The 2016 FCS Playoffs — a review of the bracket

The Bracket

Links of interest:

The Citadel’s playoff path: a bye, then a familiar foe

– Lehigh football snubbed of home playoff game

New Hampshire makes field for 13th straight year

Albany left out of playoffs; coach calls exclusion “a sham”

Wofford earns playoff bid

Charleston Southern disappointed not to host playoff game

After being disappointed in the seeding, Sam Houston State coach: “It is what it is”

South Dakota State gets seed

Youngstown State in playoffs after a ten-year absence

“Samford shouldn’t even be in the tournament, let’s just get it straight”

North Carolina A&T makes playoff, but coach says “we’re still pretty down around here”

Chattanooga makes playoff field

Cal Poly gets bid, will host San Diego

Preview article on NCAA.com

First, let’s correct an error in that last article I linked above, the one posted on the NCAA’s own website:

Some other teams that will miss out on postseason action as a whole include Montana, Western Illinois and North Carolina Central, who all lost steam down the stretch and were defeated in Week 12.

North Carolina Central won on Week 12, defeating North Carolina A&T 42-21. The Eagles aren’t missing out on postseason action, either — North Carolina Central is going to the Celebration Bowl instead of the FCS playoffs, while the team that lost to the Eagles (North Carolina A&T) got a bid as an at-large team.

I also linked a “handicapping the field” article from the Bison Media Zone. Media members in North Dakota do not think Samford should have made the field.

Of course, being a resident of the Flickertail State isn’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to FCS expertise. In this particular preview, the writer referred to Charleston Southern as the “Mocs”.

I also think he has his guns pointed in the wrong direction when it comes to the exclusion of Albany. I tend to agree that Albany should have been in the tournament, but he failed to identify the most obvious beneficiary of the Great Danes’ absence — New Hampshire.

The two teams played in the same league (the CAA) and finished with the same overall record (7-4). Albany beat FBS Buffalo (admittedly, not the best FBS squad in world history). More to the point, the Great Danes won at New Hampshire.

The Wildcats also managed to lose to Ivy League cellar-dweller Dartmouth, and had no real standout victory. Albany’s worst loss was to Delaware, which strikes me as considerably more acceptable than losing to Dartmouth.

Albany head coach Greg Gattuso called the snub of his team “a sham” on Twitter. He had other comments:

I guess, if I had a question for the (selection) committee, it would be, what in (New Hampshire’s) body of work would be better than ours?

I just think the resume was better. Oh, by the way, we beat them head-to-head at their field. Remember us beating them at their field two weeks ago?

 

One criteria they might say is conference record. But to me, it’s a skewed point when (New Hampshire) didn’t play the second- and third-place teams. They didn’t play Richmond, they didn’t play Villanova. To me, conference schedule when you don’t play everybody should be thrown out (in picking the tournament).

I think Gattuso has a very legitimate argument.

New Hampshire had been in the playoffs in each of the previous 12 seasons; perhaps the committee just felt comfortable sticking them in the field. Maybe there is an unwritten rule that UNH has to be in the tournament.

Once New Hampshire was picked, the committee then got the chance to pair the Wildcats with Lehigh, and gave New Hampshire a home game in the first round. UNH’s average home attendance is 11,108, so it could be assumed its host bid (in terms of a cash guarantee) was quite good.

Albany’s average home attendance this season was 5,928. Could the committee have been thinking about the potential monetary difference if it came down to Lehigh-Albany or Lehigh-UNH? I’m sure the official answer is “No”, but cynics may have some doubts.

In related news, during an interview on a North Dakota radio show, selection committee chairman Brian Hutchinson referenced North Carolina A&T’s “bid offer” as a point in its favor.

I think he probably misspoke — after all, North Carolina A&T isn’t even hosting a first-round game — but what his comment really illustrates is that money is never far from the mind of the committee when selecting, bracketing, and seeding teams. That is unfortunate.

The committee apparently had no choice but to pair San Diego and Cal Poly against each other in the first round, despite the fact the two schools have already played this season. From the NCAA’s “Pre-Championship Manual“:

5. Regular season non-conference match-ups in the first round of the championship should be avoided, provided it does not create an additional flight(s).

6. Teams from the same conference will not be paired for first-round games (except for teams from the same conference that did not play against each other during the regular season; such teams may play each other in the first round);

7. Once the first-round pairings have been determined, there will be no adjustments to the bracket (e.g., a seeded team may play a conference opponent that advanced out of the first round).

If Cal Poly and USD had been in the same league, the rematch would have been avoided — but since they’re not, they had to be matched up, because not doing so would have created two extra flights.

That is because Poly and USD were less than 400 miles from each other, but more than 400 miles away from every other unseeded team. Here is the rule on busing/flights:

During the championship, institutions that are playing within 400 miles (one way) of their campus will be required to travel to that site via bus. Institutions traveling more than 400 miles (one way) to their game will be approved for air travel to that site.

I think it’s absurd that the “allow one more flight” stipulation only applies if teams are in the same conference, but that’s the rule, and the committee had no other option. The rule needs to be changed.

Of course, when it comes to bracketing, the committee tends to take the path of least resistance anyway. This is the second year in a row there has been a regular-season rematch in the first round.

Last year, the Patriot League champion (Colgate) played at New Hampshire, with the winner facing James Madison. Colgate and UNH had already met during the 2015 regular season.

Naturally, this year the Patriot League champion (Lehigh) will again play at New Hampshire, with the winner again facing James Madison…

The manual has this to say about awarding host sites:

3. If the minimum financial guarantees are met, the committee will award the playoff sites to the higher seeded teams.

4. When determining host institutions for playoff games when both teams are unseeded, criteria shall apply as follows: (1) quality of facility, (2) revenue potential plus estimated net receipts, (3) attendance history and potential, (4) team’s performance (i.e., conference place finish, head-to-head results and number of Division I opponents), and (5) student-athlete well-being (e.g., travel and missed class time).

This is not exactly breaking news, but it does explain one aspect of hosting that apparently bothered Charleston Southern coach Jamey Chadwell:

…Chadwell expressed disappointment about having to go on the road, but said getting a playoff opportunity was the ultimate goal.

“It’s disappointing. I don’t know all of the details, but you would think a conference champion would get more favor in the bidding process,” Chadwell said.

As it happens, conference champions don’t get more favor in the bidding process — unless they are matched up against teams in their own league in the first round (which would only occur if the two teams had not met during the regular season).

Charleston Southern hosted last year, but that was because it was a seed and met a minimum financial guarantee. This season, the Buccaneers were unseeded and paired with Wofford.

The decision to hold the game in Spartanburg probably came down to Wofford offering a better financial package, but Charleston Southern fans should be concerned about “quality of facility” being a more significant criterion for hosting than “revenue potential”.

Attendance history is also a factor. Below is the average home attendance for the 16 unseeded teams in the field:

  • North Carolina A&T: 14,472
  • Youngstown State: 14,353
  • New Hampshire: 11,108
  • Illinois State: 10,156
  • Chattanooga: 9,494
  • Central Arkansas: 8,767
  • Weber State: 8,734
  • Richmond: 8,700
  • Cal Poly: 8,413
  • Wofford: 7,625
  • Lehigh: 6,527
  • Villanova: 6,153
  • Samford: 5,897
  • Charleston Southern: 2,712
  • San Diego: 2,405
  • St. Francis (PA): 1,617

Attendance affects both a potential bid by a school, and the committee’s evaluation of its revenue potential.

Only two of the eight first-round matchups are hosted by teams that had lower average home attendance than their opponents. Richmond is hosting North Carolina A&T, and Central Arkansas is hosting Illinois State.

The second of those involves two schools with fairly close numbers in terms of attendance, but the other matchup has a much wider differential. Either North Carolina A&T wasn’t particularly interested in hosting, or Richmond put in a major league bid.

I’m disappointed that for the FCS playoffs, there is yet again a mini-South Carolina bracket in what is supposed to be a national tournament.

This is the second year in a row The Citadel and Charleston Southern have both been bracketed in this fashion, and it is a lame, lame move by Brian Hutchinson and his committee for the second year in a row.

Bulldogs quarterback Dominique Allen:

It’d be nice to face somebody else, somebody besides teams we play all the time.

Linebacker Tevin Floyd of The Citadel:

We have histories with both [Wofford and Charleston Southern], so I think we just wanted to experience something new.

Head coach Brent Thompson of The Citadel:

When it’s the playoffs, you look for some different opponents. You want to get some people to travel in and maybe work outside (the norm) a little bit. But it is what it is, and we have to win the state of South Carolina at this point.

Floyd also said he was happy to be playing at Johnson Hagood Stadium, and Allen referenced a “fun” matchup with either potential opponent, but the point is clear.

I also don’t understand why the committee couldn’t have swapped the Charleston Southern-Wofford pairing and the North Carolina A&T-Richmond pairing in order to avoid a potential second-round rematch.

In other words, the CSU-Wofford winner could have been matched up against North Dakota, while the survivor of N.C. A&T-Richmond played The Citadel (instead of the other way around, as the committee arranged things).

If the committee seeded all the teams, 1 through 24, it would be possible to have a balanced, fair tournament. Instead, bracketing decisions are made explicitly for geographic reasons, and they lead to inequities.

Weber State and Cal Poly both were 7-4 overall; Weber State was 6-2 in the Big Sky, while the Mustangs were 5-3. Now, due to unbalanced league schedules, Cal Poly played a slightly tougher slate than the Wildcats (and it also had a good non-conference win over South Dakota State). On the other hand, Weber State beat Cal Poly during the season.

You could argue that if every team in the tournament were seeded, Cal Poly might deserve a slightly higher seed than Weber State. If so, both teams would probably be seeded in the 17-20 range.

If that happened, each would play first-round road games against similarly-rated opponents. Instead, we have the current geographical setup and the “400 miles” bus/flight cutoff point.

Thus, Cal Poly plays a home game against San Diego of the non-scholarship Pioneer League, a team the Mustangs already defeated earlier this season 38-16. Meanwhile, Weber State travels almost 1,800 miles to play at Chattanooga, a solid SoCon squad that acquitted itself well last week against Alabama.

The decision to make Lehigh travel to New Hampshire also seems problematic to me; if anything, it should be the other way around. Again, however, cash is king in this tournament — though a few folks in Las Vegas are apparently putting their hard-earned money on Lehigh (which is a 4 1/2 point favorite despite having to go on the road).

Final “toughest schedule” numbers from the NCAA for Jacksonville State, James Madison, Sam Houston State, and The Citadel:

  • The Citadel: 19th
  • James Madison: 57th
  • Jacksonville State: 80th
  • Sam Houston State: 102nd

All four finished undefeated against non-FBS competition. SHSU, which was 11-0, did not play an FBS opponent, while the other three schools were all 10-1, with each losing to an FBS team from a power conference.

The committee decided to give Jacksonville State the highest seed out of this group. Did it help Jacksonville State that it made the finals last year? Probably. Did it help Jacksonville State that its director of athletics was on the committee? It couldn’t have hurt.

What it means is that if The Citadel is fortunate enough to advance to the quarterfinals, and its opponent is Jacksonville State, the Bulldogs will be the road team. It is not evident why that should be the case.

Another seeding oddity, in my opinion, was North Dakota being the #7 seed and South Dakota State being the #8. I’m not sure why the Jackrabbits would have been behind UND.

Because the committee seeded those teams in that way, SDSU has a potential rematch with North Dakota State in the quarterfinals. I don’t have a problem with regular-season rematches once teams advance to the quarterfinals, but it seems to me the committee had an easy opportunity to avoid that situation, and in a perfectly justifiable way.

