Inside the numbers: The Citadel’s 2016 run/pass tendencies, 4th-down decision-making, and more (including coin toss data!)

In the past, I have written about tendencies in playcalling by the then-coach of the Bulldogs, Mike Houston (and his offensive coordinator, Brent Thompson, who took over as The Citadel’s head coach last season). I compared statistics over a rolling three-year period. Last year, for example, included numbers from Kevin Higgins’ last season in charge and the two years Houston helmed the program.

Now I’m going to take a look at what Thompson did in his first year running the show, and contrast those statistics with those from the 2015 and 2016 seasons for the Bulldogs (with a few exceptions where I don’t have readily available data for the previous campaigns).

My focus in this post will be on the following:

  • down-and-distance run/pass tendencies (for The Citadel and its opponents)
  • yards per play numbers (offense and defense, rushing and passing)
  • certain defensive passing stats (including sacks, hurries, and passes defensed)
  • success in the “red zone” (defined as scoring or preventing touchdowns)
  • plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more (“big” plays)
  • fourth-down decision-making (for The Citadel and its opponents)
  • situational punting (i.e. punting from inside the opponents’ 40-yard line)
  • the coin toss (of course)

I have another post that focuses on assorted “advanced stats”, including success rate, explosiveness, field position, finishing drives, and turnovers — the “five factors” of college football. In that post, I’m also listing some stats related to success on first down and third down, some of which are particularly illuminating with regards to The Citadel.

I decided to split those numbers into a separate post for reasons of clarity, and because I didn’t want this post to rival War and Peace for length. It might be best to read what is to come in sections; I can’t imagine getting through all this in one sitting. I certainly didn’t write it all at once.

Most of the statistics that follow are based on conference play, and only conference play. It’s easier and fairer to compare numbers in that way. The bottom line for The Citadel is that its on-field success or failure will be judged on how it does in the Southern Conference, not against Newberry, Presbyterian, or Clemson (this year’s non-league slate).

The conference schedules over the last three years looked like this:

  • The Citadel played seven games in 2014 versus SoCon opposition. The teams in the league that year: Wofford, Western Carolina, Chattanooga, Mercer, Furman, Samford, and VMI.
  • The Bulldogs played seven games in 2015 against SoCon teams. The conference schools competing on the gridiron that year were the same as in 2014: Western Carolina, Wofford, Samford, Furman, Mercer, VMI, and Chattanooga.
  • The Citadel played eight games in 2016 versus Southern Conference opponents. The league schools last year: Mercer, Furman, Western Carolina, Chattanooga, Wofford, East Tennessee State, Samford, and VMI (the additional opponent being ETSU).

As I did last year, I’ve put most of the conference-only numbers on a spreadsheet. It may be headache-inducing (there are nine different sub-sheets), but the stats are all there. Individual game statistics in each category are included.

I am reasonably confident in the overall accuracy of the statistics, though I am far from infallible. It would have been much easier if the SoCon had league-only online football statistics, but it doesn’t. C’est la vie.

If someone wants to look at the 2015 stats as well, here is last year’s spreadsheet: Link

Some definitions:

– 2nd-and-short: 3 yards or less for a first down
– 2nd-and-medium: 4 to 6 yards for a first down
– 2nd-and-long: 7+ yards for a first down
– 3rd-and-short: 2 yards or less for a first down
– 3rd-and-medium: 3 to 4 yards for a first down
– 3rd-and-long: 5+ yards for a first down

The first number that will follow each down-and-distance category will be the percentage of time The Citadel ran the ball in that situation in 2016. Next to that, in parenthesis, is the run percentage for The Citadel in 2015, and that will be followed by the Bulldogs’ run percentage for that situation in 2014 (which will be in brackets).

For example, when it came to running the ball on first down, the numbers looked like this:

– 1st-and-10 (or goal to go): 86.0% (89.1%) [88.9%]

Thus, The Citadel ran the ball on first down 86.0% of the time last year, while the Bulldogs ran the ball in that situation 89.1% of the time in 2015. The Citadel ran the ball 88.9% of the time on first down during its 2014 campaign.

Overall, the Bulldogs ran the ball 85.6% of the time in 2016, after rushing 86.5% of the time on its 2015 plays from scrimmage, and on 84.3% of all offensive plays in 2014.

Here are the rest of the down-and-distance categories (in terms of rush percentage):

– 2nd-and-short: 94.1% (89.2%) [84.0%]
– 2nd-and-medium: 96.1% (89.8%) [90.2%]
– 2nd-and-long: 83.8% (89.2%) [82.2%]
– 3rd-and-short: 100% (93.1%) [95.5%]
– 3rd-and-medium: 88.5% (82.4%) [90.3%]
– 3rd-and-long: 68.1% (66.0%) [57.4%]

It should be noted that there were a few called pass plays that turned into runs. However, if the result of a play was a sack, that counted as a passing down even if a pass wasn’t thrown. Of course, The Citadel’s offense only suffered one sack all season in league play (at VMI, for six yards).

  • Yes, The Citadel ran the ball on all 28 third-and-short situations in SoCon action last year. In 2015, the Bulldogs ran 27 out of 29 times on third-and-short.
  • The Citadel threw the ball a bit more often on first down against East Tennessee State and VMI. The Bulldogs passed slightly more than normal on second-and-long versus Wofford.
  • Against Chattanooga, The Citadel faced a third-and-long on eleven occasions, but only passed once in that situation (it fell incomplete).
  • After attempting only four passes on second-in-short in conference action in both 2014 and 2015, the Bulldogs only aired it out twice in that situation last season. Both were incomplete. That means over the last three years, The Citadel is 4-10 passing on second-and-short, for 108 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.

I’m going to alternate between offensive and defensive statistics in this post. I hope that doesn’t prove too confusing. In this section, therefore, I’m listing what The Citadel’s conference opponents did in down-and-distance situations (but just for the 2016 season). This is information I had not previously compiled, but I thought might prove interesting to a few folks out there.

Overall, league opponents rushed on 49.7% of their plays against The Citadel last year. On first down, conference foes rushed 56.2% of the time. Here are the rest of the down-and-distance categories (in terms of rush percentage):

– 2nd-and-short: 75.9%
– 2nd-and-medium: 47.9%
– 2nd-and-long: 44.8%
– 3rd-and-short: 66.7%
– 3rd-and-medium: 36.4%
– 3rd-and-long: 27.3%

There was quite a bit of variance in these numbers.

Samford, for example, passed on 75% of its plays. The only down-and-distance category in which SU ran more than it passed against The Citadel was on 3rd-and-short. Conversely, Wofford threw the ball just seven times in 65 offensive plays from scrimmage.

All four of The Citadel’s home opponents passed the ball (or attempted to pass) more than they ran it. On the other hand, three of the Bulldogs’ road opponents rushed more than passed (Western Carolina was the exception).

  • The Citadel’s offense in 2014 in SoCon action: 75.4 plays per game, 11.0 possessions per game
  • The Citadel’s offense in 2015 in SoCon action: 70.7 plays per game, 11.9 possessions per game
  • The Citadel’s offense in 2016 in SoCon action: 72.1 plays per game, 11.4 possessions per game

*Overtime possessions are not included in any of the conference-only statistics, for the sake of consistency (and avoiding statistical sample size issues).

**I don’t count a drive as an actual possession when it consists solely of a defensive TD via a return, or when it is a defensive turnover that ends the half or game. I also don’t count a drive as a possession when the offensive team does not attempt to move the ball forward (such as a kneel-down situation). That’s how I interpret the statistic, regardless of how it may be listed in a game summary.

Last season, The Citadel had a time of possession edge in SoCon play of over seven minutes (33:41 – 26:19), an increase of almost three minutes from 2015 (32:13 – 27:47), and a two-minute edge over 2014 (32:40 – 27:20).

The Citadel held the ball longer than its opponents on average in three of the four quarters (the second quarter was the exception). The Bulldogs won the TOP battle in the fourth quarter in every game except one (at Wofford).

Nationally (counting all games), the Bulldogs finished second in total time of possession per contest, just behind San Diego (which won the Pioneer League and made the round of 16 in the FCS playoffs).

  • The Citadel’s defense in 2015 SoCon play: 65.7 plays per game, 12.0 possessions per game
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2016 Socon play: 57.6 plays per game, 11.4 possessions per game

Against Western Carolina, the Bulldogs’ D was only on the field for 44 plays from scrimmage. The Citadel controlled the ball in a similar fashion versus Chattanooga, only facing 47 offensive plays by the Mocs.

Wofford’s 65 offensive plays from scrimmage (in regulation) were the most run against the Bulldogs’ defense last season, just one more than the 64 by Samford’s offense — perhaps a bit curious, given the diametrically opposite styles of those two teams.

Note: while NCAA statistical records count sack yardage against rushing totals, the NFL considers sack yardage as passing yardage lost. I take the NFL’s position on this, so all conference statistics included in this post count sack yardage against passing stats.

  • The Citadel’s offense in 2014 in SoCon games: 5.56 yards per play, including 5.35 yards per rush and 6.8 yards per pass attempt
  • The Citadel’s offense in 2015 in SoCon games: 6.09 yards per play, including 5.57 yards per rush and 9.7 yards per pass attempt
  • The Citadel’s offense in 2016 in SoCon games: 5.58 yards per play, including 5.28 yards per rush and 7.4 yards per pass attempt

The numbers were not as good as the season before, though they do match up well with the 2014 season. While the rushing yards per play may have been down, that wasn’t really the issue.

– 2015 passing for The Citadel in seven conference games: 63 pass attempts for 609 yards (three interceptions)

– 2016 passing for The Citadel in eight conference games: 83 pass attempts for 615 yards (two interceptions)

Twenty more pass attempts, just six more yards receiving. That has to improve in 2017.

In this post, I’m also going to take a look at The Citadel’s per-play stats from a national perspective (all of FCS, and including all games, not just conference play). I’ll throw in some statistics from a few FBS teams as well (concentrating on teams of local interest and schools that run the triple option).

The Bulldogs’ offense was just 52nd nationally in yards per play, with a 5.53 average (all games). Sam Houston State’s 7.17 yards per play topped FCS. Samford and Chattanooga were 1-2 in the SoCon.

Western Kentucky led FBS in yards per play, with a 7.65 average. Other FBS teams of interest: Oklahoma (2nd), New Mexico (8th), Navy (11th), Clemson (34th), Air Force (tied for 47th), Army (59th), South Carolina (109th), Rutgers (128th and last).

However, The Citadel’s overall rate of 5.37 yards per rush was 10th-best in FCS (and led the SoCon).

The top two FCS teams in yards per rush were both Big South squads — Charleston Southern (6.02 yards per rush) and Kennesaw State (5.91 yards per rush). Others worth mentioning: Cal Poly (3rd), North Dakota State (4th), James Madison (5th), Gardner-Webb (17th), Chattanooga (21st), Wofford (24th), Western Carolina (38th), Mercer (52nd), Towson (53rd), Lehigh (59th), Furman (60th), Elon (69th), South Carolina State (74th), Samford (87th), ETSU (103rd), VMI (112th out of 122 teams).

New Mexico’s offense led FBS in yards per rush, at 6.61. Navy was 6th, Alabama 8th, Army 12th, Georgia Tech 16th, Air Force 41st, Clemson 73rd, South Carolina 107th, and Texas State 128th and last. That statistical category, and thus the subsequent rankings, counts yardage lost from sacks in its totals, however (this is true for both the FBS and FCS offensive and defensive national statistics/rankings).

  • The Citadel’s defense in 2014 in SoCon action: 7.02 yards per play, including 5.69 yards per rush and 9.1 yards per pass attempt
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2015 in SoCon action: 5.07 yards per play, including 3.69 yards per rush and 6.7 yards per pass attempt
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2016 in SoCon action: 4.94 yards per play, including 4.61 yards per rush and 5.3 yards per pass attempt

While yards per rush for opponents was up almost a full yard over 2015, the pass defense more than made up for it. The highlight may have been the game at Western Carolina; once sacks are taken into consideration, the Bulldogs allowed less than one yard per pass attempt in Cullowhee (30 pass attempts/sacks, 26 net yards passing).

Nationally in FCS, The Citadel was 49th in defensive yards per play (5.34). Stony Brook (4.18) was tops nationally. Also in the top 10: Jacksonville State (2nd), Charleston Southern (6th), Wofford (7th), and Chattanooga (9th). Western Carolina finished in the bottom 10.

To the shock of nobody, Alabama led all of D-1 in defensive yards per play (3.99). The rest of the FBS top 5 in that category included Michigan, Ohio State, Washington, and Clemson. Others of note: Army (25th, a major reason for its winning season), South Carolina (59th), Air Force (72nd), New Mexico (105th), Navy (109th), and Rice (128th and last).

