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.

Football Revenues and Expenses, FCS style

This is an extremely short post that I am making primarily to link a spreadsheet for revenues and expenses as it pertains specifically to football at the FCS level. I might have more to say about this topic later…or I might not.

I took the data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Equity in Athletics Data Analysis website, then consolidated it into a somewhat readable spreadsheet (I also added a column for Profit/Loss). I will note in advance that these numbers don’t necessarily mean a whole lot, because schools can use lots of different accounting tricks when it comes to determining revenues and expenses.

Here are the top 25 football revenue-producing FCS schools for the most recent reporting cycle (2018). Again, this is football revenues/expenses only:

Institution  Revenues
James Madison  $  10,649,299
Montana State  $    8,709,180
Montana  $    8,620,428
Delaware  $    8,313,306
Fordham  $    7,594,200
Furman  $    7,366,155
William and Mary  $    7,073,588
Richmond  $    7,031,345
Lafayette  $    6,840,900
Villanova  $    6,765,161
Colgate  $    6,743,022
Eastern Washington  $    6,739,277
Alabama A & M  $    6,471,494
Bucknell  $    6,192,470
North Dakota State  $    6,048,728
Elon  $    6,043,145
Lehigh  $    5,969,420
Samford  $    5,938,603
UC Davis  $    5,754,648
The Citadel  $    5,728,787
North Carolina A & T  $    5,609,344
Holy Cross  $    5,605,872
Wofford  $    5,529,094
Sacramento State  $    5,515,779
Idaho  $    5,515,778

 

Sure, you probably have questions. Lafayette? Sure, that was the name of America’s favorite fighting Frenchman, but you don’t really associate “lots of football cash pouring into the program” with Lafayette College. Who knows, though.

Here is a link to the entire list. Note that only one school (Dayton) claimed more total expenses than revenues in this cycle.

FCS football-only revenues and expenses (2018)

Spring football fever…catch it!

Football attendance at The Citadel: a review (including SoCon/FCS/COVID-19 observations)

Another (recent!) post about football at The Citadel:

Once upon a time, The Citadel was known as the Light Brigade

A less-than-recent post about football at The Citadel that I’ll highlight anyway, just because:

Homecoming at The Citadel: from 1924 to the present

This post is (mostly) about home attendance at The Citadel, which is a subject I’ve written about many times over the years. I will delve into the SoCon and national FCS attendance numbers, and I’ll also address the enormous elephant in the room: COVID-19’s affect on this season’s attendance.

First, a spreadsheet:

Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium, 1964-2019

The above link is to a spreadsheet that tracks attendance for The Citadel’s home football games, which has now been updated to include the 2019 season. The spreadsheet lists year-by-year totals and average game attendance, and the win/loss record for the Bulldogs (both overall and at Johnson Hagood Stadium). There is also a category ranking the years by average attendance.

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 constant winning (or losing) has on long-term attendance trends. While the answer to that question would seem obvious on the surface, it isn’t quite that simple.

In recent years, I have compared average attendance for the first two games of a season to the last two contests of the same campaign. There are definite sample-size issues when making such a comparison — weather, time of opening kickoff, opponent fan base, etc. —  but I’ve decided to keep up with it anyway. (After all, it’s not that hard to copy/paste.)

I’ve added the 2019 numbers, as part of an nine-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)
  • 2019 [6-6 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 8,817; final two home games, average attendance of 9,141 (including Homecoming)

Since 1964, the Bulldogs’ record at Johnson Hagood Stadium is 192-120 (61.5%). The average home attendance over that time period is 13,888. However, there has not been a season in which home attendance averaged more than 13,888 since 2006.

As many of those reading reading this are aware, the current stadium capacity is less than 12,000, due to the demolition of the East stands in the spring of 2017. Because of this, 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).

Of course, with the specter of COVID-19 looming over the 2020 campaign, the number of available seats at Johnson Hagood Stadium may not be quite as relevant this season.

Last year’s average home attendance of 9,344 was exactly one person per game higher than in 2018. It was the third-lowest average for any season since attendance figures at Johnson Hagood Stadium can be accurately determined. Over the previous 55 years, only one season featured lower home attendance — 2017. Thus, the three lowest average attendance figures since 1964 have occurred over the last three seasons.

A note that is worth mentioning every year: 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. (As for the attendance figures that are listed post-1964, well, I’m rolling with them — but as the saying goes, your mileage may vary.)

The largest home attendance at any pre-1964 contest was almost certainly 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.