Per at least one source that deals in such matters, here are the lines for the eight first-round games, as of Tuesday afternoon:

  • Wofford is a 1.5-point favorite over Charleston Southern, over/under of 51.5
  • Chattanooga is a 15-point favorite over Weber State, over/under of 51.5
  • Lehigh is a 4.5-point favorite at New Hampshire, over/under of 63.5
  • Richmond is a 13-point favorite over North Carolina A&T, over/under of 53.5
  • Illinois State is a 1.5-point favorite at Central Arkansas, over/under of 49.5
  • Youngstown State is an 8.5-point favorite over Samford, over/under of 50.5
  • Cal Poly is a 12.5-point favorite over San Diego, over/under of 65.5
  • Villanova is a 14.5-point favorite over St. Francis (PA), over/under of 37.5

As you can see, there are two road favorites (Lehigh and Illinois State).

Massey Ratings predicted scores for this Saturday:

  • Wofford 26, Charleston Southern 24
  • Chattanooga 31, Weber State 19
  • Lehigh 33, New Hampshire 28
  • Richmond 36, North Carolina A&T 24
  • Central Arkansas 23, Illinois State 21
  • Youngstown State 28, Samford 20
  • Cal Poly 35, San Diego 29
  • Villanova 21, St. Francis (PA) 7

I’m not pleased with how the tournament was constructed. However, there is nothing that can be done about it, at least not for this season. All eyes will now be following the action on the gridiron.

If you’re in the field, you have a chance. That’s the bottom line.

2016 Football, Game 10: The Citadel vs. VMI

The Citadel vs. VMI, to be played on Alumni Memorial Field at Foster Stadium in Lexington, Virginia, with kickoff at 1:30 pm ET on Saturday, November 12. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Wade Branner providing play-by-play and Dave Harding supplying the analysis.

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

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 notes for The Citadel and VMI

SoCon weekly release

Brent Thompson’s 11/8 press conference, including comments from Cody Clark and Tyler Renew (video)

Brent Thompson’s 11/9 radio show (video)

– FCS Coaches’ Poll

– STATS FCS Poll

– NCAA FCS selection committee rankings for November 10

– Sure, we can relive that Cam Jackson run again

– VMI’s new starting quarterback tries to lead Keydets to an upset of the Bulldogs

– Highlights of VMI’s game against Bucknell (video)

– Get well, Mike Groshon

The second week of preliminary rankings by the FCS selection committee resulted in a few changes, but by and large those adjustments did not really affect The Citadel.

Week 2  Rank School Previous (Week 1)
1 Jacksonville State 1
2 Eastern Washington 3
3 North Dakota State 4
4 James Madison 5
5 Sam Houston State 2
6 The Citadel 6
7 Chattanooga 8
8 Richmond 7
9 Central Arkansas 10
10 North Dakota NR

The biggest news was Sam Houston State dropping from #2 to #5. The Bearkats are one of two undefeated FCS teams, with The Citadel being the other. However, SHSU’s strength of schedule is weak when compared to all but one of the other top eight teams (we’ll get to the exception in a moment).

Last week, North Dakota State fans (and media members) complained vociferously after Sam Houston State was ranked ahead of the Bison. They had a point.

It is impossible to know whether or not certain members of the selection committee were influenced by the noise emanating from Fargo. I could make a good guess, though.

Of course, NDSU didn’t get everything it wanted. North Dakota State is still ranked behind Eastern Washington and Jacksonville State. The latter school’s #1 ranking continues to be a bit puzzling.

Schedule strength of the top 10 teams through last week’s games (incidentally, Samford is 2nd overall in this category):

  • Jacksonville State (schedule strength of 101st out of 124 FCS teams)
  • Eastern Washington (tied for 12th)
  • North Dakota State (3rd)
  • James Madison (35th)
  • Sam Houston State (89th)
  • The Citadel (tied for 12th)
  • Chattanooga (34th)
  • Richmond (37th)
  • Central Arkansas (82nd)
  • North Dakota (38th)

Jacksonville State is 8-1. The one defeat came at LSU, so nobody is saying that JSU should be penalized severely for its loss. However, the Gamecocks don’t play in a very strong league, and don’t have the non-conference schedule heft to match that of Eastern Washington and North Dakota State — and both of those schools also play in tougher conferences while maintaining identical 8-1 records.

Of course, some observers would note that one difference between the three schools is that Jacksonville State’s director of athletics is on the selection committee.

The Citadel is undefeated, has a significantly better strength of schedule, and also has a win over another team in the top 10 of the rankings. However, not only are the Bulldogs behind Jacksonville State, they are ranked below Sam Houston State as well. There is no legitimate reason for that to be the case.

In my opinion, The Citadel should currently be ranked in the top 4. Eastern Washington and North Dakota State should be 1-2 in some order, followed by James Madison and The Citadel in the 3-4 spots. However, unless JSU and SHSU lose, the Bulldogs are not likely to pass either one of them (particularly Jacksonville State).

This effectively means The Citadel’s seeding “ceiling” is probably #5. The difference between being seeded #5 instead of #4 could be the difference between playing at home or on the road in a potential quarterfinal game.

That would be unfortunate for The Citadel.

Earlier this week, SB Nation’s “Football Study Hall” site posted a report on tempo at the FBS level. It’s a very interesting and well-considered piece.

After I read it, I decided to take a look at pace of play in FCS. Basically, I took stats from 122 teams (for practical reasons, I didn’t include “transitional” schools Abilene Christian and Incarnate Word), and determined how quickly FCS teams have run offensive plays so far in 2016. Here are the top 20 squads:

Team (Conference) Time between plays (seconds)
Stephen F. Austin (Southland) 19.49872
Eastern Kentucky (OVC) 19.68576
Samford (Southern) 20.29769
South Dakota (MVFC) 20.86083
Sam Houston State (Southland) 21.5656
Murray State (OVC) 21.80123
Eastern Washington (Big Sky) 22.09565
Southern Utah (Big Sky) 22.11938
Southern Illinois (MVFC) 22.12278
Indiana State (MVFC) 22.34259
Dartmouth (Ivy League) 22.52891
Western Carolina (Southern) 22.53821
Eastern Illinois (OVC) 22.7168
Sacramento State (Big Sky) 22.78134
Morehead State (Pioneer) 23.02286
Montana (Big Sky) 23.18182
Marist (Pioneer) 23.25649
Princeton (Ivy League) 23.31231
Columbia (Ivy League) 23.37113
VMI (Southern) 23.48567

Stephen F. Austin’s pace is faster than all but three teams in FBS: Missouri (which is absurdly fast), Baylor, and California.

These are the 20 “slowest” teams, with Wofford taking more time between plays than any other team in FCS (only Stanford and Georgia Tech are slower at the FBS level):

Team (conference) Time between plays (seconds)
Florida A&M (Mid-Eastern) 28.66306
Youngstown State (MVFC) 28.76508
Jacksonville (Pioneer) 28.82095
Mississippi Valley St. (Southwestern) 28.88979
Robert Morris (Northeast) 29.07609
North Dakota (Big Sky) 29.10984
Presbyterian (Big South) 29.31664
San Diego (Pioneer) 29.42857
Albany (NY) (Colonial) 29.43738
Stony Brook (Colonial) 29.46168
Chattanooga (Southern) 29.56397
Tennessee Tech (OVC) 29.77833
Texas Southern (Southwestern) 30.02473
Tennessee State (OVC) 30.05179
Charleston Southern (Big South) 30.076
North Dakota State (MVFC) 30.33216
Saint Francis (PA) (Northeast) 30.35612
Delaware (Colonial) 30.87125
Wofford (Southern) 30.90445

 

In my FCS Playoffs primer, I mentioned this comment from the chairman of the selection committee, Brian Hutchinson, when asked by an interviewer about “Sam Houston State’s value to the committee”:

The value of Sam Houston State is that they are an 8-0 team right now [that] is averaging close to 60 points per game and close to 600 yards of [total] offense. That’s the value that people see.

As I said in that post, I hope no committee members will actually use total offense as a criterion of any real significance. Part of my concern has to do with schedule strength, of course, but style of play is also a factor.

Sam Houston State leads FCS in total offense. As you can see above, SHSU is also the 5th-fastest offense in the division, in terms of pace of play.

I think it would be more than a little ridiculous to use total offense as a marker for comparing the Bearkats to teams like Chattanooga (19th in total offense, but the 9th “slowest” team) or The Citadel (23rd in total offense, and in the bottom third in pace of play, at 27.33 seconds between plays). The latter two teams shouldn’t have their style of play held against them by a committee member who is overly impressed by raw statistics.

While I’ve got this information handy, here are pace of play rankings for the nine SoCon squads, plus a few other teams:

  • Stephen F. Austin (1st out of 122)
  • Samford (3rd)
  • Sam Houston State (5th)
  • Eastern Washington (7th)
  • Western Carolina (12th)
  • VMI (20th)
  • Mercer (27th)
  • James Madison (37th)
  • Lehigh (41st)
  • Harvard (44th)
  • Liberty (47th)
  • Kennesaw State (71st)
  • The Citadel (84th)
  • Gardner-Webb (87th)
  • East Tennessee State (91st)
  • Furman (95th)
  • Presbyterian (110th)
  • Chattanooga (114th)
  • Charleston Southern (118th)
  • North Dakota State (119th)
  • St. Francis [PA] (120th)
  • Delaware (121st)
  • Wofford (122nd)

Friday is Founders Day at VMI:

The VMI Corps of Cadets will commemorate Founders Day this Friday with a parade featuring a 17-gun salute executed by the Cadet Battery to honor VMI’s founders and the nation’s veterans.

The anniversary, which marks 177 years since 23 VMI cadets relieved the state militia and converted the state arsenal into the Institute, will also see the dedication of the recently renovated Cormack and Cocke halls at 10 and 11 a.m., respectively.

There will also be a parade at 10:30 am on Saturday.

If you’re going to the game, be sure you’re up to speed on the parking situation.

Scott Wachenheim is in his second year as VMI’s head coach. His team is 3-6 this season, 1-5 in SoCon play. That qualifies as improvement for the Keydets’ football program, given that VMI had won two games in each of the last five years.

The Keydets opened the 2016 season by dropping a 47-24 decision at Akron. VMI’s defense allowed 576 yards of total offense, but the Keydets stayed in the game, putting together two drives of 90+ yards to pull within two points as the third quarter ended.

Akron scored 21 fourth-quarter points to ice the contest. However, it was a very respectable showing by VMI against an FBS opponent.

VMI’s next game was a 17-13 victory at Morehead State. While the Keydets’ loss to Akron was encouraging, the win over the Eagles (which play football in the non-scholarship Pioneer League) was not. VMI’s offense was sluggish, but the defense kept Morehead State at bay, allowing the fewest points to a Keydets opponent in four seasons.

A third straight road game resulted in a triple overtime victory, 23-17 over Bucknell. The Keydets did not give up any points in the three OT sessions.

It was the first time VMI had won back-to-back games since 2005, and (unbelievably) the first time the program had won consecutive road games since the last game of the 1981 season and the first game of the 1982 campaign.

Back in Lexington, another overtime affair did not go the Keydets’ way. Mercer edged VMI 33-30 in a game reportedly marred by poor SoCon officiating (very surprising, I know). VMI trailed 21-7 at halftime before making a comeback, taking the lead with just 32 seconds remaining in regulation. The Keydets could not hold the lead, and then lost in OT.

VMI rebounded from that setback with a 37-7 home victory over East Tennessee State. Al Cobb threw three TD passes, and the Keydets rushed for 233 yards.

Since that game, VMI has lost four straight contests. The first of those defeats was a 55-21 loss at Samford. SU quarterback Devlin Hodges threw for 435 yards and 5 TDs, and VMI also got victimized by a pick-6.

Chattanooga then beat the Keydets 30-13. UTC rushed for 297 yards despite Derrick Craine missing the game with an injury. One of VMI’s two TDs was a 79-yard bomb from Al Cobb to Javeon Lara.

