2018 Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. Wofford

Spartanburg, Sept. 18 [AP] — Showing a flashy passing game and ripping the Wofford line to shreds on running plays, The Citadel Bulldogs flattened the Wofford Terriers, 38-0, in the opening tilt of the 1937 season here this afternoon for both elevens.

…Kooksie Robinson, a hip-shaking ball of fire for the Cadets, was all over the field running and passing the ball with reckless abandon…

…Employing a tricky forward passing attack well mixed with line smashes, the Bulldogs rang up 29 first downs compared to only one for Wofford.

The Bulldogs gained 390 yards to 30 by Wofford by rushing. The Citadel attempted 12 forward passes and completed 5 for a total of 63 yards, as compared to no successful aerials for the Terriers, who tried two.

…Two thousand fans attended the game.

…Bulldog coaches have promised that this season their charges will really toss the ball around and that Charleston fans will see some of the hipper-dipper stuff which has raised the annual fall madness to a hysterical pitch.

-The News and Courier, September 19, 1937

The Citadel at Wofford, to be played to be played at Gibbs Stadium in Spartanburg, South Carolina, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on September 1, 2018.

The game will be televised by WYCW-62 (Spartanburg, SC), and streamed on ESPN+. Jason Patterson will handle play-by-play, while Toby Cates supplies the analysis.

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

Luke Mauro (the new “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Cal McCombs. The sideline reporter will be Jay Harper.

The Citadel Sports Network — 2018 radio affiliates

Charleston: WQNT 1450AM/92.1 FM/102.1 FM (Flagship)
Columbia: WQXL 1470AM/100.7FM
Greenville: WLFJ 92.9FM/660AM
Sumter: WDXY 1240AM/105.9FM

Per The Citadel’s game notes:

Head Coach Brent Thompson joins “Voice of the Bulldogs” Luke Mauro for The Brent Thompson Radio Show each Wednesday from 7-8 p.m. at the Marina Variety Store. The show airs on ESPN Radio – 94.7 FM & 910 AM in Charleston.

At the time of this post, it was unclear whether or not the radio show would be simulcast on YouTube, as has been the case for the last three years.

A few of my recent posts revolving around The Citadel’s football program in general and the upcoming season in particular:

– Part 1 of Inside the Numbers (The Citadel’s 2017 run/pass tendencies and yards per play numbers)

– Part 2 of Inside the Numbers (The Citadel’s 2017 fourth-down decision-making and plenty of other statistics)

– A look at advanced statistics, first down/third down information, and standard/passing down data

– Last year’s conference-only statistics for the SoCon (all teams), with some additional league observations

– Preseason rankings and ratings

– Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium: the annual review

– Which teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

– A glance at the SoCon non-conference slate

Creating more big plays with an aggressive fourth-down philosophy

Links of interest:

– Season preview from The Post and Courier

– Preview of Saturday’s game from The Post and Courier

– STATS SoCon preview (The Citadel is picked to finish 7th in the SoCon)

– Hero Sports’ preview of the Bulldogs (The Citadel is picked to finish 6th in the SoCon)

– Season preview from the Chattanooga Times Free Press

– SoCon outlook from the Chattanooga Times Free Press

– SoConSports.com preview of the league (Part 1 and Part 2)

– Countdown to Kickoff: The Citadel (video featuring interviews of Brent Thompson, Jordan Black, and Aron Spann III)

– SoCon media and coaches’ preseason polls (The Citadel is picked to finish 7th in both polls)

– The Citadel: Quick Facts

The Citadel’s 2018 leadoff “Hype Video”

Wofford: Quick Facts

– Game notes from The Citadel and Wofford

– SoCon weekly release

– FCS Coaches’ poll

– Profile of Jordan Black in The Post and Courier

– Brent Thompson has a conversation with Phil Kornblut (8/23) on SportsTalk; Kornblut also talks to Jordan Black and Aron Spann III

– Brent Thompson’s 8/28 press conference (video)

– Mike Capaccio is the new director of athletics at The Citadel

No warmup for Wofford

Countdown to Kickoff: Wofford (video featuring interviews of Josh Conklin, Miles Brown, and Andre Stoddard)

Wofford season preview in the Spartanburg Herald-Journal

It’s time for football!

FOOTBALL!!!

FOOTBALL!!!

FOOTBALL!!!

For those fans attending the game on Saturday, keep in mind that the “clear bag” rule which has become the norm in many stadiums across the country will apply to Gibbs Stadium beginning this season:

Wofford College will institute a clear bag policy for all events at Gibbs Stadium and Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium starting with Wofford’s home opening game against The Citadel on September 1.

The policy will help enhance existing security measures and ensure a safe environment for all guests while making for a quicker entry into the venues. The policy will be in effect for all Wofford athletic contests as well as special events…

…Fans will be permitted to enter with a clear bag that does not exceed 12″ in height by 6″ in depth by 12″ in width. A simple one-gallon clear plastic bag, such as a Ziploc bag or similar, is acceptable.

Fans will be allowed to carry in a small clutch bag, approximately the size of a hand or 4.5″ by 6.5″, with or without a handle or strap.

An exception will be made for medically necessary items after proper inspection at the game.

For the first two home football games, Wofford will be providing 1,500 free clear bags thanks to Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System’s Sports Medicine Institute. These bags will be available at all gates, as well as at the entrances to parking lots.

Also not to be ignored: an updated Wofford campus parking map.

Saturday’s game is being promoted by Wofford as “Blackout the Bulldogs”. Fans of the Terriers are being encouraged to wear black. Other promotions for the game: schedule magnets, posters, and a $10,000 drawing.

It will be interesting to see how black contrasts with large quantities of light blue and white. The Citadel should (as usual) bring a sizable contingent of fans.

Also making an appearance: 600 freshmen from the Corps of Cadets. Don’t be surprised if quite a few upperclassmen make the trip to Spartanburg as well.

At the beginning of this post, I included an excerpt from a game story of the 1937 matchup between The Citadel and Wofford in Spartanburg, the season opener for both schools that year. That 1937 season turned out to be a good one for the Bulldogs, with Tatum Gressette’s squad finishing 7-4.

(It would have been 8-3 if not for the cheatin’ refs in Orangeburg, as the Man in the Brown Suit would say.)

The Citadel also picked up wins over Furman and Richmond during that 1937 campaign, along with a 46-7 thumping of Erskine in Charleston.

Erskine discontinued its football program 14 years later, following the 1951 season. Last week, however, the school announced that the Flying Fleet would return to the gridiron in time for the 2020 campaign.

Wofford was 2-7 in 1937, with wins over Newberry and Presbyterian, both at home. The Terriers’ other game in Spartanburg that season resulted in a loss to Oglethorpe. One must always be wary of the Stormy Petrels, as they do not know how to give up.

Last year, The Citadel and Mercer were the only two league teams that had instant replay review capability. This season, three more schools (Furman, Western Carolina, and Samford) will employ the technology.

That leaves four SoCon schools still without it: Chattanooga, East Tennessee State, VMI, and Wofford.

Allegedly, all league schools will be required to have instant replay review by 2019. Whether or not that actually happens won’t be known until next year, of course.

At any rate, Saturday’s game will be one of just two league contests this season played by The Citadel in which instant replay review won’t be used (the Bulldogs’ game at VMI is the other).

Fans of the Bulldogs will understandably be concerned about the lack of replay review, given the game’s location and the state of the SoCon’s officiating. There is nothing that can be done about it, however. The league office is apparently satisfied with the current state of affairs, in which conference matchups are contested under two sets of rules, depending on where the game is played.

Wofford has an unusual dilemma right now: The Jerry Richardson Problem.

After Sports Illustrated reported last December that the Carolina Panthers owner had made monetary settlements to multiple individuals due to “inappropriate” workplace conduct by Richardson (including sexually suggestive behavior and a racial slur), things went downhill fast for the founder of the franchise. He received a $2.75 million fine from the NFL, and was basically forced to sell the club.

Richardson’s impact on his alma mater has been enormous, which has raised questions about what (if anything) the school plans to do in response to the developments of the past nine months. It’s a tough situation; after all, just this past winter Wofford’s alumni magazine headlined a laudatory story about the school’s well-known benefactor “The Remarkable Jerry Richardson”, with a now-unconvincing subtitle: “And the core values that led to the new Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium”.

Would Wofford consider changing the name of its new basketball arena, or its physical activities center? Will the statue of Richardson that was installed on campus just a few years ago be removed?

Don’t count on it.

Spartanburg-based Wofford College, where Richardson is an alumnus and former trustee member, also has an indoor stadium and physical activities building named after him.

Wofford did not answer questions about whether buildings will keep bearing Richardson’s name.

“Mr. Richardson’s contributions to Wofford College are extraordinary, and for that we are grateful,” spokeswoman Laura Corbin said in a statement. “It is not appropriate for us to comment further.”

I saw an online comment from a Wofford fan that “without [Richardson] we are Presbyterian and getting ready to play Division III football”, which probably sums up the feelings of many of the Terriers’ gridiron supporters.

The powers-that-be at Wofford also have to be mindful of what Richardson could potentially leave the college in his will.

A side issue (but a very important one) related to the Richardson saga is the status of Wofford as the host of the Panthers’ training camp. Could the team move its camp elsewhere in the near future?

Richard Johnson, the school’s director of athletics and inarguably Wofford’s most well-educated administrator, had this to say earlier in the summer:

“The trend is not to go off to camp anymore,” Johnson said. “We’re one of the few places that still hosts camps (away from NFL cities). That’s clearly the trend. What does that do to us? It’s too early to tell. We haven’t had those conversations.”

Johnson said the Panthers’ impact on the Upstate has been “immeasurable,” and he said that there aren’t many places like Spartanburg and Wofford that would have been able to build facilities fit for a professional football team, an hour’s drive from an NFL city.

“We thought it was kind of the perfect symmetry and everything kind of came together for us,” Johnson said. “But times change and interests change and needs change. We’re going to continue to do what we can to be helpful and to provide facilities and service that suits them for as long as they need us to. If it’s not any more, well, we’ve had a great run and we’re very appreciative and it’s been wonderful.”

Wofford has a new play-by-play voice for football, Jim Noble, after longtime radio man Mark Hauser could not come to a contractual agreement with the school. This development was a bit unsettling to a portion of the Terriers’ fanbase, particularly when combined with the departure of much of the football coaching staff (though the latter situation was a more natural occurrence with a new head coach on the scene).

Hauser, who is paid through IMG College…informed the company that he could no longer continue as play-by-play announcer for the same compensation as years past. He said his disappointment, however, is actually with the school.

…“It comes down to whether Wofford wanted to take out any more money from its budget [said Hauser]. In the end, for me, it’s Wofford’s call.”

Hauser said there was no discussion. Nobody even asked how much more money he wanted.

“That’s the most disappointing thing,” he said. “At no point did anyone ever say, ‘Well, what would it take? What are you looking for?’ They didn’t ask if I wanted $5 more a game or $50 or $100. I might have shocked them. But it never even got off the ground for a negotiation. After this many years, I feel like I should’ve gotten a phone call from somebody to at least talk about it.”