The top average attendance marks at JHS 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
  • 2010-19: 11,147

As for FCS attendance in 2019:

School G Total Att. Avg. Rank
Jackson State 5 168,808 33,762 1
Montana 7 157,812 22,545 2
James Madison 9 162,974 18,108 3
Alabama State 5 88,997 17,799 4
North Dakota State 9 156,962 17,440 5
Montana State 8 138,246 17,281 6
Southern University 4 67,826 16,957 7
North Carolina A&T 5 84,633 16,927 8
Jacksonville State 7 117,800 16,829 9
Florida A&M 6 99,223 16,537 10
Delaware 7 99,926 14,275 11
Alcorn State 7 92,373 13,196 12
Yale 6 72,796 12,133 13
Youngstown State 7 84,150 12,021 14
Norfolk State 5 56,480 11,296 15
South Dakota State 8 87,764 10,971 16
Sacramento State 7 76,651 10,950 17
McNeese State 6 65,266 10,878 18
Harvard 5 54,060 10,812 19
Grambling State 3 31,188 10,396 20
South Carolina State 6 62,035 10,339 21
New Hampshire 5 50,527 10,105 22
North Alabama 5 47,738 9,548 23
UC Davis 5 47,502 9,500 24
Mercer 6 56,437 9,406 25
The Citadel 6 56,066 9,344 26
Illinois State 6 55,454 9,242 27
Texas Southern 4 36,814 9,204 28
Western Carolina 6 52,814 8,802 29
Tennessee State 6 52,723 8,787 30
Willliam and Mary 6 51,730 8,622 31
East Tennessee State 6 51,152 8,525 32
Northern Iowa 7 59,023 8,432 33
Penn 5 42,134 8,427 34
Holy Cross 5 42,067 8,413 35
Eastern Washington 5 41,833 8,367 36
North Dakota 6 50,040 8,340 37
Stephen F. Austin 4 33,294 8,324 38
Eastern Kentucky 5 41,568 8,314 39
Alabama A&M 4 32,527 8,132 40
Central Arkansas 6 47,652 7,942 41
Abilene Christian 6 47,291 7,882 42
Chattanooga 6 46,603 7,767 43
Richmond 6 45,205 7,534 44
Weber State 8 59,506 7,438 45
Stony Brook 7 51,214 7,316 46
Elon 5 36,209 7,242 47
Murray State 6 43,402 7,234 48
Princeton 5 36,125 7,225 49
Hampton 6 43,309 7,218 50
Arkansas-Pine Bluff 6 43,143 7,191 51
Lamar 6 43,037 7,173 52
Idaho 6 41,312 6,885 53
Nicholls State 6 41,221 6,870 54
Austin Peay 7 47,461 6,780 55
Lehigh 5 33,540 6,708 56
Tennessee Tech 6 40,203 6,701 57
Bethune-Cookman 3 19,981 6,660 58
Northwestern State 5 33,122 6,624 59
Northern Arizona 6 39,441 6,574 60
Cal Poly 5 32,815 6,563 61
Southeastern Louisiana 6 39,184 6,531 62
Towson 6 38,872 6,479 63
Southern Illinois 5 32,279 6,456 64
Missouri State 5 32,248 6,450 65
Maine 5 31,891 6,378 66
Prairie View A&M 5 31,820 6,364 67
North Carolina Central 5 31,674 6,335 68
Idaho State 5 30,645 6,129 69
Villanova 6 36,020 6,003 70
Furman 6 35,883 5,981 71
Kennesaw State 6 35,686 5,948 72
Rhode Island 5 29,432 5,886 73
Morehead State 6 33,969 5,662 74
Dartmouth 4 22,384 5,596 75
Campbell 6 32,403 5,401 76
Columbia 5 26,881 5,376 77
South Dakota 6 30,225 5,038 78
Indiana State 7 35,222 5,032 79
Eastern Illinois 5 24,413 4,883 80
Sam Houston State 6 29,267 4,878 81
Morgan State 5 24,074 4,815 82
Southern Utah 5 23,985 4,797 83
Lafayette 5 23,321 4,664 84
Northern Colorado 5 22,871 4,574 85
Mississippi Valley State 6 26,493 4,416 86
Samford 5 21,983 4,397 87
Southeast Missouri State 7 30,264 4,323 88
Wofford 6 25,867 4,311 89
Cornell 5 21,475 4,295 90
VMI 6 24,127 4,021 91
Portland State 6 23,995 3,999 92
Davidson 7 27,025 3,861 93
Albany (NY) 7 26,808 3,830 94
Howard 4 15,317 3,829 95
Central Connecticut State 5 18,974 3,795 96
Brown 5 18,946 3,789 97
Sacred Heart 5 18,194 3,639 98
Charleston Southern 5 17,762 3,552 99
Colgate 5 17,755 3,551 100
Fordham 5 17,042 3,408 101
Incarnate Word 6 19,643 3,274 102
Butler 6 19,593 3,266 103
Gardner-Webb 5 16,226 3,245 104
UT Martin 5 15,569 3,114 105
Monmouth 7 19,463 2,780 106
Bucknell 5 13,751 2,750 107
Dayton 5 13,702 2,740 108
Western Illinois 6 15,922 2,654 109
LIU 3 7,515 2,505 110
Houston Baptist 6 13,932 2,322 111
Drake 5 11,160 2,232 112
Bryant 6 12,916 2,153 113
San Diego 6 12,574 2,096 114
Wagner 6 12,447 2,075 115
Valparaiso 6 12,340 2,057 116
Georgetown 5 9,803 1,961 117
Marist 6 11,317 1,886 118
Duquesne 5 9,286 1,857 119
Jacksonville 6 10,842 1,807 120
Robert Morris 6 10,664 1,777 121
Presbyterian 7 11,810 1,687 122
Stetson 7 11,093 1,585 123
Delaware State 7 10,596 1,514 124
Saint Francis (PA) 5 7,208 1,442 125