VMI returned home, but was beaten in Lexington 24-10 by Furman. The loss was a costly one for the Keydets, as Cobb suffered a shoulder injury.

Last week, VMI lost 32-29 at Western Carolina. The Keydets should have won the game, but basically handed the victory to the Catamounts with a series of miscues. Among other things:

  • VMI fumbled the opening kickoff, which was returned by WCU for a touchdown
  • The Keydets had four kicks blocked (two field goal attempts, two PATs)
  • VMI threw three interceptions
  • Western Carolina scored with 54 seconds to play on a 53-yard pass

Statistics of note for VMI:

VMI Opp
Points/game 22.7 28.7
Rushing yardage 1056 1487
Yards/rush 3.2 4.3
Rush TDs 16 10
Passing yardage 2266 2501
Comp-Att-Int 208-330-12 210-334-6
Average/pass att 6.9 7.5
Passing TDs 11 22
Total offense 3322 3988
Total plays 663 682
Yards/play 5.0 5.8
Fumbles/lost 7/3 11/6
Penalties-pen yds 35-318 75-681
Pen yards/game 35.3 75.7
Net punt average 34.6 34.3
Time of poss/game 28:50 31:10
3rd-down conv 47/143 48/138
3rd-down conv % 32.9% 34.8%
Sacks by-yards 13-91 23-122
Red Zone TD% (22-35) 63% (23-36) 64%
  • VMI is 2nd nationally in fewest penalties per game
  • The Keydets are 84th in FCS in scoring defense and 63rd in rushing defense
  • VMI is 29th in defensive third down conversion rate
  • The Keydets are 85th in time of possession
  • VMI is 28th in passing offense

Statistics of consequence for The Citadel:

The Citadel Opp
Points/game 30.8 18.7
Rushing yardage 3366 1129
Yards/rush 5.6 4.1
Rush TDs 29 12
Passing yardage 540 1645
Comp-Att-Int 33-82-2 140-246-8
Average/pass att 6.6 6.7
Passing TDs 4 8
Total offense 3906 2774
Total plays 685 524
Yards/play 5.7 5.3
Fumbles/lost 15/6 12/7
Penalties-pen yds 43-449 38-358
Pen yards/game 49.9 39.8
Net punt average 37.3 36.6
Time of poss/game 34:37:00 25:22:00
3rd-down conv 75/151 35/110
3rd-down conv % 49.7% 31.8%
Sacks by-yards 25-165 0-0
Red Zone TD% (22-39) 56% (12-20) 60%
  • The Citadel leads the nation in rushing offense (374.0 yards/game) and is seventh in average yards/rush
  • The Bulldogs are 9th in offensive third down conversion rate
  • The Citadel is third nationally in time of possession
  • The Bulldogs are 13th in fewest penalties per game
  • The Citadel is 21st in the country in turnover margin
  • The Bulldogs are 15th nationally in defensive third down conversion rate

VMI throws the ball on 49.8% of its offensive plays from scrimmage, with 68.2% of the Keydets’ total yards coming via the air. The Keydets operate out of the spread.

Al Cobb was the preseason choice as the SoCon’s all-conference quarterback. Cobb was injured against Furman and did not play last week versus Western Carolina.

Will he play on Saturday? Cobb is not listed on the two-deep. According to an article in The Roanoke Times, he may be available.

The starter, though, will be redshirt freshman Austin Coulling (6’4″, 200 lbs.). Coulling, a native of Salem, Virginia, has played in five games this season, starting against WCU last Saturday.

For the season, he is completing 56.9% of his passes, averaging 7.5 yards per attempt, with two touchdown passes and six interceptions.

Coulling does not lack for confidence:

After hours of watching video, Coulling said he thinks there are some areas in The Citadel defense that the offense can exploit.

“There are opportunities there for us to take,” Coulling said. “As a team, if we come out with the same energy we came out with last week and execute more efficiently than we did last week and have the same running game as we had last week, I mean, anything can happen. … We can come out on top.”

Daz Palmer (5’10”, 175 lbs.) is a freshman from Norfolk who is leading the Keydets in rushing. He is averaging 4.5 yards per carry, with 3 rushing TDs. Palmer also has 12 receptions this season.

Wide receiver Aaron Sanders (6’2″, 190 lbs.) was a preseason all-league pick. He has 62 receptions so far this year, with two TDs. Sanders had 7 catches last year versus The Citadel; in fact, Sanders has had 7 receptions in each of his last two games against the Bulldogs (including a 165-yard receiving performance in 2014).

Fellow wideout Dane Forlines (5’10”, 190 lbs.) made the all-conference team last year as a return specialist. Forlines is a dangerous punt returner, averaging 12.9 yards last season and 9.3 yards this year in that discipline. He is second on the team in receptions, with 47 catches and one TD.

Starting tight end Ryan Swingle (6’3″, 232 lbs.) has 30 receptions and four touchdown catches this season. The former quarterback is also the holder on placekicks, and VMI is not afraid to take advantage of his versatility. He threw a 50-yard pass on a trick play against Mercer.

VMI’s projected starting offensive line averages 6’3″, 279 lbs. According to the two-deep, the offensive tackles will be flipped for the game against The Citadel.

Fifth-year senior Iyan Roseborough (6’3″, 335 lbs.) has played right tackle this season for the Keydets, but is listed as the left tackle on this week’s depth chart. Roseborough is a native of Jenkinsville, South Carolina, and graduated from Fairfield Central High School.

Redshirt freshman Cole Brummit (6’4″, 250 lbs.) made his first career start against Western Carolina at left tackle. He is listed as the right tackle this week.

VMI’s defense normally lines up in a 3-4. In last season’s contest, the Keydets were generally effective at bottling up The Citadel’s triple option attack. After Cam Jackson broke loose for a 68-yard TD on the Bulldogs’ fourth play from scrimmage, VMI did not allow another offensive TD.

The Keydets’ D is led by two active inside linebackers. Ryan Francis (6’1″, 205 lbs.) is a redshirt junior from Knoxville who had 15 tackles versus The Citadel in last year’s matchup. Allan Cratsenberg (6’3″, 220 lbs.) is a junior from Natrona, Pennsylvania; he had 11 stops against the Bulldogs in last season’s game.

The two are currently tied for the team lead in tackles, with 94 each. They have combined for 21 tackles for loss, including eight sacks.

Francis is the main pass rusher, with six of those sacks; he also has two fumble recoveries. Against Mercer, Francis also threw a pass out of a fake punt formation; it was intercepted.

Another linebacker, Alijah Robinson (6’0″, 205 lbs.) is third on the team in tackes, with 58. Robinson also has two sacks.

Cornerback Riuq Trotman (5’9″ 155 lbs.) is a sophomore from Virginia Beach who leads the Keydets in interceptions, with three.

Dillon Christopher (6’2″, 200 lbs.) is in his fourth year as a placekicker for the Keydets. He has shared kicking duties with freshman Reed King (5’9″, 150 lbs.).

Regardless of the kicker, VMI has had major problems in the kicking game this season, with nine blocked kicks — five field goal attempts, and four PAT tries.

Christopher does have a strong leg, which he employs on kickoffs.

VMI’s punter is redshirt sophomore Bill Hogan (6’1″, 225 lbs.), who can also play linebacker. He has had one punt blocked this season. Hogan was the punter for VMI when the Keydets played The Citadel last season, and did a solid job.

Jake Keith (5’10”, 190 lbs.), a freshman from Blacksburg, is the long snapper.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Lexington, Virginia, per the National Weather Service: sunny, with a high of 52 degrees. The projected low on Saturday night is 27 degrees.

Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is an 18-point favorite over VMI, with an over/under of 47.5.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Chattanooga is a 7.5-point favorite over Wofford; Samford is a 15.5-point favorite against Mercer; Furman is a 6.5-point favorite over Western Carolina; and East Tennessee State is a 24-point favorite against Cumberland.

Gardner-Webb (now 4-6) is off this week, presumably celebrating its stunning victory at Charleston Southern last Saturday. North Carolina (7-3) was upset by Duke 28-27 on Thursday night.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 4th in FCS (moving up one spot from last week, the second consecutive week the Bulldogs have crept up one position). VMI is ranked 69th.

Massey projects The Citadel to have a 93% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of The Citadel 34, VMI 13.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Chattanooga (8th), Samford (12th), Wofford (19th), Mercer (41st), Gardner-Webb (46th), Furman (47th), Western Carolina (64th), East Tennessee State (82nd).

The top ten in Massey’s rankings, in order: North Dakota State, Eastern Washington, Jacksonville State, The Citadel, Central Arkansas, South Dakota State, Youngstown State, Chattanooga, Sam Houston State, and Northern Iowa.

– VMI’s game notes roster includes 69 natives of Virginia. Other states represented on the squad: Tennessee (9), North Carolina (4), Pennsylvania (4), Georgia (3), Alabama (2), and one each from West Virginia, Louisiana, New York, Michigan, Texas, Maryland, and South Carolina.

– 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.

– VMI concludes its season next week at Wofford.

– FBS opponents for VMI in future seasons include Toledo and Old Dominion in 2018; Army in 2019; and North Carolina State in 2023.

– On The Citadel’s two-deep this week, Evan McField is listed as the #2 B-back, with Isiaha Smith not listed on the depth chart. That is the only change from last week’s two-deep.

– Game notes factoid of the week: The Citadel has rushed for at least 400 yards in five games this season, tying the school’s single-season record. Those five games: North Greenville (559 yards, the most by an FCS school in a game so far in 2016), Western Carolina (513), Samford (463), East Tennessee State (427), and Gardner-Webb (419).

– With its victory over Samford on Saturday, The Citadel won its fifth consecutive Homecoming game. The Bulldogs won their fifth straight Parents’ Day game earlier in the season when they defeated Chattanooga.

The ten consecutive “celebration” victories are a modern-day school record. The Citadel had never won eight straight such games prior to the current run.

– The original cost of the Silver Shako (which was created in 1976) was $532.72.

– More than 40 players (and a few coaches) from VMI’s 1981 team will be honored at halftime of Saturday’s game. That Keydets squad beat Army and Virginia Tech, finishing with a 6-3-1 record. VMI has not had a winning season since that year.

On his radio show, Brent Thompson was asked about resting starters, trying to avoid injuries, etc., given that The Citadel has clinched a playoff spot. Thompson’s response:

It’s a loser’s mentality, there’s no doubt about that. You don’t go out there worrying about which guys are going to get hurt and who’s going to do this, and who’s going to do that. We’re going to go out there and play the game, and play the game to win. There’s a game on our schedule, it’s assigned to us, and we’re going to…go out there and give it our best. It doesn’t really matter who it is, whether it’s this week or next week…we’re going to try to play it, and try to play it to win it. If there are injuries…that’s part of the game and we can’t concern ourselves with that.

Thompson also noted that the offense did not play well against VMI last season, and wants to see improvement this year.

The coach also mentioned the importance of getting a bye for the FCS playoffs. If the Bulldogs want to seriously contend for the national title, they almost certainly need to be a seeded team, and receive the bye that goes with that designation.

A loss to VMI would almost certainly end The Citadel’s chance at a bye. Conversely, the game against North Carolina in two weeks will probably not be a factor in The Citadel’s postseason placement, unless the Bulldogs perform well in that contest.

The Citadel has been a member of the Southern Conference since 1936. In all that time, the football team has never finished undefeated in league play.

Along with the outright SoCon title, and a tenth straight victory, the opportunity to finish undefeated in the conference would be reason enough for the Bulldogs to want this game very badly. They don’t really need another reason, however.

This is the Military Classic of the South.

It will be a fierce contest. VMI will come ready to play on Saturday. The Citadel must respond in kind, and with even greater ferocity.

The coveted Silver Shako is at stake, the greatest trophy in all of sports.

The Bulldogs have to do whatever it takes to keep it, and bring it back to Charleston, where it belongs.