…Sports information director Brent Williamson said the school would be interested in bringing Hauser back “if he wants to work for what he worked for last year.”

Hauser began doing Wofford football games in 1992 and became an honorary letterman in the athletics department’s hall of fame in 2000.

That quote from Williamson sounds a bit abrupt, so it is only fair to note the SID also said of Hauser’s time with the school, “It was an unbelievable relationship. We’re definitely going to miss him and we know our fans are going to miss him.”

The Terriers’ audio broadcasts are online-only. I don’t know if that was a factor in Wofford’s evaluation of Hauser’s value, but Wofford does not have a radio network, and (unlike The Citadel) does not even have a station in the Greenville-Spartanburg area carrying its football games at the present time.

Wofford did use its radio broadcast team to provide the audio for its home ESPN3 games in the past. I’m not sure if that will be true going forward; it will not be the case on Saturday.

Saturday’s game will be on ESPN+ and WYCW-62, a local TV station in Spartanburg. All of Wofford’s home games except one, the matchup with East Tennessee State, will be carried by WYCW and either ESPN+ or ESPN3; the contest against the Buccaneers will be on ESPN+ but not WYCW.

Josh Conklin is the new head coach at Wofford. He replaces Mike Ayers, who retired after 30 seasons as the Terriers’ head man.

Conklin, who turned 39 years old in June, is a Wyoming native who graduated from Dakota State. He then began his coaching career at South Dakota State (no, not the same school). After several years there, he moved to Wofford for three years, then The Citadel for two seasons (serving as the defensive coordinator under Kevin Higgins).

He spent one year at Tennessee and two seasons at FIU before becoming the defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh, where he stayed for three years before taking the Wofford job.

Conklin’s brother-in-law, Al Clark III, and father-in-law, Al Clark Jr., both played football at Wofford. Each is well connected to the school, with the younger Clark a former official with the Terrier Club and a onetime assistant director of athletics, while his father is a longtime associate of Wofford trustee Jimmy I. Gibbs (for whose family the Terriers’ football stadium is named).

Also worth mentioning:  Conklin extolled the virtues of Mexican food in a Chattanooga newspaper article, specifically name-checking two local restaurants. I was dubious at first (Tex-Mex in Spartanburg?), but I’ve subsequently been informed by an unquestioned authority that ‘Willy Taco’ is legit, so there you go.

The coaching staff underwent a major makeover after Conklin got the job, though longtime assistant Wade Lang (31 years at Wofford) remains on board, also retaining his title as offensive coordinator. Other than Lang and tight ends coach B.J. Connelly, it is a fairly young staff, though Conklin also kept wide receivers coach Freddie Brown (who has been at the school for eight seasons).

While relatively youthful, it appears to be a group with some promise, though by far the most impressive résumé on the staff clearly belongs to equipment manager VanDyke Jones II.

The primary football-related issue that people are talking about with regards to Conklin:  will he change the Terriers’ offense? Is Wofford about to become a team that throws the ball all over the lot? Are the days of the triple option over in Spartanburg?

Well, probably not — at least, not right away.

That said, Wofford worked in the spring on diversifying its offense via the pass:

…the difference [from previous spring scrimmages] was that many of these passes were called at the line of scrimmage by quarterbacks Joe Newman and Miller Mosley.

“They’ve been working on their RPOs (read/pass options),” [Josh] Conklin said. “I was really pleased.”

…“I think we just have to have the ability to throw the ball,” Conklin said. “And I’m not talking down-the-field, vertical passing game. I’m talking about things that the defense is going to give because of what we do schematically as far as running the ball. They have to commit nine guys to the run. That allows us to attack the flats and do some other things.

“We need to get into second-and-5, third-and-2. Those are hard for the defense, especially when we can run the ball like we do.”

Conklin further explained his offensive philosophy in a conversation with Chattanooga sportswriter Gene Henley:

Part of who Conklin ultimately will be is a coach who adjusts the option offense the Terriers have run for decades, although it doesn’t sound like he’ll be opening it up too much. Wofford hasn’t thrown 20 passes in a game for 10 seasons, but the new leader would like to see the Terriers eventually get to “20-25 attempts” a game.

“We’re going to incorporate some run-pass option on offense,” Conklin said. “When you look at how people have defended us offensively, you have to be able to throw the ball a little more vertically and relieve some pressure off the run game.”

A few links to articles from the Spartanburg Herald-Journal on Wofford’s preseason practices:

2017 FCS national rankings (all games) in select categories for The Citadel and Wofford:

The Citadel Wofford
Scoring offense 75 54
Scoring defense 64 36
Avg rush/play – offense 18 21
Avg rush/play – defense 94 33
Avg yards/pass attempt – offense 39 11
Avg yards/pass attempt – defense 103 47
Yards per play – offense 55 48
Yards per play – defense 102 35
Tackles for loss rate – defense 20 88
Turnover margin 48T 32
Penalty yards per game 6 21
Net punt average 60 30
Time of possession/game 1 39
3rd down conversion rate – offense 24 8
3rd down conversion rate – defense 42 112
Red Zone TD rate – offense 90 16
Red Zone TD rate – defense 117 72

There was a competition to be the starting quarterback at Wofford this season. That appears to have been decided, however (even though the two-deep for the Terriers lists two potential starters at the position).

Joe Newman, a 5’11”, 181 lb. junior from Riverdale, Georgia, is a dynamic athlete capable of making big plays. He proved that during the 2016 playoffs in games against The Citadel and Youngstown State, appearing in relief in both of those contests, and scoring touchdowns in each game.

Frankly, I was surprised he wasn’t employed more often by the Terriers last season. It is hard to argue with the team’s results, of course, but Newman brings something to the table that Wofford hasn’t always had, a true breakaway threat at quarterback.

He is considered much more of a runner than a passer (for his career, he is 10 for 26 passing, with 2 interceptions). If he is going to get most of the snaps under center, it is hard to see Wofford going into passing mode much more often than it has in the past. Of course, he may have improved his skills in that area.

Andre Stoddard, Wofford’s starting fullback, received first-team All-SoCon honors last season after rushing for 825 yards and 15 touchdowns. One of the few league games in which the 5’10”, 240 lb. senior from Greenville didn’t excel came against The Citadel; Stoddard did rush for a score, but was held to ten yards on eight carries.

The Terriers have two halfbacks who can make big plays. Lennox McAfee (5’7″, 175 lbs.), a senior from Nashville, averaged 7.5 yards per rush last season. McAfee can catch the football out of the backfield, as can 5’9″, 190 lb. speedster Blake Morgan. The native of Florida caught 22 passes last season, including three against The Citadel. Morgan averaged 6.2 yards per carry.

While listed as a backup on the depth chart, Jason Hill (5’11”, 195 lbs.) is someone to watch when it comes to long gainers. Last season, the junior from Spartanburg caught two TD passes — a 59-yarder against The Citadel, and a 75-yard catch versus Presbyterian. The player who threw him the football against PC? Lennox McAfee.

Average size of Wofford’s projected starters on the offensive line: 6’3″, 292 lbs. That is in line with the average size of the Terriers’ starters on the o-line in previous seasons (6’3″, 297 lbs. in 2017; 6’3″, 296 lbs. in 2016).

Left tackle Michael Ralph (6’4″, 290 lbs.) is a preseason first-team all-conference pick. The junior from Ohio started all 13 games for the Terriers last season at right tackle.

Justus Basinger (6’4″, 305 lbs.) started all 13 games for Wofford last season at right guard, and the junior from Longwood, Florida is expected to do the same this year. Basinger is a preseason second-team all-SoCon choice on the offensive line; admittedly, no fewer than eight guys are preseason second-team all-league selections on the o-line, but he is a fine player regardless.

Wofford’s defense is keyed by its defensive line, which is both enormous and very effective.

Miles Brown, the Terriers’ 6’2″, 320 lb. nosetackle, is probably the best player on Wofford’s roster, and one of the better players in the SoCon. In a league with several truly exceptional defensive linemen, Brown is a standout.

The senior from Maryland has started on the d-line for the Terriers since his freshman campaign.

Brown’s primary tag-team partner on the defensive line is 6’1″, 300 lb. Mikel Horton. While he missed some time last season (appearing in only eight games), the native of Kentucky made an impact when on the field. Horton, a junior, was a second team all-league pick last year.

Wofford has shifted some players around on the defensive line and at linebacker. One player staying in place is inside linebacker Datavious (DT) Wilson (6’1″, 225 lbs.), a tackling machine from Hartsville. The junior was a preseason first-team All-SoCon selection.

The Terriers have an experienced secondary. Devin Watson, a 5’11”, 190 lb. senior cornerback, was a first-team all-league choice last season after making 55 tackles and intercepting four passes.

Mason Alstatt (6’0″, 210 lbs.), a junior safety from Kentucky, was a preseason second-team all-conference choice. Alstatt was the second-leading tackler on the team last year (with 76 stops).

Luke Carter (6’1″, 215 lbs.) was the all-SoCon placekicker in 2017 after finishing the season 11 for 12 on field goal tries, with a long of 44 yards, and not missing a PAT all year (41 for 41). Carter also served as the Terriers’ punter, and the junior from Florence will handle both roles for Wofford again this season (in addition to being the kickoff specialist).

Miller Mosley (5’11”, 185 lbs.) is the Terriers’ holder on placements, and (as seen above) he also may be in the game at quarterback at times. The sophomore from Alabama is obviously someone who has to be accounted for when it comes to possible fake field goal attempts.

As has been the case for the last three seasons, Ross Hammond (6’1″, 230 lbs.) is Wofford’s long snapper. Hammond is a third-generation college football player.

Lennox McAfee will be Wofford’s primary punt returner and will also be on the kickoff return team, as will starting free safety JoJo Tillery (6’2″, 210 lbs.). While McAfee is the primary threat on both return units, Tillery is a good athlete with a fair amount of speed. He has only one career kick return, however.

Odds and ends:

– Wofford, perhaps inspired by The Bronze Bulldog, has a new on-campus sculpture, one probably safe from controversy. It is a bronze rendition of a Boston Terrier.

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Spartanburg, per the National Weather Service: a 40% chance of showers during the day and into the evening. It is expected to be partly sunny, with a high near 88 degrees. The projected low on Saturday night is about 70 degrees.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 10-point underdog at Wofford, with an over/under of 48.

That is easily the biggest spread for this particular matchup in several years. The over/under is slightly higher than has been the norm in recent seasons.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams: On Thursday night, Chattanooga is a 13.5-point favorite over Tennessee Tech, while Samford is favored over Shorter by 45.5 points.

Saturday, Western Carolina is a 21.5-point favorite over Newberry; VMI is a 46-point underdog at Toledo; Mercer is a 26-point underdog at Memphis; and Furman is a 48.5-point underdog at Clemson.

There was no readily available line for the Mars Hill-East Tennessee State game.

Also of note: Towson is a 23-point favorite at Morgan State; Charleston Southern is a 39.5-point underdog at Florida; and Alabama is a 25-point favorite over Louisville in Orlando.

Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 57th in FCS as of August 27 (the Bulldogs moved up 3 spots following Week 0 action). Wofford is ranked 33rd.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have an 21% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of Wofford 27, The Citadel 17.

Other FCS rankings of note in Massey (as of August 27): Kennesaw State (19th), Samford (25th), Yale (28th), Furman (29th), Elon (35th), Mercer (39th), Towson (40th), Colgate (41st), Western Carolina (45th), UT Martin (55th), Charleston Southern (56th), Chattanooga (58th), East Tennessee State (81st), Gardner-Webb (84th), Tennessee Tech (92nd), South Carolina State (93rd), Presbyterian (95th), VMI (113th), Davidson (124th), Mississippi Valley State (125th and last).

Massey’s top 5 FCS squads to begin the 2018 campaign: North Dakota State, James Madison, South Dakota State, Weber State, and Western Illinois.

In case you were wondering about Massey’s preseason rankings of certain squads that participate in the Football Bowl Subdivision, the top ten (in order) in the FBS standings as of August 27: Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, Wisconsin, Auburn, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma State. Florida State is 25th, South Carolina 33rd, Memphis 42nd, Navy 51st, North Carolina 57th, Army 65th, Appalachian State 67th, Wyoming 72nd, Tennessee 73rd, Toledo 74th, Air Force 89th, Old Dominion 117th, Coastal Carolina 121st, Georgia Southern 122nd, Charlotte 124th, Liberty 129th, and Jim Senter’s UTEP 130th and last.

– Wofford’s roster includes 35 players from South Carolina. Other states represented on its roster: Georgia (14 players), Florida (9), North Carolina (8), Ohio (8), Tennessee (8), Kentucky (4), Maryland (3), Virginia (2), and one each from Alabama, Maine, and New Jersey. Ronnie Brooks, a junior offensive lineman listed on the Terriers’ two-deep, is from Washington, DC (and attended Maret School, where the head basketball coach is one Chuck Driesell).

Oddly, none of Wofford’s 35 players from the Palmetto State are graduates of traditional pigskin powerhouse Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. While former coach Mike Ayers is said to have retired on his own terms, the possibility remains that the coach was gently but firmly “pushed out” due to his failure to recruit gridiron mainstays from the famed Maroon and Orange.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47), Georgia (28), Florida (9), North Carolina (5), Texas (5), Tennessee (4), Pennsylvania (3), Alabama (2), New York (2), and one each from Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.

Music matters at The Citadel’s practices. Surprisingly and disappointingly, though, neither Alison Krauss nor Ella Fitzgerald are featured.

– The Citadel’s game notes state that the “Block C” on the helmets is back for the 2018 season! This is very good news indeed.

It is the opening game of the 2018 campaign, and the level of excitement is high. I think the level of uncertainty is a little bit on the high side, too.

I could write a lot of sentences about my expectations for the opener, but to be honest, I’m not completely sure what my expectations are.

(Also, I’ve written way too many sentences in this post already.)

I guess the bottom line is that I think the Bulldogs are going to be good this season. How good, I don’t know.

We’ll begin to find out on Saturday.

Can’t wait…

2018 preseason rankings and ratings, featuring The Citadel (and the rest of the SoCon)

Yes, it’s that time of year. The preview magazines are out, and the Massey Ratings have been updated for preseason 2018. Let’s get right to the nitty-gritty!

Lindy’s ranks North Dakota State #1 in its FCS preseason poll. The rest of its top 5: James Madison, Sam Houston State, Jacksonville State, and South Dakota State. Incidentally, the top four teams were also the top four squads in Lindy’s 2017 preseason poll (with NDSU and JMU flip-flopped).

Wofford is ranked #10 (as was also the case in the magazine’s 2017 preseason poll), Samford #13, and Furman #17. Other teams of note include Kennesaw State (#7), North Carolina A&T (#19), and Elon (#21).

The Lindy’s preseason first team All-America squad for the FCS includes two players from Samford, quarterback Devlin Hodges and defensive lineman Ahmad Gooden. Not only that, but both are the magazine’s preseason national MVPs (on offense and defense, respectively).

Lindy’s first team also includes Wofford offensive lineman Ross Demmel. That is a bit problematic, as Demmel (who was an academic senior last season) is not on the Terriers’ 2018 roster.

The magazine’s preseason second team does feature a Wofford player who is expected to be on the field this year, however, in defensive lineman Miles Brown.

The preseason SoCon rankings, per Lindy’s:

1 – Wofford
2 – Samford
3 – Furman
4 – Western Carolina
5 – Chattanooga
6 – The Citadel
7 – Mercer
8 – East Tennessee State
9 – VMI

Charleston Southern is the preseason #2 team in the Big South, while Towson is projected to finish 11th in the 12-team CAA.

South Carolina State is picked 5th in the MEAC.

Street & Smith’s FCS top 25 is similar to Lindy’s at the top, with North Dakota State and James Madison 1-2 in the rankings. South Dakota State is 3rd, followed by Kennesaw State and Jacksonville State.

Samford is ranked #10, Furman #17, and Wofford #21. Others of interest: Elon (9th), North Carolina A&T (15th), and Richmond (24th).

The magazine’s preseason All-America squad includes Samford’s Hodges and Gooden. No other SoCon players are named (and Street & Smith’s does not have a preseason second team).

As was the case last year, the SoCon preview was written by S&S assistant editor Will Long, who is based in Charlotte (and is a graduate of Clemson). The rankings:

1 – Samford
2 – Furman
3 – Wofford
4 – Mercer
5 – Western Carolina
6 – The Citadel
7 – Chattanooga
8 – East Tennessee State
9 – VMI

Charleston Southern is projected to finish third in the Big South (behind Kennesaw State and Monmouth). Towson is picked 8th in the CAA.

S&S is not bullish on South Carolina State, with Buddy Pough’s charges ranked 9th in the 10-team MEAC.

Disappointingly, Athlon does not have an FCS conference preview section. The magazine does have a Top 25 preview written by Craig Haley of STATS FCS Football. The top 5, per Haley: North Dakota State, James Madison, New Hampshire, South Dakota State, and Kennesaw State.

Samford is 12th in this poll, with Wofford 16th. Those two teams are the only SoCon teams projected to make the FCS playoffs.

(It should be noted that the Terriers are not listed as a potential qualifier in the Athlon magazine currently on the shelf of your local bookstore. Wofford and Youngstown State were left off the page by mistake, but subsequently included in an online summary).

Also ranked: Elon (#10) and North Carolina A&T (#20). Monmouth, everyone’s favorite traditional Big South school, is included in an “others to watch” category.

Athlon‘s preseason All-America team includes Ahmad Gooden, but not his teammate Devlin Hodges; the squad’s quarterback is Eastern Washington’s Gage Gubrud.

Wofford’s Miles Brown is on the team, as is Western Carolina punter Ian Berryman. The magazine does not have a preseason All-America second team.

Okay, let’s talk about the Massey Ratings…

For the last few years, I’ve been incorporating the Massey Ratings into my game previews. For those not entirely familiar with this ratings system, here is an explanation:

The Massey Ratings are designed to measure past performance, not necessarily to predict future outcomes…overall team rating is a merit based quantity, and is the result of applying a Bayesian win-loss correction to the power rating.

…In contrast to the overall rating, the Power is a better measure of potential and is less concerned with actual wins-losses.

…A team’s Offense power rating essentially measures the ability to score points. This does not distinguish how points are scored, so good defensive play that leads to scoring will be reflected in the Offense rating. In general, the offensive rating can be interpreted as the number of points a team would be expected to score against an average defense.

Similarly, a team’s Defense power rating reflects the ability to prevent its opponent from scoring. An average defense will be rated at zero. Positive or negative defensive ratings would respectively lower or raise the opponent’s expected score accordingly.

…the Massey model will in some sense minimize the unexplained error (noise). Upsets will occur and it is impossible (and also counter-productive) to get an exact fit to the actual game outcomes. Hence, I publish an estimated standard deviation. About 68% of observed game results will fall within one standard deviation of the expected (“average”) result.

Preseason ratings are typically derived as a weighted average of previous years’ final ratings. As the current season progresses, their effect gets damped out completely. The only purpose preseason ratings serve is to provide a reasonable starting point for the computer. Mathematically, they guarantee a unique solution to the equations early in the season when not enough data is available yet.

Massey rates every single college football team — not just FBS and FCS squads, but D-2, D-3, NAIA, junior colleges, even Canadian and Mexican schools. This season, there are preseason ratings for 957 colleges and universities, from Alabama (#1) to Minnesota State Community & Technical College (#957).

This year, The Citadel is #218 overall in the preseason ratings. As a comparison, the Bulldogs were the preseason #130 team last year, #113 in the 2016 preseason, and #174 in the 2015 preseason.

The teams on The Citadel’s 2018 schedule are rated as follows (with the chances of a Bulldogs victory in parenthesis):

  • at Wofford – #162 (21%)
  • Chattanooga – #217 (56%)
  • Charleston Southern – #214 (56%)
  • at Mercer – #174 (29%)
  • at Towson – #178 (28%)
  • East Tennessee State – #264 (72%)
  • at VMI – #403 (92%)
  • Furman – #158 (28%)
  • at Western Carolina – #185 (35%)
  • Samford – #148 (27%)
  • Alabama – #1 (0%)

On the site, The Citadel’s matchups with ETSU and WCU are not listed for some reason. I used the Massey simulator to derive projected win percentages for those two games.

There are simulations for any possible matchup. Feel free to waste a few hours playing with them.

Going by the ratings, a Massey preseason poll for the SoCon would look like this:

1 – Samford
2 – Furman
3 – Wofford
4 – Mercer
5 – Western Carolina
6 – Chattanooga
7 – The Citadel
8 – East Tennessee State
9 – VMI

Massey’s FCS-only ratings for select schools:

  • North Dakota State – 1
  • James Madison – 2
  • South Dakota State – 3
  • Weber State – 4
  • Western Illinois – 5
  • Northern Iowa – 6
  • Youngstown State – 7
  • Southern Utah – 8
  • South Dakota – 9
  • Eastern Washington – 10
  • Richmond – 13
  • Delaware – 15
  • Kennesaw State – 19
  • Samford – 25
  • Yale – 27
  • Furman – 30
  • Wofford – 32
  • Elon – 34
  • Mercer – 37
  • Colgate – 38
  • North Carolina A&T – 39
  • Towson – 41
  • Western Carolina – 44
  • William and Mary – 50
  • Charleston Southern – 57
  • Chattanooga – 60
  • The Citadel – 61
  • Harvard – 64
  • Lehigh – 65
  • East Tennessee State – 81
  • Gardner-Webb – 86
  • Presbyterian – 93
  • South Carolina State – 95
  • Campbell – 110
  • VMI – 113
  • Georgetown – 115
  • Davidson – 124
  • Mississippi Valley State – 125

Massey is clearly a big fan of the Missouri Valley Football Conference (six teams in the top 10). Mississippi Valley State is the lowest-rated FCS squad.

