College Football Week 1, 2021 — Monday notes and observations

In years past, I would always produce a weekly post about the upcoming football game for The Citadel. I did that for about a decade. As I wrote earlier in the summer, though, I’m changing things up this season.

Time constraints are part of the reason for that, but to be honest I also got tired of the routine involved in preparing the posts — and after a while it felt a bit like diminishing returns for me as a writer and perhaps for anyone who actually read them.

This has led to what will be something of an experiment. I’m going to just make quick posts when I can. Some of the discussion will be similar to what I did before, but there will be differences as well. Much of what I write will still be focused on the Bulldogs and its opponent for a given Saturday (or Thursday, as is the case for the Coastal Carolina game this week), but I’ll also delve into other college football-related stuff on occasion.

That is my intent, anyway. I happen to really enjoy college football, flawed and ridiculous as it is.

First, here are links to my posts from this summer. Most of them, of course, are statistical summations and analyses of The Citadel’s spring football season, so they are (hopefully) a good primer for anyone ready to get deep into prep work for the Bulldogs’ 2021 fall campaign:

Here are a few recent links of interest:

Season preview for The Citadel from The Charlotte Observer

The Citadel’s football practices have been top secret (not even Val Kilmer can watch them)

Phil Kornblut of SportsTalk (SC) interviews Brent Thompson, Jaylan Adams, and Willie Eubanks III

Game notes from The Citadel for its game against Coastal Carolina

Coastal Carolina’s game notes are also available

Brent Thompson’s Monday afternoon (8/30) press conference

Associate AD Kevin Olivett discusses The Citadel’s plans for the home football schedule on The Mauro Midday Show

The weather forecast for Thursday night in Conway, per the National Weather Service: mostly clear, with a low of 66°.

This will be only the second game between the two programs contested at Brooks Stadium. The first, of course, was the 2015 playoff game, which was played in the afternoon in November, with a gametime temperature of 71° (and almost no wind). Attendance that day: 6,751.

A few sportsbooks set lines late last week for The Citadel-Coastal Carolina. When the lines were initially released on Friday, Coastal Carolina was favored by 31½, but by Saturday evening the spread had already moved to 35½ . As of Monday night, it is 34½, with an over/under of 54½. The moneyline for The Citadel is currently +4750.

Incidentally, here are the point spreads for The Citadel’s last 15 games against FBS competition:

  • 2009, North Carolina: 32
  • 2010, Arizona: 40
  • 2011, South Carolina: 39
  • 2012, North Carolina State: 14
  • 2013: Clemson: 40
  • 2014, Florida State: 58
  • 2015, Georgia Southern: 25½
  • 2015, South Carolina: 20
  • 2016, North Carolina: 21½
  • 2017, Clemson: 47
  • 2018, Alabama: 51
  • 2019, Georgia Tech: 26
  • 2020, South Florida: 18
  • 2020, Clemson: 48
  • 2020, Army: 30

The Citadel is 6-9 ATS during that stretch, with (obviously) two outright victories.

Last year, Coastal Carolina was 9-2-1 against the spread, while the Bulldogs (F20/S21) were 5-7.

In Week 0, there was only one FCS vs. FBS matchup. San Jose State beat Southern Utah 45-14 (the line closed at 28 in most places, so the Spartans wound up covering).

Some other lines of note for this week around the country (and the SoCon), as of Monday evening; this is just a selection, and not the entirety of the slate by any means:

Wednesday night game

  • UAB is a 14½-point favorite over Jacksonville State (in Montgomery)

Thursday night games 

  • Chattanooga is a 2½-point favorite over Austin Peay 
  • Samford is a 14½-point favorite over Tennessee Tech 
  • UNLV is a 10½-point favorite over Eastern Washington (hmm…)
  • Appalachian State is a 10½-point favorite over East Carolina (in Charlotte)
  • Ohio State is a 14-point favorite at Minnesota
  • North Carolina State is an 18-point favorite over South Florida 
  • UCF is a 4½-point favorite over Boise State 

Friday night games 

  • North Carolina is a 5½-point favorite over Virginia Tech 
  • Wake Forest is a 31-point favorite over Old Dominion
  • South Dakota State is a 3½-point favorite at Colorado State (yes, the FCS team is favored)

Saturday games

  • Georgia State is a 2-point favorite over Army
  • Connecticut is a 2½-point favorite over Holy Cross (only 2½?!)
  • Boston College is a 50½-point favorite over Colgate
  • Nebraska is a 42½-point favorite over Fordham
  • Air Force is a 42½-point favorite over Lafayette
  • Wisconsin is a 4½-point favorite over Penn State (up to 5½ in some places)
  • VMI is a 19½-point favorite over Davidson
  • Furman is a 1½-point favorite over North Carolina A&T
  • Eastern Kentucky is a 10½-point favorite at Western Carolina
  • Wofford is a 6½-point favorite at Elon
  • Vanderbilt is a 21½-point favorite over East Tennessee State
  • Alabama A&M is a 5½-point favorite over South Carolina State
  • West Virginia is a 2½-point favorite at Maryland
  • Iowa is a 3½-point favorite over Indiana
  • Marshall is a 2½-point favorite at Navy
  • Alabama is an 18½-point favorite over Miami [FL] (in Atlanta)
  • Texas is an 8-point favorite over Louisiana
  • South Carolina is a 43½-point favorite over Eastern Illinois
  • Southern California is a 14-point favorite over San Jose State
  • LSU is a 3-point favorite at UCLA
  • Oregon is a 20½-point favorite over Fresno State
  • Clemson is a 3-point favorite over Georgia (in Charlotte)

Sunday night game

  • Notre Dame is a 7½-point favorite at Florida State

Monday night game

  • Mississippi is a 10-point favorite over Louisville

More to come in the next day or two…

2021 Spring Football, Game 4: The Citadel vs. East Tennessee State

The Citadel vs. East Tennessee State, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 1:00 pm ET on March 20, 2021.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Dave Weinstein will handle play-by-play, while Jason Kempf supplies the analysis.

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

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

Links of interest:

– Bulldogs looking for good news

– Game notes from The Citadel and East Tennessee State

SoCon weekly release

Preview on The Citadel’s website

Preview on ETSU’s website

The Citadel’s home attendance policies for spring football

– The Citadel releases its fall 2021 schedule

ETSU head coach Randy Sanders’ 3/15 press conference

Stump Mitchell: From too small to play college football to NFL assistant

ETSU’s Holmes not taking The Citadel lightly

– Fast start is key for the Buccaneers

Saturday’s game gives ETSU “exciting chance to snap [its] road skid”

– “Live Stats” online platform

I posted links to game notes for The Citadel and East Tennessee State above, along with the SoCon’s weekly release. For anyone interested, here are links to this week’s game notes for the other league schools playing (Wofford is off this week):

The Citadel’s volleyball team beat ETSU for the first time ever!

Could this be foreshadowing for the football game on Saturday? We can only hope.

In other non-gridiron news, Hayden Brown is returning to the hardwood for the Bulldogs.

Participation report:

The Citadel had 35 players see action in the game versus Western Carolina. The Catamounts had 56 participants.

Breaking down the Bulldogs’ numbers a little further: just five players had rushes/receptions, while only 12 players recorded tackles.

ETSU used 47 players last week against Furman.

Updated career points scored by Bulldogs on the active spring roster:

The Citadel’s listed depth chart for its matchup with ETSU, by class.

  • Freshmen: 10
  • Redshirt freshmen: 9
  • Sophomores: 3
  • Redshirt sophomores: 12
  • Juniors: 10
  • Redshirt juniors: 5
  • Seniors: 1
  • Redshirt seniors: 0
  • Graduate students: 2

There were several changes to the two-deep from last week. This week’s depth chart accounts for a couple of absences that were previously known. I was glad to see a two-deep that appears to be more accurate.

Here is a breakdown of East Tennessee State’s projected depth chart for the game versus The Citadel, by class:

  • Freshmen: 8
  • Redshirt Freshmen: 14
  • Sophomores: 6
  • Redshirt sophomores: 12
  • Juniors: 7
  • Redshirt juniors: 3
  • Seniors: 3
  • Redshirt seniors: 2
  • Graduate students: 1

East Tennessee State is 1-1 in the spring after not playing in the fall. The Bucs defeated Samford, 24-17, in their opener. Last week, they lost 17-13 to Furman. Both games were played in Johnson City, but they weren’t back-to-back affairs. The game versus Samford was followed by two open weeks, with one of those a scheduled bye and the other resulting from the Bucs’ contest against Wofford being canceled.