The FCS playoffs — a primer

The purpose of this post is to explain some of the ins and outs of the FCS playoffs, particularly for people who may not be familiar with the basics of postseason play. I’m also going to delve into a few other aspects of the playoffs (including the way the teams are selected, seeded, and bracketed), some of which I believe are problematic.

The tournament has expanded over the years, from a four-team setup in 1978 to today’s 24-team field. The current format has been in place since 2013.

Of the 24 teams that make the field, 10 will be conference champions that automatically qualify for the tournament. As of November 7, two teams have already qualified for the 2016 tourney — Lehigh (from the Patriot League) and The Citadel (from the Southern Conference).

While there are 10 automatic qualifiers, there are actually 13 FCS conferences. Three of those leagues do not have auto-bids to the FCS playoffs.

The Ivy League does not participate in the playoffs, so none of its schools will send a team to the tournament.

The other two conferences without automatic bids are the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) and Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC). Those two leagues send their respective champions to the “Celebration Bowl”, a separate post-season event.

However, SWAC and MEAC schools are eligible to receive at-large bids. In other words, if a team that does not win one of those leagues is deemed by the selection committee to be one of the 14 best at-large candidates, it may compete in the FCS playoffs. While that scenario would normally be unlikely, this season might provide just such a situation, thanks to two teams in the MEAC that are each having fine seasons.

North Carolina A&T is currently ranked 9th in the FCS Coaches’ Poll, with a record of 8-1 that includes a victory over an FBS opponent (Kent State). The Aggies’ only loss so far this season was to Tulsa.

Meanwhile, North Carolina Central is 7-2, with both losses to FBS schools. The two schools will play in two weeks for the MEAC title. I don’t believe North Carolina Central would receive an at-large bid at 8-3, but if North Carolina A&T were to lose to the Eagles, a 9-2 Aggies squad could be a viable at-large candidate.

The leagues that send automatic qualifiers to the playoffs:

  • Big Sky Conference
  • Big South Conference
  • Colonial Athletic Association (CAA)
  • Missouri Valley Football Conference (MVFC)
  • Northeast Conference (NEC)
  • Ohio Valley Conference (OVC)
  • Patriot League
  • Pioneer Football League
  • Southern Conference (SoCon)
  • Southland Conference

Here is this year’s tournament schedule:

  • Bracket announcement: Sunday, November 20, 2016 at 11:00 am (televised on ESPNU)
  • First round: Saturday, November 26, 2016 — eight games at campus sites (this is the Saturday after Thanksgiving)
  • Second round: Saturday, December 3, 2016 — eight games at campus sites (seeded teams will host in this round after getting a bye in the first round)
  • Quarterfinals: Friday, December 9, 2016 or Saturday, December 10, 2016 — four games at campus sites (higher-seeded team hosts)
  • Semifinals: Friday, December 16, 2016 or Saturday, December 17, 2016 — two games at campus sites (higher-seeded team hosts)
  • National Championship: Saturday, January 7, 2017 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas (kickoff at noon EST)

The FCS selection committee selects the 14 best at-large teams to join the 10 automatic qualifiers, and then ranks the top 8 teams.

The teams ranked in the top 8 are seeded, and also receive first-round byes. The remaining 16 teams are then bracketed and play first-round games.

It is important to understand that, unlike the NCAA basketball tournament, not every team is seeded. In fact, two-thirds of the field is not seeded. That is done on purpose, in order to allow the committee to make pairings “according to geographical proximity“.

Historically, that has resulted in the committee putting together what might be called a bracket of convenience, routinely pairing teams in first- and second-round matchups that have already played each other during the regular season, and/or in recent tourneys. This has been a source of frustration for many fans over the years, because the event is supposed to be a national tournament; after all, it is referred to by the NCAA as the Division I “National Championship”. However, it is rarely treated like one by the powers that be.

A good example of the “regionalization” of the FCS playoffs came last year. For the 2015 tournament, the selection committee set up multiple potential second-round regular-season rematches. When the dust had cleared from the first-round games, five of the eight second-round matchups wound up being regular-season rematches (two of those were matchups between teams in the same league).

Most inexcusably, the committee set up a first-round regular-season rematch between Colgate and New Hampshire.

Five teams from the MVFC made the field last season (four at-large picks and the automatic qualifier, North Dakota State). All five were slotted on one side of the bracket. That did not sit well with the MVFC league commissioner:

Missouri Valley Football Conference commissioner Patty Viverito said she believes the Football Championship Subdivision playoff committee made “a conscious decision” to put five Valley teams in the same bracket…

Viverito said: “It seems to me the committee has enough latitude in how they break the quadrants up that they’d be able to put teams on opposite sides of the bracket fairly easily. I wasn’t in the room. I don’t know what challenges the committee faced when they came up with this. I can’t imagine it was just a horrible oversight and they didn’t realize they’d done it until the bracket was announced. I think it was a conscious decision. I just don’t know what went into the decision-making process.”

…Viverito called the committee’s pairings “the good, the bad and the ugly.” She said her league getting five teams in the playoff field “good.” She said the formulating of the bracket and the regionalization of it “bad.” And she [called] placing five Valley teams in the same bracket “ugly.”

The complaints from the MVFC led to a change for this year:

…the NCAA approved two FCS bracketing policies that should help spread out teams from the same conferences and also avoid rematches in the early rounds. The playoff committee will now be allowed to add a flight in the first or second rounds to avoid placing four or more teams from one conference in the same side of the bracket. The committee also has the license to avoid matchups in the first round for teams that played during the regular season in a non-conference game, providing that change doesn’t result in an additional charter flight.

That won’t change a lot, but it’s better than nothing. It primarily benefits larger leagues that regularly have three or more teams make the tournament (like the MVFC, CAA, and Big Sky).

For the SoCon and Big South, however, there is no mechanism to prevent the committee from doing what it seems to like doing most — namely, pairing two teams from each conference in a first-round matchup, with the winner playing a seeded team from one of the two leagues.

This year, the FCS selection committee decided to do something that I’m guessing a few of the committee members will wind up regretting.

The NCAA Division I Football Championship Committee will reveal the top-10 teams in rank order three times during the month of November.

The committee will be releasing the top-10 teams for the first time in history. The rankings will be announced as part of College Football Daily on ESPNU Nov. 3 and 10 at 4 p.m. (ET).

The final release will take place Nov. 15 at 10 p.m. (ET) on the ESPNU Championship Drive: Power Hour.

This move was officially made for reasons of transparency. However, if part of the idea for releasing a preliminary list was also to help promote the FCS playoffs, the first reveal (November 3) on “College Football Daily” was not a success.

Show anchor Brendan Fitzgerald and analyst Jason Sehorn knew next to nothing about the FCS (including how many teams actually make the playoffs). The entire segment lasted less than two minutes; the producer did not even bother to use recent video clips for a highlights package that accompanied the release of the rankings.

Clearly, the committee is taking a page from the College Football Playoff (CFP) and its weekly rankings. When it comes to the CFP, though, the weekly rankings release may not be the best thing to emulate.

Ten people make up the FCS selection committee. All are directors of athletics, representing schools from each of the ten leagues with automatic bids:

  • Brian Hutchinson, Morehead State — Pioneer League [chairman]
  • Chuck Burch, Gardner-Webb — Big South
  • Richard Johnson, Wofford — SoCon
  • Kyle Moats, Missouri State — MVFC
  • Nathan Pine, Holy Cross — Patriot League
  • Marty Scarano, New Hampshire — CAA
  • Paul Schlickmann, Central Connecticut State — NEC
  • Greg Seitz, Jacksonville State — OVC
  • Brad Teague, Central Arkansas — Southland
  • Jeff Tingey, Idaho State — Big Sky

One of the things I noticed about the committee is the dual-league nature of its chairman, Brian Hutchinson. Morehead State competes in football in the Pioneer League, which is the league he represents on this committee. However, in other sports Morehead State is a member of the OVC.

To me, that leads to a potential “optics” issue, namely the possible impression (almost certainly unfair, but still) that the OVC has two representatives on the committee — Hutchinson and Greg Seitz, the director of athletics at Jacksonville State.

When the first set of preliminary playoff rankings were released last week, the top-ranked team was, somewhat controversially…Jacksonville State.

Week 1 rankings:

Rank School
1 Jacksonville State
2 Sam Houston State
3 Eastern Washington
4 North Dakota State
5 James Madison
6 The Citadel
7 Richmond
8 Chattanooga
9 Charleston Southern
10 Central Arkansas

This will look a little different in Week 2. Charleston Southern will fall out of the top 10 after losing at home to Gardner-Webb, and so could Richmond (which lost at home to James Madison). However, how much change in the rankings is really possible? Is the committee already hamstringing itself on that front?

Brian Hutchinson gave two radio interviews after the rankings were released last week, both to stations in North Dakota. He should get some credit for agreeing to the interviews, because he is in the difficult position of having to speak for a committee. He may not even agree with all of the committee’s decisions, but he has to defend them anyway.

A few thoughts on his comments:

  • I got the distinct impression that the committee members weren’t prepared for a public rankings release
  • It’s conceivable that the rankings will wind up being close to valueless when it comes to the actual selection and seeding
  • Somewhat surprisingly, there is no established order of criteria when evaluating teams

Hutchinson was asked about the difference in seeding between two currently undefeated teams, Sam Houston State and The Citadel. One of the interviewers compared the two squads and noted that The Citadel had a better strength of schedule, including a win over another top-10 team (Chattanooga).

When asked about the “value of Sam Houston State to the committee”, Hutchinson said:

The value of Sam Houston State is that they are an 8-0 team right now [that] is averaging close to 60 points per game and close to 600 yards of [total] offense. That’s the value that people see.

I really hope that members of the selection committee aren’t using total offense as a criterion (particularly as a stand-alone benchmark) when comparing teams.

However, Hutchinson also added this:

The question about The Citadel as it relates [to Sam Houston State] is absolutely fair, though. They have a really good win over a conference opponent in Chattanooga. They’ve been undefeated. They have not yet played an FBS game, though I believe they have one the last week of the season.

So for all intents and purposes, the criteria the committee will get to evaluate them on will be done prior to the [game versus North Carolina]. Now should they win that game, obviously that would be a big feather in their cap. Should they lose it, I think most people if you look at it on paper would say they were supposed to [lose the game] — and so, that’s just how you evaluate those kinds of things.

The selection committee chairman was also asked if “there had been a lot of reaction around the country [to the preliminary rankings], or has it been isolated pockets like Cheney [Washington] or Fargo [North Dakota]?”

“It has been very isolated,” replied Hutchinson.

Those “isolated pockets” referenced in the interviewer’s query are the cities in which Eastern Washington and North Dakota State are located, of course. Fans of those schools are (justifiably, in my opinion) miffed that they were ranked 3-4 in the initial rankings, rather than 1-2. The committee seemed to ignore schedule strength and quality victories when ranking the teams.

The issue in question relates to potential seeding. The difference in being a 1 or 2 seed versus a 3 or 4 seed, for example, is this: if a seeded team keeps winning, it will host every game until it plays a higher-seeded team. Therefore, if a team is a 1 or 2 seed, it will host every game until the national title game (assuming that it continues to win). A 3 or 4 seed, however, might have to go on the road in the semifinals.

Obviously, that can be significant.

Each seeding “break” matters when it comes to hosting. For teams like James Madison and The Citadel, receiving a 1 or 2 seed may not be possible — but a 3 or 4 seed might be a realistic placement. The difference between being a 4 seed or a 5 seed could be the difference between playing a home game in the quarterfinals or going on the road. That matters.

There are two weeks left in the FCS regular season. A lot of things can (and will) change over the next two weeks.

One thing that won’t change, though, is the level of interest in the FCS playoffs from those who support teams still in the running for a spot in the field. That interest is intense, and will remain so until the bracket is revealed on November 20; it will then continue for fans of the 24 schools in the tournament.