In the “overall” category, some schools of note:

  • Alabama – 1
  • Georgia – 2
  • Clemson – 3
  • Oklahoma – 4
  • Ohio State – 5
  • Penn State – 6
  • Wisconsin – 7
  • Auburn – 8
  • Notre Dame – 9
  • Oklahoma State – 10
  • TCU – 11
  • UCF – 12
  • North Carolina State – 16
  • Miami (FL) – 17
  • Michigan – 19
  • Mississippi State – 20
  • Virginia Tech – 21
  • Florida State – 25
  • Southern California – 27
  • Wake Forest – 28
  • Georgia Tech – 32
  • South Carolina – 33
  • North Dakota State – 34 (highest-rated FCS team)
  • Duke – 35
  • Texas A&M – 39
  • James Madison – 45
  • Missouri – 49
  • Florida – 50
  • Navy – 53
  • Florida Atlantic – 57
  • North Carolina – 59
  • Maryland – 60
  • Army – 67
  • Appalachian State – 68
  • UCLA – 69
  • Tennessee – 75
  • Weber State – 80
  • Western Illinois – 81
  • Rutgers – 87
  • Air Force – 96
  • BYU – 97
  • Western Ontario – 111 (highest-rated Canadian team)
  • Southern Mississippi – 112
  • Connecticut – 118
  • Northwest Missouri State – 131 (highest-rated D-2 team)
  • Fullerton College – 150 (highest-rated junior college team)
  • Coastal Carolina – 156
  • Georgia Southern – 159
  • San Jose State – 173
  • Texas State – 180
  • Mt. Union – 200 (highest-rated D-3 team)
  • St. Francis (IN) – 245 (highest-rated NAIA team)
  • North Greenville – 297
  • UDLA Puebla – 359 (highest-rated Mexican team)
  • Newberry – 360
  • Lenoir-Rhyne – 416
  • Limestone – 445

Football season is getting closer. Trust me, it is…

2017 Football, Game 4: The Citadel vs. Samford

If you look in the trophy case on the right side [at the entrance to Mark Clark Hall], you will see the game ball that I gave to the corps of cadets because of the overtime at their end of the field. It was so loud that the Samford offense couldn’t communicate, forced them to jump offsides…that helped contribute to the missed field goal. Every time I walk into Mark Clark Hall I look at that ball and think about that game.

Brent Thompson, on last year’s contest between The Citadel and Samford

The Citadel at Samford, to be played at Seibert Stadium in Homewood, Alabama, with kickoff at 3:00 pm ET on September 30, 2017.

The game will be streamed on ESPN3. Curt Bloom will handle play-by-play, while Chad Pilcher supplies the analysis. Hattie Breece will report from the sidelines.

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

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

The Citadel Sports Network — 2017 Affiliates

Charleston: WQNT 1450 AM/92.1 FM/102.1 FM (Flagship)
Columbia: WQXL 1470 AM/100.7 FM
Greenville: WLFJ 92.9 FM/660 AM
Sumter: WDXY 1240 AM/105.9 FM

Links of interest:

The Citadel is ready for action after its bye week

Assessing the SoCon after four weeks

Another look at the league through September 28

The Citadel keeps on winning

Ja’Lon Williams likes pizza (as he should)

– Game notes from The Citadel and Samford

– SoCon weekly release

– FCS Coaches’ poll (The Citadel is ranked #11, down one spot from last week; Samford is ranked #23)

– STATS FCS poll (The Citadel is ranked #8, up two spots from last week; Samford is ranked #25)

Brent Thompson speaks to the Orangeburg Touchdown Club

Brent Thompson’s 9/26 press conference, including comments from Dominique Allen and Ja’Lon Williams (video)

– Brent Thompson’s 9/27 radio show (video)

– The Bulldog Breakdown [9/21] (video)

Chris Hatcher briefly discusses both Samford’s loss to and the upcoming game versus The Citadel (video)

Chris Hatcher speaks after SU’s 9/25 practice (video)

Highlights from Samford’s game versus Western Carolina (video)

– Southern Pigskin “SoCon Podcast” (audio)

I’m just back from a trip overseas, so this will be one of the more abbreviated (and perhaps eccentric) previews I’ve written in a while. Sorry about that. I’m not sorry about travelling, though.

Last Saturday, I watched from a good seat at Stadio Olimpico as Roma defeated Udinese 3-1. The atmosphere was incredible; it seemed like half the fans in the Curva Sud section had a giant team flag (note: I wasn’t nearly crazy enough to sit in that part of the arena).

Singing, chanting, yelling, stomping, dancing, flag-waving…you name it, the Roma fans did it.

The last time I was at a sporting event in which the crowd intensity even remotely compared to what I witnessed in Rome — well, that was when Samford played The Citadel last season.

As always, I have to establish ground rules when writing about The Citadel and Samford, as both teams are nicknamed “Bulldogs”.

In this post, “Bulldogs” refers to The Citadel. The reason for that is simple: I graduated from The Citadel, and this is my blog.

I’ll call Samford “SU”, the “Birmingham Bulldogs”, or the “Baptist Tigers”.

For those unfamiliar with the Baptist Tigers, a quick little history lesson:

The Howard College [later to be renamed Samford] team was known originally as the “Baptist Tigers.” However, rival Auburn also had “Tigers” as a nickname. Howard’s teams went by “Baptist Bears” until Dec. 14, 1916, when the student body voted two-to-one for the “Crimson Bulldog” over the “Baptist Bears.” Students decided that a bulldog could eat more Birmingham-Southern Panther meat than a bear could.

I am still trying to figure out why the students thought bears wouldn’t eat as much meat as bulldogs, but maybe the bulldogs of a century ago were particularly carnivorous.

Last year’s game was a bit of a curiosity from a stats perspective. The day after the game, I wrote that it was surprising the contest had gone to overtime, considering how The Citadel had dominated several offensive categories (including time of possession).

When I took a closer look at the statistical profile this summer, however, I realized that the opposite was true. Samford probably should have won the game.

SU had the edge in four out of the Five Factors:

  • Field position (an edge of eight yards of starting field position, 32 to 24)
  • Efficiency (50.0% to 47.8%, meaning a higher percentage of Samford’s offensive plays were successful)
  • Explosiveness (1.108 to 1.101, meaning Samford’s successful plays tended to be more explosive)
  • Finishing Drives (5.4 to 4.0, as Samford averaged more points per possession inside the 40-yard line)

Neither team committed a turnover, so the fifth factor was a draw.

Of course, two of the four factors were close. In those two categories (Efficiency and Explosiveness), The Citadel had a “hidden edge” in the sense that it simply ran many more plays than SU.

That edge in plays meant that despite SU having a higher “explosive play” average, the Cadets had more offensive plays of 20+ yards (six to three). The yards per play numbers were close (6.3 to 5.8, favoring The Citadel).

All of that said, the bottom line is The Citadel was down 10 points with less than six minutes to play. It didn’t look good for the home team, especially while running an offense that allegedly isn’t designed to come back from double-digit deficits.

Tell that to Cam Jackson and company, though.

At his press conference earlier this week, Brent Thompson mentioned two things he remembered about the game against Samford last year. One was Cam Jackson’s fourth-quarter run.

The other was Thompson’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-one from his own 43, which backfired when the Bulldogs did not pick up the first down, leading to a short-field TD (and ten-point lead) for SU. Thompson said at the presser that if he had to do it over again, he probably would have punted.

While it may have been a mistake, I usually don’t mind that type of aggressive move. I would much prefer that than, say, deciding to punt inside the opponents’ 40-yard line on fourth-and-one.

Keeping the ball is particularly important when playing a team like Samford. That was borne out in the 2015 contest at Seibert Stadium. The Citadel won the game handily (44-25), but still allowed SU touchdown drives of 98 and 99 yards. Both of those drives came after punts, and the two possessions combined took only 4:17 off the clock.

Key statistics for The Citadel through three games (victories over Newberry, Presbyterian, and East Tennessee State):

The Citadel Opponents
Points per game 36.7 15.3
Rushing yardage 1140 212
Average per rush 5.4 3.2
Average per game 380 70.7
TDs rushing 10 3
Passing yardage 288 499
Comp-Att-Int 14-28-2 45-82-5
Average per pass 10.3 6.1
TDs passing 5 3
Total offense 1428 711
Total plays 240 149
Yards per play 5.9 4.8
Kick returns-yards 3-67 11-221
Punt returns-yards 5-44 1-1
Fumbles/lost 6-1 2-1
Avg penalties/penalty yards per game 3.3/37 2.0/18.3
Net punt average 40.38 36.31
Time of possession/game 37:35 22:25
3rd down conversions 30/49 8/30
3rd down conversion rate 61% 27%
Sacks by-yards 6-38 0-0
Field goals-attempts 2-3 1-1
Red Zone touchdown rate (11-14) 79% (3-5) 60%
  • The Citadel currently leads FCS in rushing yards per game and offensive third down conversion rate
  • On defense, the Bulldogs are 12th nationally in third down conversion rate
  • The Citadel is second in the country in time of possession, behind only North Dakota State
  • The Bulldogs are 17th nationally in scoring offense, and 14th in scoring defense
  • The 40.38 net punting yards averaged by The Citadel is currently 13th-best in FCS
  • The Citadel is fourth nationally in fewest penalties per game, but only third in the SoCon (VMI is 2nd in FCS; Furman is 3rd)

Samford is 2-2, with wins over Kennesaw State and West Alabama, and losses to Georgia and Western Carolina. Stats through four games for SU:

Samford Opponents
Points per game 31.2 36.0
Rushing yardage 305 925
Average per rush 2.8 4.7
Average per game 76.2 231.2
TDs rushing 1 11
Passing yardage 1314 1203
Comp-Att-Int 111-173-2 76-124-4
Average per pass 7.6 9.7
TDs passing 13 8
Total offense 1619 2128
Total plays 283 320
Yards per play 5.7 6.7
Kick returns-yards 16-393 12-272
Punt returns-yards 11-77 10-110
Fumbles-lost 8-2 5-3
Avg penalties/penalty yards per game 4.4/39 6.0/58
Net punt average 36.6 36.5
Time of possession/game 26:55 33:05
3rd down conversions 26/62 28/66
3rd down conversion rate 42% 42%
Sacks by-yards 9-43 6-41
Field goals-attempts 2-3 2-4
Red Zone touchdown rate (9-15) 60% (11-14) 79%
  • Samford is 6th nationally in passing yardage per game
  • SU is also 19th in FCS in kickoff return yardage (per attempt)
  • As far as third down conversion rates are concerned, Samford is 34th in the country on offense, and 85th on defense
  • Samford is 13th-best nationally in fewest penalties per game
  • SU is 33rd in scoring offense, and 98th (out of 122 teams) in scoring defense

Chris Hatcher said the following during his press conference earlier this week:

Offensively, we’ve got to do a better job of controlling that football a little bit more consistently for the entire game, and that will be the key to our success this week.