The Citadel was 53rd in FCS in the national defensive yards/rush category (at 4.15, actually better than its league stats). Central Arkansas (2.29) led the nation, with Colgate, Princeton, Jacksonville State, and Stony Brook rounding out the top 5. Wofford was 9th, Chattanooga 21st, South Carolina State 25th, Charleston Southern 27th, Mercer 38th, Towson 49th, James Madison 51st, Samford 55th, Furman 81st, VMI 84th, ETSU 87th, Liberty 107th, Elon 108th, Western Carolina 115th, and Presbyterian 117th (out of 122 teams).

I think knowing how league (and non-league) opponents rate in this category is instructive, not just in terms of comparing defenses, but in comparing them to how they might succeed (or fail) against The Citadel’s run-heavy offense. Of course, these were last year’s statistics; programs obviously change from year to year.

Alabama only allowed opponents an average of 2.01 yards per rush, far and away the best in FBS (Houston was 2nd, at 2.91). Air Force was 15th, Clemson 24th, Army 34th, Navy 77th, Georgia Tech 86th, New Mexico 88th, and South Carolina 92nd.

California was 128th and last, at 6.15 yards allowed per rush. In related news, Cal now has a new head coach who was formerly a defensive coordinator.

Counting all games, The Citadel allowed 6.9 yards per pass attempt, 52nd nationally in FCS. Before you think “well, take the UNC game away and the average would go way down”, keep in mind that the team that averaged the most yards per pass attempt versus The Citadel last season was…North Greenville (9.9 yards per attempt). That is what happens when your opponent throws two TD passes of 90+ yards.

San Diego ranked first in this particular category (5.31). The teams in the SoCon were ranked as follows: Chattanooga (14th), Wofford (16th), Samford (77th), VMI (85th), East Tennessee State (91st), Mercer (115th), Western Carolina (116th), Furman (117th).

Presbyterian, which travels to Johnson Hagood Stadium in 2017, was 121st overall, only ahead of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

Ohio State, Michigan, and Clemson ranked 1-2-3 in yards per pass attempt (defense) in FBS. South Carolina tied for 30th, while Navy was in the bottom 10. Rice was last, just as it was in yards per play.

  • The Citadel’s offensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2014: 66.7%
  • The Citadel’s offensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2015: 56.3%
  • The Citadel’s offensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2016: 64.5%

The 2016 campaign proved to be slightly better for the Bulldogs’ offense in this area than in the previous season, though it should be noted the 2015 squad had one more opportunity in the red zone during conference play (32 to 31) despite playing one fewer league game.

The national FCS leader in this category was Idaho State, at 84.6%. When all games are taken into account, The Citadel ranked only 97th (out of 122 FCS teams). The Bulldogs did not fare nearly as well in offensive red zone TD rate outside of league play, only converting 5 of 14 red zone chances into touchdowns in those contests. Thus, the season rate was just 52.1% (though that total includes two “kneel downs” in the red zone that I did not count in the Bulldogs’ league stats).

I think The Citadel should have a goal of converting at least 75% of its red zone opportunities into touchdowns, something that was done by only ten FCS teams last season.

National champion James Madison finished 14th overall in the category, with a 73.1% red zone TD rate. You will probably not be surprised to learn that the Dukes led all of FCS in red zone opportunities. Part of the reason for that is because JMU played 15 games; on the other hand, the Dukes’ 93 trips to the red zone were 22 more than any other team. James Madison had 44 rushing TDs from the red zone, which may be even more impressive.

The top 3 SoCon teams in red zone TD rate were Furman, Samford, and Chattanooga (with the Paladins pacing the league at 72.1%, 17th nationally).

Incidentally, three of the top ten teams in red zone TD% in FBS last year were triple-option teams — Navy, Army, and New Mexico (the Midshipmen led FBS with a 79.7% TD conversion rate).

  • The Citadel’s defensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2014: 60.0%
  • The Citadel’s defensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2015: 52.2%
  • The Citadel’s defensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2016: 66.7%

This is one of the very few defensive stats that wasn’t outstanding. However, it is also true the Bulldogs faced fewer trips inside the 20 by their opponents in 2016 than in 2015 (35 to 30) while playing one more conference game (mirroring The Citadel’s offense to a certain extent).

The Citadel’s defense had slightly better numbers when all games are considered; for the complete season, the Bulldogs’ D had a red zone TD rate of 58.3%, tied for 42nd nationally. Another group of Bulldogs, the bunch from Samford, also tied for 42nd overall. That was the best mark among SoCon teams (again, including league and non-league contests in the totals).

As mentioned above, Furman’s offense did a good job converting red zone chances into touchdowns last year. Unfortunately for the Paladins, the same was not true on defense. Furman’s D allowed opponents to score touchdowns in the red zone on 27 of 34 opportunities in 2016, the worse mark (by percentage) in the country.

Grambling State led FCS in the category, with an impressive defensive red zone TD rate of 34.4%. LSU’s defense was the standard-bearer for FBS, with an amazing rate of just 24.3%.

  • The Citadel’s offensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon play, 2014: 46.3%
  • The Citadel’s offensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon play, 2015: 50.0%
  • The Citadel’s offensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon play, 2016: 50.4%

In all games last season (not just conference action), the Bulldogs had an offensive 3rd-down conversion rate of 47.7%, which led the SoCon and was ninth nationally. Cal Poly, another triple option playoff team, was the overall leader in that category at 53.6%.

Other FCS teams of interest: James Madison (4th overall), North Dakota State (12th), Mercer (17th), Wofford (31st), Gardner-Webb (34th), Charleston Southern (39th), East Tennessee State (44th), Furman (45th), Chattanooga (47th), Western Carolina (50th), Towson (54th), Liberty (77th), Samford (78th), VMI (94th), South Carolina State (109th), Presbyterian (118th).

Navy led FBS in offensive 3rd-down conversion rate, at 54.5%. P.J. Fleck’s Western Michigan squad was second overall. Air Force was 6th, Clemson 8th, Army 10th, New Mexico 19th, Georgia Tech 51st (and won nine games despite that), South Carolina 109th, and Tulane 128th and last.

  • The Citadel’s defensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon action, 2014: 41.5%
  • The Citadel’s defensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon action, 2015: 33.7%
  • The Citadel’s defensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon action, 2016: 33.3%

The Bulldogs had even better stats in this category when non-league contests are included. The all-games rate of 30.1% ranked 9th nationally in FCS, and led the Southern Conference.

That isn’t a typo, by the way. The Citadel finished 9th overall in both offensive and defensive 3rd-down conversion rate. That helps you tilt the playing field, which helps you win games.

Jacksonville State led FCS in defensive 3rd-down conversion rate. Montana, Grambling State, Campbell, and Columbia were the other teams in the top 5. South Carolina State was 20th, Chattanooga 25th, James Madison 26th, Presbyterian 30th, Liberty 37th, VMI 45th, ETSU 51st, Charleston Southern 61st, Furman 81st, Mercer 85th, Gardner-Webb 88th, Wofford 95th, Samford 100th, Elon 105th, Towson 119th, and Western Carolina 122nd (last).

Michigan led FBS in defensive 3rd-down conversion rate, at 21.0%. Clemson ranked 4th, Alabama 8th, Army 46th, South Carolina 95th, Air Force 102nd, Georgia Tech 126th, and Navy 128th.

The Midshipmen managed to lead FBS in offensive 3rd-down conversion rate (54.5%, as mentioned above) while finishing last in defensive 3rd-down conversion rate (53.5%). There were a lot of successful drives in Navy games last season.

  • The Citadel’s defense in 2014 in SoCon action: 8 sacks, 14 passes defensed in 176 pass attempts (8.0% PD)
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2015 in SoCon action: 20 sacks, 33 passes defensed in 212 pass attempts (15.6% PD)
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2016 in SoCon action: 21 sacks, 29 passes defensed in 211 pass attempts (13.7% PD)

Passes defensed is a statistic that combines pass breakups with interceptions.

Also of interest: the Bulldogs have increased their “hurries” totals in league play from eleven (2014) to seventeen (2015) to twenty-one last season. That helps create a little more havoc.

The Citadel averaged 2.63 sacks per game in conference play. Taking all games into account, the Bulldogs averaged 2.33 sacks per contest, which tied for 36th nationally. Grambling State averaged 3.42 sacks per game to lead FCS.

Chattanooga ranked 12th overall (2.92 sacks per game). Other sack rankings among SoCon teams: Samford (47th), Wofford (48th), Mercer (49th), VMI (tied for 102nd), ETSU (also tied for 102nd), Furman (115th), Western Carolina (122nd and last).

Florida State led FBS teams in sacks per game (3.92). Apparently the ACC Atlantic was a sackfest, because three other teams in that division (Boston College, Clemson, and Wake Forest) finished in the top 11. South Carolina tied for 97th, while East Carolina finished 128th and last in the category.

Big plays! Big plays! Big plays! Big plays!

Just for clarification, I am defining “big plays” as offensive plays from scrimmage resulting in gains of 20+ yards, regardless of whether or not they are rushing or passing plays.

  • The Citadel’s offensive plays from scrimmage resulting in gains of 20 or more yards, 2015: 30 (19 rushing, 11 passing)
  • The Citadel’s offensive plays from scrimmage resulting in gains of 20 or more yards, 2016: 26 (15 rushing, 11 passing)

In 2015, 20 of the 30 big plays by the Bulldogs’ offense in conference play either resulted in touchdowns or led to touchdowns on the same drive. Last season, that was the case for 19 of the 26 long gainers.

That is an average of 3.25 big plays per game in league matchups. For all games, the Bulldogs averaged 3.58 big plays per game (seven such plays against North Greenville helped the average).

Just as a comparison to the offenses of a few other SoCon outfits:

– Wofford averaged 3.36 big plays from scrimmage per game (counting all 14 of its contests)

– Chattanooga averaged 4.62 big plays from scrimmage per game (counting all 13 of its contests)

– Furman averaged 4.27 big plays from scrimmage per game (counting all 11 of its contests)

– Mercer averaged 3.45 big plays from scrimmage per game (counting all 11 of its contests)

– Samford averaged 5.00 big plays from scrimmage per game (counting all 12 of its contests)

  • Plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more allowed by The Citadel’s defense, 2014: 47 (21 rushing, 26 passing)
  • Plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more allowed by The Citadel’s defense, 2015: 23 (9 rushing, 14 passing)
  • Plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more allowed by The Citadel’s defense, 2016: 28 (9 rushing, 19 passing)

In 2015, 14 of the 23 big plays allowed by the Bulldogs either resulted in TDs or led to them on the same drive. Last year, 18 of 28 long gainers given up led directly or indirectly to touchdowns.

I want to reiterate that the last two sections are about offensive plays from scrimmage in league action. Obviously, the defense can produce a “big play” of its own (like Jonathan King’s 54-yard sack/strip/fumble return for a TD against VMI), and the same is true for the special teams units (such as DeAndre Schoultz’s critical 81-yard punt return for a touchdown versus Gardner-Webb).

  • The Citadel’s offense on 4th down in league play in 2014: 12 for 20 (60.0%)
  • The Citadel’s offense on 4th down in league play in 2015: 3 for 8 (37.5%)
  • The Citadel’s offense on 4th down in league play in 2016: 8 for 16 (50.0%)

  • The Citadel’s defense on 4th down in league play in 2015: 8 for 13 converted against (61.5%)
  • The Citadel’s defense on 4th down in league play in 2016: 5 for 9 converted against (55.6%)

The 4th-down conversion rate for all SoCon teams (counting both conference and non-conference games) in 2016 was 54.5%, so the Bulldogs were basically league average on both sides of the ball. Ideally, The Citadel would be better than average on both offense and defense on 4th-down attempts.

Bumbling rumbling stumbling fumbling…

When evaluating fumble stats, keep in mind that recovering them is usually a 50-50 proposition (which makes perfect sense, if you think about it). There isn’t really much to evaluate beyond that, other than if a team is really loose with the football.

  • The Citadel’s offensive fumbles in SoCon action, 2014: 10 (lost 6)
  • The Citadel’s offensive fumbles in SoCon action, 2015: 12 (lost 8)
  • The Citadel’s offensive fumbles in SoCon action, 2016: 12 (lost 5)

For all games, the Bulldogs fumbled 22 times, losing 10 of those.

Please note that the official statistical record does not include a fumble against Mercer, which the Bulldogs recovered. That was apparently the result of an error by Mercer’s stats crew. (Hey, it happens.)