(All statistics below are sack-adjusted.)

ETSU has passed (or attempted to pass) on 56.3% of its offensive plays. The Bucs are averaging 4.5 yards per rush and 5.3 yards per pass attempt (1 pass TD, 1 interception).

The Bucs have an offensive third down conversion rate of 37.9%. East Tennessee State is 0-2 on 4th down attempts, with one of those tries in a desperation situation against Furman, and the other just outside the red zone against Samford (on a 4th-and-5). Another would-be fourth down attempt was converted via penalty (in a situation where the Bucs eschewed a long field goal attempt).

ETSU has nine offensive plays of 20+ yards from scrimmage in its first two games, three runs and six passes. Its longest rush has been 22 yards, while the longest pass play was 59 yards.

Defensively, East Tennessee State is allowing 5.0 yards per rush and 3.6 yards per pass attempt (with 8 sacks and 3 interceptions on 86 opponent passing plays, giving up just one passing touchdown).

ETSU has a defensive third down conversion rate of 35.5%. Opponents are 2-3 on 4th down tries, with Samford converting two 4th-and-1 plays (both via rush), while Furman failed to score on a 4th-and-goal from the Bucs’ 1-yard line (also a running play).

Through two games, the Buccaneers have allowed opponents to convert just 2 of 15 third down attempts in the second half. Samford only scored 3 second-half points versus ETSU.

However, Furman put all 17 points of its points on the board in the third quarter, scoring TDs in its first two possessions in that quarter. On those two drives, the Paladins only faced one third down.

ETSU has allowed six plays of 20+ yards, two runs (long of 35 yards) and four passes (with a long of 27 yards).

East Tennessee State’s net punting average is an excellent 42.6 yards. ETSU has made all five of its PATs and all three of its field goal attempts (with a long of 38 yards).

ETSU head coach Randy Sanders on the Buccaneers playing their first road game of the spring:

It’s our first road game so this is a new experience for the 40-45 guys that are on the buses headed to Charleston. This will be a different experience as well. The one thing right now with COVID is that you don’t have to deal with quite as much of the noise or hostility like you would in a normal season.

Another takeaway from Sanders’ press conference: he was not particularly pleased with the officiating in last week’s game versus Furman. This was in part detailed in an article written prior to his Monday presser:

One penalty in particular seemed to draw Sanders’ ire. ETSU quarterback Tyler Riddell threw a pass away to avoid the rush and was called for intentional grounding. The ball flew high over the head of his “intended” receiver and out of bounds.

“I’ve never seen an intentional grounding penalty go right over the top of two receivers,” Sanders said. “But I’ve learned something. I’d never won a game in February and I’ve done that. Now I’ve seen an intentional grounding penalty go right over the top of two receivers. The official said they had no chance to catch it and I’m like ‘Well, no kidding. There’s a reason he’s throwing it away.'”

Sanders stated that the league office had yet to respond to some questions he had about a few of those calls by the men in stripes.

Ah, SoCon officiating. Some things, unfortunately, never change.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service: a 30% chance of showers, and a high of 54°. It could be a bit windy on the peninsula as well.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, East Tennessee State (as of March 16) in an 8½-point favorite over The Citadel. The over/under is 39½.

Other SoCon lines this week (as of March 16): Furman is a 5½-point favorite over Chattanooga (over/under of 36½); Samford is a 5½-point favorite over VMI (over/under of 63½); and Mercer is an 8-point favorite over Western Carolina (over/under of 51).

A few more games of note in FCS: Davidson is a 5-point favorite over Presbyterian; Kennesaw State is a 19-point favorite over Dixie State; North Dakota State is a 3½-point favorite over North Dakota; Lafayette is an 8-point favorite at Bucknell; William and Mary is a 1½-point favorite over Elon; Sam Houston State is a 28½-point favorite at Lamar; and Jacksonville State is an 8½-point favorite over Southeast Missouri State (one of seven FCS contests being played on Sunday).

– East Tennessee State’s notable alumni include singer/bandwagon fan Kenny Chesney, actor/director Timothy Busfield, and Union Station bass player Barry Bales.

As I have written several times before, Bales has had one of the world’s best jobs over the years, as he has enjoyed the privilege of listening to Alison Krauss sing on a regular basis.

– The Citadel is 12-16 in the all-time series against ETSU. The Bulldogs have won three of the last four gridiron meetings between the two schools.

– East Tennessee State’s roster includes 40 players from Tennessee. Other states represented: Georgia (25 players), Florida (8), North Carolina (6), Ohio (5), South Carolina (3), Virginia (3), Alabama (2), and one each from California, Kentucky, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

– The three Palmetto State products on ETSU’s squad are freshman defensive back Tylik Edwards (Rock Hill High School); redshirt sophomore running back D.J. Twitty (Chapman High School); and freshman linebacker Colby Smith (who started his college career at Erskine and is listed on the Bucs’ roster as being from Rock Hill, but who played high school football in Charlotte).

Alas, no Buccaneer can claim to be an alumnus of South Carolina’s supreme expression of pigskin greatness, Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. East Tennessee State’s abysmal failure to recruit any players who have worn the famed orange and white will forever limit the program’s ability to compete for national titles. Donnie Abraham has thrown up his hands in frustration.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s game notes) is as follows: South Carolina (48 players), Georgia (15), Florida (9), North Carolina (7), Texas (3), Pennsylvania (2), Virginia (2), and one each from Alabama, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

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

– The Citadel’s football team has an all-time record of 0-0 for games played on March 20. That is tied for the fewest wins, and fewest losses, for any date in program history.

– This week during the 1990 baseball season at The Citadel:

The Bulldogs entered the week 16-1 (3-0 in the SoCon). On March 14, the Bulldogs outlasted Mt. Olive 9-7. The Citadel scored six runs in the second inning, thanks in large part to three errors by the Trojans’ catcher. Base hits by Dan McDonnell and Phillip Tobin keyed the rally. The winner pitcher was Steve Basch, with Hank Kraft picking up a save by inducing a double play in the ninth to end the game.

The next day, the Bulldogs beat Belmont Abbey 7-3. Tony Skole had two hits and an RBI, while Anthony Jenkins added a double and two runs driven in. Gettys Glaze had three hits (including two doubles) in the contest. Bart Mays was the winner in relief, after Robbie Kirven had started the game for The Citadel.

In an article in The News and Courier that accompanied the box score, head coach Chal Port stated that he wasn’t worried about his players feeling burdened by the long winning streak. “This team is just playing for the fun of it. They’re not playing for streaks or rankings. We’re just swinging hard in case we hit it.”

Port also told the writer, a relative newcomer to the Bulldogs beat named Jeff Hartsell, that “our hat size is still the same.”

The Citadel next played a SoCon series against Appalachian State that was shortened to two games after a rainout. The Bulldogs swept a doubleheader from the Mountaineers.

In the first game, a six-run eighth inning (which was actually an extra inning, as the two games were scheduled for seven innings) paved the way for a 10-5 victory. Kraft picked up the win with 2 1/3 innings of relief work. Jenkins had three hits, including a double and a homer, and drove in three runs. Chris Coker, Mike Branham, and Mike Black each had two RBI.

The Bulldogs scored five runs in the second inning of the second game, and held on for a 5-2 win. Richard Shirer garnered the victory, with Glaze recording the save. The Citadel’s run-scorers were McDonnell, Coker, Tobin, Jason Rychlick, and Larry Hutto.

The following day, The Citadel defeated Howard 14-4. Basch got the win, with Hal Hayden and Kevin McGarvey also seeing action on the hill. The Bulldogs had four doubles (Skole, Jenkins, Branham, McDonnell) and five stolen bases (Skole, Jenkins, Branham, Coker, Hutto). Eight different Cadets crossed the plate safely at least once.

There were more fireworks against LeMoyne the next afternoon, and The Citadel needed all the runs it could muster to prevail, 16-11. Billy Baker managed to get through 7 difficult innings on the mound for the win; he also homered and doubled.

Eight different Bulldogs had multi-hit games; Jenkins joined Baker in the home run/double combo department, while Coker had a double, a triple, and a stolen base. Branham and Black also doubled for The Citadel, with Glaze adding a triple to the box score. McDonnell stole three bases and joined Coker in the three-runs-scored club.

The Citadel was 6-0 during the week ending March 20, with a winning streak of 21 games. The overall record stood at 22-1 (5-0 SoCon).