Here is a quick look at the last four years of The Citadel-Samford series from a time of possession/rushing point of view (it should be noted Hatcher has only been the head coach at SU for two of those seasons):

  • 2013: The Citadel controlled the ball for 35:42 and outrushed Samford 338-65
  • 2014: The Citadel controlled the ball for 37:42 and outrushed Samford 359-132
  • 2015: The Citadel controlled the ball for 35:15 and outrushed Samford 424-82
  • 2016: The Citadel controlled the ball for 38:17 and outrushed Samford 463-93

The Citadel won three of those games (losing the 2014 contest by a 20-17 score).

Under the direction of longtime defensive coordinator Bill D’Ottavio, Samford has generally employed a “Bear” front against The Citadel’s triple option attack. From 2010 to 2012, the Bulldogs had a difficult time moving the football against SU, with terrible third-down conversion rates (15% for that combined three-year period).

However, in recent years The Citadel has improved in that category against Samford:

  • 2013: 8 for 17, 47.1%
  • 2014: 7 for 19, 36.8%
  • 2015: 6 for 14, 42.9%
  • 2016: 11 for 21, 52.3%

The victory by Samford over Kennesaw State will probably turn out to be a good one for SU. The Owls have won two straight since SU’s 28-23 win on the opening Thursday of Week 1.

I watched part of the game, which was interrupted by a tornado warning (and subsequent lightning delays). It seemed to me that Chris Hatcher was trying to establish a rushing attack, so much so that SU actually had more runs than passing attempts (33 to 26, counting sacks as passing attempts).

Even taking sacks out of the equation, though, Samford finished with only 81 rushing yards on those 33 attempts (2.45 yards per carry).

I don’t know if the fact KSU is a triple option team had an impact on SU’s offensive play-calling. I do know that in the next three games, Samford went back to its pass-happy ways.

  • Against West Alabama, Samford had 48 pass plays (sacks included) and 30 rushing plays
  • Against Georgia, Samford had 38 pass plays (sacks included) and 20 rushing plays
  • Against Western Carolina, Samford had 67 (!) pass plays and 21 rushing plays

In that WCU game, Samford quarterback Devlin Hodges (6’1″, 205 lbs.) threw for a school-record 516 yards and four TDs. The native of Kimberly, Alabama was the SoCon offensive player of the year last season.

Hodges, a redshirt junior, began his career as a starter after Samford’s 2015 loss to The Citadel, and hasn’t looked back. In last year’s game between the two teams, he was 35 for 46 passing, for 280 yards and two TDs.

While not inclined to run, Hodges is far from a statue. He had a 57-yard TD run right up the middle against the Bulldogs last year on a called QB draw, and showed an ability to move (and escape) in the pocket.

So far this season, Hodges is averaging 7.6 yards per pass attempt, with 13 TDs against just two interceptions.

Kelvin McKnight (5’9″, 188 lbs.) already had 37 receptions this season. The junior from Bradenton, Florida is averaging 13.4 yards per catch. A preseason first-team all-league selection, McKnight had nine receptions against The Citadel last season, for 118 yards.

McKnight is also Samford’s primary punt returner, and he can be dangerous in that role as well. He averaged 8.7 yards per punt return last season. At his press conference, Brent Thompson noted that McKnight is not afraid to pick up a bouncing ball while on the run.

Another wideout, sophomore Chris Shelling (5’8″, 170 lbs.), had 12 receptions for 245 receiving yards last week. Shelling only had seven receptions all of last season (five of those were against Furman).

Average size of Samford’s projected starting offensive line: 6’5″, 291 lbs. The largest of that group is the center, 6’5″, 325 lb. Nate Lee, a sophomore from Valdosta, Georgia.

Samford had three defensive players named to the preseason first-team all-conference squad — Ahmad Gooden, Shaheed Salmon, and Omari Williams. They happen to be three of SU’s top four tacklers to this point in the 2016 campaign.

Ahmad Gooden (6’1″, 240 lbs.) is a defensive end who had 15 tackles in last season’s game versus The Citadel. This year, the redshirt junior from Talladega has 3.5 sacks after only four games.

Weakside linebacker Shaheed Salmon (6’2″, 232 lbs.) currently leads the Baptist Tigers in tackles, with 41. Salmon, a senior from Tampa, did not play against The Citadel last season due to injury. It is the only contest he has missed in his entire career.

Last year, Deion Pierre (6’3″, 230 lbs.) tied his career high for tackles versus The Citadel, making 11 stops. The senior is second on the team in tackles after four games this season.

Omari Williams (6’1″, 200 lbs.), a local product from Birmingham, was named first-team all-SoCon by the coaches and the media after last season, a year in which the cornerback led the league in passes defended with 19 (including four interceptions). Williams returned an interception for a touchdown against West Alabama.

Darius Harvey (5’11”, 185 lbs.) is the other starting cornerback for Samford. Harvey also had a pick-6 versus West Alabama, a game in which the junior from Tallahassee added a 93-yard kickoff return TD.

Samford’s punter, Austin Barnard (6’4″, 210 lbs.) was a second-team preseason all-league choice. The senior also handles kickoffs for SU.

The placekicker for Samford is redshirt freshman Jordan Weaver (6’2″, 195 lbs.), who is 2 for 3 on field goal attempts in 2016, with a long of 32 yards. His miss, a 37-yard effort against Georgia, was blocked.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Homewood, Alabama, per the National Weather Service: sunny, with an expected high of 81 degrees.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 1-point favorite over Samford. The over/under is 60.5. That line has moved about 2 points, as SU opened as the favorite.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams: Furman is a 13.5-point favorite over East Tennessee State; Mercer is a 25.5-point favorite over VMI; and Chattanooga is an 8.5-point favorite over Western Carolina.

There is no line for the Presbyterian-Wofford game. If there were, I’m guessing it would be around 30 points or so (in favor of the Terriers).

Around the Palmetto State, Clemson is an 8-point favorite at Louisville; South Carolina is an 8-point underdog at Texas A&M; South Carolina State is a 14-point home underdog against North Carolina A&T; Coastal Carolina is a 4.5-point underdog at ULM; and Charleston Southern is a 42-point favorite versus Mississippi Valley State.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 30th in FCS, actually improving four spots by not playing. The previous two weeks saw the Bulldogs fall a combined 16 spots despite two victories.

Samford is ranked 38th in FCS, dropping seven positions from last week. Overall (all college teams ranked), The Citadel is 155th, while Samford is 166th.

Massey projects a final score of Samford 31, The Citadel 29. The Cadets are given a 48% chance of winning.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Wofford is 18th (up one spot), Chattanooga is 32nd (up five places), Charleston Southern is 40th, Furman is 43rd (up 18 spots), Wester Carolina is 47th (also gaining 18 spots), Mercer is 59th (down 10 places), South Carolina State is 84th, Prebyterian is 99th, and VMI is 106th (down six places).

The FCS top five in Massey’s rankings, in order: North Dakota State, James Madison, Western Illinois (jumping into the top five after dismantling Coastal Carolina), South Dakota State, and Jacksonville State.

– Since 1916, The Citadel has a 6-5 record for games played on September 30. The most notable of those victories was probably the 1989 game against South Carolina State, which was played at Williams-Brice Stadium in the wake of Hurricane Hugo.

The Citadel won that game 31-20. Charleston’s Bulldogs have actually defeated Orangeburg’s Bulldogs twice on September 30, having also done so in 2000, by a 45-16 score.

The last time The Citadel played on September 30, in 2006, the Bulldogs defeated Chattanooga 24-21. However, The Citadel has not won a road game on 9/30 since a 42-14 victory at Maine in 1967.

– Changes to The Citadel’s two-deep for the Samford game: Grant Drakeford is now listed as a potential starter at A-back, and there are also three new additions to the defensive depth chart — A.J. Stokes, Israel Battle, and Willie Eubanks III.

– Samford has won eight straight home games.

– Among Samford’s notable graduates are actor Tony Hale (who has won two Emmy awards for his work in the HBO comedy Veep), actress Gail Patrick (best known as the trailblazing producer of the Perry Mason TV show), and longtime college football coach Bobby Bowden.

– The roster for Samford (per its game notes) includes 41 players from the State of Georgia, more than from Alabama (37). Other states represented on its roster: Florida (18 players), Tennessee (11), Mississippi (4), North Carolina (3), and one each from Maryland, Arkansas, Texas, and California.

There are no players from South Carolina on the Samford squad, not even from Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School, a legendary hotbed of gridiron supremacy.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47 players), Georgia (29), Florida (6), North Carolina (5), Alabama (4), Texas (4), Pennsylvania (3), Tennessee (2), New York (2), and one each from Louisiana, Michigan, Virginia, and West Virginia.

– Not football-related, but worth mentioning: Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier had a good feature this week on Bulldog hoopster Leandro Allende, a native of Puerto Rico. Allende is understandably concerned about the devastation of the island caused by Hurricane Maria:

For Allende, the plight of his fellow Puerto Ricans hit home when he saw an acquaintance on the news.

“I have a friend who does not live in a very nice place,” he said. “I saw him on a kayak going through the flooded streets. That broke my heart when I saw that.”

I suspect the game on Saturday will be high-scoring. Samford will try to take advantage of The Citadel’s secondary, while on the other side of the ball, the Bulldogs will attack an SU defense that gave up 290 yards rushing (5.1 yards per carry) last week against Western Carolina.

The key defensively for The Citadel will be to pressure Samford QB Devlin Hodges; as last year’s game proved, that will not be an easy task. The offense has to maintain its edge in time of possession to take the heat off the defense, and the Bulldogs also have to make their drives count and score touchdowns. Avoiding turnovers is paramount.

Last season, Tyler Renew wrecked Samford’s D from the B-back position. I wonder if the move to play Brandon Berry against ETSU was designed (at least in part) to get him ready for Samford, with the coaching staff perhaps thinking that more of a “bruiser” would be needed at the position this week. That may be something to watch.

We’ll be watching anyway, of course. The first three games are in the books, and the bye week has been completed. It’s time for the business end of the 2017 season to begin.

With less than a month to go until football season begins, an odds-on look at Week 0 and Week 1

Please note: the information contained in this post is for entertainment purposes only. Use of this information in violation of any city, county, state, federal, international, interplanetary, or interdimensional laws is prohibited.

I’m basically going to do three things in this post: take a look at the sizable number of “lopsided” early-season contests; compare Massey Ratings projected game scores with early lines for various games of interest; and make a list of the best opening weekend (and pre-opening weekend) matchups.

Why am I doing this? Well, why not?

Lines are courtesy of an offshore site to be named later.

There are 136 contests in Weeks 0 and 1 that feature at least one Division I team. Among them are 44 FBS vs. FBS games; of those, 11 are games between Power-5 conference teams, 9 are Group of 5 matchups, and 24 are games in which a P5 team is playing a G5 opponent.

There are also 48 FBS vs. FCS matchups, 26 FCS vs. FCS contests, and 18 games in which FCS teams face non-D1 opposition.

Of those 136 games, 36 have an early-line spread of 30 points or more.