  • The Citadel’s defensive forced fumbles in SoCon action, 2014: 14 (recovered 7)
  • The Citadel’s defensive forced fumbles in SoCon action, 2015: 8 (recovered 7)
  • The Citadel’s defensive forced fumbles in SoCon action, 2016: 13 (recovered 8)

The Bulldogs only forced two fumbles in non-conference play, recovering neither.

  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel in SoCon action, 2014: 37
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel in SoCon action, 2015: 42
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel in SoCon action, 2016: 45

Well, at least the average number of penalties per game went down last year. However, penalty yardage per game went up over eight yards per contest, which is somewhat worrisome.

  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel’s opponents in SoCon action, 2014: 22
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel’s opponents in SoCon action, 2015: 29
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel’s opponents in SoCon action, 2016: 33

Penalty yardage against the Bulldogs’ opponents went up about 4 1/2 yards per game from 2015 to 2016.

  • Punts by The Citadel while in opposing territory in 2014, SoCon action: 6 (in seven games)
  • Punts by The Citadel while in opposing territory in 2015, SoCon action: 6 (in seven games)
  • Punts by The Citadel while in opposing territory in 2016, SoCon action: 1 (in eight games)

I almost didn’t bother adding this category to my spreadsheet, thanks to Brent Thompson. The coach only ordered one punt in opposing territory last season. That came on the opening drive of the game against Western Carolina, on a 4th-and-3 from the Catamounts’ 38-yard line.

In retrospect, it was a curious move, but it more or less worked out. Will Vanvick’s punt was downed on the WCU 3-yard line, and Western Carolina proceeded to go 3-and-out.

This year, I also checked to see how many times opponents punted while in Bulldog territory. As it happens, that only happened one time as well.

Late in the first half, Mercer faced a 4th-and-18 from The Citadel’s 43-yard line. Bobby Lamb elected to punt, which was eminently sensible. The ball was downed on the Bulldogs’ 3-yard line; The Citadel picked up one first down, ran three more plays, and then the half ended.

Let’s talk about 4th down…

Defining some terms (courtesy of Football Outsiders):

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

Just as I did last season, on the spreadsheet I’ve categorized every fourth down situation The Citadel’s offense had in conference play (see the “4th down decisions” tab).

The Citadel punted all 18 teams it faced 4th down in the Deep Zone or the Back Zone.

In the Mid Zone, the Bulldogs punted 12 times and went for the first down 3 other times, successfully converting twice (the unsuccessful attempt came against Samford).

The Citadel didn’t have the mojo working in the Front Zone, at least on 4th down. The Bulldogs went for the first down 10 times in the Mid Zone, but only picked it up 4 times. Admittedly, one of those successful conversions was a key 34-yard TD run versus Wofford.

There were four field goal attempts from that zone, only one of which was made. As noted above, The Citadel also had one punt in this area.

The Bulldogs had five 4th-down situations in the Red Zone. Four times, The Citadel elected to attempt a field goal (all were successful). The other 4th-down play in the Red Zone resulted in a 17-yard TD run for Jonathan Dorogy against VMI.

Over the last three seasons, The Citadel has had 17 4th-down situations in the Red Zone during SoCon regulation play. Dorogy’s touchdown run is the only time the Bulldogs picked up a first down.

This season, I also tabulated what the Bulldogs’ league opponents did on 4th down against The Citadel.

In the Deep and Back zones, conference opponents punted all 27 times they faced 4th down versus the Bulldogs.

In the Mid Zone, The Citadel’s opposition punted 12 times on 4th and went for a first down on five other occasions. All five attempts to keep the drive alive were successful (two of them were by VMI).

Opponents were 5 for 9 on field goal attempts in the Front Zone (two of the four missed were by Furman). Chattanooga went for a first down on 4th down twice, and went 1-for-2. VMI was 0-for-1 trying for a first down from this distance.

In the Red Zone, opponents were 1-2 trying to pick up a first down, and 3 for 4 on field goal tries.

Two seasons ago, The Citadel began what appeared to be a policy of deferring the option to the second half every time it won the coin toss. The Bulldogs won the coin toss 4 times in SoCon play in 2015, and deferred on each occasion.

Last year, The Citadel won the coin toss 6 times in 8 league games, going 3-1 both at home and on the road, a tribute to a consistent skill set. In five of the six games in which the Bulldogs won the toss, they deferred, just as they had done in 2015.

The exception was at Western Carolina, where The Citadel elected to receive after winning the toss. I’m not sure what to make of that.

There are two possibilities: one, that the box score mistakenly credited The Citadel for winning the coin toss when in fact the Catamounts actually won it (and deferred); or, for some specific reason related solely to that game, Brent Thompson decided he wanted the ball first.

I wouldn’t mind if someone asked the coach that very question some time. Of course, he may not remember.

As a reminder, this is the first of two statistically-oriented posts I’m making about the previous football season, with an eye to the upcoming campaign. Here is the link to the other one: Link

The season is getting closer. Aren’t you glad?

Extra point: On a strategy that wasn’t used in The Citadel’s win over Gardner-Webb

There was a situation in Saturday’s game between The Citadel and Gardner-Webb that I wanted to briefly discuss, but which did not quite fit into my game review. It’s a very small, dorky point, but because of that it is arguably perfect for a blog post.

If you watched the game, you might be thinking that I’m going to talk about Brent Thompson’s decision to bring out the field goal unit on 4th-and-2 from the Gardner-Webb 28-yard line with 32 seconds to play. The Citadel was ahead 28-24 at the time, and an argument could be made that trying to pick up the first down was a higher percentage play instead of attempting a field goal. It’s open to debate, but another situation just a few plays earlier caught my attention even more.

Gardner-Webb took over at its 15-yard line with 2:45 remaining in the fourth quarter, trailing 28-24. Three plays later, the Runnin’ Bulldogs faced a 4th-and-23 from their own 2-yard line, with less than a minute remaining in the game.

G-W head coach Carroll McCray was left with two decisions: to go for it on 4th-and-forever from the shadow of his own end zone, or to punt and use his three timeouts on defense to try to get the ball back one more time.

McCray elected to punt, and in hindsight that wasn’t a bad call. Gardner-Webb did get the ball back, still needing a touchdown, at its 37-yard line with 18 seconds remaining. Three plays later, Kevin Graham sacked Tyrell Maxwell, and the game was over.

Above, I wrote that McCray was left with only two decisions on 4th-and-23 from his own 2-yard line…or was he?

There was actually one other option available.

Gardner-Webb could have taken an intentional safety.

Yes, I typed “intentional safety”. Yes, I know Gardner-Webb was trailing.

However, a safety in that situation would have made the score 30-24 in favor of The Citadel, so the math wouldn’t have changed much for Gardner-Webb. The Runnin’ Bulldogs would have still needed a TD.

After taking the safety, G-W could have punted the ball back to The Citadel, or it could have tried an onside kick. If Gardner-Webb had elected to punt, it would have almost certainly improved its field position on defense; in the game itself, The Citadel took over on the G-W 36-yard line after Runnin’ Bulldogs punter Andrew Komornik booted the ball out of his own end zone.

I realize it seems a bit counter-intuitive to give the other team points when your team is trailing. How many coaches would have taken an intentional safety in that situation? How many coaches have ever taken an intentional safety in that situation? Well, I can think of one.

Bill Belichick.

With 2:51 remaining and the Broncos leading, 24-23, the Patriots lined up to punt from their 1. But rather than have Ken Walter kick and give Denver prime field position, Belichick and special teams coach Brad Seely had long snapper Lonie Paxton…snap the ball out of the end zone.

The intentional safety made it 26-23, Denver, and set up a Patriots free kick from the 30. Deltha O’Neal misplayed Walter’s kick, and Denver took over on its own 15. “That’s 25, 30 yards of field position,” Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said…

…After forcing the Broncos to go three and out, the Patriots took possession at their 42 with 2:15 remaining and one timeout. They wouldn’t need it. In six plays and 1:30, Brady drove his team 58 yards, 42 coming on completions to Faulk. On first down from the Denver 18, Brady intentionally threw behind Givens at the end zone, who made the adjustment and the catch just inside the left pylon.

Belichick explained afterwards why he took the safety:

We had our timeouts left, so we went ahead and took the safety. We were hoping to get some field position there with the three timeouts and the two-minute warning still outstanding, hoping we could get the ball back and then be able to at least have a shot at the field goal to tie it.

The circumstances in that 2003 Patriots-Broncos game were a little different than those on Saturday night in Boiling Springs. New England had an extra timeout (because of the two-minute warning), more time, and didn’t need a touchdown to win the game. Still, the principle is the same.

Make no mistake, I’m not being critical of Carroll McCray in the least for what he actually did. I think he made a very reasonable decision, all things considered.

I just wonder if taking the intentional safety, even while trailing, may have been the way to go.

Game Review, 2016: Gardner-Webb

Links of interest:

– Game story, The Post and Courier

School release

Game story, The Shelby Star

Photo gallery, The Shelby Star

Video from WCSC-TV

Box score

Post-game notes

DeAndre Schoultz’s punt return for a TD

Dominique Allen’s big fourth-quarter run

Normally, I don’t post a game review if I wasn’t in attendance, but as the Bulldogs are entering their bye week, I decided to make a quick post about the victory over Gardner-Webb anyway.

Once the game was over, my initial reaction was as follows: “Phewwwwwwwwwwwwww.”

The Citadel rushed for 419 yards (averaging 6.3 yards per carry), was 9 for 18 on third-down conversions, 2 for 3 on fourth-down conversions, had an edge in time of possession of over three minutes, only committed two offensive penalties…and yet, at times the offense seemed to really struggle. Why?

Well, only completing one pass (in seven attempts) was one reason. So was one of the two aforementioned penalties, a 15-yarder that took the Bulldogs from 1st-and-goal on the 2-yard line to 1st-and-goal on the 17 — followed immediately by a lost fumble.

The Citadel also was not quite as efficient on first down as it would like to be. The Bulldogs ran 31 first down plays (30 runs, 1 pass). On 13 of those plays, The Citadel gained three yards or less. It’s hard to consistently pick up first downs when faced with 2nd-and-long or 3rd-and-long (the Bulldogs had nine of those), especially when the passing game isn’t in sync.

Sure, the final number says The Citadel converted third downs at a 50% clip, but they weren’t consistently picked up throughout the game. Three of the nine conversions came on the game-winning TD drive, and another was a 33-yard scramble on 3rd-and-18 by Dominique Allen that set up the Bulldogs’ second touchdown.

The Citadel had eleven possessions in the contest. There was a five-possession sequence (last drive of the first half, all four drives of the third quarter) in which the Bulldogs ran only 20 offensive plays from scrimmage for a total of 61 yards.

That highlights just how big DeAndre Schoultz’s punt return really was. His TD scamper came after those five possessions, and basically wiped out the advantage Gardner-Webb had built up in the third quarter.

On the other hand, for a third game in a row the offense came through when it had to score. This time, it was a 10-play, 72-yard drive that decided the game, with Allen’s 41-yard run on 3rd-and-7 the key play.

The defense’s performance during the game was a bit uneven. Gardner-Webb was held to a third-down conversion rate of 35.7%, which is excellent. However, the Bulldogs allowed four scoring drives of 61 yards or more, including one for 91 yards on the possession that immediately followed Schoultz’s punt return.

The Citadel did not force a turnover, and 57 minutes into the contest had not recorded a sack. Those last three minutes, though…

Gardner-Webb’s final six plays on offense:

  • Five-yard loss on a sack by Jonathan King
  • Two-yard run, with Dee Delaney and company stopping the action right there
  • Ten-yard loss on a sack by Noah Dawkins
  • Incomplete pass
  • Incomplete pass
  • Nine-yard loss on a sack by Kevin Graham

That’s how you finish.

– Quick note: Kailik Williams has made 26 tackles in the last two games. He is starting, finishing, and doing a whole lot in between.

The Citadel has won three games by a combined 13 points. The Bulldogs trailed with less than three minutes to play in all three of them.

While it is more than fair to suggest that The Citadel must get better on both sides of the ball if it plans on adding to the win total, there is definitely something to be said for having the mental fortitude (and physical endurance) to come through when the game is on the line. Being in those situations will probably be beneficial down the road, too.

The Bulldogs haven’t been at their best so far this season, but they’ve been tough enough to win all three of their games anyway. That inner resolve is perhaps best exemplified by senior linebacker Dondray Copeland:

On Friday morning, Dondray Copeland was at his mother’s bedside as she died at the way-too-young age of 48.

