tops in FBS.

Kiffin is a naturally aggressive tactician and play caller; the fact that the Rebels were truly terrible on defense also factored into the equation. Expect more of the same this season, as Kiffin is still Kiffin and Mississippi’s D might not be much better.

Army was second (39.08%), which is not exactly a shock. Jeff Monken is now well known for his willingness to go for it on 4th down.

Some of the other teams near the top of the list suffered through tough seasons, which might have impacted their number of attempts. However, there were also very successful squads with high go rates — including BYU, Kent State (albeit in just four games), Buffalo, and Liberty.

At the other end of the spectrum was Maryland (127th and last), which in five games only attempted one 4th-down conversion (leading to a more-no-than-go rate of 2.78%). The Terrapins did make that conversion try, though, and thus finished with a 100% success rate on 4th down.

Some coaches leaned heavily on excellent field goal kickers, and that clearly affected their 4th down decision-making. Oklahoma had a go rate of just 12.99% (6th-lowest in FBS), in part because the Sooners attempted 28 field goals in 11 games (making 22 of them). Only Pittsburgh attempted more field goals per game.

Then there were a few teams that didn’t go for it too often on 4th down because there was basically no need to do so; teams in the bottom 25% of the category included Notre Dame, Ohio State, Clemson, and Alabama.

Here is a list of select FBS teams and their 4th down “go rate”:

  • BYU, 34.92% (6th nationally)
  • Kent State, 34.78% (7th)
  • UCLA, 34.69% (8th)
  • Buffalo, 34.21% (10th)
  • Liberty, 32.35% (14th)
  • Navy, 32.26% (15th)
  • Northwestern, 31.33% (22nd)
  • Air Force, 30.56% (29th)
  • South Carolina, 28.40% (34th)
  • Coastal Carolina, 26.15% (48th)
  • North Carolina, 26.03% (49th)
  • East Carolina, 22.22% (72nd)
  • Kentucky, 20.24% (85th)
  • Georgia Southern, 17.89% (97th)
  • North Carolina State, 14.29% (113th)

Along these lines, I also took a quick look at punts per game. Kansas led the nation with 7.67 punts per contest, which sums up the Jayhawks’ football fortunes as well as just about anything. Massachusetts was second, as natural an outcome as could be imagined.

The teams with the fewest punts per game: Kent State (only 2.25 per contest), BYU, Liberty, Florida, and Alabama. Yep.

I’m very appreciative of Brent Thompson’s aggressiveness when it comes to going for it on 4th down, particularly in short-yardage situations. The Bulldogs faced 22 plays of 4th down and 3 yards or less in spring 2021, and went for it 21 times. 

There were actually three other short-yardage plays on 4th down that aren’t included among those 22, because of subsequent penalties; Thompson either went for it on those plays or would have, if given the chance. That means his intended go rate on 4th-and-short was 96%. That is the way it should be, especially given the core tenets of the offense.

I know there are a few fans who believe The Citadel was a little too aggressive on 4th down. I respectfully but firmly disagree, however. In order to be successful, the Bulldogs have to maximize their opportunities. One of the best ways to do that is use all the downs which are available. 

I do think that The Citadel could be even more productive when it comes to taking advantage of the program’s 4th down mindset, though. That will be the subject of my next post.