The breakdown of those 36 matchups:

  • FBS vs. FBS: 6
  • FBS vs. FCS: 18
  • FCS vs. FCS: 4
  • FCS vs. non-D1: 8

It’s not great that more than 26% of the D-1 games which take place prior to and through the Labor Day weekend are projected to be that one-sided. Of course, it could be argued that this is the best time for these matchups, given that the general football-loving public is starved for live gridiron action of any kind, no matter the blowout potential.

As of August 1, the largest point spread for any D-1 game in this time period is the Florida A&M-Arkansas contest on August 31, a Thursday night affair in Little Rock. The Razorbacks are favored by 51.5 points. Two games have 51-point spreads, Bethune-Cookman vs. Miami (the homestanding Hurricanes are favored, just to state the obvious) and an all-FCS matchup, Mississippi Valley State vs. North Dakota State (with the host Bison expected to prevail).

The biggest road favorite is Washington, favored by 30.5 points at Rutgers. Stanford plays Rice at a neutral site (Sydney, Australia); the Cardinal are 31.5-point favorites.

The other four FBS vs. FBS matchups with a spread of 30+ points: UTEP-Oklahoma (44 points, the largest spread in an all-FBS game), Kent State-Clemson (38.5 points), Georgia Southern-Auburn (35 points), and Akron-Penn State (33 points). To the surprise of no one, the home teams are all favored.

The other three FCS vs. FCS games with 30+ point spreads: Butler-Illinois State (36 points), Valparaiso-Montana (34 points; apologies to Adam Amin), and Delaware State-Delaware (33 points). Again, home teams are the favorites.

In the table below, I’ve included every FBS/FCS game in Week 0 (eight games played on August 26, and one on August 27), and a sampling of contests from Week 1 (August 31 through September 4). Just to reiterate, not every D-1 game from Week 1 is listed.

The first nine games in the table are from Week 0.

Favorite Underdog Line Massey Differential
Colorado State Oregon State 3.5 34-31 0.5
BYU Portland State 32.5 44-13 1.5
Florida A&M Texas Southern 1.5 26-24 -0.5
Jacksonville State Chattanooga 6.5 28-26 4.5
Cal Poly Colgate 7 35-31 3
USF San Jose State 20 41-31 10
Stanford Rice 31.5 38-7 0.5
Sam Houston State Richmond 6.5 38-34 2.5
Hawai’i Massachusetts 1 33-31 -1
Wake Forest Presbyterian 39 35-0 4
Toledo Elon 37.5 43-7 1.5
Georgia State Tennessee State 18 38-17 -3
Arkansas Florida A&M 51.5 52-3 2.5
Mercer Jacksonville 21 42-21 0
Samford Kennesaw State 7.5 38-30 -0.5
Towson Morgan State 28 35-7 0
Oklahoma State Tulsa 17 42-33 8
Ohio State Indiana 20.5 31-17 6.5
Army Fordham 15.5 40-24 -0.5
Eastern Michigan Charlotte 12.5 35-27 4.5
Navy Florida Atlantic 13.5 42-28 -0.5
Colorado Colorado State 7 35-28 0
Clemson Kent State 38.5 44-3 -2.5
Texas Maryland 16.5 34-27 9.5
Oklahoma UTEP 44 49-13 8
North Carolina California 12.5 42-32 2.5
Villanova Lehigh 6.5 28-22 0.5
Pittsburgh Youngstown State 14 40-24 -2
North Carolina State South Carolina 5.5 28-17 -5.5
Notre Dame Temple 15 28-24 11
Georgia Appalachian State 14.5 21-18 11.5
Michigan Florida 4 24-20 0
Virginia William and Mary 19.5 33-14 0.5
North Dakota State Mississippi Valley State 51 52-0 -1
Texas Tech Eastern Washington 16.5 45-38 9.5
Mississippi State Charleston Southern 18.5 38-21 1.5
The Citadel Newberry 30 37-7 0
Wofford Furman 13.5 26-14 1.5
Gardner-Webb North Carolina A&T 7 28-21 0
Baylor Liberty 30 42-14 2
East Tennessee State Limestone 28.5 35-7 0.5
Auburn Georgia Southern 35 34-13 14
Air Force VMI 31.5 41-10 0.5
Alabama Florida State 7.5 33-21 -4.5
LSU BYU 13 21-7 -1
Southern South Carolina State 2.5 27-24 -0.5
Virginia Tech West Virginia 4 29-26 1
UCLA Texas A&M 3.5 25-28 6.5
Tennessee Georgia Tech 3.5 31-32 4.5

Odds (hey, a pun!) and ends:

  • Not listed: James Madison-East Carolina, which does not have a line at present for some reason. However, Massey projects FCS defending champ JMU to win the game 38-31.
  • Western Carolina’s season opener at Hawai’i also does not have a line (at least, not one that I could find), possibly because the Rainbow Warriors play a game at Massachusetts the week before.
  • The same is true for Coastal Carolina, which opens by hosting the aforementioned Minutemen.
  • Two teams in the table that are favorites (UCLA and Tennessee) are projected to lose by the Massey Ratings.
  • Massey projects several games to be considerably closer than the current lines, notably Appalachian State-Georgia, Maryland-Texas, Eastern Washington-Texas Tech, Temple-Notre Dame, and Tulsa-Oklahoma State.
  • On the other hand, Massey likes North Carolina State and Alabama even more than the offshore folks do.

On his college basketball ratings website, Ken Pomeroy has something called ‘FanMatch’, in which “games are rated for competitiveness and level of play with a lean towards higher-scoring games”. It is a somewhat whimsical way to rate the potential watchability of individual games on a given night.

I’m going to do the same thing here. However, I am purposely not going to rate Newberry-The Citadel, which from my vantage point is the most watchable game of the Labor Day weekend.

Below is a listing of the Week 0/1 games that I consider to be the twenty best in terms of quality/competitiveness. I’ve created a secret formula to produce these game ratings; it is called “Tingle Factor”, or TF. The higher the TF, the better.

Road Team Home Team Gametime (ET) TV/Streaming TF
Alabama Florida State 9/2, 8:00 pm ABC/ESPN3 86.73
North Carolina State South Carolina 9/2, 3:00 pm ESPN 84.20
Tennessee Georgia Tech 9/4, 8:00 pm ESPN 83.90
Virginia Tech West Virginia 9/3, 7:30 pm ABC/ESPN3 83.55
Richmond Sam Houston State 8/27, 7:00 pm ESPNU 80.11
Tulsa Oklahoma State 8/31, 7:30 pm FS1/FS-Go 79.68
Chattanooga Jacksonville State 8/26, 6:30 pm ESPN 75.41
Colorado State Colorado 9/1, 8:00 pm Pac-12 Network 72.15
Oregon State Colorado State 8/26, 2:30 pm CBS Sports Net 72.00
James Madison East Carolina 9/2, 6:00 pm ESPN3 68.44
Temple Notre Dame 9/2, 3:30 pm NBC 67.18
Kennesaw State Samford 8/31, 7:00 pm ESPN3 66.95
Texas A&M UCLA 9/3, 7:30 pm FOX/FS-Go 65.60
Hawai’i Massachusetts 8/26, 6:00 pm TBA 65.47
Maryland Texas 9/2, 12:00 pm FS1/FS-Go 64.19
Eastern Washington Texas Tech 9/2, 4:00 pm FS Nets/FS-Go 64.03
South Carolina St. Southern 9/3, 2:30 pm ESPN2 63.88
Navy Florida Atlantic 9/2, 8:00 pm ESPNU 63.79
Villanova Lehigh 9/2, 12:30 pm Patriot League DN 63.58
Colgate Cal Poly 8/26, 7:00 pm ESPNU 63.56

Notes:

  • Alabama-Florida State will be played in Atlanta, GA
  • Georgia Tech-Tennessee will also be played in Atlanta, GA
  • North Carolina State-South Carolina will be played in Charlotte, NC
  • Colorado State-Colorado will be played in Denver, CO
  • Chattanooga-Jacksonville State will be played in Montgomery, AL
  • Virginia Tech-West Virginia will be played in Landover, MD

The season is getting closer…and closer…

2017 preseason rankings and ratings, featuring The Citadel (and the rest of the SoCon)

Previous posts on The Citadel’s upcoming football campaign:

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

A look at “advanced stats” from The Citadel’s most recent SoCon season

The Citadel’s fans aren’t afraid to travel

I think it’s time to take a gander at some preseason rankings and ratings. After all, what’s the purpose of even having a month of July otherwise?

First up, some rankings…

This year, the Street & Smith’s college football annual returns, after several years of being usurped by the byline of The Sporting News (which had been acquired by the same company that owned Street & Smith’s about a decade ago). Now, the magazine is going by the Street & Smith’s name again, a return to a tradition that began in 1940.

On a personal level, I was pleased to see this. For years, it was a somewhat of a tradition for my father to buy the Street & Smith’s annual in July (usually after we made a trip to the barber shop). I would voraciously read the magazine cover-to-cover, even the section on the “Little Three” (yes, back in the day S&S would routinely have a page dedicated to the preseason prospects for Amherst, Williams, and Wesleyan).

Anyway, the SoCon preview for this year’s annual was written by S&S assistant editor Will Long (who also wrote the FCS preview article in the magazine). Long is a resident of Charlotte who graduated from Clemson, so presumably he has some familiarity with the conference.

Long wrote that the SoCon “is as wide-open as it has been in recent memory.” His preseason predictions:

1 – Wofford (#9 in the S&S preseason Top 25 of the FCS)
2 – The Citadel (#12)
3 – Chattanooga (#18)
4 – Samford (#20)
5 – Mercer
6 – Furman
7 – Western Carolina
8 – East Tennessee State
9 – VMI

Sam Houston State is the magazine’s #1 team in its preseason top 25, followed by North Dakota State and defending FCS champion James Madison. Big South favorite Charleston Southern is #13, while MEAC standard-bearer North Carolina Central is #22.

The preseason FCS All-America team for Street & Smith’s includes Wofford defensive lineman Tyler Vaughn, South Carolina State linebacker Darius Leonard, and Western Carolina running back Detrez Newsome (on the team as a return specialist).

Other preseason magazines tend not to have specific previews for FCS conferences, but stick to national previews and Top 25 rankings.

Athlon ranks The Citadel #25 in its preseason list. North Dakota State is #1 in its rankings, ahead of James Madison, South Dakota State, and Sam Houston State. Wofford is ranked #10, Chattanooga #15, and Samford #18.

Wofford is projected to win the SoCon, with Chattanooga and Samford receiving at-large bids to the FCS playoffs. Based on the rankings, The Citadel is one of the “last two teams out” for making the playoffs, according to Athlon. 

Incidentally, the magazine’s online site posted an article that mentions Wofford as a “dark horse” candidate to win the national title.

The annual’s preseason FCS All-America team includes Charleston Southern defensive lineman Anthony Ellis, South Carolina State linebacker Darius Leonard, Western Carolina punter Ian Berryman, and two North Carolina A&T players — offensive lineman Brandon Parker and punt returner Khris Gardin.