It’s not often that people dream about making a trip to Frisco, Texas, but here we are…

2015 Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. Davidson

…But one day, when across the Field of Fame the goal seemed dim,
The wise old coach, Experience, came up and spoke to him.
“Oh Boy,” he said, “the main point now before you win your bout
Is keep on bucking Failure till you’ve worn the piker out!”

“And, kid, cut out this fancy stuff — go in there, low and hard;
Just keep your eye upon the ball and plug on, yard by yard,
And more than all, when you are thrown or tumbled with a crack,
Don’t sit there whining — hustle up and keep on coming back;

“Keep coming back with all you’ve got, without an alibi,
If Competition trips you up or lands upon your eye,
Until at last above the din you hear this sentence spilled:
‘We might as well let this bird through before we all get killed.’

“You’ll find the road is long and rough, with soft spots far apart,
Where only those can make the grade who have the Uphill Heart.
And when they stop you with a thud or halt you with a crack,
Let Courage call the signals as you keep on coming back.

“Keep coming back, and though the world may romp across your spine,
Let every game’s end find you still upon the battling line;
For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name,
He writes — not that you won or lost — but how you played the Game.”

– from “Alumnus Football”, by Grantland Rice

The Citadel vs. Davidson, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 5. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Kevin O’Rourke providing play-by-play and Sadath Jean-Pierre supplying the analysis.

The game can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station. WQNT will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game. 

Mike Legg (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze. Jay Harper will report from the sidelines; he will host the first hour of the pregame show as well.

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

The Citadel Sports Network — Affiliates

Charleston: WQNT 1450AM (Flagship)
Columbia: WQXL 1470AM/95.9FM
Greenville: WLFJ 92.9FM/660AM
Orangeburg: WORG 100.3FM
Sumter: WDXY 1240AM/105.9FM

From three weeks ago: my de facto preview of the upcoming season for The Citadel, which is something of a statistical review of last year. Math is involved.

Other topics related to The Citadel’s football program that I’ve written about over the past few months:

– A post in which I somehow wrote about both FCS non-conference football schedules and “The Man in the Brown Suit”
– A brief overview of the SoCon’s 2015 football signees
My take on the school’s recent football uniform history (written before the latest “unveiling”)
– The “Gridiron Countdown” series of posts, including analysis of attendance issues, among other things

Links of interest:

Season preview from The Post and Courier

– Game-week depth chart report from The Post and Courier

STATS SoCon preview (The Citadel is picked to finish next-to-last)

– College Sports Madness SoCon preview (The Citadel is picked to finish sixth)

– SoCon media and coaches’ preseason polls (The Citadel is picked to finish next-to-last in both polls)

– Game notes from The Citadel and Davidson

SoCon weekly release

Pioneer League weekly release

Pioneer League preseason poll

FCS Coaches poll

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Mike Houston’s 9/1 press conference (includes comments from Sam Frye and Tevin Floyd)

Paul Nichols previews the game on his coach’s show

Davidson College was founded in 1837, and established on land purchased from William Lee Davidson II . The school is named for his father, a Revolutionary War general who was killed in battle in 1781.

The college was originally established as a Presbyterian institution and is still affiliated with that church, though mandatory chapel was discontinued more than four decades ago. Davidson is located just north of Charlotte, with a 665-acre main campus. Most of Davidson’s 2,000 students live on that campus.

The college has an endowment of around $650 million. The school motto is Alenda Lux Ubi Orta Libertas, which is a Latin phrase that translates as “Let Learning Be Cherished Where a Basketball Goal Has Arisen”.

Davidson played its first football game against outside opposition in 1898, losing its opener 11-0 to North Carolina but following that up with an 6-0 victory over South Carolina. The next year, five games were played; that 1899 campaign also featured a loss to UNC and a win over the Gamecocks. Indeed, Davidson’s first four seasons of football all included victories over South Carolina, three by shutout.

That is, if 1898 was actually Davidson’s first season of football. The most recent online edition (2013) of the school’s football media guide includes two games allegedly played in 1897, and the Davidson “Quick Facts” sheet also lists 1897 as being the first year in program history.

However, the college’s website references the 1897 “season” as simply consisting of matchups against area club teams. The two would-be 1897 opponents mentioned in the media guide are the same two schools that Davidson officially played in 1898 — North Carolina and South Carolina. Neither of those schools includes an 1897 game versus Davidson in their media guides.

Meanwhile, the College Football Data Warehouse lists four opponents for Davidson in 1896. It also identifies the Wildcats’ first opponent in 1897 as North Carolina State, not North Carolina (and lists a different score than the school media guide). Just to make things more interesting, NC State does list Davidson as one of its 1897 opponents.

All in all, I’m a bit undecided on the “When was Davidson’s first season?” question.

The Wildcats (a moniker acquired in 1917) continued to play regional opponents throughout the early part of the 20th century, including The Citadel. The first gridiron matchup between the two schools, in 1909, ended in a 0-0 stalemate.

In 1936, Davidson joined the Southern Conference, the same year The Citadel and Furman became members. The initial league campaign was a promising one for the Wildcats, as they finished 5-4 overall with a 4-3 record in the SoCon. However, that would be the last time Davidson finished with a winning record in conference play until 1954.

Davidson found something of a gridiron savior in the mid-1960s, with the arrival of Homer Smith as head coach. Smith, one of the more respected coaches of his generation, gradually built a title contender, thanks in part to instituting a two-platoon system that featured many more scholarship players. Everything came together in 1969.

That season, Davidson went 7-4, with a 5-1 record in the Southern Conference, sharing the league title and grabbing a berth in the Tangerine Bowl. It was the only time Davidson ever got even a piece of the conference crown. Incidentally, the Wildcats’ solitary SoCon loss in 1969 was a 34-28 setback at The Citadel.

Smith had a reputation as an offensive mastermind, and that is reflected in some of Davidson’s 1969 games. The Wildcats put 77 on the board against Furman, and 59 more versus VMI.

Entering the league finale against East Carolina, Davidson needed a win to clinch a tie for the conference title. ECU led 27-0 with less than a minute remaining in the first half, but Davidson scored six unanswered touchdowns and won, 42-27.

Things went south for the football program in a hurry, though, after that 1969 season.

It wasn’t exactly a surprise. Prior to the 1969 season, Homer Smith told reporters that football was unwanted at Davidson by “most of the faculty and staff…at least 80%. These people are working, some feverishly, to do away with subsidized college football.”

Smith also claimed the same was the case for Davidson basketball (!), but that Lefty Driesell’s teams had been successful enough to essentially pay for themselves.

(The column linked above mentions that Furman had also moved at that time to reduce its football budget. Furman eventually reversed course. Davidson did not.)

By February of 1970, Homer Smith was no longer Davidson’s football coach. Smith left (eventually taking the job at Pacific) after Davidson’s board of trustees slashed the football budget by almost half.

Over the next three seasons, Davidson won a total of six football games. Then as the 1973 season wound down, the administration at Davidson went one step further, in the process winning that year’s “Worst Communicators” award by acclimation. While the team was on the road at Air Force, a press conference was called. I’ll let John Kilgo (at that time writing for The Robesonian) describe what happened:

Davidson decided to de-emphasize football. There would be no more football scholarships. They would be distributed on a basis of “need” only.

The press was brought in and told what the decision was — but no one bothered to pick up the phone and relay the word to [head coach Dave Fagg] or Athletic Director Tom Scott. Fagg, who was aware the action might be taken, was notified officially by a newsman who called to question him.

When Fagg and his team got back to [campus on] Sunday, Davidson president Sam Spencer was out of town. He had still not bothered to inform his athletic director or head football coach that the football picture had been completely changed.

If you’re thinking that the Davidson administration couldn’t have possibly been more obtuse, you’re wrong:

The Spencer Administration did not accept [head coach Dave Fagg’s] advice about scheduling. The coach wanted to play other schools that award scholarships on a need basis. This would have taken Davidson out of the Southern Conference football picture.

Dr. Spencer obviously disagreed.

He feels Davidson can play what he calls “the less ambitious schools” in the Southern Conference. Dr. Spencer was not available for comment, but when asked to identify some of these colleges, a Davidson spokesman replied: “That’s a good question. I could not name the so-called less ambitious schools in the Southern Conference.”

Kilgo theorized that Spencer was referring to Furman, The Citadel, VMI, and Appalachian State. However, he pointed out that Davidson had struggled against those schools even with scholarship players — and that it was “not clear how [Davidson hoped] to compete against them [with] no players on football grants.”

In 1974 Davidson won two games, beating Hampden-Sydney and Defiance College (both Division III programs). A victory over D-3 Kenyon was the Wildcats’ only triumph in 1975.

In those two years, Davidson played a total of six Southern Conference games, two each against VMI, The Citadel, and Appalachian State. The Wildcats lost all six contests by an average score of 48-6.

By 1976, Davidson was ready to make a move. At least, that was the idea.

Davidson College announced Tuesday [June 22, 1976] it is dropping out of the Southern Conference, where it has been a member for 40 years, to seek “national-level” basketball competition…

…[Davidson officials] consider as a possibility joining a new conference being discussed by six Southern schools. They include East Carolina, South Carolina, the University of Richmond, William and Mary, and Virginia Military Institute.

That potential league didn’t happen. Davidson leaving the SoCon in 1977 didn’t happen either:

Davidson College announced the school will not leave the Southern Conference in July [of 1977] as previously announced.

“Being in the Southern Conference gives our minor sports a chance to compete in postseason play,” said athletic director Thom Cartmill. “There is an automatic NCAA tournament bid, and it makes scheduling easier.”

In other words, Davidson didn’t wind up in a new conference. The school thus had to decide whether to compete as an independent in basketball (and presumably most, if not all, of its other sports) or remain in the SoCon. It chose the safer route.

By this time basketball was the only varsity sport for which Davidson was offering athletic grants-in-aid. It seems rather clear that by then, Davidson had caught the “big time hoops” bug for good, and that sport has been the school’s primary (if not sole) focus for the past forty years when it comes to decision-making on the athletics front.

It is obvious (at least to me) that the most influential person in the history of Davidson athletics is Charles G. “Lefty” Driesell. Davidson had never won the Southern Conference title in hoops before Driesell’s arrival in 1960; by the time he left after the 1969 season, basketball was part of the college’s ethos.

I think it is fair to suggest that if it weren’t for Lefty Driesell, Davidson would no longer have a Division I athletics program. It is likely the school would have dropped down to Division III during the early 1970s if not for the success of his basketball teams.

Davidson did not technically compete for the SoCon title from 1974 to 1982, playing only one or two league schools (usually Furman and/or The Citadel) in most of those seasons. By 1983, though, the rest of the SoCon was ready for Davidson’s football program to participate in the league, or else the college would need to find a new conference to call home.

Since it didn’t have a lot of options at the time, Davidson agreed to play a league slate in football (a minimum of five games at first, later apparently increased to six). The immediate problem was that the Wildcats and the other conference schools already had their schedules set for the next several years, so a compromise was reached. What a compromise it was.

Davidson wound up playing in “designated league games” against the likes of Lafayette (twice), Penn (twice), James Madison (three times), and Bucknell (three times).

If you think that was bizarre, it gets better. Davidson’s games in 1985 against Bucknell, Penn, and James Madison all counted in the standings. The Wildcats’ games against Western Carolina, Furman, and The Citadel all counted in the standings that year too — but only for Davidson.

Western Carolina, Furman, and The Citadel were not credited with a league victory after each defeated Davidson, because the other league members that didn’t get to play the Wildcats were not about to let those schools get an edge in the standings by picking up what was assumed to be an easy win (and in fact, those three schools outscored Davidson that season by a combined total of 102-7).