Notes on the above table:

– I included North Alabama, technically a “transitioning” school last year, but one that played a full Division I schedule.

– Average home game attendance for FCS schools declined last season, from 7,325 in 2018 to 7,296 in 2019.

– The Citadel ranked 26th out of 124 FCS schools, and second in the Southern Conference (behind 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 thirteenth time in the last fourteen years.

– Jackson State led FCS in attendance, as it did in 2018. Attendance for the Tigers’ five home games at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium ranged from 26,341 (a game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff) to 40,085 (versus Southern).

JSU’s home attendance was higher than that of 67 FBS teams, including six P5 schools. Five FBS conferences (AAC, C-USA, MWC, Sun Belt, MAC) had lower average per-school attendance figures.

– Montana and James Madison joined Jackson State in averaging more than 18,000 fans per home game. Four FCS schools accomplished that feat in 2018; seven did so in 2017.

– Furman’s average home attendance over the last four years: 5,771 (2016); 7,775 (2017); 6,139 (2018); 5,981 (2019). That is not a promising trend, though the Paladins did outdraw Wofford for the second consecutive season.

– South Carolina State’s average home attendance over the last four years: 10,148 (2016); 11,883 (2017), 9,174 (2018); 10,339 (2019). Buddy Pough is doing his best to keep things on an even keel in Orangeburg.

– Charleston Southern’s home attendance improved year-over-year from 1,764 (2018) to 3,552 (2019). The Buccaneers were helped on the attendance front by hosting North Carolina A&T and its estimable fan base (5,112 for that game), but CSU had significantly better per-game numbers last season even when taking the Aggies’ supporters into account.

– Morehouse College topped Division II in home attendance, averaging 10,924 fans per game. The top four Division II schools in home attendance were Morehouse, Grand Valley State, Tarleton State (which is now transitioning to FCS), and Tuskegee. All four of them outdrew Northern Illinois, an FBS school; the Huskies only averaged 8,518 per home contest.

Those Tuesday night MAC games are not designed with home attendance in mind. For example, NIU managed to attract 3,568 fans on a rainy Tuesday night versus Western Michigan.

– Other D-2 home attendance averages of interest: Benedict (5,024); Newberry (2,933); North Greenville (3,228); Lenoir-Rhyne (4,769); Chowan (2,320); Catawba (2,140); Carson-Newman (3,441); Valdosta State (4,992); Mars Hill (3,152); Shorter (1,132).

The SoCon’s average attendance fell below 7,000 per game, the first time that had happened this century, and almost certainly the first time the conference had fallen below that number in several decades.

Among FCS leagues, only the MVFC had a larger dropoff in attendance from 2018 to 2019.

Average home attendance for SoCon teams (all games):

  • 2014: 8,204
  • 2015: 8,210
  • 2016: 8,386
  • 2017: 7,827
  • 2018: 7,611
  • 2019: 6,998

2019 home attendance by school, SoCon:

Team Games Total att. Average Nat’l rank
Mercer 6 56,437 9,406 25
The Citadel 6 56,066 9,344 26
WCU 6 52,814 8,802 29
ETSU 6 51,152 8,525 32
Chattanooga 6 46,603 7,767 43
Furman 6 35,883 5,981 71
Samford 5 21,983 4,397 87
Wofford 6 25,867 4,311 89
VMI 6 24,127 4,021 91

I have to note here that not everyone trusts the home attendance numbers released by Mercer. Of course, you could say that for a lot of schools (possibly most of them), but the Bears’ figures in particular have been questioned in recent years by opposing fans and neutral observers alike.