Lindy’s ranks James Madison #1 in its FCS preseason poll. The rest of its top 5: North Dakota State, Sam Houston State, Jacksonville State, and Eastern Washington. Wofford is ranked #10, Chattanooga #11, The Citadel #18, and Samford #22. Other teams of note include Richmond (#9 here, and in the top 10 of all three rankings for the magazines mentioned in this post), Charleston Southern (#12), and Kennesaw State (#25).

The Lindy’s preseason first team All-America squad for the FCS includes Charleston Southern defensive lineman Anthony Ellis and teammate Solomon Brown (a linebacker), South Carolina State’s Darius Leonard (who may have the most preseason accolades of any FCS player in the Palmetto State), and Western Carolina’s Ian Berryman at punter.

Lindy’s also has a preseason second team, and that features Chattanooga offensive lineman Jacob Revis, Western Carolina return specialist Detrez Newsome, and The Citadel’s Kailik Williams (listed as a safety).

For a couple of years now, I’ve been incorporating the Massey Ratings into my weekly game previews. For those not entirely familiar with this ratings system, a quick explanation:

Kenneth Massey (complete with bow tie) is an assistant professor of Mathematics at Carson-Newman University. His college football ratings system was used (with several others) for fifteen years by the BCS, the predecessor to the CFP. Massey has ratings for a wide variety of sports, but the lion’s share of the attention surrounding his work has been focused on college football.

Massey’s bio on the school website notes that he is “likely the most famous of C-N’s faculty” as a result of his ratings systems.

From the ratings website:

The Massey Ratings are designed to measure past performance, not necessarily to predict future outcomes…overall team rating is a merit based quantity, and is the result of applying a Bayesian win-loss correction to the power rating.

…In contrast to the overall rating, the Power is a better measure of potential and is less concerned with actual wins-losses.

…A team’s Offense power rating essentially measures the ability to score points. This does not distinguish how points are scored, so good defensive play that leads to scoring will be reflected in the Offense rating. In general, the offensive rating can be interpreted as the number of points a team would be expected to score against an average defense.

Similarly, a team’s Defense power rating reflects the ability to prevent its opponent from scoring. An average defense will be rated at zero. Positive or negative defensive ratings would respectively lower or raise the opponent’s expected score accordingly.

…the Massey model will in some sense minimize the unexplained error (noise). Upsets will occur and it is impossible (and also counter-productive) to get an exact fit to the actual game outcomes. Hence, I publish an estimated standard deviation. About 68% of observed game results will fall within one standard deviation of the expected (“average”) result.

Preseason ratings are typically derived as a weighted average of previous years’ final ratings. As the current season progresses, their effect gets damped out completely. The only purpose preseason ratings serve is to provide a reasonable starting point for the computer. Mathematically, they guarantee a unique solution to the equations early in the season when not enough data is available yet.

That lack of data won’t stop us from discussing the rankings, though!

Massey rates every single college football team — not just FBS and FCS squads, but D-2, D-3, NAIA, junior colleges, even Canadian and Mexican schools. This season, there are preseason ratings for 959 colleges and universities (Zorros ITQ, the football team at the Technological Institute at Querétaro, is the preseason #959 squad).

This year, The Citadel is #130 overall in the preseason ratings. As a comparison, the Bulldogs were the preseason #113 team last year and were #174 in the 2015 preseason.

The teams on The Citadel’s 2017 schedule are rated as follows (with the chances of a Bulldogs victory in parenthesis):

  • Newberry – #341 (98%)
  • Presbyterian – #296 (96%)
  • East Tennessee State – #279 (92%)
  • Samford – #143 (50%)
  • Mercer – #178 (74%)
  • Wofford – #110 (43%)
  • Chattanooga – #117 (36%)
  • VMI – #228 (87%)
  • Western Carolina – #208 (83%)
  • Furman – #169 (62%)
  • Clemson – #2 (0%)

The Citadel is favored in 7 of 11 matchups, with one tossup.

Don’t worry about that 0% number for the Clemson game, though. When I began simulating the game, on just my fourth try The Citadel beat the Tigers 31-20. Never bet against the Bulldogs.

There are matchup simulations for each game. Feel free to waste a few minutes of your time toying around with them.

Based on the ratings, here are the projected overall season records for The Citadel’s Division I opponents (there aren’t simulations for teams below D-1, so Newberry is not listed):

  • Presbyterian (2-9)
  • East Tennessee State (2-9)
  • Samford (7-3, not including a tossup game versus The Citadel)
  • Mercer (4-7)
  • Wofford (10-1)
  • Chattanooga (8-3)
  • VMI (3-7, not including a tossup game against Western Carolina)
  • Western Carolina (2-9, not including a tossup game versus VMI)
  • Furman (5-6)
  • Clemson (12-0)

Note: Western Carolina plays 12 regular-season games this season, because it opens at Hawai’i.

Let’s look at the FCS-only ratings for a list of select schools:

  • North Dakota State – 1
  • James Madison – 2
  • Eastern Washington – 3
  • Youngstown State – 4
  • South Dakota State – 5
  • Northern Iowa – 6
  • Jacksonville State – 7
  • Wofford – 8
  • Chattanooga – 9
  • Sam Houston State – 10
  • Charleston Southern – 11
  • Villanova – 12
  • Illinois State – 13
  • Central Arkansas – 14
  • Richmond – 15
  • The Citadel – 16
  • South Dakota – 17
  • Western Illinois – 18
  • New Hampshire – 19
  • Samford – 20
  • Lehigh – 26
  • Cal Poly – 28
  • Princeton – 30
  • Furman – 32
  • William and Mary – 33
  • San Diego – 34
  • Liberty – 35 (ranked here despite it being a “transition” year for LU)
  • Colgate – 36
  • Mercer – 38
  • Stony Brook – 41
  • Delaware – 45
  • Fordham – 47
  • Kennesaw State – 50
  • Gardner-Webb – 52
  • Towson – 54
  • Grambling State – 58
  • Western Carolina – 59
  • Harvard – 61
  • VMI – 64
  • Dartmouth – 67
  • North Carolina A&T – 70
  • Monmouth – 71
  • Yale – 77
  • Holy Cross – 78
  • Elon – 79
  • North Carolina Central – 80
  • East Tennessee State – 90
  • Presbyterian – 94
  • South Carolina State – 96
  • Campbell – 110
  • Delaware State – 121
  • Davidson – 122
  • Mississippi Valley State – 123
  • Arkansas-Pine Bluff – 124 (of 124 FCS teams)

North Dakota State is the preseason #1-rated FCS school, as it was last year. NDSU checks in at #58 overall. Other schools on the “overall list” that may be of interest:

  • Alabama – 1
  • Clemson – 2
  • LSU – 3
  • Florida State – 4
  • Oklahoma – 5
  • Michigan – 6
  • Washington – 7
  • Ohio State – 8
  • Miami (FL) – 9
  • Southern California – 10
  • Florida – 14
  • Virginia Tech – 15
  • North Carolina – 16
  • Louisville – 19
  • Tennessee – 20
  • North Carolina State – 23
  • Georgia Tech – 24
  • Notre Dame – 30
  • Georgia – 34
  • Appalachian State – 40
  • Northwest Missouri State – 46 (highest-rated Division II team, and I can’t believe it either)
  • Texas – 49
  • Wake Forest – 53
  • Vanderbilt – 59
  • Duke – 61
  • James Madison – 62
  • UCLA – 64
  • Kentucky – 65
  • Navy – 66
  • Air Force – 73
  • South Carolina – 74
  • Maryland – 78
  • Missouri – 81
  • Virginia – 83
  • New Mexico – 92
  • Georgia Southern – 93
  • Army – 99
  • Kansas – 104
  • Wofford – 110
  • Rutgers – 113
  • East Carolina – 115
  • Chattanooga – 117
  • Charleston Southern – 120
  • Coastal Carolina – 125
  • Massachusetts – 131
  • Ferris State – 136 (rated second-highest in Division II)
  • Marshall – 148
  • Charlotte – 152
  • Laval – 156 (highest-rated Canadian team)
  • Buffalo – 164
  • Texas State – 190
  • Butte College – 197 (highest-rated junior college team)
  • Trinity (CT) – 270 (highest-rated Division III team)
  • St. Francis (IN) – 280 (highest-rated NAIA team)
  • UAB – 285
  • North Greenville – 305
  • UDLA Puebla – 465 (highest-rated Mexican team)

Less than two months until actual official pigskin activity…

Preseason football ratings and rankings, featuring The Citadel (and the rest of the SoCon)

Hey, let’s look at preseason rankings and ratings!

First up, some rankings…

I went to my local Barnes & Noble to check out some preseason magazines. Not all of them include a section for FCS teams, but a few do.

The Sporting News has The Citadel in its preseason Top 25, at #21. However, TSN thinks the Bulldogs will only finish 3rd in the Southern Conference:

1 – Chattanooga (#8 in the Top 25)
2 – Wofford (#19 in the Top 25)
3 – The Citadel (#21 in the Top 25)
4 – Samford
5 – Mercer
6 – Western Carolina
7 – Furman
8 – VMI
9 – East Tennessee State

Lindy’s only has one SoCon team in its top 25 (Chattanooga is ranked 11th). The magazine’s projected conference standings look like this:

1 – Chattanooga
2 – Western Carolina
3 – Mercer
4 – The Citadel
5 – Samford
6 – Wofford
7 – Furman
8 – VMI
9 – East Tennessee State

Athlon doesn’t have an FCS section in its magazine, but its online presence does have an FCS Top 25. The Citadel is ranked 10th in that preseason poll (UTC is #7).

Last season, I started to incorporate the Massey Ratings into my weekly previews as the season progressed. For the uninitiated, a quick primer on this ratings system:

Ken Massey is a math professor at Carson-Newman whose ratings system was used (with several others) for fifteen years by the BCS. He has ratings for a wide variety of sports, but most of the attention surrounding his work has been focused on college football.

A quick introduction of the Massey Ratings, from its website:

The Massey Ratings are designed to measure past performance, not necessarily to predict future outcomes…overall team rating is a merit based quantity, and is the result of applying a Bayesian win-loss correction to the power rating.

…In contrast to the overall rating, the Power is a better measure of potential and is less concerned with actual wins-losses.

…A team’s Offense power rating essentially measures the ability to score points. This does not distinguish how points are scored, so good defensive play that leads to scoring will be reflected in the Offense rating. In general, the offensive rating can be interpretted as the number of points a team would be expected to score against an average defense.

Similarly, a team’s Defense power rating reflects the ability to prevent its opponent from scoring. An average defense will be rated at zero. Positive or negative defensive ratings would respectively lower or raise the opponent’s expected score accordingly.

…the Massey model will in some sense minimize the unexplained error (noise). Upsets will occur and it is impossible (and also counter-productive) to get an exact fit to the actual game outcomes. Hence, I publish an estimated standard deviation. About 68% of observed game results will fall within one standard deviation of the expected (“average”) result.