On Saturday night, Copeland took the field with his Citadel teammates and played a major role in the Bulldogs’ 31-24 win at Gardner-Webb before 6,850 fans at Spangler Stadium.

Copeland had seven tackles in the game, tied for second-most on the team.

The Bulldogs now get a well-deserved bye week. The Citadel’s next game is at Western Carolina on October 1.

I’m also taking a week off — well, more like ten days off. My preview of the WCU game will probably be of the abbreviated variety (not necessarily a bad thing), and it won’t be posted until a week from Thursday, or maybe the following Friday morning.

(Hey, at least I scheduled my break for the bye week.)

Go Dogs!

2016 Football, Game 3: The Citadel vs. Gardner-Webb

The Citadel at Gardner-Webb, to be played at Ernest W. Spangler Stadium in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 17.

The game will not be televised. It will be streamed on the Big South Network, with Fabian Fuentes providing play-by-play and Alex Guest supplying the analysis.

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

Mike Legg (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze.

It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

Game preview from The Shelby Star

– Game notes from The Citadel and Gardner-Webb

SoCon weekly release

Big South weekly release

Brent Thompson’s 9/13 press conference, including comments from Malik Diggs and DeAndre Schoultz (video)

Brent Thompson 9/14 radio show (video)

– The Citadel’s “steal” curtain defense

– Offense has yet to get going (but hey, the Bulldogs are still 2-0)

– For Dee Delaney, ascension is fueled by competition

Delaney wants to be the best

Delaney is the SoCon Defensive Player of the Week

– Radio broadcast open for Saturday’s game (audio)

FCS Coaches’ Poll

As mentioned in the post introduction, the contest will be on the radio, and also on the Big South Network. If you have a Roku player, you can stream the game on your TV, as the Big South Network now has a Roku channel.

(No, the SoCon Digital Network doesn’t have a Roku channel yet. I’ve asked the league about it. More than once.)

A quick review of Gardner-Webb’s history, some of which I originally wrote when the Runnin’ Bulldogs faced the shako-wearing Bulldogs back in 2014:

Gardner-Webb’s roots can be traced back to 1905, when it was established as Boiling Springs High School. It became a junior college in 1928, and began offering four-year degrees in 1969. It has been known as Gardner-Webb University since 1993.

The school is named for former North Carolina governor O. Max Gardner and his wife, Fay Webb Gardner, along with their families. O. Max Gardner is the only person to have ever been captain of both football teams at North Carolina and North Carolina State.

Gardner-Webb is affiliated with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. The 225-acre campus is located in Boiling Springs, North Carolina (as opposed to Boiling Springs, South Carolina; the two towns are about 30 miles apart).

There are around 4,900 undergraduate and graduate students at Gardner-Webb; 63% of them are women. They hail from 37 states and 21 countries.

According to the school website:

Historically the University has played significant roles in teacher education and ministerial preparation for church-related vocations. Programs of instruction and experiences designed to prepare teachers and ministers continue to be major objectives of the University.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs play their home football games in Ernest W. Spangler Stadium, a multi-purpose facility with a capacity of 8,500 for football, and an artificial turf field.

Stadium Journey positively reviewed the setup in 2012. Apparently fried Oreos are a thing at Gardner-Webb.

The previous meeting between the two schools resulted in a 37-14 victory for The Citadel at Johnson Hagood Stadium, though it should be pointed out that Gardner-Webb led 14-13 midway through the third quarter. Twenty-four unanswered points later, however, Mike Houston had his first win as The Citadel’s head coach.

The matchup on Saturday is the return game of a home-and-home series set up a few years ago by Larry Leckonby, the former AD at The Citadel. Leckonby needed a home game for the 2014 season after Appalachian State and Georgia Southern announced they were moving to FBS. Thus, the agreement with Gardner-Webb was made.

That is the main reason why The Citadel only has five home games this season. Next year, Johnson Hagood Stadium will host six games, including non-conference matchups against Newberry and Presbyterian.

The Citadel’s other non-conference game in 2017 is at Clemson, one of five in-state teams the Bulldogs will face next season.

It is decidedly an “old school” schedule. Newberry was a regular foe for The Citadel from the end of World War II until 1960, while from 1915 until the late 1980s Presbyterian was an almost annual opponent on the Bulldogs’ home slate (the two schools having met on the gridiron 62 times in all).

Carroll McCray is the head coach of Gardner-Webb, and he also played there. McCray was an offensive lineman for Tom Moore.

McCray’s coaching career has included stops at Samford, Furman, and Mercer (working under Bobby Lamb at the latter two schools), along with Appalachian State and South Carolina (he was a staffer for Sparky Woods in Boone and Columbia).

He was the head coach at Austin Peay for four seasons before leaving to take an assistant’s position at Furman. McCray later was the head coach at North Greenville for one year before taking the Gardner-Webb job; his replacement at NGU was current Charleston Southern head coach Jamey Chadwell. McCray’s record in four years at his alma mater is 16-21 (4-12 in the Big South).

Last year, Gardner-Webb was 4-7, 2-4 in the Big South. The highlight of the campaign was a 34-20 victory over Liberty, which was ranked #15 at the time.

Incidentally, G-W also beat a team ranked #15 in 2013, when Richmond came to Boiling Springs and left with a 12-10 defeat. The Citadel is currently ranked…#15.

(Dum dum dum dummmm.)

Gardner-Webb’s biggest problem last season was scoring points. The Runnin’ Bulldogs only averaged 12.8 points per game. That was fifth-worst in all of FCS. G-W’s defense was solid (only allowing 20.6 points per contest), but couldn’t overcome the lack of productivity on the offensive side of the ball.

G-W was shut out three times, all on the road (by Wofford, Coastal Carolina, and Charleston Southern) and failed to break double digits in two other games (against Kennesaw State and Monmouth). Gardner-Webb actually won two low-scoring affairs (14-10 over Presbyterian and 13-9 over Virginia Union).

Gardner-Webb struggled on the ground (averaging just 3.6 yards per rush). However, there was a reason G-W ran 66% of the time anyway. When the Runnin’ Bulldogs tried to become Passin’ Bulldogs, things didn’t always go well. Just to give you an idea:

  • 46.0% completion percentage (ranked 117th out of 123 FCS teams)
  • 98.7 yards per game passing (118th)
  • 9.44 passing yards per completion (117th) [and only 4.3 yards per pass attempt]
  • 82.93 offensive team passing efficiency (118th)

The team also finished 113th in total offense, 109th in Red Zone offense, 107th in total first downs, and 118th in 3rd-down conversion rate (25.1%).

Defensively, Gardner-Webb’s only major negative was probably not forcing enough turnovers (14 in 11 games). However, in general the numbers looked good on that side of the ball, particularly the defensive third-down conversion rate (25.9%, which was third-best nationally).

Those anemic 3rd-down conversion rates for both G-W and its opponents meant that there was a lot of punting in Gardner-Webb games, an average of 13.5 boots per contest. In contrast, The Citadel and its opponents combined for 8.3 punts per game in 2015.

One other observation: Gardner-Webb held its own in 2015 when it came to scoring in the 2nd and 4th quarters, but was outscored by a combined 121-41 in the 1st and 3rd periods.

This season, Gardner-Webb is 1-1. It opened the campaign by travelling to Elon and extinguishing the Phoenix, 31-6. Last week, the Runnin’ Bulldogs ran aground at Western Carolina, losing 44-14. The game against The Citadel will be G-W’s home opener.

Against Elon, the score was 3-3 at halftime, but the Runnin’ Bulldogs came out of the locker room on fire. As part of a 327-yard rushing day, Gardner-Webb scored on four of its first five possessions of the second half, with the shortest of those scoring drives being 65 yards.

Quarterback Tyrell Maxwell rushed for 154 yards, while running back Khalil Lewis also hit triple figures on the ground and scored three touchdowns. Gardner-Webb was 8 of 13 on third down conversion attempts, a vast improvement in that category from what it managed throughout the 2015 season.

What made the outburst even more impressive was that offensive coordinator Brett Nichols missed the game to be present at the birth of his son.

Gardner-Webb’s second game was a complete reversal of its first, at least in the second half. Western Carolina held a slim 17-14 lead as the third quarter began, but the Catamounts dominated the game from that point forward, scoring 27 unanswered points on four long scoring drives.

WCU finished with 690 yards of total offense (averaging 8.0 yards per play), including 427 passing yards. Catamounts running back Detrez Newsome rushed for 148 yards on 19 carries.

Gardner-Webb punted six times in seven second-half possessions, turning the ball over on downs the only time it didn’t punt. G-W also fumbled a kickoff.

Gardner-Webb runs a spread offense, one that features several natives of South Carolina.

Tyrell Maxwell (6’2″, 220 lbs.) is a junior from Cordova who went to Edisto High School. Maxwell was a standout quarterback and safety in high school (appearing in the Shrine Bowl), but he has strictly been a dual-threat QB at Gardner-Webb.

Maxwell is 23-46 passing for 188 yards so far this season for the Runnin’ Bulldogs, with one interception. He has 225 rushing yards (5.9 yards per carry), with two touchdowns. Maxwell is the alltime rushing leader at the quarterback position for G-W.

Khalil Lewis (5’10”, 210 lbs.) is a redshirt sophomore running back from Hilton Head Island. He rushed for over 100 yards against Elon and Western Carolina, the first Gardner-Webb running back to have back-to-back 100+yard rushing games in five years.

Redshirt senior tight end Mike Estes (6’4″, 230 lbs.)  is the primary receiving threat for the Runnin’ Bulldogs. Estes was a first-team All-Big South performer last year after catching 29 passes (five of which went for TDs). He caught four passes in each of the first two games this season.

Estes had four receptions against The Citadel two years ago, including a 17-yarder.

Average size of the projected starters along the offensive line for Gardner-Webb: 6’3″, 303 lbs.

Left guard Caleb Smith (6’3″, 330 lbs.) is the biggest member of a very large o-line. He is also a preseason first-team All-Big South selection. The redshirt senior is from Woodruff.

Defensively, Gardner-Webb normally lines up in a 3-4, although against the triple option there may be some adjustments.

Bookend outside linebackers lead the way for the defense. Chad Geter (6’2″, 253 lbs.) is a redshirt senior from Irmo who went to Dutch Fork High School. A two-time All-Big South pick, Geter had 92 tackles last season.

Aaron Cook (6’1″, 235 lbs.) is an Edgefield resident. Cook was a second-team All-Big South choice last season. Two years ago versus The Citadel, he led the Runnin’ Bulldogs with nine tackles.

Free safety Spencer Havird (6’2″, 202 lbs.) is a three-year starter. The redshirt junior, a native of San Diego, led the Big South last season in passes defended.

Gardner-Webb will rotate as many as eight players along the three down lineman spots. There is a lot of bulk in that mix, too. The projected starters average 282 lbs.; the three listed players at nosetackle weigh 293 lbs., 309 lbs., and 295 lbs.

Placekicker Paul Schumacher (5’10”, 172 lbs.) was 7-12 on field goal attempts last season, with a long of 41. The junior also handles kickoffs and PATs. Schumacher competes as a long jumper on the school’s track team.

Andrew Komornik (6’5″, 263 lbs.) is a redshirt junior and one of the larger punters around. The resident of Ft. Mill was busy last season, with 70 punts (averaging 38.1 yards per boot).

Sophomore Brody Rollins (5’11”, 176 lbs.) is a speedster, and maybe the top breakaway threat on the Gardner-Webb roster. He is averaging 29.7 yards per kick return, and is also the backup quarterback for the Runnin’ Bulldogs.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Boiling Springs, per the National Weather Service: a chance of rain before 2:00 pm, then a chance of showers and thunderstorms between 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm, then a chance of showers after 4:00 pm. It is expected to be partly sunny, with a high near 82 degrees. On Saturday night, there is a 30% chance of showers. It will be mostly cloudy, with a low around 67 degrees.

Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 15.5-point favorite over Gardner-Webb (the Bulldogs were also a 15.5-point favorite over Furman last week). The over/under is 37.5, one of the lower totals on the entire Division I slate.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Chattanooga is a 13-point favorite at Furman; Wofford is a 42-point favorite over Johnson C. Smith; Mercer is a 14.5-point favorite over Tennessee Tech; and Western Carolina is a 29.5-point favorite over East Tennessee State.

The game between Western Carolina and ETSU will be played at Bristol Motor Speedway, the site for last Saturday’s Virginia Tech-Tennessee matchup. There may not be as many fans in Bristol for this week’s game.

Samford and VMI are both off this week.

Last week in non-conference action, SoCon teams were 5-1 against the spread, with only VMI failing to cover.