Things didn’t get much better for the Wildcats in 1986. The squad went 0-9 overall, including a number of blowouts (63-14 versus Marshall; 63-6 against Appalachian State; 59-0 versus Furman).

In a four-year stretch between 1985 and 1988, Davidson won a combined total of two games (both against Wofford).

In the latter two of those four difficult seasons, the Wildcats were no longer playing in the Southern Conference.

A request by Davidson for an exemption from playing league football was rebuffed by the rest of the conference membership. The school’s administration had earlier elected to place its football program in the newly formed Colonial League (later renamed the Patriot League).

The decision basically put the rest of Davidson’s varsity sports in limbo, though the college actually remained in the Southern Conference for all sports except football and women’s hoops (which was dropped by Davidson in 1986) through the 1987-1988 school year.

Davidson competed as an independent in men’s basketball for two seasons, then joined the Big South for two years. The school would eventually return to the SoCon in all sports but football, starting in 1992-1993.

Of course, Davidson left the league again last year, this time for the Atlantic 10. However, from this point on in its varsity sports history I’m going to focus on Davidson’s football program.

Two years in the Colonial League were enough for Davidson, which went 0-7 in league play in those two seasons. The school’s board of trustees voted to move the program to Division III, though that stance would soon become moot; a 1991 NCAA bylaw change mandated that Division I schools would have to conduct all sports at the D-1 level (a decision occasionally referred to as the “Dayton Rule”).

The program proceeded to compete as a I-AA independent for the next decade, generally playing D-3 schools during that time. The change in schedule led to more wins; Davidson went 5-3 in 1990, won five more games in 1992, and added six victories in 1993 and 1996.

Head coach Tim Landis won eight games in both 1998 and 1999, but then departed after seven seasons. He was replaced by Joe Susan, a former Princeton assistant coach.

The new boss led the Wildcats to a perfect 10-0 season, the most wins in school history. He then immediately left Davidson to become an assistant coach at Rutgers.

Susan is now the head coach of Bucknell. The coach he replaced at Bucknell was the same coach he had replaced at Davidson — Tim Landis.

Davidson joined the Pioneer Football League for the 2001 season, and its football program has remained in that conference ever since. The Pioneer League is a football-only conference for schools that compete at the Division I level but don’t offer athletic scholarships in the sport.

For the past two years, the Pioneer League’s champion has received an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs. There are eleven current conference members: Davidson, Campbell, Stetson, Jacksonville, Morehead State, Valparaiso, Butler, Dayton, Drake, Marist, and San Diego.

Mercer, of course, played in the league for one season before joining the SoCon last year.

Davidson’s win-loss record while a Pioneer League member has ranged from decent to really bad. The “really bad” includes the last few seasons.

The program has won only eighteen games in the last seven seasons, and has only one victory over the past two years. Unfortunately for Davidson, even that lone win carries a huge asterisk.

You can watch highlights of Davidson’s 56-0 victory over College of Faith (NC), assuming CoF’s uniforms don’t give you a headache. You can also read comments from an anonymous Davidson player on Reddit that were posted soon after the contest. Here are the first two:

I play for Davidson College, the team that played CoF last week. This was the most embarrassing [] ever…We had our starters out before the end of the first quarter and barely ran our offense because we felt bad for almost putting up 50 in the first half. If we had just kept playing I don’t see how we could’ve scored less than 150. They were so bad and it sucks as a player to have to try and justify any reason why we should’ve been playing them to other people. It was embarrassing as an athlete. But I suppose it’s a win, and we’re moving on to the rest of our schedule now.

Also they didn’t have athletic trainers… A bunch of their players got hurt and our trainers had to handle it for them.

The NCAA doesn’t think College of Faith is a legitimate school, and isn’t counting statistics for any future games played against it or any other schools the NCAA doesn’t deem “countable opponents”. In fact, College of Faith was specifically referenced when the NCAA made the ruling this past May.

Davidson had provisionally scheduled a game against College of Faith for this season, too, but in March the college replaced CoF on the schedule with Kentucky Wesleyan (which was another school that had played CoF last year).

(As an aside, East Tennessee State had also scheduled College of Faith for this year, but dropped CoF and replaced it with…Kentucky Wesleyan.)

When Davidson defeated College of Faith last season, it marked the first career victory as a head coach for Paul Nichols. It is also his only career victory as a head coach after two seasons at Davidson.

That is a far cry from his career as a player. Nichols was Davidson’s starting quarterback in 2000 when the Wildcats went undefeated.

Putting aside the College of Faith game for a moment, it does appear that Davidson made progress in 2014, at least when compared to its wretched 2013 campaign, a year in which Davidson lost every game it played by at least thirteen points.

Last season, Davidson lost one game in five overtimes (against Dayton), another by one point (at Campbell; the Wildcats led until the final minute), and a third by six points (versus Stetson).

There were also some blowout losses. VMI beat Davidson 52-24, while Princeton defeated the Wildcats 56-17.

A trip to Des Moines did not go well, as Drake manhandled Davidson 51-14. The Wildcats were also thrashed on their own Senior Day, 56-0, by Jacksonville. In those two games, Davidson was outscored in the first half by a combined 72-0.

It didn’t help Davidson’s cause when starting quarterback J.P. Douglas was suspended from the team in October following an on-campus altercation. Douglas was charged with assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury. The charges were later dropped, but his gridiron career with the Wildcats was already over by that point.

Here is a comparison of The Citadel and Davidson in select statistical categories for the 2014 season. The Citadel’s stats are for SoCon games only (seven contests). Those opponents: Wofford, Chattanooga, Western Carolina, Mercer, Furman, Samford, and VMI.

For Davidson, I decided to throw out the College of Faith game, so the statistics below are for the other 11 games the Wildcats played last season. Davidson’s opponents in those eleven games: Catawba, VMI, Morehead State, Princeton, Dayton, Drake, Campbell, Stetson, Jacksonville, Marist, and Valparaiso.

 

Davidson The Citadel
Offense yards/pass attempt 5.6 6.8
Offense yards/rush attempt 3.55 5.35
Offense yards per play 4.64 5.56
Offense points per game 20.27 24.86
Penalties per game 5.9 5.3
Offense 3rd down conv % 33.9 46.3
Offense 4th down conv % 58.6 60
Offense Red Zone TD% 62.2 66.7
Defense yards/pass attempt 9.2 9.1
Defense yards/rush attempt 4.98 5.69
Defense yards allowed/play 6.66 7.02
Defense points allowed/game 43.36 25.86
Defense 3rd down conv % 50.3 41.5
Defense 4th down conv % 61.1 52.9
Defense Red Zone TD% 70.3 60
Time of possession 29:35 32:40

The one common opponent for the two teams last season was VMI. Both games were played at Foster Stadium in Lexington, VA.

Davidson-VMI box score

The Citadel-VMI box score

Davidson describes its offensive package as “multiple”. Last season, the Wildcats threw the ball (or were sacked attempting to pass) 56.6% of the time. Passing yardage accounted for 64.6% of Davidson’s total offense. [Note: those numbers do not include the game against College of Faith.]

Taylor Mitchell will start at quarterback for the Wildcats. He started the final four games of last season following J.P. Douglas’ arrest.

Mitchell, a 6’1″, 191 lb. sophomore from Buford, Georgia, was 81-161 passing last season, with two touchdown passes against eleven interceptions, averaging 4.78 yards per attempt.

Running back Jeffrey Keil rushed for 725 yards and eight touchdowns last season, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. He was named the Pioneer League’s Offensive Freshman of the Year.

Another sophomore running back, Austin Wells, saw considerable time last season and also serves as the team’s primary kick returner.

Davidson’s best offensive player is probably senior wideout William Morris, a 6’1″, 179 lb. native of Dallas. Morris (a first-team all-Pioneer League selection in 2014) caught 98 passes last year for 1,224 yards, averaging 12.5 yards per reception.

Morris had 16 receptions for 208 yards against VMI last season. The Citadel’s defense will certainly have him on its radar.

Average size of Davidson’s presumptive starting offensive line (per its two-deep): 6’1″, 291 lbs. The five players combined to start 48 games for the Wildcats last season.

Both right tackle Josh Daryoush and right guard Matt Brantley started all 12 games for Davidson in 2014. Caleb Krause, the center, has started 31 games for the Wildcats during his career.

Last season, Davidson operated out of a 4-3 base defense (which I’ve also seen listed as a 4-2-5). The Wildcats could have a very different look on Saturday, of course, given the Bulldogs’ triple-option attack.

Defensive end Chris Woods, a senior from Burlington, North Carolina, received some preseason honors. He had 5.5 tackles for loss last season.

Woods only weighs 214 lbs., the lightest member of Davidson’s defensive line. Defensive tackles Grant Polofsky and Alex Behrend both started 11 games last year.

Linebacker Zach Popovec started nine games as a freshman. Fellow outside ‘backer Ricky Tkac is the leading returning tackler for the Wildcats.

Senior cornerback William Curran started seven games last season. The other three listed starters in the secondary combined to start just two games in 2014.

Sophomore placekicker Trevor Smith had a solid year for Davidson in 2014, making 9 of 13 field goals and 28 of 29 PATs. He made a 44-yarder against Dayton (sending that game into OT), his longest made field goal of the season.

John Cook shared punting duties in 2014. He averaged 36 yards per punt, with a long of 55.

None of his punts were blocked, while 3 of his 26 punts landed inside the 20 (with no touchbacks). Cook is also the backup quarterback for Davidson.

Long snapper Conrad Mueller is in his second year in that role for the Wildcats.

The Wildcats averaged 20.7 yards per kick return last season, slightly better than average nationally (and almost two yards per return better than The Citadel). Davidson’s kick coverage units were inconsistent from game-to-game; Princeton, in particular, dominated the special teams battle when the two teams played.

Davidson only returned one punt all season (for seven yards). I thought that was a typo at first, but it isn’t.

Odds and ends:

– Paul Nichols is only 34 years old, and the Davidson head coach also has a very young coaching staff. College graduating class years of his eleven assistants: 2005, 2008, 2012, 2011, 2007, 2001, 2012, 2010, 2013, 2014, and 2015.

– Dave Fagg was the head football coach at Davidson (his alma mater) for two separate stints, 1970-1973 and 1990-1992. He was also the head wrestling coach at The Citadel for one season, 1964-1965 (serving as an assistant football coach for the Bulldogs in 1964). There probably are not too many people who have been Division I head coaches in both football and wrestling, and at different schools.

– Davidson has 95 players on its roster (as of August 28), and they come from 24 different states. North Carolina is home to 21 of those players, while 15 are natives of Georgia. Other states with significant representation: Florida and Ohio (nine each), Texas (eight), and Maryland (five).

Nick Wheeler and Derek Jones, both sophomores for the Wildcats, were classmates at Eagle High School in Eagle, Idaho.

Junior linebacker Nate Casey (Tega Cay/Westminster Catawba Christian) and freshman offensive lineman Daniel Runck (Mt. Pleasant/Wando) are the only two South Carolina residents on the squad.

– Of those 95 players, there are 13 seniors, 19 juniors, 29 sophomores, and 34 freshmen. Last season, Davidson reportedly had 77 freshmen and sophomores on its roster.

– After playing The Citadel, Davidson will host Catawba next Saturday. The Wildcats then have a week off before beginning Pioneer League play on September 26, travelling to Kentucky to face Morehead State.

– Earlier in this post I quoted from a John Kilgo article, a stinging criticism of the actions of Davidson’s administration circa 1973. Kilgo has been an institution in the Charlotte sports community for more than 50 years.

He co-wrote Dean Smith’s as-told-to autobiography (the two were good friends) and hosted Smith’s TV show. Kilgo also enjoyed a noteworthy career as a radio commentator, and was a writer/publisher for a variety of newspapers.

In the mid-1960s, he was Davidson’s sports information director. For the past 15 years, he has been the play-by-play voice for Davidson men’s basketball.