I decided to wait until the end of this post to write about last week’s game. It was a very disappointing performance, one of the worst losses in league play the Bulldogs have had in some time (regardless of time of year).

The defense held Western Carolina out of the end zone in the second half, but the damage had already been done. First, The Citadel allowed yet another quick score by an opponent (this one took three plays instead of one, but that didn’t make anybody feel better).

Then there was the long TD run the Bulldogs gave up at the end of the half. That was both deflating and (as it turned out) decisive.

The Catamounts had averaged only 3.83 yards per rush in their previous three games. Against The Citadel, however, WCU rushed for 7.45 yards per carry.

Offensively, the Bulldogs managed to move the ball without scoring. The mishaps included a red zone failure inside the 10, a missed field goal, and a lost fumble after a 52-yard drive.

The Citadel had nine full possessions during the game. Four of those drives totaled 50 plays — but resulted in zero points. That is not going to get it done.

Part of the problem was the absence of big plays on offense, a recurring issue. The Bulldogs only had two plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more, both rushes by Jaylan Adams — one for 21 yards, and the other his 20-yard TD in the third quarter.

Brent Thompson:

We brought a lot of this on ourselves. We’ve got nobody to blame but ourselves. Things happen for a reason, and we’ll keep pressing through this.

One of the obvious problems can be seen in the participation chart. I think it is fair to say that a Division I football team should really be fielding more than 35 players in a competitive game. That is where The Citadel is right now, though, and the squad just has to persevere.

At least there isn’t any whining about it. That would be even more unacceptable than losing.

The Bulldogs will continue to show up (COVID-19 notwithstanding). They will learn from adversity, and they will get even tougher, and they will improve.

Ultimately, though, they’re playing to win, which is what makes all the effort worthwhile. Let’s hope things begin to move in a more worthwhile direction on Saturday.

2021 Spring Football, Game 3: The Citadel vs. Western Carolina

The Citadel at Western Carolina, to be played in Cullowhee, North Carolina, on the grounds of Bob Waters Field at E.J. Whitmire Stadium, with kickoff at 1:00 pm ET on March 13, 2021. 

The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Daniel Hooker will handle play-by-play, while Dan Gibson supplies the analysis.

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

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

Links of interest:

– Jaylan Adams shows his potential

Spring football is different

– Game notes from The Citadel and Western Carolina

SoCon weekly release

Preview on The Citadel’s website

– Preview on Western Carolina’s website (when available)

– The Citadel releases its fall 2021 schedule

– “Live Stats” online platform

I posted links to game notes for The Citadel and Western Carolina above, along with the SoCon’s weekly release. For anyone interested, here are links to this week’s game notes for the other league schools (except for Chattanooga’s, as the Mocs are off this Saturday):

The Citadel’s listed depth chart for the game against Western Carolina, by class:

  • Freshmen: 10
  • Redshirt freshmen: 8
  • Sophomores: 2
  • Redshirt sophomores: 12
  • Juniors: 11
  • Redshirt juniors: 5
  • Seniors: 2
  • Redshirt seniors: 0
  • Graduate students: 2

There was actually a change from the two-deep for the Chattanooga game, as someone apparently decided that not including Nathan Storch on the depth chart this week would have been a bit too obvious.

Look, I appreciate receiving information about the program as much as anyone, but it would be better if that information was at least reasonably accurate. Releasing depth charts that bear little relation to the actual on-field activity is not particularly helpful.

I don’t think anyone is giving away state secrets by listing these players, either. Any opponent is unlikely to gather sensitive information via the school’s game notes. Besides, if anyone wants to know the status of, for example, the Bulldogs’ middle linebacker, all that person had to do this week was read the newspaper article that directly quoted Brent Thompson.

Also, I don’t think anyone is fooled by the mysterious “Desitin Mack” who has appeared on the two-deep at punt returner in every edition of The Citadel’s game notes this spring season. He looks a lot like Bulldogs starting cornerback Destin Mack. In fact, they wear the same uniform number.

Then there is the participation list, which for the Chattanooga game included at least one player who did not appear in the contest (and going by Brent Thompson’s comments, there were several others listed who were not participants).

That is a bigger problem than two-deep inaccuracies, as participation lists are supposed to be official records. Those fans of The Citadel with long memories will remember a time many years ago when a question of participation became a subject of controversy.

Bulldogs beat writer Jeff Hartsell noted that he had “never heard of” Nathan Storch prior to last Saturday’s game. After intensive research, however, it has been determined that by virtue of his 19-carry performance against UTC, the freshman from Dorman High School in Spartanburg is already the third most famous Storch in recorded history. His fame only lags behind music producer Scott Storch and legendary comedian/actor Larry Storch (a/k/a Corporal Agarn and Cool Cat).

Given his promising debut, I like Nathan Storch’s chances of eventually moving into second place in this category. He admittedly has a lot of ground to cover in order to pass Larry Storch (who incidentally is still alive as of this writing, at age 98).

Updated career points scored by Bulldogs on the active spring roster:

Here are a few Raleigh Webb career statistics to consider:

– Webb has now played in 40 games for The Citadel. He has 20 TDs from the WR position (18 receiving, 2 rushing), so he averages a TD every other game as a receiver in an option offense.

– He has 70 career receptions, which means he has scored a touchdown every 3.9 receptions. He has averaged 21.3 yards per reception.

– Webb also has one kickoff return TD, and one 2-point conversion.

Only Andre Roberts has scored more points from the wide receiver position as a Bulldog.

Western Carolina’s listed depth chart for the game versus The Citadel, by class:

  • Freshmen: 12
  • Redshirt Freshmen: 4
  • Sophomores: 7
  • Redshirt sophomores: 9
  • Juniors: 6
  • Redshirt juniors: 6
  • Seniors: 3
  • Redshirt seniors: 3
  • Graduate students: 1

The graduate student is starting quarterback Ryan Glover (who did his undergraduate work at Penn).

Western Carolina has struggled in its three spring games, losing 35-7 at Furman, 55-27 at Samford, and 30-7 last week against VMI (the Catamounts’ first home game of the 2021 campaign).

WCU ranks last in league play in both rush defense and pass defense, but just next-to-last in pass defense efficiency. As you might expect, The Citadel is last in that stat after its defense allowed 75-yard TD tosses to open each of its two SoCon contests.

Of course, rush/pass defense are both volume categories; it is more pertinent to note that the Catamounts are allowing 5.51 yards per rush (sack-adjusted). While it is one thing to allow 5 yards per carry to Furman, with the Paladins being essentially a run-first outfit, it is quite another to allow 7 yards per rush attempt to pass-happy Samford — and the Birmingham Bulldogs had six rushing TDs as well.

Offensively, Western Carolina is averaging 3.83 yards per rush and 5.89 yards per pass attempt (again, all stats are sack-adjusted). The Catamounts have two TD passes and have thrown three interceptions.

WCU ranks last in the league in both offensive (21.6%) and defensive (50.0%) third down conversion rate, and also trails the pack in time of possession (24:03). Western Carolina has committed more penalties per game than any team in the league except for (naturally) The Citadel.

On the bright side, the Catamounts have yet to lose a fumble and are break-even in turnover margin, as the defense has intercepted three passes in the three conference games.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Cullowhee, per the National Weather Service: a 20% chance of rain, with a high of 68°.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel (as of March 11) is a 14-point favorite at Western Carolina. The over/under is 50½.

– Other SoCon lines this week (as of March 11): Wofford is a 1-point favorite at Samford (over/under of 55); VMI is a 6½-point favorite over Mercer (over/under of 57); and Furman is a 10½-point favorite at East Tennessee State (over/under of 47).

A few more games of note in FCS: South Carolina State is a 10½-point favorite over Delaware State; Presbyterian is a 6½-point favorite over Morehead State; Holy Cross is a 7½-point favorite at Lehigh; Delaware is a 7½-point favorite over Stony Brook; Villanova is a 14½-point favorite over Rhode Island; Davidson is a 9½-point favorite at Stetson; Kennesaw State is a 16-point favorite over Charleston Southern; Northern Iowa is a 4-point favorite at Southern Illinois; Colgate is a 5½-point favorite at Lafayette; Eastern Washington is a 17-point favorite at Idaho State; and North Dakota State is a 12½-point favorite over Illinois State.

– Western Carolina’s notable alumni include triple option advocate Paul Johnson, comedian Rich Hall, and college basketball pioneer Ronnie Carr.