North Carolina, which The Citadel will play in its regular-season finale, is a 26-point favorite against James Madison.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is 14th among FCS teams, down two spots from last week. Gardner-Webb is ranked 72nd, dropping 16 spots after its loss to Western Carolina.

Massey projects The Citadel to have an 88% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of 24-7.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Chattanooga (6th), Samford (17th), Western Carolina (21st), Wofford (26th), Furman (43rd), Mercer (46th), VMI (60th), East Tennessee State (110th).

Seven of the nine SoCon teams moved up in the rankings this week.

– According to the roster included in its game notes, Gardner-Webb has 39 players from North Carolina on its roster, the most from any state. Other states represented: South Carolina (20), Georgia (12), Florida (7), Alabama (3), Virginia (2), Tennessee (2), Illinois (2), and one each from California, Colorado, and Pennsylvania. In addition, offensive tackle Jordan Stalker is a native of Australia, and starting defensive end P.J. Fuimaono is from American Samoa.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47 players), Georgia (23), Florida (9), North Carolina (7), Alabama (4), Pennsylvania (4), Texas (4), and one each from Louisiana, Maryland, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nevada, and West Virginia.

– Gardner-Webb will play Miami (OH) later in the season. Future FBS opponents for the Runnin’ Bulldogs include Wyoming (2017), Appalachian State (2018), and Charlotte (2019). Last season, Gardner-Webb opened the season against South Alabama.

G-W has played some power-five conference schools in recent years, including Wake Forest, Pittsburgh, North Carolina State, Georgia Tech, and Mississippi State.

– Tom Moore has the distinction of having been the head football coach at both Gardner-Webb (1979-82) and The Citadel (1983-86). His records at the two schools were similar — 17-24 at Gardner-Webb, and 18-25-1 at The Citadel.

– This week in the FCS national statistical rankings: The Citadel’s national lead in the “fewest penalties” category did not last long.

Other observations: The Citadel is tied for sixth nationally in turnover margin (+5). While the rushing numbers are modest compared to the previous two seasons (currently 21st), the offensive passing statistics have been good — sixteenth in completion percentage, fourth in yards per completion (18.6), and eighth in passing efficiency.

Among individuals, Dee Delaney is third nationally in passes defensed and interceptions, while Tyler Renew is 13th nationally in rush yards per game.

– Brent Thompson is the fourth head coach in school history to begin his career with two victories. If The Citadel wins on Saturday, he will be one of two to begin his career with three wins.

Ralph Foster started his career 4-0, including a 3-0 mark in 1906. That season is notable because the TSA Matrix Ratings System recently awarded the national championship to The Citadel for that year.

It hasn’t been widely publicized as of yet, unlike The Citadel’s 1871 national title. One other difference is that the 1871 championship is undisputed (both Yale and Princeton claim the 1906 title as well).

I’ll probably write more about the 1906 championship campaign early next year.

– Triple option oddity, the sequel: through two games this season, more Bulldogs have caught passes (seven) than had rushing attempts (five).

– Saturday’s game is one of three that The Citadel will play in the state of North Carolina this season. As it happens, the Bulldogs’ three Old North State opponents compete in three different leagues — the Big South  (Gardner-Webb), the SoCon (Western Carolina), and the ACC (North Carolina).

The Citadel is favored on Saturday, and justifiably so. However, Gardner-Webb has proven to be a tough out at home in recent years, and has a history of giving good teams a hard time (as its victories over ranked opposition attest).

If the Cadets play a solid game on both sides of the ball, limiting turnovers and penalties, they should come back to Charleston with their third win of the season. It would be a great way to go into a bye week.

That said, nothing is easy at The Citadel, and that includes road football games. Any win away from home is a good win.

We’ll see if the team can get the job done on Saturday.

During the 2016 season, what teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

That’s right, it’s time for the annual July topic. In this post, I take a look at football schedules, and note which teams The Citadel’s opponents face before and after playing the Bulldogs. Sometimes, of course, the answer is “bye”.

Let’s review…

September 1 (Thursday): The Citadel’s first game of the season is a road conference matchup with Mercer. The game will be played on Thursday night, the first time I can recall the Bulldogs not opening the season on a Saturday.

As the opener for both teams, obviously neither will have faced a prior opponent this year. Mercer’s last game was a 47-21 home loss to Samford to close out the 2015 campaign.

After playing The Citadel, the Bears will prepare for another triple option team — Georgia Tech. It will be the first time the schools have met on the gridiron since 1938 (and the first game for Mercer against an FBS opponent since it restarted its football program in 2013).

September 10: Furman makes the trip to Charleston to face the Bulldogs. The Paladins open their 2016 season on Friday night (September 2), travelling to East Lansing for a meeting with Michigan State (the first time Furman has ever played a Big 10 team in football).

The Paladins’ home opener is on September 17, versus Chattanooga. It is the only one of FU’s first four games that will take place in Greenville, as Furman will play at Coastal Carolina on September 24.

September 17: The Citadel makes the journey to Boiling Springs, North Carolina, for a Bulldogs-vs.-Bulldogs battle.

It will be Gardner-Webb’s only home game in the month of September. The Runnin’ Bulldogs open with road games at Elon and Western Carolina before playing The Citadel, and will venture into the world of the MAC on September 24 for a contest against Ohio.

September 24: This is the open week for The Citadel. I’ll be on vacation myself. No, that isn’t a coincidence.

October 1: The Bulldogs will be in Cullowhee on the first day of October, tangling with Western Carolina. Both teams will be coming off a bye week.

WCU plays East Tennessee State in Johnson City on September 17. The game against The Citadel will be the first of two straight home contests for the Catamounts, as they play Wofford on October 8.

Western Carolina has FBS bookends on its schedule this year. WCU opens its season with a game versus East Carolina. There will be plenty of purple in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium that night.

The Catamounts will conclude regular-season action with a trip to Columbia for an SEC-SoCon Challenge game against South Carolina. Will the local alt-weekly refer to the game as a “cupcake” matchup? I’m guessing it will not.

October 8: After almost a month away from Johnson Hagood Stadium, The Citadel returns home for a Parents’ Day game against North Greenville.

The Crusaders are at home on October 1, facing Mars Hill. After playing The Citadel, the next game for North Greenville is a road matchup versus Tusculum.

October 15: The Bulldogs play Chattanooga in Charleston on this date. The Mocs are at home for both their prior game (Mercer) and the contest that follows (VMI).

After playing eight SoCon games in nine weeks, Chattanooga finishes its regular season campaign with a non-conference clash against Alabama.

October 22: The Citadel faces Wofford in Spartanburg. The Terriers have a bye on October 15. The week following the game against the Bulldogs, Wofford hosts Mercer.

The Terriers open the season with two road games. Wofford plays Mississippi in the second of those contests.

October 29: The Bulldogs play East Tennessee State in the next-to-last home game of the season. The Buccaneers don’t have a bye the week before, but will get a couple of extra days of preparation, as ETSU hosts West Virginia Wesleyan on Thursday, October 20.

East Tennessee State is at Mercer the week following its trip to Johnson Hagood Stadium. ETSU finishes the season with two home games, against Cumberland (yes, the Cumberland of 222-0 fame) and Samford.

November 5: Samford is the Homecoming opponent for The Citadel this year. With the possible exception of Furman, none of the military college’s other opponents has a tougher task the week prior to facing The Citadel. Samford has a matchup at Mississippi State on October 29.

On November 12, Samford holds its own Homecoming game against Mercer.

November 12: The battle for the coveted Silver Shako resumes once again on November 12, this time in Lexington, Virginia. VMI plays at Western Carolina the week before, and concludes its regular season with a game at Wofford the week following this game.

November 19: There will be lots of light blue in Chapel Hill on November 19, as The Citadel comes to town to face North Carolina. The Tar Heels are at Duke on November 12, and have another rivalry game the following week, versus North Carolina State (with that game taking place on the Friday following Thanksgiving Day).

A couple of observations about the schedule:

– Mercer wound up as a de facto “travel partner” of sorts for The Citadel this season. The Bears play Chattanooga the week before the Bulldogs do. Following that, there are three consecutive weeks in which a team will play Mercer the week after playing The Citadel (those three squads being Wofford, East Tennessee State, and Samford).

– As far as “option preview” situations are concerned…

Western Carolina and VMI both face Wofford the week after playing The Citadel. Only two league teams (Samford and East Tennessee State) play Wofford before matchups with The Citadel; both play the Terriers several weeks before meeting the Bulldogs.

North Carolina will play Georgia Tech two weeks before hosting The Citadel in Chapel Hill. North Greenville has a meeting with Lenoir-Rhyne a few weeks before playing The Citadel, but L-R (which has a new head coach) is moving to a more balanced offense after several years running the triple option.

Football season is getting closer…

Schools that have never made the NCAA Tournament — the 2016 edition

Updated: The 2017 Edition

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

All season records are through February 28

League tourney time is right around the corner, with the regular season drawing to a close for most of the nation’s conferences. That means it’s time for March Madness, with schools across the country striving to making the promised land, the NCAA Tournament.

Most of them will not succeed. After all, there are 351 institutions that play men’s basketball at the Division I level, and only 68 of them will make the NCAAs. For some of those schools, though, the failure to make the tourney is not just a brief blip in their respective hardwood histories.

There are 33 schools that have been members of D-1 for at least a decade, but have never appeared in the NCAAs. Now, there are other schools in the division that have also never made the Big Dance, but there is a distinction to be made between schools that are recent arrivals in D-1 (like Central Arkansas or Bryant) and longtime no-nos (such as Hartford or UMKC).

Of those schools with 10+ years in Division I but no bids to show for it, 17 of them have been in D-1 for 30 years or more and are still waiting. For fans of schools like Denver, Maryland-Eastern Shore, or Stetson, the annual tradition of watching Selection Sunday with no vested interest has become a numbing experience, if not a depressing one.

History shows that it is hard for these schools to break through. When I started writing about this topic in 2010, I listed the twenty schools with the longest waits for an NCAA tourney bid. Of those twenty, seventeen of them are still waiting. One of the three no longer on the list, Centenary, simply dropped to Division III after 50 years of frustration.

However, there is hope, as the other two schools dropped off the list because they finally made the tournament last season. For UC Irvine, which had been in D-1 since 1978, the dream was realized when it won the Big West tourney title. The program had lost in the conference championship game on four previous occasions.

Meanwhile, Buffalo (a D-1 member for 26 years, and continuously since 1992) won the MAC tourney and earned its first trip to the NCAAs in the process, having come very close several times before but never quite getting over the hump. Both UCI and Buffalo lost close games in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last season, but at least they got there.

Before starting this year’s report on the longtime no-timers, however, there is another list of schools worthy of mention. There are numerous institutions that have made at least one NCAA appearance, but haven’t been back to the tournament in at least 20 years. A few of them have been waiting longer for a return to the NCAAs than the majority of the never-beens.

First (last?) among this group of schools is Dartmouth. The Big Green was the national finalist twice (in 1942 and 1944), and has made five other appearances in the tournament. However, Dartmouth last made the NCAAs in 1959. That streak will continue for at least one more season, as the Big Green has already been eliminated from the Ivy League title race (and that conference has no postseason tournament).

Next up (down?) is another member of the Ivies, Yale, which has not appeared in the NCAAs since 1962, the last of three trips for that program. However, the Elis are currently in first place in the Ivy League, and stand a decent chance to get that long-awaited return trip (after narrowly missing out last season).

Other schools that have made at least one appearance in the NCAA Tournament, but haven’t been back since 1996 (or earlier) while continuously in D-1:

Tennessee Tech (last made the NCAAs in 1963), Columbia (1968), Bowling Green (1968), Rice (1970), VMI (1977), Duquesne (1977), Furman (1980), Toledo (1980), Loyola of Chicago (1985), Brown (1986), Jacksonville (1986), Marshall (1987), Idaho State (1987), Marist (1987), Oregon State (1990), Loyola Marymount (1990), Idaho (1990), Louisiana Tech (1991), Towson (1991), St. Francis-PA (1991), Rutgers (1991), Howard (1992), Georgia Southern (1992), Campbell (1992), Fordham (1992), East Carolina (1993), Rider (1994), Tennessee State (1994), Tulane (1995), Canisius (1996), Colgate (1996), Drexel (1996), Green Bay (1996), Montana State (1996), New Orleans (1996), Northern Illinois (1996), Portland (1996), San Jose State (1996), Santa Clara (1996), ULM (1996), and Western Carolina (1996).

Yes, twelve schools that appeared in the 1996 tournament have not been back since, which is more than a little flukish.