– Per Davidson’s game notes, 34 members of the Wildcats’ 1965 squad will be in attendance on Saturday, dressed in red and seated behind the Davidson bench. According to Paul Nichols on his preview show, two assistant coaches from that year will be there as well: Dave Fagg and Dick Tomey.

After leaving Davidson following the 1966 season, Tomey would eventually have a long, successful career as a head coach at three schools: Hawai’i, Arizona (including the “Desert Swarm” years), and San Jose State.

– Famous people who attended Davidson but did not graduate include Woodrow Wilson, William Styron, and Stephen Curry.

If you’re wondering why I wrote the previous sentence in that manner, it’s because Davidson’s list of alumni athletes on Wikipedia includes Curry but notes in parenthesis that he “did not graduate”, singling him out despite the fact he is far from the only listed ex-player not to get his degree from the school. Apparently Curry’s lack of a college diploma is a cause of angst in certain quarters.

– Mike Houston has faced Davidson once as a head coach. In 2013, his Lenoir-Rhyne team defeated the Wildcats 34-18. In that game, Lenoir-Rhyne rushed for 419 yards; the Bears also scored a touchdown on a 98-yard kickoff return. Davidson’s William Morris, then a sophomore, had 119 yards receiving and a TD.

The contest was Paul Nichols’ second game in charge of the Wildcats, and his home debut.

– The Citadel leads the alltime series against Davidson 31-21-4 and has won the last eight matchups (and 14 of the last 15). The two teams’ last meeting was in 1985, a 31-0 victory for the Bulldogs.

Despite the fact the two programs haven’t met on the gridiron in 30 years, Davidson has played The Citadel more times than any other school except VMI (which has faced the Wildcats on 58 occasions).

– The Citadel’s fans are being encouraged to wear light blue to the game against Davidson (this request was also printed on the season tickets). Presumably the team will wear the traditional home uniform of light blue jerseys with white pants. At least, I hope so.

– Mike Houston’s radio show will air on Wednesday nights this season from 7-8 pm. It will originate from Fiery Ron’s Home Team BBQ in West Ashley. Mike Legg will host the show, which will be broadcast on WQNT (1450 AM) in Charleston.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 41.5 point favorite over Davidson on Saturday.

This game is not expected to be close, and I don’t really think it will be. However, I am less than comfortable with the premature enumeration of fowl.

Regardless, I’m not expecting an absolute shellacking. Davidson’s tendency to throw the football more often than not could pose problems for the Bulldogs; the program in recent years has not been noted for stellar pass D.

Offensively, The Citadel should move the ball without too much difficulty, though the Wildcats’ statistics against the run last season were not that bad. The key will be making sure all the skill position players are on the same page, which could be an issue with a new quarterback, and the fact that it is the opening game of the season.

The experience and ability of the Bulldogs’ offensive line should be a major advantage for The Citadel, however.

Assuming a victory, the final score probably won’t be the best way to evaluate the Bulldogs on Saturday. Consistency of execution on offense, playmaking on defense, success on special teams — those are the elements that will matter in the long run.

I’m looking forward to this game. I’ve been looking forward to it since last season ended.

Haven’t we all.

Comparing FCS non-conference football schedules

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Okay, back to scheduling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conference realignment, SoCon style: finally, expansion rather than contraction

Previously in this series:

SoCon style: history repeats itself

SoCon style: some actual news and a little speculation

SoCon style: the football/hoops conundrum

SoCon style: a look at the varsity sports portfolios of candidate schools

SoCon style: it is definitely nitty-gritty time now

Links of interest (a lot of them)…

From The Post and Courier:

SoCon commish has had enough

Q-and-A with the commissioner

New members bring “stability” to SoCon

SoCon wrap, extreme makeover edition

From the Chattanooga Times Free Press:

Southern Conference adds three members

SoCon expects to hold steady at 10 schools

From the Burlington Times-News:

Southern Conference steps towards stability by adding three future members

From The Macon Telegraph:

Mercer heading to Southern Conference

Audio interview (three parts) with Mercer’s AD

From The Roanoke Times:

VMI accepts invitation to rejoin Southern Conference

From the Johnson City Press:

ETSU accepts invitation to Southern Conference

From the SoCon:

Audio of the teleconference announcing the additions

Not linked: a horrendous column on the conference’s football situation from the Asheville Citizen-Times. In the piece, factual errors were interspersed with snide and generally uninformed commentary.

Several columnists in the league’s geographic footprint decided to pen a “woe is the SoCon” story. The problem was that some of them had obviously not been paying attention to the league since around 1985.

Our nation’s long national nightmare is over…for a little while, anyway. The Southern Conference has added three schools while not losing any other schools in the same 24-hour period. Progress!

SoCon officials said their goal was to replace those schools without expanding its traditional Southern-states footprint.

“We’re not chasing dollars, we’re not chasing markets,” said Wofford [Director of Athletics Richard] Johnson. “We’re chasing what’s best for our student-athletes, and going back to why conferences exist, where athletes are an extra-curricular activity and we can minimize missed class time.”

[The] Citadel athletic director Larry Leckonby said the new league “is really solidified with 10 members who all want to be in the SoCon. They want to be in a geographic conference where we can bus our teams everywhere and give fans a chance to watch all the games if they choose to.

“Most leagues in today’s world have certainly gone beyond regional footprints for other reasons.”

This was a theme repeated throughout the league meetings. Unsaid but implied: the CAA is crazy to have a Boston-to-Charleston geographic footprint.

Time will tell if that is true or not (I tend to think it is), but at any rate the league can’t worry about the likes of Elon, Davidson, or College of Charleston. It has to move on without those schools and the FBS dreamers at Appalachian State and Georgia Southern. Did it get it right with Mercer, ETSU, and VMI?

Most observers seem to think adding Mercer was an excellent move for the SoCon, even if the Macon school is just re-starting its football program. Mercer will be a contender in baseball (38+ wins in each of the last five seasons) and men’s hoops (regular-season Atlantic Sun champs in 2013) as soon as it joins the conference, and has the resources to be competitive in football sooner rather than later.

It’s a good thing the school has those resources, as the Bears’ football program will begin conference play in the SoCon in 2014. Mercer is going to gradually phase in scholarships under Bobby Lamb, the former Furman coach now overseeing things in Macon. In an interview with The Greenville News, Lamb described the enthusiasm for football at Mercer:

We sold 4,000 season tickets, and to put that in perspective, the most I ever sold at Furman was 1,100. The interest we generated was so great that we went ahead and set up for a second level on [the stadium]. What we’ve got down here is pretty special.

Mercer already has a competitive football-specific website: Link

The school last fielded a football team in 1941. The schedule for the Bears that year:

Georgia
Georgia Southern
Wofford
Rollins
Presbyterian
Mississippi College
Newberry
Samford
UT-Chattanooga

There is just a hint of back-to-the-future with Mercer and the Southern Conference, even though Mercer (unlike ETSU and VMI) has not previously been a member of the league. Mercer will be the 44th different school to join the SoCon.

The geography of the Southern Conference will benefit Mercer. Its school president noted this in an op-ed in The Macon Telegraph:

This move will also reduce travel burdens for our student-athletes, whose first priority must always be their work in our classrooms and laboratories. The average distance from Mercer to the nine other Southern Conference member institutions will be approximately 40 miles less than the average distance to Atlantic Sun institutions.

The travel burdens will be reduced to an even greater degree for our student-athletes in football, who will move from competition in the Pioneer Football League to the more geographically compact Southern Conference.

One other thing: while The Citadel’s basketball team has never won the Southern Conference tournament, the hoops program does have one post-season tournament title to its credit. In 1927, The Citadel won the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA) tournament. In the final, the Bulldogs defeated none other than Mercer (42-41).

That was the last time The Citadel beat Mercer on the hardwood, though the two schools have only played once since 1930. Now they will be competing on the same circuit again. Does that portend a tournament championship for the Bulldogs? (Please let the answer be yes.)

East Tennessee State won the A-Sun baseball tourney this season, and it wasn’t a fluke. That program is on the rise under head coach (and noted clutch hitter) Tony Skole, thanks in part to a new baseball facility. ETSU’s success or failure as a member of the Southern Conference may have a lot to do with another new facility, one for its soon-to-be-reborn football program.

ETSU is scheduled to start playing a full SoCon slate on the gridiron in 2016. By that time, a new football stadium will presumably be in place or well on its way to completion. If it is not, then the SoCon will probably be perceived as having made a mistake in issuing an invitation to the school.

No one wants to play football games in the Mountain States Health Alliance Athletics Center, better known as the “Mini-Dome”. Truth be told, playing basketball games in the building isn’t exactly anyone’s idea of a good time, either.

That may be why there has apparently been some discussion about ETSU moving its men’s and women’s basketball games to Freedom Hall — no, not the University of Louisville’s old arena, but a facility located in downtown Johnson City. The linked article also contains this passage:

But before basketball or football, ETSU has stated their new performing arts center comes first and the university does have its eyes on one piece of land in particular.

That doesn’t sound overly promising for the sports programs.

East Tennessee State was clearly invited back to the SoCon for the benefit of Chattanooga and Western Carolina (and perhaps Samford to a lesser extent). The addition of ETSU gives those schools a closer geographic match for the purposes of travel and/or rivalry.

There are other positives about ETSU. Just to name one of them, I wouldn’t be surprised if the decision by the league and the City of Asheville to extend their agreement for Asheville to host the conference’s basketball tournaments was partly influenced by the Buccaneers’ fan base. That contract will now run through 2017.

Let’s face it, though: when it comes to football, the school currently has no players, no coach, and no stadium. There seems to be no agreement on where a new stadium would be located or when work on its construction would begin.

East Tennessee State will also have to add up to three women’s sports for Title IX reasons (due to the resumption of football), or drop a similar number of men’s sports.

While VMI has been the most-critiqued new addition by the league, ETSU may actually be the biggest risk. I hope the school is ready to take this step.

I would prefer being sure about it.

Ah yes, VMI, a school with a football program one publication described thusly:

You could…say the VMI football program has an upside, in the sense that it really doesn’t have anywhere to go but up.

During the SoCon teleconference, Jeff Hartsell asked the question that had to be asked. What are VMI’s plans for improving football? Will it make an effort to improve football? John Iamarino’s response:

They’ve taken some internal steps, I think, with regard to how they fund the program, how they allocate resources. They are quite aware that football is very important at VMI and certainly to the Southern Conference. I’ve often said, and it’s true I believe, nobody joins a conference to be the doormat, and I know that’s the case with all of [the new members].

None of them are coming in wanting to be at the bottom of the league. Everybody is going to be competitive. We hope that being in the Southern Conference will aid recruiting efforts at VMI, and at Mercer, and at East Tennessee State. That’s what we’ve been told by their administrators and head coaches when we’ve visited those campuses, and we trust that will be the case.

When VMI left the SoCon and moved to the Big South, its recruiting suffered, which may have come as a surprise to certain officials in its administration. Obviously, VMI doesn’t recruit in the same way as some other schools. It has a more limited pool of candidates from which to draw. However, even within that group of potential recruits, the level of competition (to include conference affiliation) does matter.

Being in the SoCon will indeed help VMI. However, it will help all the schools in the league. VMI may get better recruiting classes, but its competition will be better too.

If VMI wants to truly be competitive on the gridiron, it has to be flexible. That doesn’t mean lowering standards. It means giving its coaches and students a fair chance to be successful on the field.

When it comes to football, a commitment has to be made by the folks running the show in Lexington. We will see if that happens.

VMI’s women’s sports were not discussed during the teleconference. I wish someone had asked about them, specifically whether or not VMI will be required to add another women’s sport sponsored by the SoCon.