– The Citadel is 26-17-1 against Western Carolina in the all-time series.

– Western Carolina’s 97-man spring roster includes 49 players from North Carolina. Other states represented: South Carolina (19), Georgia (17), Alabama (4), Tennessee (2), Virginia (2), and one each from Florida, Maryland, New York, and Pennsylvania.

– Among conference schools, I believe Western Carolina is tied with VMI for having the fewest Florida natives on its roster (one).

– The following South Carolina high schools have graduates on WCU’s squad: Byrnes (3 players), Blythewood (3), Lakewood, Ridge View, Greer, Irmo, Hartsville, T.L. Hanna, Northwestern, Branchville, Wilson, Indian Land, Clover, Gilbert, and White Knoll.

– While there are plenty of Palmetto State products on WCU’s squad, none can claim to be an alumnus of the internationally renowned pigskin factory that is Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. Western Carolina will never reach the heights of 1983 again if it does not correct this shocking oversight. Ronnie Carr is simply appalled, as well he should be.

The incredible individuals who wear the famed maroon and orange are simply must-gets for any college football recruiting operation.

– WCU has four players who transferred in from four-year schools; those schools are Penn, Boston College, South Carolina State, and Western Kentucky. There are also six junior college transfers on the roster.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s game notes) is as follows: South Carolina (48 players), Georgia (15), Florida (9), North Carolina (7), Texas (3), Pennsylvania (2), Virginia (2), and one each from Alabama, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

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

– The Citadel’s football team has an all-time record of 0-0 for games played on March 13. That is tied for the fewest wins, and fewest losses, for any date in program history.

– This week during the 1990 baseball season at The Citadel:

The Bulldogs entered the week 10-1. On March 7, The Citadel won at Coastal Carolina, 7-3. Billy Baker pitched six innings and got the win; he also went 3 for 5 at the plate, with two doubles. Anthony Jenkins’ two-run double capped a four-run rally in the eighth inning.

The following day, the Bulldogs whipped Liberty 10-3. Chris Coker drove in five runs, while the red-hot Jenkins homered again.

That set up a big 3-game series to open SoCon play against Western Carolina. The Citadel swept the Catamounts, winning the three games by scores of 6-3, 7-3, and 10-3 (which made five straight games in which the Bulldogs’ opponents scored exactly three runs).

In a doubleheader sweep to open the series, Ken Britt and Richard Shirer both picked up wins, each striking out five batters. In the first game, Hank Kraft earned the save, his third of the season. Jenkins and Gettys Glaze had two-hit games in both contests.

The third game featured a 4-RBI afternoon from Tony Skole, including a two-run triple in the first inning. Baker (the winning pitcher), Jenkins, Phil Tobin, and Dan McDonnell also drove in runs for the Bulldogs.

On March 13, The Citadel rallied from an 8-4 deficit to beat George Mason, 9-8. The game was shortened to eight innings due to darkness (College Park still did not have lights at this time because of Hurricane Hugo). The Bulldogs only had three hits — all singles — but walked nine times, and took full advantage of five errors by the Patriots. Glaze got the win in relief.

The Citadel was 6-0 during the week ending March 13, with a winning streak of fifteen games. The overall record stood at 16-1 (3-0 SoCon).

This was not a long preview, partly because I didn’t have a lot of time to write it, and also because there really isn’t a whole lot to say.

The Citadel needs to win on Saturday. It would be a major disappointment to everyone who supports the military college if Western Carolina managed to break its eight-game losing streak.

The Citadel should be able to run the football on offense, and the defense should be able to consistently get stops. That is about the size of it.

I’m ready to watch the Bulldogs win on Saturday. Very ready.

2021 Spring Football, Game 2: The Citadel vs. Chattanooga

The Citadel vs. Chattanooga, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 1:00 pm ET on March 6, 2021.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Dave Weinstein will handle play-by-play, while Jason Kempf supplies the analysis.

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

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

Links of interest:

Cooper Wallace is fast

Ken Feaster, trailblazer

– Game notes from The Citadel and Chattanooga

SoCon weekly release

Preview on The Citadel’s website

Preview on Chattanooga’s website

The Citadel’s home attendance policies for spring football

– The Citadel releases its fall 2021 schedule

Chattanooga head coach Rusty Wright’s 3/2 press conference

Takeaways from Chattanooga’s victory over the Terriers

Mocs didn’t have to test depth to handle Wofford

Wofford-Chattanooga video highlights

– Chattanooga’s offensive line has experience

– “Live Stats” online platform

I posted links to game notes for The Citadel and Chattanooga above, along with the SoCon’s weekly release. For anyone interested, here are links to this week’s game notes for the other league schools playing:

“Is [the real Bulldogs team] the one that surrendered 28 unanswered points to Mercer in the first half? Or the one that twice stormed back to within one possession in the second half?”

Brent Thompson:

I think it’s the second-half team. I told the guys at the end of the game that what they showed inside of them was what I was most concerned about. You can fix mistakes, but you can’t always build heart and determination into a football team, and we showed some heart in the second half.

The Bulldogs did show some moxie in the second half, and that was good to see. Not every team that fell behind in a game last Saturday showed quite as much determination.

The Citadel is not about moral victories, however (particularly in league play). While the second half gave fans some hope for the rest of the spring season, the first-half performance was not acceptable.

Mercer scored touchdowns on three of its five first-half possessions, averaging 9.7 yards per play on offense. Meanwhile, on six first-half drives the Bulldogs’ offense averaged 2.2 yards per play and gave up a defensive touchdown on a bad pitch.

The second half was definitely a lot better, and something The Citadel can use as a building block. Not counting the end-of-game possession, Mercer’s offense had five drives and went three-and-out on four of them. (The next-to-last drive, a seven-play TD march, was a disappointing outlier.)

The Bulldogs were much better offensively in the second half, which featured several big plays, something that has occasionally been missing from The Citadel’s offensive attack in the last couple of seasons. The Bulldogs had five plays from scrimmage of 20+ yards in the second half, highlighted by Cooper Wallace’s 73-yard TD run. However, the offense also turned the ball over twice in the fourth quarter.

It is hard to win any game — much less one in which you trail 28-0 at halftime — when you lose the turnover battle 3-0.

Those big plays, however, hold promise for the future. They arguably demonstrate what Jaylan Adams can bring to the table as the Bulldogs’ quarterback.

The Citadel is obviously going to have to work on pitch plays, and there are other issues that need to be fixed, but the potential is there for the Bulldogs to have a high-octane offense. It just has to avoid self-destructing.

Defensively, my main takeaway was that The Citadel needs to do a better job of tackling. The second half was an improvement in that respect. Pass coverage is something that will require some fine-tuning as well.

Participation report:

The Citadel had 40 players participate in last Saturday’s contest; Mercer had 48. Six of the Bulldogs who played are “true” freshmen.

Chattanooga had 44 players see action in its game versus Wofford. The Terriers fielded 55 players (which is more than I would have expected, given some of Wofford’s roster issues).

Updated career points scored by Bulldogs on the active spring roster:

The Citadel’s listed depth chart for its matchup with Chattanooga, by class. (There was no change in the two-deep from the Mercer game.)

  • Freshmen: 9
  • Redshirt freshmen: 8
  • Sophomores: 2
  • Redshirt sophomores: 12
  • Juniors: 11
  • Redshirt juniors: 5
  • Seniors: 2
  • Redshirt seniors: 0
  • Graduate students: 2

I saw this note while perusing The Citadel’s online game preview:

The Bulldogs scored 28 points in the second half against Mercer. It was the most points in a second half since putting up 35 points in the second half against Samford in 2018.

Ah, Samford 2018. Now that was a game…

Traditional paragraph devoted to nomenclature for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga:

On first reference, it is acceptable to refer to us as the “University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.” After that, we prefer to be called “Chattanooga” or
“UTC.” Our nickname is “Mocs”.

That blurb is from Chattanooga’s game notes. It works for me (notice that the school nickname is definitely not “Moccasins”).

Here is a breakdown of Chattanooga’s listed depth chart for the game versus The Citadel, by class. UTC is an “old” team, relatively speaking.

Chattanooga, probably because of the number of transfers on its roster, does not list its players in the same way as The Citadel (or Mercer, for that matter). I’ve gone through the two-deep to determine class standing, but it is not necessarily an exact comparison.