Note: Seattle (a finalist in 1958, but with no NCAA appearances since 1969) and Houston Baptist (made the tourney in 1984) both left D-1 and then later returned, so they haven’t continuously been in the division after making their most recent NCAA tourney appearances.

Last year, Northeastern and SMU both made the NCAAs after long absences. They had last made the field in 1991 and 1993, respectively.

Besides Yale, teams on the above list with a reasonable chance to make it back to the NCAAs this season include Furman, Toledo, Jacksonville, Marshall (still trying to overcome the Curse of Randy Nesbit), Oregon State, Louisiana Tech, Towson, Tennessee State, Green Bay, and Northern Illinois.

Of course, it’s possible none of the above-mentioned schools return to the tournament. Most of them would have to win their conference tourneys to get a bid. An exception to that might be Oregon State, which holds the dubious distinction of suffering from the longest current tournament appearance drought of any power 5 school save Northwestern.

Speaking of the Wildcats, it is time to begin the rundown of the schools that have never made the NCAAs in at least a decade of trying. As always, we start with the Forgotten Five.

The NCAA Tournament began in 1939, with the final that year held in Evanston, Illinois (which must really annoy Northwestern fans). In 1948, the NCAA reorganized into separate divisions (university and college) for its member institutions. Of the schools that since 1948 have continuously been in what is now Division I, there are five which have never made the tournament field.

All five of those schools theoretically could have been in the tournament beginning in 1939, so for them the wait is actually longer than their history as official members of Division I. (This is just one of many crushing items/statistics about these institutions’ basketball histories.)

The five schools are known as “The Forgotten Five”. The class of 1948 (or 1939, if you want to get overly technical):

——-

Northwestern: It is hard to believe a school in a power conference could fail to get an at-large bid in all this time, especially with the expansion of the tournament, but Northwestern has made believers of us all.

Of the 65 schools in the top five leagues (counting Notre Dame as an ACC member), 52 have made at least one appearance in the NCAA tournament over the past five years. That’s 80% of all power-conference schools.

Of the thirteen that haven’t, only six haven’t made the tourney over the past seven years: South Carolina (last made the NCAAs in 2004), Auburn (2003), TCU (1998), Rutgers (1991), Oregon State (1990), and Northwestern. (It should be noted that TCU and Rutgers haven’t continuously been members of a power conference during that seven-year stretch.)

If you’re wondering how a major-conference school could somehow manage to miss out on the tournament for so long, it’s fairly simple: Northwestern hasn’t had a winning record in Big 10 play since 1968. That may be a more amazing mark of futility than the failure to make the NCAAs.

Northwestern’s struggles in conference action is a tidbit mentioned in John Feinstein’s recent article in The Washington Post on the Wildcats’ hoops program, one of a series of stories on the Forgotten Five over the past few weeks in that newspaper (all authored by Feinstein).

This season, Northwestern is 18-11 overall, but only 6-10 in league play. The Wildcats’ only chance at an NCAA bid this season is to win the Big 10 tourney, and they won’t be able to play Rutgers in every game.

Army: Not only was 1968 the last time Northwestern finished with a winning record in the Big 10, it was also the year Army turned down an NCAA bid and played in the NIT instead. It wasn’t a bizarre decision by any means (as Feinstein relates in his piece on Army hoops).

[Tangent: the last school to turn down an NCAA bid was Marquette, in 1970, a move made by the remarkable Al McGuire, who should be the subject of a major motion picture sooner rather than later. Schools are no longer allowed to decline NCAA bids to play in the NIT, a tournament which is now owned by the NCAA.]

Army went undefeated in 1944 (15-0), but didn’t play in any postseason tourneys; wartime travel restrictions played a role in that. Would the Black Knights have received an NCAA invite in an era in which the tournament only included eight teams? We’ll never know.

As for this year, Army is 18-12 overall, 9-9 in the Patriot League. A run through the league tourney may not be probable, but it is possible.

The Citadel: The Bulldogs have now lost 20+ games in five of the last six seasons, though this year’s campaign (10-21 overall, 3-15 SoCon) has been a little different, given it was the first season in Charleston for Duggar Baucom and the frenetic style of play he employs (as detailed in John Feinstein’s school profile). Regardless, The Citadel will have to wait for at least one more year.

William and Mary: In my opinion, the Tribe is the Forgotten Five program that most deserves to break through and make the NCAAs. The past two seasons have been tortuous, as excellent William and Mary squads have fallen one game short of the Big Dance.

This year, the Tribe is 19-10 overall, 11-7 in the CAA. I wouldn’t be surprised to see William and Mary in the league final for a third consecutive year. The problem is that the Tribe is 0-9 all-time in conference championship games (in three different leagues).

St. Francis College: John Feinstein’s story on the Terriers includes a memorable quote from the school chaplain prior to last season’s NEC title game, which was hosted by St. Francis:

We’ve been in the desert longer than Moses. The end is near.

Moses eventually got out of the desert. St. Francis College, not so much.

There isn’t likely to be any relief for SFC this year, either. After being just one game away from the oasis last season, in 2015-2016 the Terriers are 15-16 overall, 11-7 in the conference.

Perhaps St. Francis can make another tournament run. One gets the sense, though, that the window of opportunity (at least for right now) may have closed.

Next up on the list of the dance-averse are two New England universities still in search of an initial NCAA bid despite being members of D-1 since 1962. As a hardwood tandem, they are known as “The Dour Duo”. Both are members of the America East conference.

New Hampshire: The Wildcats are 18-11 overall, 11-5 in conference play, and have clinched a second consecutive winning season (after not having any winning campaigns in the previous 20 years).

Stony Brook is the league leader (more on the Seawolves later) and will be favored in the conference tourney. However, UNH cannot be completely dismissed. New Hampshire probably has one more opportunity next season to break through with its current group of players, but sometimes it’s easier to arrive a year early. This could be that year.

Maine: On the other hand, it has been another tough season in Orono, as the Black Bears are 8-21 (4-12 in league play). That is better than last season (3-27), to be fair.

Maine will have to wait at least one more year (a sentence that will be repeated, with minor variations, several times in this post).

The rest of the rundown:

– Denver (D-1 from 1948 to 1980, then back to the division in 1999): The Pioneers are 15-14 overall, 7-9 in the Summit League. This season has been better than last year for slow-slower-slowest Denver (only two other Division I teams average fewer possessions per contest), but a surprise run through the league tournament seems unlikely.

– UT-Rio Grande Valley (class of 1969): If you’ve never heard of UT-Rio Grande Valley, don’t feel too badly about it. The school formerly known as UT-Pan American merged with UT-Brownsville to become UT-Rio Grande Valley, and also changed nicknames (from Broncs to Vaqueros).

Recently, the school announced that former Texas head football coach Mack Brown will lead a feasibility study for potentially establishing a new football program. Brown is expected to recommend that UTRGV add the sport, as there are a large number of high school quarterbacks in the region who could be offered scholarships to play free safety.

On the hardwood, the school hasn’t had much success over the years, regardless of its name, and this year is no exception. UTRGV is 8-20 overall, 4-9 in the WAC.

– Stetson (class of 1972): The Hatters are 10-21 overall, 4-10 in the Atlantic Sun, and ineligible for the NCAAs because of a sub-par APR score. Thus, the school’s most notable hoops player will remain the late Ted Cassidy. You rang?

– Grambling State (class of 1978): The bad news is that Grambling State has only won six games this season. The good news is that the Tigers have won more games this season than they did in any of their four previous campaigns (4, 0, 5, and 2 wins).

This isn’t going to be the year.

– Maryland-Eastern Shore (D-1 in 1974-75, then back to the division for good in 1982): UMES had suffered 12 consecutive 20+ loss seasons until last year’s mini-miracle, which resulted in 18 wins.

Alas, this year the Hawks are 9-21 overall (6-9 in the MEAC). Eight of UMES’ nine conference losses have been by single digits. The magic has left the shore, at least for the moment.

– Youngstown State (D-1 in 1948, then returning to the division in 1982): The Penguins are 11-20, 6-12 in the Horizon League. It’s basically a repeat of last year’s 11-21 season. In other words, time to get ready for spring football practice.

– Bethune-Cookman (class of 1981): The Wildcats are only 13-16 overall, but 9-5 in the MEAC. Could they sneak through the league tourney and grab that elusive NCAA tourney bid?

It’s not out of the question. After all, this is the MEAC Tournament, which always has something for everyone, on and off the court. See pages 40-41 of this document for the men’s and women’s tourney brackets (the two tournaments take place over a six-day period at the Scope Arena in Norfolk, VA).

This year’s entertainment at the MEAC tourney includes a tipoff concert by the “Legends of Soul” (featuring Freddie Jackson) and a pair of official after-party events, one of which is hosted by Kid ‘n Play.

– Western Illinois (class of 1982): During the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, the Leathernecks won a combined 40 games. However, WIU followed up those fine seasons with 10- and 8-win campaigns, and was 10-17 this year. Western Illinois finished in last place in the Summit League and did not qualify for the conference tournament.

– Chicago State (class of 1985): The Cougars won only eight games last season. This year, Chicago State is 4-26 and has only one Division I victory, which came against…Western Illinois.

Unfortunately, right now Chicago State has much bigger problems than its basketball team’s record.

– Hartford (class of 1985): The Hawks are 9-22, 4-12 in the America East. It looks like this will be another season of torment for WCSC-TV sportscaster Kevin Bilodeau and the rest of Hartford’s faithful fans.

– UMKC (class of 1988): Six of the eight schools in the WAC have never been to the NCAAs. Of the six, the one having the best season (Grand Canyon) is ineligible to participate because it hasn’t completed its probationary period in D-1.

We’ve already seen Chicago State and UT-Rio Grande Valley on this list. As for UMKC, the Kangaroos are 10-18 overall, 3-10 in the WAC. UMKC does have a win over a power conference team this season (Mississippi State), but that’s probably going to be the highlight of its season.

– Sacramento State (class of 1992): Last year was a very good one for the Hornets, which won 21 games. One of those was a CIT triumph over Portland, the first postseason tournament victory in the program’s history.

This year, things haven’t gone nearly as well. Sacramento State is 11-16, 4-12 in the Big Sky. In past years, that would have eliminated the Hornets from league tournament qualification, but this year the conference has expanded its tourney to include all 12 teams.

– UT Martin (class of 1993): The Skyhawks are tied for first place in the OVC West, with a 10-6 conference mark (18-13 overall). It’s the second consecutive solid season for UT Martin, which won’t be the favorite at the OVC tourney (that will be Belmont), but would seem to have at least a puncher’s chance.

– Jacksonville State (class of 1996): The Gamecocks are 8-23, 4-12 in the OVC. For the third season in a row, Jacksonville State will not qualify for the league tournament. It’s kind of hard to make the NCAAs in a one-bid league if you can’t make your conference tourney.

– Quinnipiac (class of 1999): At 9-20, 6-14 in the MAAC, Quinnipiac is going backwards. The Bobcats won twenty games in 2013-14 and fifteen games last season.

Perhaps in an election year, it is a bit much to expect Quinnipiac to fully concentrate on hoops when there is so much polling to do.

– Elon (class of 2000): The Phoenix are 16-15 overall, but just 7-11 in CAA play. The league tournament should be one of the nation’s most competitive this year, but it’s difficult to envision Elon winning four games in four days.

– High Point (class of 2000): High Point is due. This is the fourth straight season the Panthers (20-9, 13-5) have won or shared the regular-season title in the Big South. High Point also has the league’s best player in John Brown.

However, Brown missed the regular-season finale with a foot injury. If he is limited (or simply unable to play) in the conference tournament, it could be crushing for HPU.

– Sacred Heart (class of 2000): The Pioneers lost 10 of their first 11 games, but things improved once conference action began. Sacred Heart is 12-17 overall, with a winning record in the NEC (11-7).

The league tourney could be a brawl. Sacred Heart is a potential sleeper.

– Stony Brook (class of 2000): Over the last six seasons, the Seawolves have won 22, 15, 22, 25, 23, and 23 games. Last year, Stony Brook was very close to an NCAA tournament bid. How close? This close.

That had to hurt.

This year, the Seawolves are 23-6 overall, 14-2 in conference play — but with losses in two of their last three games.

Stony Brook will host every game it plays in the league tournament. Will this finally be the year?

UC Riverside (class of 2002): The Highlanders won 14 games last season and are 14-16 this year. UC Riverside is a respectable middle-of-the-pack Big West squad, but winning the conference tournament might be a bit of a stretch.