The school’s varsity sports portfolio for women, while understandably limited (only 10% of Keydets are female), doesn’t quite match up with the league. VMI doesn’t have women’s teams in SoCon staples like basketball, softball, volleyball, cross country, tennis, or golf — but it does have water polo and swimming teams for women.

While it is fair to wonder if VMI can be competitive in football (and in its other varsity sports), it appears that the remaining league members were happy to welcome VMI back to the fold. One school that wasn’t too thrilled about VMI, however, was soon-to-depart Elon:

Sources have said Elon and [school president Leo] Lambert, specifically, have not supported East Tennessee State and VMI for potential Southern Conference inclusion.

That revelation raised some eyebrows, particularly in conjunction with John Iamarino’s rather curt (especially for him) statement on Elon’s move, in which he referred to “Elon’s negative view of the diversity” of the SoCon.

Did Elon’s leadership have a problem with public schools? What were Elon’s relations with the existing SoCon public schools? And which schools did Elon want to add to the league in the first place?

Lambert attempted some damage control, as described in a later article:

“It is absolutely the opposite of the truth [that Elon opposed VMI],” Lambert said. “The fact of the matter is we were active proponents of VMI. I love VMI.”

Lambert said the last vote Elon participated in regarding Southern Conference expansion was to authorize campus visits for East Tennessee State, Mercer and VMI.

“Elon voted for all of them. So that’s the record,” Lambert said. “It was unanimous across the conference. That’s the record.”

Asked about Elon’s collective comfort level with East Tennessee State, Mercer and VMI as prospective Southern Conference members, Lambert responded: “In the final analysis, we voted for all three. But as we were talking about all three, Elon was always really excited about VMI. I think the world of VMI. It’s an excellent school.”

I doubt many of the folks in Lexington really believe Lambert when he proclaims his “love” for VMI. To be honest, I don’t either. Elon’s president got backed into a corner just when he thought he was going to be in extended, full-on celebration mode. (The Burlington paper also ran a column stating in part that it was “reasonable to call Elon ungrateful and greedy.”)

Lambert is well aware that while VMI may not be so hot on the gridiron (to say the least), it has a few other things going for it. History, prestige, cachet. A lot of schools, especially those striving for upward mobility and status, would like to be associated with such an institution. Lambert and Elon apparently did not, which would probably puzzle some of his peers.

After all, a future U.S. president once portrayed a VMI baseball player in a popular movie. On the other hand, probably the most famous video associated with Elon baseball is one of its star athletes starting (and then running away from) a brawl.

Lambert didn’t bother to express any affection, real or imagined, for ETSU.

I don’t enjoy “piling on” Elon — after all, four other schools have left or are leaving the SoCon — but its decision to bolt is a curious one. It is making an arguably lateral move to a more expensive conference, one that has been even more unstable than its current league. I really would like to know what schools Elon would have preferred as new SoCon members. Duke, Vanderbilt, and Boston College weren’t really options.

I will say that the CAA has its fair share of public schools, too, either as football-only (like Maine and Stony Brook) or full members (such as Towson and UNC-Wilmington). Maybe the grassy fields on the campuses of those schools are greener than the lawns of the SoCon institutions.

Some other things from the concluded SoCon meetings worth mentioning:

– This flew under the radar, but the league decided that all eligible teams should compete in conference championship events, starting in 2014-15. What that means is that the baseball, women’s soccer, and volleyball tournaments will not be restricted to just the top eight teams. In baseball, for example, there will be nine schools competing in the SoCon in that season, and even the last-place team will play in the conference tournament.

– All the departing schools are eligible for league titles in 2013-14 with the exception of football for Appalachian State and Georgia Southern (because they will be over the FCS scholarship limit and ineligible for the playoffs as a result).

– A decision on whether or not to raise exit fees won’t be made until the three new members begin participating in league meetings.

– Chattanooga AD David Blackburn said that he expected the league to stay at ten schools:

I anticipate it will stay at 10 for a little while. I think we’re all comfortable staying at 10 and making sure that we develop some quality and further cohesiveness before we just go out and land grab.

Don’t close the door on future additions, though. Furman AD Gary Clark:

We’ve just talked about making sure we do what makes the most sense for the Southern Conference, and I think right now that’s making sure we do the best job of integrating the new members, but we’re always going to be keeping our eyes open and constantly planning and talking strategically.

Of course, when talking about additions you also have to consider potential subtractions. It is my opinion that of the “core group” of seven schools, the one most likely to move is Chattanooga — but not to the OVC, a scenario that has been occasionally mooted.

I could see UTC considering a move to FBS in a few years, though, and leaving for a league like the Sun Belt. It isn’t in position to do anything like that right now, but it is something to keep in mind.

As for future additions, I suspect the SoCon will not go back to the Big South for another school, and at this point I’m not sure any school in the Atlantic Sun is on the short list. That might change if certain schools decide to add scholarships for football.

The other league worth watching, of course, is the perpetually unsettled CAA. The key school right now in that league is James Madison, which appears ready to go the FBS route. JMU is a little picky, though; it’s hoping for a CUSA invite, and likely won’t join the MAC (or Sun Belt) until it has no other options.

That’s all for SoCon realignment news and analysis — for now. The wheel keeps on turning…

Conference realignment, SoCon style: history repeats itself

Everyone knows that the Southern Conference has been through a lot of membership changes over the years, with two splits of particular note leading to the formation of the SEC (in 1932) and ACC (1953). However, there have been other moves of consequence since then, and a few of those are instructive when looking at the current SoCon landscape.

This post is just an overview of some of those machinations. Not all of them, though. That would take up way too much bandwidth…

Tangent: linked above is a 1953 article on the newly formed ACC, which noted that Virginia and West Virginia were “running a neck and neck race” for the eighth spot in the league. UVA won that contest, much to the displeasure of certain WVU bloggers who had been confidently tweeting about WVU’s inevitable invite, despite the fact that Twitter had not yet been created and they had not yet been born.

When it comes to movement among SoCon schools over the last four decades, there have been two major themes:

– Davidson’s skittishness

– Longtime CAA commissioner Tom Yeager’s occasional, grandiose attempts to break up the SoCon

First up, the Wildcats.

The league lost four more members in the seventeen years after the ACC schools made their exit. Washington and Lee departed in 1958, Virginia Tech left in 1965, and West Virginia finally moved out of the conference in 1968.  George Washington dropped out in 1970.

Once the Colonials had left the league, that meant Davidson and VMI were the only two schools remaining in the SoCon that had ever won the conference’s men’s basketball tournament, then and now the nation’s oldest. Perhaps Davidson took this as a sign to start making moves of its own, or maybe those moves would have happened anyway.

At any rate, from that point forward Davidson has been the league’s femme fatale, always a doubt, sometimes leaving, sometimes staying, once actually gone, then suddenly back.

In 1969, Davidson’s football team, led by the estimable Homer Smith, went 7-4 and won the Southern Conference. The Wildcats played in the Tangerine Bowl.

By February 1970, Smith was gone, resigning after the school’s board of trustees decided to cut his budget by almost half. Then in 1973, Davidson decided to de-emphasize football by eliminating football scholarships.  In a move that reporter John Kilgo described as “bush league style”, the school administration notified the press before telling the AD, football coach, or the players. (Kilgo would later become the Wildcats’ radio play-by-play announcer for basketball.)

Davidson’s decision to get out of the scholarship football business didn’t go over very well with some of the other league members, but by then there were other issues too. The looming I-A/I-AA split was one of them. It was a key factor in East Carolina and Richmond leaving the SoCon, and Richmond’s departure also led to William & Mary and VMI leaving — but then the folks in Lexington changed their minds, and VMI stayed.

Both Richmond and ECU wanted to remain at the I-A level, as did William & Mary, and those schools were concerned that the SoCon’s recent or inevitable additions of Appalachian State, Western Carolina, UT-Chattanooga, and Marshall would result in the league becoming a I-AA conference. (Another school that had been interested in joining the league, James Madison, was not seriously considered.)

The departing schools tried to form a new “Big Conference“, which would have included Richmond, East Carolina, William & Mary, VMI, Southern Mississippi, and South Carolina. They were hoping to add two or more of Virginia Tech, West Virginia, and Florida State. It didn’t work out (FSU soon wound up in another new league, the Metro).

Of those schools that left the Southern Conference, only ECU would remain in the subdivision now called FBS.

Then Davidson decided to leave the SoCon, effective July 1, 1977. The school stated that it wanted “to associate with an athletic conference offering national-level competition in basketball.” Sound familiar?

However, the school changed its mind in February of 1977 and decided to stay.

By now the league had two “established” schools (The Citadel and Furman), one recent entrant (Appalachian State), three other new schools (WCU, UTC, and Marshall), and two other schools that had been in the league for a long time but had considered leaving (Davidson and VMI).

It didn’t take that long for Davidson to shake things up again in the SoCon. In 1985, the school decided to join the new Colonial League (later renamed the Patriot League) for football. The rest of the Southern Conference schools, however, turned down Davidson’s request to remain in the SoCon for its other sports. Davidson then left the league in 1988.

Tangent: in another article around that time, it was mentioned that the Southern Conference’s constitution “limits membership to 12 institutions”. I thought that was interesting.

By the following year, though, there were Davidson-back-to-the-SoCon rumblings. That was because Marshall was already making noises about leaving the league (though that didn’t happen until 1997). Among the schools reportedly in the mix at that time: Richmond, James Madison, and William & Mary (all as football-only members, a concept the conference ultimately rejected), Eastern Kentucky (which was still on the SoCon radar six years later), and Liberty.

Eventually, Davidson would be brought back into the league (sans football) in 1992.

Now in the space of two years, Davidson has turned down the CAA and is seriously considering the Atlantic 10. There is nothing new under the sun.

Tom Yeager’s first known attempt to punch a gaping hole in the SoCon came in 1996. At the time, the CAA did not sponsor football. Yeager was intent on changing that, and in a big way. The CAA apparently tried to entice The Citadel, Furman, VMI, and Davidson (yes, despite its football situation) to join a league that would have also included Richmond, William & Mary, and James Madison.

That didn’t happen. Neither did a potential 12-team SoCon football league.

Not on the CAA wish list in 1996: Georgia Southern, which had joined the Southern Conference in 1992. Five years earlier, a SoCon spokesman had suggested that GSU was “a little bit beyond the fringe geographically” to become a league member. However, a little-known shift in a continental tectonic plate moved Statesboro significantly closer to conference headquarters, and Georgia Southern was eventually invited.

Yeager came back with a vengeance in 2000, and this time he had an even bigger idea. The CAA went after no fewer than seven Southern Conference schools: VMI, Furman, The Citadel, Davidson, Wofford (which had joined the SoCon in 1997), UNC-Greensboro (which had also joined the conference in 1997), and the College of Charleston (a SoCon member since 1998). The CAA would have been a fourteen-member league, with eight of those schools playing football.

The gambit failed when Richmond stunned the CAA in May by moving to the Atlantic 10. In the wake of UR’s departure, the SoCon invited JMU and William & Mary to join. However, those schools elected to stay in the Atlantic 10 for football. Eventually, the Atlantic 10 football schools would all fall under the CAA umbrella (though that didn’t officially happen until 2007).

At the same time the SoCon was extending invites to JMU and William & Mary, the CAA offered VMI a spot in its league. VMI (second only to Davidson in its league identity issues) decided to stay, but was out of the SoCon three years later. Now, of course, it is a leading candidate to return to the league.

Last year, Yeager and the CAA attempted to grab three SoCon members: Appalachian State (which obviously had FBS aspirations instead), the College of Charleston (which jumped) and Davidson (which said thanks but no thanks). In 2013, internet rumors continue to swirl about various SoCon-to-CAA transfers, from the prosaic (Elon and only Elon) to the fanciful (the fabled “expanded CAA southern division”).

We’ll see what happens — or doesn’t happen. With the SoCon, something usually happens.