  • Freshmen: 7
  • Redshirt Freshmen: 4
  • Sophomores: 2
  • Redshirt sophomores: 7
  • Juniors: 4
  • Redshirt juniors: 8
  • Seniors: 2
  • Redshirt seniors: 10
  • Graduate students (5th year): 1
  • Graduate students (6th year): 2

Clearly, it is safe to assume that some of the redshirt seniors have already graduated, but I listed three players separately as graduate students. One is a grad transfer in his first year in the program (and fifth since entering college), long snapper Bryce Coulson. Another is a grad transfer in his first year in the program — but his sixth since entering college — LB/DE Montez Wilson.

Then there is starting left tackle Harrison Moon, who spent three seasons at Mississippi State (one year as a redshirt) before transferring to Chattanooga in 2018. Moon received a medical redshirt for the 2019 season, and thus is also a sixth-year player.

If you count spring 2021 separately from fall 2020, Wilson and Moon are actually participating in their seventh seasons of college football. Both entered college in 2015.

Chattanooga’s roster includes 27 players who transferred into the program from four-year colleges; 23 of them are currently eligible to compete for the Mocs. There are also three junior college products.

Those transfers from four-year schools began their college careers at the following institutions: Appalachian State, Arkansas State, Austin Peay, Bethel, Cincinnati (two players), Eastern Illinois, Lafayette, Jacksonville State, Louisville (two players), Minot State, Mississippi State, Middle Tennessee State, Northern Illinois, Old Dominion, Purdue, Rhode Island, South Carolina (two players), Tennessee Tech (two players), ULM, Western Kentucky (three players), and Western Michigan.

Transfers have been important for UTC in sustaining its program (and that has been true for a long time, not just during Rusty Wright’s brief tenure as head coach). Fifteen of the four-year school transfers are on the Mocs’ two-deep, as are two of the three JuCos. Eleven of those seventeen players are starters.

It occurs to me that someone reading this might get the wrong idea about why I’ve written about Chattanooga’s transfers. I do so because I’m interested in how programs construct rosters, from a geographical perspective as well as high school recruit/transfer comparisons, and in terms of class numbers.

As I wrote in 2018 (slightly edited):

It shouldn’t matter to its opponents how many transfers Chattanooga has on its roster, as long as they are students in good standing.

Sometimes fans get huffy about this topic, especially when they support schools for which transfers are somewhat unusual, if not rare. It isn’t a good idea to get all high and mighty about this, however, because a sense of righteousness doesn’t really mesh well with intercollegiate gridiron activity.

After all, we’re not talking about a morality play. We’re talking about football.

Now, you could argue that league schools should more or less recruit in a similar fashion, and that isn’t necessarily a bad position to take — except that we’re talking about the Southern Conference. This is a league with a 100-year history of being a mixing bowl of disparate institutions, including the current setup (public and private schools, military colleges, a school without a football program, etc.).

These schools have vastly different missions. Being a member of the SoCon means accepting that fact, getting on the bus, and going to the next game.

Rusty Wright on Chattanooga’s issues with trying to prepare for its spring opener:

We didn’t even cover a live kick until Saturday [against Wofford]. I mean, you talk about holding your breath.

It took UTC’s defense about a quarter to get warmed up against the Terriers, but after that Chattanooga’s D was solid. After Wofford scored on a 12-play, 71-yard drive to open the game, the Mocs did not allow another touchdown in seven possessions by the Terriers (two brief end-of-half drives are not included in that grouping).

Three of those seven Wofford drives were three-and-outs (one was technically a four-and-out). Another was a five-play possession that resulted in an interception by the Mocs. Wofford averaged only 4.3 yards per play on those seven possessions.

Another statistic of consequence: against Mercer, Wofford averaged 9.1 yards per pass attempt (sack-adjusted). Chattanooga held the Terriers to 2.2 yards per pass attempt.

Middle linebacker Kam Jones and strong safety Brandon Dowdell combined for 20 tackles. Dowdell, an outstanding player who has twice been selected first-team all-conference, also had a pick. Dowdell serves as UTC’s primary punt and kick returner, too.

Chattanooga’s offense wasn’t necessarily spectacular, but it was consistent, and that was good enough. Drayton Arnold had a fine day at quarterback. He was composed, seemingly never in a hurry, in part because of a good performance from Chattanooga’s experienced offensive line (which allowed one sack on 26 pass plays).

Arnold averaged 8.1 yards per pass attempt, including a TD, and was not intercepted. One of the more important plays in the early part of the game was a pinpoint downfield pass from Arnold to Andrew Manning, a 30-yard completion on a 3rd-and-13 that set up UTC’s first touchdown.

Mocs wideout Reginald Henderson was very impressive. He had seven receptions for 102 yards, and narrowly missed out on a couple of would-be TD catches (the second of which would have been spectacular if his foot had not been just out of bounds).

UTC took advantage of its opportunities, especially after what might have been the key play in the game, a muffed punt by Wofford late in the first half. The Mocs converted that mistake into a go-ahead TD.

Chattanooga did not run the ball all that effectively, averaging only 3.1 yards per carry, but UTC’s running backs picked up tough yards when it mattered (seven first downs via the rush and two rushing TDs).

Note: Besides adjusting for sack yardage, I also did not include in the Mocs’ rushing totals a 23-yard loss on a botched punt late in the game. That was also Chattanooga’s only real miscue in the contest (UTC did not commit a turnover).

Chattanooga went for it a couple of times on fourth down plays in situations where you might have expected a field goal attempt (particularly on a 4th-and-4 at Wofford’s 20-yard line early in the third quarter). One reason for that is UTC’s expected regular at placekicker is out with an injury.

Skyler Wilson, a freshman who handled placekicking duties for the Mocs on Saturday, did make a 26-yarder against Wofford (he missed another effort from 40 yards). Kickoffs were handled by punter Gabe Boring. Incidentally, Boring was the SoCon’s special teams player of the week after he averaged over 50 yards per boot last Saturday (including a 72-yarder late in the contest).

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service: partly sunny, and a high of 56°.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Chattanooga (as of March 3) is a 6½-point favorite over The Citadel. The over/under is 46½.

– Other SoCon lines this week (as of March 3): VMI is an 8½-point favorite at Western Carolina (over/under of 63), and Furman is a 9½-point favorite over Samford (over/under of 54½).

A few more games of note in FCS: Gardner-Webb is a 12-point favorite over Presbyterian; Richmond is a 3½-point favorite over William and Mary; James Madison is a 21½-point favorite at Elon; Delaware is a 2½-point favorite over Maine; Grambling State is a 9½-point favorite over Jackson State; North Dakota State is a 20-point favorite at Missouri State; South Dakota State is a 22½-point favorite over Western Illinois; Prairie View A&M is a 19½-point favorite over Texas Southern; Southeastern Louisiana is a 9½-point favorite over McNeese State; Eastern Washington is a 14½-point favorite over Northern Arizona; Incarnate Word is a 13½-point favorite at Lamar; Southern is a 10½-point favorite over Arkansas-Pine Bluff; Northern Iowa is an 8½-point favorite over Illinois State; Albany is a 2-point favorite at New Hampshire (a game being played Friday night); Villanova is a 9½-point favorite at Stony Brook; and Southern Illinois is a 6½-point favorite at Youngstown State.

Last week was a huge week for underdogs across FCS. Twenty of the ranked teams in the FCS Stats Perform Poll played, and eleven of them lost. The games ranged from the shocking (Southern Illinois beating North Dakota State 38-14) to the bizarre (Eastern Washington losing after a made field goal was ruled no good, thanks to a brutal combination of hilariously bad officiating and the Kibbie Dome).

– Three SoCon teams are not playing on Saturday. Mercer had a scheduled bye week, while the East Tennessee State-Wofford game was postponed (likely canceled) due to COVID issues in Wofford’s program.

– Chattanooga’s notable alumni include Dennis “Mr. Belding” Haskins, writer and literary critic John W. Aldridge, and Pro Football Hall of Famer Terrell Owens.

– The Citadel is 19-32-2 against Chattanooga in the all-time series. UTC has played the Bulldogs more times than any other opponent. The reverse is not true; The Citadel has played five opponents more often than Chattanooga — Furman, Wofford, Presbyterian, VMI, and Davidson.

– Chattanooga’s 93-man roster (per its game notes) includes 32 players from Tennessee. Other states represented: Georgia (28 players), Alabama (12), South Carolina (5), Florida (4), Ohio (3), North Carolina (2), and one each from Arizona, Indiana, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia.