– IPFW (class of 2002): The Mastodons are 23-8 overall and tied for first place in the Summit League with a 12-4 mark. The conference tournament is in Sioux Falls, which could be an issue (nearby South Dakota State being the other team that tied for first). Still, this should be a good opportunity for IPFW to make the NCAA tourney.

Mastodons may be extinct, but you still can’t count them out.

Gardner-Webb (class of 2003): The Runnin’ Bulldogs are 15-15 overall, 10-8 in the Big South. It wouldn’t be a total shock for Gardner-Webb to be playing for the league tournament title on March 6.

Savannah State (class of 2003): The Tigers are 13-13 overall, 8-6 in the MEAC. Savannah State needs a few breaks to go its way in the MEAC tournament. Hey, it could happen.

– Lipscomb (class of 2004): The Bisons are 11-20, 7-7 in the Atlantic Sun. If North Florida were to be upset in the league tournament, then just about any other team in the top six could win it, including Lipscomb. I wouldn’t bet the mortgage on it.

UC Davis (class of 2005): The Aggies won 25 games last season and the Big West regular-season title. This season, UC Davis is 10-17, 5-9 in the league.

Last year could have been the year. This year almost certainly won’t be.

Utah Valley (class of 2005): Utah Valley is 12-16, 6-7 in the WAC. That isn’t great, but it’s better than the three other WAC teams on this list.

Indeed, the Wolverines are 6-0 against UMKC, Chicago State, and UTRGV (the three worst teams in the league). However, they are winless against the three schools expected to compete for the conference tourney title (including the favorite, New Mexico State).

Well, that’s the roll call for this season. Will any of those teams finally get their moment in the sun?

Surprisingly enough, I think so. Last year it was UC Irvine and Buffalo. This year could be the time to shine for Stony Brook, or IPFW, or High Point, or maybe (after all these years) William and Mary.

One other potential first-timer not on the list is Cal State Bakersfield, which has been a full-fledged D-1 member for only six years. The Roadrunners (20-8, 10-3) are having a nice season in the WAC and could definitely challenge for the league tourney title.

As I’ve said many times before, if any of the aforementioned schools qualify for the NCAAs, they better not be dropped into one of the play-in games. The “First Four” chiefly serves to limit the tournament experience of the automatic qualifiers, which is unfair and asinine. If the NCAA has to have play-in games (it doesn’t), make at-large teams play in all of them.

A team that handles the pressure of a one-bid league tournament and survives to garner an NCAA bid should always be in the real tournament — the main draw. Always.

Good luck to all the dreamers out there.

Schools that have never made the NCAA Tournament — the 2015 edition

Updated: The 2016 edition

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

All records are through March 1

It’s time again for another round of March Madness. The regular season is drawing to a close, and conference tournament action is about to begin. Across the country, schools will make a final push to make it to the promised land, the NCAA Tournament.

For some of them, however, there has never been a journey to the mountaintop.

There are currently 35 schools that have been in Division I for at least a decade that have yet to make a trip to the NCAAs. Of course, there are 18 other schools in D-1 that haven’t received a solitary tourney invite either, but there is a difference between recent D-1 entrants such as Northern Kentucky or Incarnate Word and longtime outsiders like UT-Pan American or Youngstown State.

Of those 35 schools with 10+ years in D-1 but no bids to show for it, 18 of them have been in Division I for 30 years or more and are still waiting. For fans of Hartford, or Bethune-Cookman, or Western Illinois, the annual tradition of watching as other schools get their names called on Selection Sunday has become more than a little depressing.

This post is about those schools that have known nothing but pain, nothing but longing, nothing but disappointment. Will the dream finally come true for one or two of them this season? Sadly, history says that the answer is no.

However, history can be rewritten. I truly believe there is hope this year. A couple of longtime wannabes may get asked to the dance this time. It won’t be easy,though.

I started posting about this topic in 2010. That year, I highlighted the 20 schools that had waited the longest for their first NCAA bid. As of 2015, nineteen of those schools are still waiting. The twentieth? Centenary, which left Division I four years ago.

In a way, it is hard to blame the folks in Shreveport for throwing in the towel. Centenary would have almost certainly made the NCAAs when Robert Parish was enrolled there, but instead its games from that era — including its players’ individual statistics — did not count. If you want to read yet another horror story about the NCAA, this 1975 Sports Illustrated story is for you: Invisible in the Post

In recent years, I’ve expanded the rundown to include schools with at least ten years or more in D-1 but no appearances in the NCAA Tournament. For all of those schools, making the ultimate leap into the field of 68 seems almost impossible. However, one did beat the odds in 2013-14.

Last season, Cal Poly entered the Big West tournament with a 10-19 record, but promptly beat the league’s top two seeds (including star-crossed UC-Irvine; more on the Anteaters later). Cal Poly captured the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAAs, the Mustangs’ first in 20 years as a D-1 member.

Of course, that bid came with an asterisk, as Cal Poly was relegated to “almost but not really in the tournament” status by having to participate in a play-in game. The Mustangs did win the much-despised PIG, however, and advanced to the “real” tournament, where they lost to Wichita State.

Congratulations to Cal Poly for dropping off this list and not emulating Centenary in the process. Alas, two more schools have been added to the 10+ years club, UC Davis and Utah Valley. For the Aggies and Wolverines, the struggle begins anew (though it may be a brief struggle for UC Davis, as we’ll see below).

Before beginning this season’s rundown of the longtime no-timers, however, it’s worth mentioning another list of schools. There are quite a few institutions that have made at least one NCAA appearance, but haven’t been back to the tournament in at least 20 years. Some of those schools have been waiting longer for a return to the Big Dance than many of the never-beens have been in D-1.

First among this group of schools is Dartmouth. The Big Green has made seven appearances in the NCAA tournament, and was the national finalist twice (in 1942 and 1944). However, Dartmouth last made the tourney in 1959, and that streak of futility will continue for another year, as the Big Green is tied for last place in the Ivy League (which has no postseason tournament).

Next is another member of the Ivies, Yale, which has not appeared in the NCAAs since 1962, the last of three trips for the Elis. However, Yale is currently in second place in the conference, and still has a chance to crash the NCAA party. Overcoming hoops nouveau riche Harvard may prove too difficult a task, though.

Other schools that have made at least one appearance in the NCAA Tournament, but haven’t been back since 1995 (or earlier) while continuously in D-1:

Tennessee Tech (1963), Columbia (1968), Bowling Green (1968), Rice (1970), VMI (1977), Duquesne (1977), Furman (1980), Toledo (1980), Loyola of Chicago (1985), Brown (1986), Jacksonville (1986), Marshall (1987), Idaho State (1987), Marist (1987), Oregon State (1990), Loyola Marymount (1990), Idaho (1990), Louisiana Tech (1991), Towson (1991), Northeastern (1991), St. Francis-PA (1991), Rutgers (1991), Howard (1992), Georgia Southern (1992), Campbell (1992), Fordham (1992), East Carolina (1993), SMU (1993), Rider (1994), Tennessee State (1994), and Tulane (1995).

Worth noting: Seattle (which last made the NCAAs in 1969, and which Elgin Baylor led to the national final in 1958) and Houston Baptist (a tourney team in 1984) both left Division I and then later returned, so they haven’t been in D-1 for all the years after making their most recent NCAA tourney appearances.

Some of those “last time in the field” appearances have been notable. Tennessee Tech may want to forget its 1963 trip, a 111-42 loss to eventual national champion Loyola of Chicago. In 1977, VMI made it to the round of 16 (the Keydets had reached the Elite Eight the year before).

Brown’s reward for winning the Ivy League in 1986? A matchup with Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. Sure, that was fair. (Of course, the same thing happened to Navy two years later, but then a player named David Robinson vaulted into the national consciousness at the home team’s expense.)

Marist has made two NCAA appearances, the last coming in 1987, with Rik Smits (the Dunking Dutchman) leading the Red Foxes. The year 1987 was also the last time Marshall made the field, as the next season the Thundering Herd began suffering from the Curse of Randy Nesbit.

It is hard to believe it has been 25 years since the emotional, mesmerizing run of Loyola Marymount to the Elite Eight, which included one of the most amazing second-round games ever played, the Lions’ 149-115 destruction of defending national champion Michigan. It is almost as hard to believe that it was also the last time LMU made the NCAAs.

– Worthless trivia department: When Jacksonville made its last NCAA trip, in 1986, the Dolphins were coached by Bob Wenzel. When Rutgers made its most recent appearance in the Big Dance, in 1991, the Scarlet Knights were coached by…Bob Wenzel.

– Worthless trivia department, part 2: Idaho State’s last NCAA appearance, in 1987, was a one-game cameo in Salt Lake City. Idaho’s last tourney trip in 1990 also lasted one game, and also took place in Salt Lake City.

– Worthless trivia department: part 3: In 1991, there were three play-in games that took place between the league champions of six conferences, an early effort by the NCAA to eliminate as many automatic bids for smaller conferences as possible. Unlike the PIGs of today, these games were not official NCAA Tournament games, so the three teams that lost are not credited with a tourney appearance.

All three losing teams (Fordham, Jackson State, and Florida A&M) subsequently appeared in the NCAAs; Fordham’s trip came the following year, in 1992, the last time the Rams made the field. The team that beat Fordham in that 1991 play-in game was St. Francis (PA), the first and only time the Red Flash have qualified for the NCAA Tournament.

– Last year, two schools with long breaks between appearances broke through, Mercer and Coastal Carolina — and the Bears made their long-awaited return a memorable one by beating Duke in the first round.

This season, it appears that SMU will make the field after just missing out on an at-large bid last year. Others to watch in this group: Toledo (tied for first in the MAC’s West Division), Bowling Green (first place in the MAC’s East Division), Northeastern (tied for first in the CAA), Louisiana Tech (in first place in CUSA), Georgia Southern (tied for first in the Sun Belt), and Rider (the MAAC’s second-place team).

Among the power conference schools, Oregon State’s 25-year drought is currently the longest, not counting Northwestern…and that’s the cue to start with the list of schools that have never made the NCAAs. As usual, we begin with the Forgotten Five (recently described by one school president as a “very elegant group”).

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

The five schools are known as the “Forgotten Five”. The class  of 1948 (or 1939):

Northwestern: NU actually hosted the very first NCAA championship game back in 1939, though technically not the “Final Four”, which as a separate concept did not exist in the days of an eight-team tournament. The semifinal rounds that year were played in Philadelphia and San Francisco.

Of all the schools on this rundown, Northwestern is almost certainly the biggest underachiever. The NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. It is hard to imagine a school in a “power conference” could fail to get an at-large bid during that time, but that is the case for the Wildcats.

Of the 65 schools in the top five leagues (counting Notre Dame as an ACC member), 48 have made at least one appearance in the NCAA tournament over the past four years. That’s 74% of all power-conference schools.

Of the seventeen that haven’t, only six haven’t made the tourney over the past seven years: South Carolina (last made the NCAAs in 2004), Auburn (2003), TCU (1998), Rutgers (1991), Oregon State (1991), and Northwestern. Rutgers hasn’t been in a power league all that time, of course (neither has TCU). The failure by Oregon State to make the field of 64 (or 68) over the last quarter-century is remarkable, but it pales in comparison to Northwestern’s infamous streak.

That streak is likely to continue for at least another season, as the Wildcats are 14-15 overall, 5-11 in the Big 10.

Army: In 1968, Army turned down an NCAA bid, electing to play in the NIT instead. Army had been successful in the NIT under Bob Knight, reaching the semifinals on multiple occasions, and also had a chance to play at Madison Square Garden in the first round. The Black Knights would lose to Notre Dame in that first-round game.

(In case you were wondering, the last school to turn down an NCAA bid was Marquette, in 1970. That move was made by the late, truly great Al McGuire. Schools are no longer allowed to decline NCAA bids to play in the NIT, which is now owned by the NCAA.)

Army also went undefeated in 1944 (15-0), but didn’t play in any postseason tourneys due in part to wartime travel restrictions. I am not sure the Black Knights would have been guaranteed an NCAA invite, as it was still just an eight-team invitational event. It seems likely, though. Many years later, the Helms Foundation awarded Army the retroactive 1944 national title.

All that being said, though, Army is still waiting to make that first NCAA appearance.

This season, the Black Knights are 15-14 overall, but in last place (6-12) in the Patriot League. A run through the league tourney seems unlikely.

The Citadel: The Bulldogs avoided a fifth consecutive 20-loss season, but at 11-18 (6-12 SoCon), it was another frustrating campaign. There will be no party on Selection Sunday for the cadets. Same song, different year.

I wrote about the program’s tortured history in massive detail seven years ago. Since then, things have not improved.