Chattanooga was the median for the conference in terms of home attendance, finishing 5th in the SoCon with 7,767 fans per game. There was a significant difference between 5th-place UTC and 6th-place Furman (5,981), and almost as big a differential between Furman and 7th-place Samford (4,391).

In 2018, the SoCon finished 6th out of 13 FCS conferences in home attendance; last year, the league finished 8th out of 13.

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 in 2019 was 6,889, a decline of 808 fans per contest from 2018 (there had been a smaller decline in 2017 as well).

Four of thirty-six conference games were attended by more than 10,000 people (there were eight such contests the year before). The Citadel hosted two of those four games (versus VMI and Mercer); the other two matchups were Wofford at Mercer, and Mercer at Western Carolina.

Average home attendance, league games only:

  • The Citadel: 9,608
  • Western  Carolina: 8,433 (a decline of over 1,700 fans per home league contest)
  • Mercer: 8,421 (a decline of almost 1,300 fans per home league contest, with just 5,714 on hand for a game against VMI)
  • East Tennessee State: 8,296
  • Chattanooga: 7,388 (a decline of almost 1,300 fans per home league contest, though all four home games had attendance of greater than 7,000)
  • Furman: 6,632 (an increase of almost 500 fans per home league contest)
  • Wofford: 5,024 (a decline of over 1,700 per home league contest, with a low of 3,463 versus Samford)
  • VMI: 4,186
  • Samford: 4,012 (a decline of over 1,400 fans per home league contest)

Some notes related to this category:

– Mercer had two non-conference home games last season, playing Austin Peay and Campbell at Five Star Stadium. The listed attendance for both games exceeded 11,000.

– Conversely, Furman’s home attendance was hurt by its season finale versus Point (just 3,432 in the stands for that one). The Paladins didn’t really get much out of playing Charleston Southern in its opener, either (6,146, which was a lower total than three of its four league home games).

– Samford only drew 1,521 fans for its game against East Tennessee State. The conditions were not ideal (rain), but that still seems like a serious outlier.

– In 2019 conference play, more people attended games played by Mercer than any other school. In eight games (four home, four away), the Bears competed before a total of 70,456 fans, an average of 8,818 per contest. The Citadel was the second-most watched team, followed by Western Carolina.

Least-watched team: Samford, with Wofford second from the bottom.

All of that is in the past. What is in the future?

Unfortunately, right now the same thing that is in the present: a world in which daily life is impacted by COVID-19.

No one knows how long that will continue. Another thing that is still an unknown, as I write this in mid-June, is how the omnipresence of the virus will affect the 2020 football season.

While most states seem to be gradually moving toward a “new normal”, there are major concerns about the ability for large groups of people to safely gather this fall. We’ve already seen some cautionary tales, including the University of Houston’s announcement that six of its returning football players tested positive for COVID-19 (and were all symptomatic).

The city of Houston has become a virus “hotspot”, and Texas is one of a number of states experiencing rising numbers of COVID-19 cases as late spring turns to early summer. Another one of those states: South Carolina.

That has led to discussions about limiting the number of fans in attendance. In an article about this issue, The Citadel’s director of athletics, Mike Capaccio, explained:

One model among several that The Citadel has been studying is to have about 3,000 to 4,000 spectators in the stands for home games at Johnson Hagood Stadium, which seats about 11,500 in its current configuration. The Citadel averaged 9,344 fans for six home games last year.

But that’s just one possibility, Capaccio said during the meeting.

“We’ve been looking at a lot of different models, obviously,” he said. “But there is one that we are looking at where we would have three to four thousand people at the game, possibly. We are hoping for a lot more, to be back to normal by that point.

“But say that happens. You have a couple of thousand cadets to start with, and then family members and so forth. And then, how do you handle club seats and things like that? There are really some unknowns that we have, and that’s all across the board in college athletics.”

The next couple of months are going to be very difficult, as administrators determine just what they are going to be able to do, and how they are going to do it. There is still uncertainty about whether or not college football’s collective schedule will begin — or end — as planned.

I would very much like to see a normal college football season, one that includes attending home and away games. At this point, however, I tend to think that won’t happen.

I really hope I’m wrong about that.

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!