Wide receiver Jahmar Quandt is from St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, and had not played organized football before enrolling at UTC. Quandt also attended Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, the first Buddhist-inspired accredited academic institution in the United States.

Backup long snapper Bryce Coulson is a native of Brisbane, Australia. Coulson is getting a master’s degree in public administration from UTC after playing at (and graduating from) Eastern Illinois.

– As noted, there are five Palmetto State products on Chattanooga’s squad. Wide receiver Kanore McKinnon (listed as a starter on the two-deep) went to Dillon High School before beginning his collegiate career at Georgia Military College. Starting quarterback Drayton Arnold starred at Myrtle Beach High School before starting his college journey at Old Dominion.

Running back Ailym Ford (West Florence High School) was the SoCon Freshman of the Year in 2019, but suffered a knee injury late in that season. He did not play last week for the Mocs against Wofford (but did participate in Chattanooga’s fall matchup against Western Kentucky, rushing for 92 yards on 25 carries).

Based on comments made by Rusty Wright during his Tuesday press conference regarding injured players on his roster, I suspect that Ford will probably not play against The Citadel. (Wright did not specifically discuss Ford.)

Tight end KeShawn Toney, a transfer from South Carolina, played his high school football at Williston-Elko. He will be eligible to play for UTC in fall 2021. Freshman wideout Will Harris went to Walhalla High School.

Alas, none of the Mocs can claim to be an alumnus of South Carolina’s legendary bastion of football supremacy, Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. While its relatively close proximity to Atlanta might give UTC a tenuous foothold on a prime recruiting territory, for long-term success Rusty Wright and company must successfully bring in some of those special individuals who have worn the famed maroon and orange. Otherwise, Chattanooga will never rise to the level of an elite program.

– Two UTC players who would otherwise be eligible for spring football have opted out but are still listed on the roster. A third opt-out was a transfer who would not have been able to play on the field this spring anyway.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s game notes) is as follows: South Carolina (48 players), Georgia (15), Florida (9), North Carolina (7), Texas (3), Pennsylvania (2), Virginia (2), and one each from Alabama, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

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

– The Citadel’s football team has an all-time record of 0-0 for games played on March 6. That is tied for the fewest wins, and fewest losses, for any date in program history.

– This week during the 1990 baseball season at The Citadel:

The Bulldogs entered the week 8-1. A scheduled doubleheader at Campbell was reduced to one 6-inning game due to steady rain in the greater Buies Creek metropolitan area. Ken Britt struck out eight batters en route to a 4-0 shutout and his second win of the season. Billy Baker hit a solo homer, and Phil Tobin tripled and scored. Gettys Glaze had 2 RBI.

The Citadel hosted Norfolk State the following Monday afternoon and triumphed over the Spartans, 5-2. Richard Shirer struck out 10 batters in 7 innings and picked up the win. The hitting star on the day was Anthony Jenkins, who went 4-4 with two homers, a triple, and 3 RBI. Attendance at College Park: 66.

The Citadel was 2-0 during the week ending March 6, with a winning streak of nine games. The overall record stood at 10-1.

This will not be an easy game for the Bulldogs. Chattanooga will bring to Charleston an experienced, confident team, one with serious aspirations of contending for the SoCon title.

While no one has doubted the talent on UTC’s roster, there has been some question as to how interested the team (or school) was in playing this spring. All I can say is Chattanooga looked more than interested in competing last Saturday.

The Citadel did, too. The Bulldogs just got off to the worst of starts, and dug themselves a hole too deep to escape. It happens.

I expect a better performance this weekend at home on the peninsula. However, the opponent is going to be tougher. UTC has impact players at a number of positions, and no real weaknesses offensively or defensively (special teams might be a touch more problematic for the Mocs).

For The Citadel to emerge with its first spring victory, it has to win the battle of the clichés. What do I mean by that?

Well, the Bulldogs have to win the turnover battle. They have to run the ball successfully, and stop the run. They have to be strong in the kicking game.

Those are all hoary clichés — but for this game, they’re also true, particularly the bit about turnovers.

The Citadel also needs more of those big plays on offense. Chattanooga has the capability of breaking off long gainers, even more so than it showed against Wofford. At the very least, the Bulldogs have to match that firepower.

A football game in March, at Johnson Hagood Stadium. It is going to be a little different.

Let’s hope the outcome of the game is different this week, as well.

2021 Spring Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. Mercer

The Citadel at Mercer, to be played to be played at Five Star Stadium in Macon, Georgia, with kickoff at 3:30 pm ET on February 27, 2021. 

The game will be televised by Nexstar Broadcasting and streamed on ESPN+. David Jackson will handle play-by-play, while Jay Sonnhalter supplies the analysis. Kristin Banks will be the sideline reporter.

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

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

Nexstar affiliates:

  • WMYT (Charlotte)
  • WYCW (Greenville/Spartanburg/Asheville)
  • WMUB (Macon)
  • WWCW (Lynchburg/Roanoke)
  • WCBD-d2 (Charleston)

Note: I am tentatively including WCBD as one of the affiliates for the contest, even though it is not part of the affiliate list provided by the SoCon’s weekly release. The station itself issued a release indicating that the game would be aired on one of its digital subchannels (2.2). However, the game is currently not on WCBD’s programming schedule.

If I receive final confirmation one way or the other, I’ll adjust this section accordingly.

Links of interest:

Enthusiasm is up for spring football at The Citadel

– Jaylan Adams is the Bulldogs’ new starting quarterback

– Mercer prepares for home opener

– Game notes from The Citadel and Mercer

SoCon weekly release

Preview on The Citadel’s website

Preview on Mercer’s website

The Citadel’s home attendance policies for spring football

– The Citadel releases its fall 2021 schedule

– Willie Eubanks III is the preseason SoCon Defensive Player of the Year

Raleigh Webb is back for another season

– “Live Stats” online platform

Spring football fever…catch it!

If you haven’t quite got the fever yet, though, I can’t say that I blame you.

To be honest, I’m not overly excited about this bizarre FCS gridiron campaign. There are several reasons for my hesitancy.

The first and biggest reason is simply that we are still battling a pandemic. I won’t say that we’re in the middle of the pandemic; I would like to think we’ve passed the midway point and that there is light at the end of the tunnel. However, this has been a marathon and not a sprint, and the race won’t be over until long after the spring football season has concluded.

I don’t think the current situation is all that dissimilar from where we were last August, when it was decided to cancel the 2020 FCS season (with a few out-of-conference games as exceptions). It is okay to play now, but it wasn’t then? Perhaps so, but the practical difference is marginal.

I also have concerns about the players’ welfare on a variety of fronts, including the fact that some of them might play 20 games (or more) this calendar year. The 2021 fall season is going to be significantly impacted by the 2021 spring campaign, when it really didn’t have to be.

There is also a question about logistics for the schools, especially at the FCS level, where staffing is not voluminous even during the best of times. Resource allocation could be problematic.

Having said all of that, I’m still along for the ride. I have a great deal of respect for the players and coaches who are committed to this spring season, who want to play and coach, and who are representing their respective schools to the best of their abilities.

If they are going to give it their best shot, then the least I can do as a fan is support them. That seems like the right thing to do.

Please understand, though, if from time to time I seem a bit skeptical of the proceedings.

Speaking of skepticism, that was the reaction of more than a few people (including me) when the SoCon released its spring football schedule. Naturally, this being the SoCon, the league actually had to release the schedule twice.

First, the league hastily decided The Citadel should forfeit a contest for daring to play four games in the fall. That ruling ignored historical precedent and was destined to boomerang against the conference in multiple ways if it had actually been implemented. Only eight days after the league’s decision, however, the military college was granted a waiver by the NCAA, and the initial SoCon slate was quickly adjusted.

It just wasn’t adjusted enough.

All nine league schools will play eight times, a true round-robin. Oh, and each team has only one bye week, so the entire conference schedule has to be completed in nine weeks. Seriously. Did anyone in the league office watch the fall season at all?

The season had not even begun before problems began to surface, with Chattanooga postponing (canceling?) its opener against VMI because of COVID issues. The Mocs are hoping to complete enough practices to be ready for their game versus Wofford this Saturday; Chattanooga’s first practice of the spring came on February 6.

Several other FCS conferences are playing four- and six-game league schedules, which is a far better idea than trying to cram eight games into nine weeks.