William and Mary: Last year, the Tribe came oh so close to breaking through, but lost a heartbreaker to Delaware in the CAA final, 75-74. The Blue Hens scored the final seven points in the contest to steal the bid.

This season, the Tribe (18-10, 12-6) finished in a four-way tie for first in a balanced CAA (despite a bizarre home loss to Drexel that closed out the regular season). William and Mary will be the top seed in the league tournament.

I wouldn’t bet on a repeat appearance in the conference title game, but I wouldn’t bet against it either. I’m certainly not betting against Marcus Thornton if he gets another championship-winning opportunity.

St. Francis College: It has been a banner season for the Terriers, 21-10 (15-3 in the NEC). St. Francis has clinched the top seed in the league tourney. This appears to be SFC’s best chance in years to grab the brass ring.

The New York City press is starting to take notice of the oldest collegiate basketball program in the city. The late James Luisi, a former NBA player better known for his work as an actor (including Lt. Chapman on The Rockford Files), is arguably the school’s most famous hoops alum.

By getting the top seed, SFC will get to play at home throughout the NEC tournament. That’s a big deal.

Also worth noting: the Terriers at least know they have an NIT bid to fall back on if they don’t win the league tourney (the same is true for William and Mary). SFC wants more than that, though.

Next up on the list of the never-beens are two New England schools still in search of a bid despite being members of D-1 since 1962. As a hardwood tandem, they are known as “The Dour Duo”. This season, one is doing considerably better than the other.

New Hampshire: The Wildcats are 18-11 overall, and finished fourth in the America East. This is UNH’s first winning season since 1994-95.

Albany, which leads the conference, is the favorite to get the league’s autobid. Still, Bill Herrion’s crew has a puncher’s chance to crash the party, which is not something you can say too often about New Hampshire’s basketball program.

Maine: Times are tough in Orono. The Black Bears are 3-26 this season (after winning only six games last year). Even the school’s hockey team has a losing record.

Maybe Rick Carlisle could return to campus and turn the hoopsters into winners. After all, he started his collegiate career at Maine before transferring to Virginia. I’m guessing he’s happy coaching the Dallas Mavericks, though.

The rest of the rundown:

– Denver (D-1 from 1948 to 1980, then back to the division in 1999): A couple of seasons ago, the Pioneers were coming off consecutive 22-win campaigns. The window may have closed for Denver, however, which is 12-17, 6-10 in the Summit League.

Only one D-1 school (American) plays at a slower pace than the Pioneers, which has partially masked the fact UD is poor defensively (bottom 30 nationally).

– UT-Pan American (class of 1969): The Broncs are in last place in the WAC and are 9-19 overall. It’s not going to happen this year (a sentence I will repeat, with variations, throughout the rundown).

– Stetson (class of 1972): Ted Cassidy’s alma mater is 9-21 this season. Only once in the last six years have the Hatters managed to get to double digits in wins, a fact that would even depress Uncle Fester.

– UC Irvine (class of 1978): UCI was the top seed in last season’s Big West tournament, only to lose in the semifinals to Cal Poly (as mentioned above). This year, the Anteaters are 17-11 overall and alone in second place (10-4) in the league standings.

The most well-known UCI player is 7’6″ Mamadou Ndiaye, who has been injured this season and has missed most of the Anteaters’ games. However, Ndiaye returned to action on February 26. Perhaps UCI’s dream will only be delayed by one year.

– Grambling State (class of 1978): The Tigers are 2-23 this year, and winless in SWAC play. That continues a trend, as in the previous three seasons Grambling won 4, 0, and 5 games. GSU is currently last in the kenpom ratings, a position it has held at the end of two of the last three seasons. To state the obvious, this isn’t going to be the year.

– Maryland-Eastern Shore (D-1 in 1974-75, then back to the division for good in 1982): Last year, UMES had its 12th consecutive 20+ loss season.

This year? Well, it’s a new and much better one. The Hawks are 17-13, 10-5 in the MEAC. In his first season at UMES, Bobby Collins has performed one of the nation’s best coaching jobs.

The odds are against Maryland-Eastern Shore winning the MEAC tournament. Top seed North Carolina Central is undefeated in league play and will be hard to beat, as will second-place Norfolk State (particularly with the tourney being held at the Scope).

Having said that, I wouldn’t put anything past the MEAC tournament, a six-day extravaganza that defies convention (see the bracket on page 39 of this document). This year, Gladys Knight opens the festivities.

– Youngstown State (D-1 in 1948, then returning to the division in 1982): The Penguins are 11-20, 2-14 in the Horizon League (last place). Hey, did you hear Bo Pelini is the new football coach?

– Bethune-Cookman (class of 1981): This is another program that had its window of opportunity three or four years ago. This season, the Wildcats are 10-19, 6-8 in the MEAC. I don’t really think this is going to be the year.

– Western Illinois (class of 1982): Speaking of windows of opportunity, the Leathernecks won 22 games two years ago. This season? 8-19, 3-13 in the Summit League (last place). It’s not meant to be this season.

– Chicago State (class of 1985): Of the seven schools in the WAC eligible for the NCAA auto-bid (Grand Canyon hasn’t competed its reclassification period yet), five of them have never made the Big Dance. Despite that, this season the odds are good the league doesn’t send a newbie to the tourney.

Of the WAC no-nos, Chicago State is the least likely to break through this year, as the Cougars are 8-22 overall, 4-9 in the league (next-to-last place).

– Hartford (class of 1985): Dionne Warwick is Hartford’s most famous alum. If one of the NCAA regional pods were in San Jose, and Hartford won the America East tournament, by law the selection committee would have to send the Hawks there.

However, San Jose is not a host site this year, and Hartford (14-15, 7-9 in league play) is not likely to win the AE tourney. That will greatly upset WCSC-TV sportscaster Kevin Bilodeau, who may be the most ardent Hartford fan working in local television.

Incidentally, the great big freeway known as L.A. is hosting the West regional.

– UMKC (class of 1988): Here is another never-been from the WAC, and another one with a losing record (13-17). The Kangeroos are actually in second place in the conference standings (8-5), so perhaps UMKC is capable of making a miracle run through the league tourney. Edie McClurg would be so happy.

– Buffalo (D-1 from 1974-77, then back to the division in 1992): Buffalo has put itself in good position several times in recent years, but hasn’t had a lot of luck in the MAC tournament. This year, the Bulls are having a solid season (19-9, 10-6 in conference action).

This is head coach Bobby Hurley’s second year in charge at Buffalo. The former Duke star knows what it takes to be successful in the NCAA Tournament; first, though, you have to get there — and that’s the hard part.

– Sacramento State (class of 1992): From this year’s Blue Ribbon annual, Sacramento State’s preview (written by John Moorehouse):

Sacramento State has a pretty pitiful history as a Division I hoops program. In 24 seasons, the Hornets have never finished with a record better than .500. They’ve also never reached the NCAA tournament.

Nothing lasts forever. And Sacramento State has an excellent chance to end one of those droughts this season.

Maybe both.

Point to Mr. Moorehouse. Sacramento State is currently 19-8 overall, clinching that winning campaign, and is also in first place in the Big Sky (13-3). If it stays in the top spot, Tom Hanks’ alma mater will host the conference tournament — but not at its regular facility, “The Nest“, a/k/a Colberg Court, which seats 1,200.

Instead, the tourney would take place at another site on campus, “The WELL” (the all-caps is apparently intentional). The WELL will seat 3,000 for basketball.

– UT Martin (class of 1993): Last season, the Skyhawks lost their first ten games and did not even qualify for the OVC tournament. Things have greatly improved for new head coach Heath Schroyer’s squad this season, as UT Martin is 18-11 overall, 10-6 in the league. Getting past conference top dog Murray State in the OVC tourney may be a bit much to ask, though.

– Jacksonville State (class of 1996): The Gamecocks, like UT Martin, did not qualify for last year’s OVC tournament. Unlike UT Martin, JSU (12-19, 5-11) did not qualify for this year’s OVC tournament, either.

– Quinnipiac (class of 1999): The Bobcats are a middling MAAC team (15-14, 9-11). To win the league tourney in Albany, Quinnipiac would likely have to beat at least one of the top two teams in the league, Iona and Rider, both of which swept the Bobcats this season. In a recent survey, 100% of respondents considered Quinnipiac’s prospects of claiming the auto-bid to be less than stellar.

– Elon (class of 2000): The Phoenix moved from the SoCon to the CAA this season. Elon is 14-17 overall and finished eighth in a ten-team conference. This doesn’t look like it will be the year.

– High Point (class of 2000): The Panthers (22-8, 13-5) finished tied for first in the Big South but blew a chance to win the league outright on the final Saturday of the regular season. The Big South is a league in which seven teams have a legitimate shot to win the conference tournament.

HPU can grab that auto-bid, but it will have to do so in three games in three days in Conway, South Carolina — and will probably have to beat three of the other contenders in the process.

– Sacred Heart (class of 2000): At 15-16 overall (9-9 in league play), things are looking up for Sacred Heart, as the Pioneers only won five games all of last season. Winning the NEC tournament is probably not in the cards, however.

– Stony Brook (class of 2000): Over the last five seasons, the Seawolves have won 22, 15, 22, 25, and 23 games. This year, Stony Brook is 21-10 overall, 12-4 in the America East (tied for second).

One of these years, the Seawolves are going to rip down the door separating them from the NCAA Tournament. It’s not out of the question it could happen this season.

UC Riverside (class of 2002): The Highlanders are 14-14, 7-7 in the Big West. That’s a nice improvement from recent campaigns. UCR won’t be favored in the Big West tournament, but neither was Cal Poly last season and we all know what happened.

– IPFW (class of 2002): The Mastodons are 16-13, 9-7 in the Summit League. South Dakota State and North Dakota State will be the heavy favorites in the league tournament, but IPFW beat both of those squads during a recent seven-game winning streak. Don’t count out the Mastodons, even though Mastodons are, well, extinct.

Gardner-Webb (class of 2003): The Runnin’ Bulldogs are 18-13 overall, 10-8 in the Big South. As mentioned earlier, the Big South tournament will be a bloodbath, and Gardner-Webb is one of seven teams with a decent shot at the tourney title.

Savannah State (class of 2003): The Tigers are 9-19 overall, 5-9 in the MEAC. Nope, not going to happen this year.

– Lipscomb (class of 2004): The Bisons are 13-16, 7-7 in the Atlantic Sun. FGCU and North Florida are well ahead of the other A-Sun teams in the standings, and will be favored to meet in the league tournament championship game. Lipscomb is 0-4 this season against those two schools.

UC Davis (class of 2005): The Aggies won only nine games last season. This year, UC Davis is 22-5, 12-2 in the Big West, and favored to cut the nets down in Anaheim (site of the Big West tourney).

UC Davis is coached by Jim Les, the former Bradley player and coach (Les also played in the NBA). During his tenure at Bradley, Les led the Braves to four consecutive postseason tournaments, all of which were different events — the NCAAs in 2006 (when Bradley made the Sweet 16), NIT in 2007, CBI in 2008, and CIT in 2009.

Utah Valley (class of 2005): The Wolverines are 10-18 overall, 4-9 in the WAC. Utah Valley has not been an offensive juggernaut, failing to reach 50 points in seven of its defeats (with a low of 33 points in a loss at Seattle).

If New Mexico State somehow loses in the WAC tourney, the door will open for a first-timer to make the NCAAs. With the history of the five never-beens in the league, though, it would surprise nobody if Seattle (the only team in the league to beat NMSU this season, and the only other team in the league to have made the Big Dance) would grab the auto-bid.

Well, that’s the roll call for this season. Will any of those teams get to the promised land?

The answer, I suspect, will be yes. There are too many teams on that list which have had outstanding seasons. One or more of them will prevail. Among the candidates: St. Francis College, William and Mary (either of which would be huge stories), Sacramento State, UC Irvine, Stony Brook, High Point, UT Martin, Buffalo, Gardner-Webb, New Hampshire, and Maryland-Eastern Shore.

One other potential first-timer not on the list is North Florida, which has been a full-fledged Division I member for only six seasons. The Ospreys (20-11, 12-2) won the regular-season Atlantic Sun title and will get to play all of their league tournament games at home.

If any of the aforementioned schools qualify, they better not be shunted off to one of the play-in games (which obviously shouldn’t exist in the first place).

As I’ve said before (and will say again), the play-in games limit the tournament experience of the automatic qualifiers, and that’s tremendously unfair. If the NCAA has to have the despicable PIGs, make the last eight at-large teams play in them.

A team that handles the pressure of a one-bid league tournament and survives to garner an NCAA bid should always be in the main draw. Always.

Good luck, dreamers.