Here is what I would have suggested. I am not saying it is perfect (far from it), but this would have been, in my opinion, a more realistic scheduling plan:

Each team would have played four games, spread out over seven weeks, with the eighth week reserved for a league title game and the ninth week as backup in case it was needed; if not, the conference champion would have two weeks to prepare for the FCS playoffs.

There would be two divisions.

  • Pete Long Division — The Citadel, Furman, Wofford, Western Carolina, VMI
  • Tom Frooman Division — Samford, Mercer, Chattanooga, ETSU

In the Long Division, the arithmetic would be easy. There would be a simple round-robin between the five teams.

In the Frooman Division, each team would play a round-robin (three games each), then a fourth contest would be a second “rivalry” matchup. For example, Chattanooga would play Mercer, Samford, and two games against ETSU. Mercer would play Chattanooga, ETSU, and two games versus Samford.

That way, every team would play four games. The division winners would meet in the league title game (I’ll let you, the reader, decide what tiebreakers would be used if necessary); the conference title game winner would get the SoCon auto-bid and an all-but-guaranteed matchup against a Big South team.

Teams that didn’t win a division could play a fifth game if they wanted, or even a sixth, matching up with other squads in those eighth and ninth weeks.

Again, I’m not saying this setup is ideal. It isn’t. I just think it makes more sense than what the league is trying to do.

Now, the SoCon might get away with it (and I certainly hope it does), but the odds are not exactly in the conference’s favor. Anyone who believes otherwise just needs to take a gander at how the league’s hoops schedule is faring right now.

I posted links to game notes for The Citadel and Mercer above, along with the SoCon’s weekly release. For anyone interested, here are links to this week’s game notes for the other league schools (except for ETSU’s, as the Bucs are off this Saturday):

One thing someone reading the game notes will notice is that the records from the fall officially carry over to the spring. Therefore, The Citadel and Mercer technically both enter Saturday’s action with 0-4 records; so does Western Carolina. Chattanooga is 0-1 after playing one fall contest.

However, I’m not listing the games that way. The title of this post references Game 1 of the 2021 spring season for the Bulldogs. That is because I do not consider the contests from fall 2020 to be connected to spring 2021 action any more than the 2018 and 2019 seasons are connected to each other. The notion that spring 2021 is a continuation of fall 2020 is specious at best.

There have been personnel changes since the fall season for all teams (including The Citadel and Mercer). There are players who opted out in the fall but are playing this spring; there are players who participated in the fall but are taking a break for the spring. There have been mid-season transfers in and out of programs.

The fall included only non-conference games (even when teams from the same league were playing each other); the spring will mostly feature conference matchups. The fall scheduling was decidedly haphazard, while the spring schedules weren’t formulated until most of the autumn contests had already been played. (Heck, the Patriot League did not release its spring slate until February 5.)

Despite all of that, the FCS playoff selection committee will allegedly consider fall games (and results) when making at-large selections for the FCS playoffs in April. This strikes me as ludicrous. Then again, we’re talking about the perpetually flawed FCS playoffs, so perhaps it is not too surprising.

It doesn’t really matter. I suspect the only team potentially affected would be Jacksonville State, which defeated an FBS team (FIU) in the fall, and which also picked up wins over North Alabama and Mercer. If the Gamecocks don’t win the OVC but otherwise have a solid spring campaign, they would presumably have a strong case for an at-large bid.

Chattanooga would have also had an argument, if it had not lost its lone fall contest, a 13-10 setback at Western Kentucky in which officiating ineptitude cost the Mocs a game-winning kickoff return TD. Ultimately, I think the league title is probably the only avenue for a SoCon team to make the FCS playoffs this spring.

This is normally the point where I start posting charts of statistics for the Bulldogs’ opponent from the previous year, listing several key players on its two-deep, etc. For this particular season, however, I believe doing so would be a largely pointless exercise.

I could tell you that in 2019, Mercer had the 7th-worst turnover margin in FCS (throwing 17 interceptions didn’t help), or that the Bears were the 8th-worst team in the subdivision in defensive third down conversion percentage, or that Mercer was in the bottom 10 of average time of possession.

I could tell you all that and more, but none of it is exceptionally relevant, partly because 2019 might as well have been a century ago as far as college football is concerned, but mostly because Mercer has a new head coach.

His name is Drew Cronic. Mercer hired him after a five-year stretch in which he spent two years as the head coach at Reinhardt (combined record: 22-3), one year as Furman’s offensive coordinator (the Paladins made the FCS playoffs that season), and two years running the show at Lenoir-Rhyne (combined record: 25-3).

Cronic had also spent nine years earlier in his career at Furman as a position coach and recruiting coordinator.

That kind of résumé will get a lot of people’s attention — and it isn’t like schools haven’t had success with former Lenoir-Rhyne head coaches before. The folks at MU decided to move on from Bobby Lamb (speaking of former Furman coaches), and brought in Cronic.

On offense, Cronic employs a variation of the Wing-T. I say “a variation” because it is clearly a different animal from the Wing-T that your standard high school has used on offense for the last few decades. I think Tubby Raymond would have been impressed, though.

Cronic’s assistant coaches include a couple of names familiar to fans of the Bulldogs. Bob Bodine is the co-offensive coordinator for the Bears; he is a former OC at The Citadel (2010-2013).

Mercer’s defensive coordinator is Joel Taylor, who spent five years at the military college before joining Cronic at Lenoir-Rhyne. Taylor will run a 4-2-5 defense, one that includes a “Bandit” position.

Incidentally, the Bears’ offensive depth chart includes spots for five linemen, a quarterback, wide receiver, tight end, running back, and two “Jokers”.

Given that the Mercer two-deep has both Jokers and Bandits, I thought there was a chance for a cheesy pop culture reference, so I spent several minutes trying to shoehorn a Steve Miller song lyric into this space, and then tried out several jokes based on one of the Batman movies. None of the asides were remotely worthy of even this little blog, so I deleted all of them.

You’re welcome.

Mercer played three fall contests in 2020, Cronic’s first games in charge of the program.

October 10: On a rainy day at Jacksonville State, the Bears lost 34-28 despite an ideal start, as Deondre Johnson returned the game’s opening kickoff 100 yards for a TD. (He will be playing for MU this Saturday, both as a kick returner and at the “Joker” position.) The Gamecocks scored 24 points in the second quarter to take a 27-14 lead into the break, but Mercer was down just 6 late in the fourth quarter and in JSU territory when a Bears fumble was returned 64 yards for a touchdown.

October 17: MU traveled to West Point to face Army. On the game’s opening possession, the Bears put together a 15-play, 56-yard drive that resulted in a field goal. After that, though, the home team dominated, as the Black Knights won 49-3. Not counting a one-play drive at the end of the first half, Army had nine possessions and scored touchdowns on seven of them.

October 31: Mercer hosted Abilene Christian and led 17-10 in the fourth quarter before the Wildcats tied the game. ACU then kicked a field goal on the last play of the contest to win, 20-17. Bears safety Lance Wise (who remains on the roster this spring) had 20 tackles. Mercer QB Harrison Frost was 11 for 15 passing for 126 yards and a TD (Frost was the Bears’ backup quarterback last week).

Mercer lost two fumbles against Abilene Christian, which for the Bears was part of an unfortunate trend. In its three fall games, MU fumbled nine times, losing four of them. Mercer also threw four interceptions in those three contests.

Against Wofford in the Bears’ spring opener, there were no interceptions — but MU fumbled three times and lost all of them.

Mercer’s offense scored 14 points against the Terriers on 11 drives. MU went 3-and-out five times.

The Bears averaged 5.2 yards per rush and 3.8 yards per pass attempt (all of these statistics are sack-adjusted). All but one of Mercer’s 25 passes were thrown by freshman Carter Peevy, who completed 11 of 24 attempts for 131 yards; the Bears’ leading receiver (four receptions) was another freshman, Ethan Dirrim.

MU rushed the football on 58.8% of its offensive plays versus Wofford. My general impression is that Mercer would prefer running the football more often than that; in its matchup with Abilene Christian, for example, the Bears rushed on 74.6% of their plays.

Defensively, Mercer gave up 31 points on 10 drives (not counting one-play end-of-half possessions). The Bears forced three Wofford 3-and-outs. The leading tackler for Mercer was linebacker Alvin Ward Jr., a graduate transfer from Georgia Southern.

MU’s defense allowed 9.1 yards per pass attempt against the Terriers, clearly not something the Bears want to see repeated. Four of Wofford’s 12 completions (in 19 attempts) went for 18 yards or longer.

Wofford averaged 4.8 yards per rush against Mercer. Eight of the Terriers’ 42 runs went for 10 yards or more (with a long of 21).

Quick statistical notes on The Citadel’s offense from 2019 (conference games only, and sack-adjusted):

  • The Citadel rushed on 79.6% of its plays from scrimmage in 2019. As a comparison, the Bulldogs ran the ball 83.7% of the time in 2018, after rushing 77.9% of the time in 2017 and on 85.6% of all offensive plays in 2016.
  • The Bulldogs averaged 74.3 plays from scrimmage per game in 2019. In 2018 that number was 69.0 per contest; in 2017, it was 70.1; and in 2016, 72.1.
  • The Citadel averaged 5.39 yards per play in 2019. In 2018, the Bulldogs averaged 5.36 yards per play; in 2017, that number was 5.38 yards per play; and in 2016, the squad averaged 5.58 yards per play.
  • The average yards per pass attempt in 2019 was 7.7, in line with the numbers from 2018 (7.8), 2017 (7.0), and 2016 (7.4).
  • The Citadel averaged 4.80 yards per rush, which is the lowest figure for the Bulldogs in this category since I began regularly tracking these statistics in 2013.

Quick statistical notes on The Citadel’s defense from 2019 (conference games only, and sack-adjusted):

  • The Bulldogs’ defense faced a rushing play 52.8% of the time in 2019. During the 2018 campaign, opponents rushed on 43.5% of their plays from scrimmage. In 2017, that number was 54.7%.
  • The Citadel’s opponents averaged 63.0 plays from scrimmage in 2019. That compares to 62.3 plays per game in 2018; 58.8 plays/game in 2017; and 57.6 plays per contest in 2016.
  • In 2019, the Bulldogs’ defense allowed 5.69 yards per play. During the 2018 season, it allowed 6.18 yards per play; in 2017, 5.69 yards/play; and in 2016, 4.94 yards per play.
  • Opponents averaged 4.91 yards per rush. In 2018, that number was 5.69; it was 4.87 in 2017 and 4.61 back in 2016.
  • The Citadel’s D allowed 6.6 yards per pass attempt, with the figures from past years looking like this: 6.5 in 2018; 7.5 in 2017; and 5.3 in 2016.

The Citadel’s listed depth chart for the game against Mercer, by class:

  • Freshmen: 9
  • Redshirt freshmen: 8
  • Sophomores: 2
  • Redshirt sophomores: 12
  • Juniors: 11
  • Redshirt juniors: 5
  • Seniors: 2
  • Redshirt seniors: 0
  • Graduate students: 2

Mercer’s listed depth chart for the game versus The Citadel, by class:

  • Freshmen: 10
  • Redshirt Freshmen: 7
  • Sophomores: 8
  • Redshirt sophomores: 5
  • Juniors: 4
  • Redshirt juniors: 7
  • Seniors: 0
  • Redshirt seniors: 2
  • Graduate students: 3

Career points scored by Bulldogs listed on the updated spring roster:

McCarthy is on the baseball team and is not expected to compete on the gridiron this spring.

No current Bulldog has scored a defensive touchdown. The only one to have tallied a special teams TD is Webb, on a 77-yard kickoff return against Charleston Southern in 2018.

Trivia time: The Citadel has yet to score a defensive two-point conversion since the rule was implemented at the college level in 1988.

Odds and ends:

From The Citadel’s game notes comes this interesting tidbit:

Defensive back Javonte Middleton will become the first Bulldog to wear #0 this spring. The number was introduced in the fall by the NCAA and will be worn by the Military Captain each year for the Bulldogs.

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Macon, per the National Weather Service: partly sunny with a 20% chance of rain, and a high of 72°. As the week has progressed, the projected high temperature has continued to rise.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel (as of February 24) is a 6-point favorite at Mercer. The over/under is 51½.

– Other SoCon lines this week (as of February 24): Wofford is a 2½-point favorite at Chattanooga (over/under of 46); Samford is a 15½-point favorite over Western Carolina (over/under of 58½); and Furman is a 24½-point favorite at VMI (over/under of 62½).

A few more games of note in FCS: James Madison is a 35½-point favorite over Robert Morris; South Dakota State is a 7½-point favorite at North Dakota; Elon is a 17½-point favorite at Gardner-Webb; Howard is a 3½-point favorite at Delaware State; McNeese State is an 11-point favorite over Incarnate Word; and Jackson State is a 10½-point favorite over Mississippi Valley State.

– Mercer’s notable alumni include TV personality Nancy Grace, missionary/spy John Birch, and music promoter Phil Walden.

– The Citadel is 11-5-1 against Mercer in the all-time series.

– Mercer’s roster includes 64 players from Georgia. Other states represented: Florida (8), North Carolina (7), Tennessee (3), South Carolina (2), and one each from Alabama, California, Hawai’i, Ohio, and Texas.

There are two Palmetto State products on MU’s squad. Offensive lineman Ni Mansell is a freshman from Anderson who played at Westside High School; he is on the two-deep as the backup right guard.

Of course, The Citadel is more than familiar with linebacker Jordan Williams, a graduate transfer from none other than the military college itself. Williams (listed as a ‘KAT’ on Mercer’s depth chart) went to Spring Valley High School in Columbia.

Alas, no Bear can claim to be an alumnus of South Carolina’s most celebrated institution for gridiron greatness, Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. For long-term success in Macon, the new coaching staff must successfully recruit at least a few of those remarkable individuals who wear the famed maroon and orange. Otherwise, Mercer’s program will remain lost in the desert, forever unquenched.

– There are ten players on Mercer’s roster who have transferred into the program from four-year colleges since Drew Cronic became the head coach. Those schools include The Citadel (as mentioned above), along with Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia, Georgia Southern, Lenoir-Rhyne, Liberty, Navy, Virginia Tech, and Wofford. Four of those players (right guard John Harris, tight end Drake Starks, wide receiver Ty James, and running back Nakendrick Clark) are projected as starters on offense, as is right tackle Santo DeFranco, a junior college transfer from Hartnell College in California.

Clark and Starks are two of the three Bears who joined the program at the semester break.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s game notes) is as follows: South Carolina (48 players), Georgia (15), Florida (9), North Carolina (7), Texas (3), Pennsylvania (2), Virginia (2), and one each from Alabama, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

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

– The Citadel’s football team has an all-time record of 0-0 for games played on February 27. That is tied for the fewest wins, and fewest losses, for any date in program history.

– This week during the 1990 baseball season at The Citadel:

The Bulldogs entered the week 2-1, having beaten North Carolina State 12-1 in their most recent matchup. On February 21, The Citadel defeated Augusta College 9-4, the first collegiate victory for starting pitcher Steve Basch, a freshman from Lansing, Michigan.

The Citadel then won three straight games against Davidson. A doubleheader sweep was highlighted by Jason Rychlick’s game-winning two-run single in the nightcap. In the final game of the series, the Cadets whipped the Wildcats 15-4, with Anthony Jenkins, Billy Baker, and Dan McDonnell all homering. McDonnell’s round-tripper would prove to be the only one he would hit all season.

Chal Port’s Bulldogs completed a perfect week on the diamond with two triumphs over Gannon. In the first matchup, Chris Coker’s four RBI highlighted a 12-hit attack in a 9-2 victory. The second game was a 10-6 win; Brad Stowell pitched six solid innings to garner the decision. Six different players had multiple-hit games in the contest, which (we must report, to be fair) also featured a triple play turned by the Golden Knights.

The Citadel was 6-0 during the week ending February 27, with a winning streak of seven games. The overall record stood at 8-1.

I don’t really know what to expect on Saturday. The Citadel will have a new starting quarterback and a lot of younger players sprinkled throughout the two-deep (particularly at A-Back and in the defensive line rotation). It goes without saying that the performance of Jaylan Adams at QB will be a major key.

Mercer will have the advantage of having played one game, which in this unicorn of a season could be a big deal, although I’m not entirely sure it is. I’m not entirely sure about anything when it comes to spring football.

The games between the two programs since Mercer joined the SoCon have always been close. The largest margin of victory in the series during that timeframe is 11 points, which came in the last meeting — The Citadel’s 35-24 win in 2019.

I won’t be in Macon, but I’ll be watching on ESPN+ while simultaneously listening to the radio call. The “live stats” online platform will be at the ready.

I would say it is that time of year, except it really isn’t — and yet, here we are anyway. What a world.

Go Dogs!