Preseason ratings are typically derived as a weighted average of previous years’ final ratings. As the current season progresses, their effect gets damped out completely. The only purpose preseason ratings serve is to provide a reasonable starting point for the computer. Mathematically, they guarantee a unique solution to the equations early in the season when not enough data is available yet.

In other words, preseason ratings mean very little. However, it’s July and we certainly need something to keep us going until college football season starts!

Massey rates every college football team — not just FBS and FCS squads, but D-2, D-3, NAIA, junior colleges, even Canadian schools. This season, there are preseason ratings for 923 colleges and universities.

This year, The Citadel is #113 overall in the preseason ratings. As a comparison, the Bulldogs were the preseason #174 squad last season.

As for the teams on The Citadel’s schedule:

  • Mercer — #204
  • Furman — #199
  • Gardner-Webb — #261
  • Western Carolina — #143
  • North Greenville — #312
  • Chattanooga — #106
  • Wofford — #172
  • East Tennessee State — #554
  • Samford — #149
  • VMI — #224
  • North Carolina — #24

Massey gives the Bulldogs a 5% chance of beating North Carolina. You may recall that last year’s preseason odds gave The Citadel a 1% chance of beating South Carolina. You may also recall that The Citadel finished 2016 as the transitive ACC Coastal Division champions.

One of the neat things about the Massey Ratings website is that it has matchup simulations — single games, best-of-seven series, etc. After refreshing a few times, I came up with a simulated result that favored the Bulldogs over UNC (by a 39-38 score). The average score of the simulations was 44-17 North Carolina, but I’m sure that was due to a programming error.

As for the other ten games on The Citadel’s schedule…believe it or not, the Bulldogs are currently projected to win all of them. The likelihood of that happening is remote, obviously, but it’s definitely a far cry from past prognostications.

I’ll go ahead and list the percentage chances of The Citadel winning each of those games, along with the median score, as calculated by the Massey Ratings:

  • at Mercer — 78% (30-17)
  • Furman — 87% (31-14)
  • at Gardner-Webb — 89% (27-7)
  • at Western Carolina — 56% (28-26)
  • North Greenville — 97% (41-10)
  • Chattanooga — 51% (24-23)
  • at Wofford — 66% (28-21)
  • East Tennessee State — 100% (48-3)
  • Samford — 70% (34-24)
  • at VMI — 83% (35-20)

To be honest, I’m not buying all of those ratings, even from a preseason ratings perspective.

I’m particularly dubious about the ratings for Mercer and North Greenville, and I’m not so sure about Furman’s numbers, either (I think all of them should be significantly higher). Also, Massey’s algorithm doesn’t account for SoCon officiating, especially for games played in Spartanburg.

As for FCS-only ratings, here is a list of select schools:

  • North Dakota State – 1
  • Northern Iowa – 2
  • Jacksonville State – 3
  • Illinois State – 4
  • South Dakota State – 5
  • Dartmouth – 6
  • Harvard – 7
  • Chattanooga – 8
  • Western Illinois – 9
  • Youngstown State – 10
  • The Citadel – 11
  • Southern Utah – 12
  • Richmond – 13
  • Charleston Southern – 14
  • Southern Illinois – 15
  • Montana – 16
  • Coastal Carolina – 21
  • Western Carolina – 22
  • James Madison – 23
  • William & Mary – 26
  • Samford – 27
  • Villanova – 28
  • Liberty – 34
  • Wofford – 39
  • Towson – 46
  • Furman – 49
  • Lehigh – 50
  • Mercer – 52
  • Presbyterian – 57
  • VMI – 61
  • Elon – 68
  • Delaware – 70
  • South Carolina State – 76
  • Kennesaw State – 77
  • Dayton – 81
  • Gardner-Webb – 82
  • Jacksonville – 88
  • Campbell – 102
  • Davidson – 120
  • East Tennessee State – 122
  • Mississippi Valley State – 125

The highest-rated FCS school is, naturally, North Dakota State, which checks in at #60 overall. Other schools in the “overall” list that may be of interest:

  • Alabama – 1
  • Ohio State – 2
  • Mississippi – 3
  • Stanford – 4
  • Clemson – 5
  • Arkansas – 6
  • Tennessee – 7
  • LSU – 8
  • Oklahoma – 9
  • Mississippi State – 10
  • Notre Dame – 14
  • Auburn – 17
  • Georgia – 18
  • Florida State – 20
  • Texas A&M – 22
  • Florida – 27
  • Navy – 33
  • Louisville – 35
  • Toledo – 39
  • Texas – 42
  • Miami (FL) – 46
  • Georgia Tech – 48
  • Virginia Tech – 49
  • North Carolina State – 55
  • South Carolina – 58
  • Georgia Southern – 59
  • Duke – 64
  • Virginia – 67
  • Maryland – 69
  • Vanderbilt – 70
  • Appalachian State – 71
  • Kentucky – 72
  • Northwest Missouri – 77 (highest-ranked Division II team)
  • Boston College – 78
  • Air Force – 79
  • East Carolina – 85
  • Wake Forest – 92
  • Calgary – 111 (highest-ranked Canadian team)
  • Kansas – 116
  • Army – 121
  • Idaho – 141
  • Tulane – 144
  • UCF – 154
  • Wyoming – 155
  • UTEP – 156
  • Hawai’i – 157
  • New Mexico State – 158
  • City College of San Francisco – 159 (highest-ranked junior college team)
  • Old Dominion – 161
  • Mt. Union – 175 (highest-ranked Division III team)
  • ULM – 176
  • Eastern Michigan – 181
  • North Texas – 192
  • Charlotte – 198
  • Marian (IN) – 244 (highest-ranked NAIA team)

The overall Top 10 is very SEC-heavy, similar to the MVC flavor for the FCS Top 10.

Football season is getting closer…

Gridiron countdown: preseason ratings, featuring The Citadel (and the rest of the SoCon)

Also part of the “Gridiron Countdown” series:

What teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before facing The Citadel?

The Citadel competes to win games — and fans

Independence Day has come and gone, which means the home stretch of the college football offseason is drawing closer. That first college football weekend can’t get here fast enough.

There is still time to kill, though. With that in mind, I decided to take a brief look at a preseason ratings system that was released this week, the Massey Ratings.

Ken Massey is a math professor at Carson-Newman whose ratings system was used (with several others) for fifteen years by the BCS. He has ratings for a wide variety of sports, but most of the attention surrounding his work has been focused on college football.

A quick introduction of the Massey Ratings, from its website:

The Massey Ratings are designed to measure past performance, not necessarily to predict future outcomes…overall team rating is a merit based quantity, and is the result of applying a Bayesian win-loss correction to the power rating.

…In contrast to the overall rating, the Power is a better measure of potential and is less concerned with actual wins-losses.

…A team’s Offense power rating essentially measures the ability to score points. This does not distinguish how points are scored, so good defensive play that leads to scoring will be reflected in the Offense rating. In general, the offensive rating can be interpretted as the number of points a team would be expected to score against an average defense.

Similarly, a team’s Defense power rating reflects the ability to prevent its opponent from scoring. An average defense will be rated at zero. Positive or negative defensive ratings would respectively lower or raise the opponent’s expected score accordingly.

…the Massey model will in some sense minimize the unexplained error (noise). Upsets will occur and it is impossible (and also counter-productive) to get an exact fit to the actual game outcomes. Hence, I publish an estimated standard deviation. About 68% of observed game results will fall within one standard deviation of the expected (“average”) result.

Preseason ratings are typically derived as a weighted average of previous years’ final ratings. As the current season progresses, their effect gets damped out completely. The only purpose preseason ratings serve is to provide a reasonable starting point for the computer. Mathematically, they guarantee a unique solution to the equations early in the season when not enough data is available yet.

So there you go. Basically, preseason ratings are almost meaningless, which makes them perfect for a blog post!

One of the interesting things about the Massey Ratings is that all college football teams are included — not just FBS and FCS squads, but D-2, D-3, NAIA, junior colleges, even Canadian schools. In all, there are preseason ratings for 924 colleges and universities.

The Citadel is #174 in the preseason ratings. How does that compare to the teams on the Bulldogs’ schedule?

  • Davidson — #584
  • Western Carolina — #168
  • Georgia Southern — #86
  • Charleston Southern — #162
  • Wofford — #182
  • Samford — #146
  • Chattanooga — #95
  • Furman — #205
  • Mercer — #267
  • VMI — #272
  • South Carolina — #28

As you can see, there isn’t a great deal of difference between The Citadel and most of the teams on its schedule.

Massey gives the Bulldogs a 1% chance of beating South Carolina. Of course, that is notably higher than the odds offered by The State newspaper when the two teams met in 1990 (the publication infamously opined that all the Gamecocks would have to do to win the game was “show up”; it didn’t quite work out that way).

Meanwhile, Davidson is listed as having a 0% chance of upsetting The Citadel, which is a function of the Wildcats having not beaten a legitimate team (no, College of Faith doesn’t qualify) since November 2012. The Wildcats are rated next-to-last among all FCS schools, ahead of only East Tennessee State, which relaunches its program this season and has a preseason rating of #651.

Another startup program, Kennesaw State, is actually rated ahead of Davidson (the Owls carry a #519 preseason rating). Kennesaw State begins its gridiron history with a Thursday night game at ETSU. It’s a shame they couldn’t work Davidson into a three-way round-robin.

Among all FCS schools, Chattanooga is rated 5th; Samford, 22nd; Charleston Southern, 33rd; Western Carolina, 36th; The Citadel, 38th; Wofford, 42nd; Furman, 56th; Mercer, 84th; VMI, 85th; and Davidson, 124th.

The highest-rated FCS team overall is (no surprise) four-time defending subdivision champ North Dakota State, rated #47 in all of D-1. Last year’s runner-up, Illinois State (#64 in D-1), is second among FCS squads.

A few other schools that may or may not be of interest:

  • Alabama — #1
  • Ohio State — #2
  • Oregon — #3
  • Georgia — #4
  • TCU — #5
  • Michigan State — #6
  • Baylor — #7
  • Arkansas — #8
  • Auburn — #9
  • Georgia Tech — #10
  • Stanford — #11
  • Clemson — #12
  • Florida State — #17
  • Notre Dame — #32
  • Duke — #41
  • North Carolina — #61
  • Navy — #73
  • Air Force — #80
  • Georgia Southern — #86
  • Coastal Carolina — #98 (#7 in FCS)
  • Appalachian State — #105
  • Old Dominion — #119
  • Liberty — #128 (#17 in FCS)
  • Army — #132
  • Colorado State-Pueblo — #134 (#1 in D-2)
  • James Madison — #147 (#23 in FCS)
  • Richmond — #148 (#24 in FCS)
  • Fordham — #150 (#26 in FCS)
  • William & Mary — 158 (#29 in FCS)
  • Harvard — #160 (#31 in FCS)
  • Georgia State — #178
  • Presbyterian — #188 (#48 in FCS)
  • Lenoir-Rhyne — #190 (#13 in D-2)
  • Delaware — #194 (#51 in FCS)
  • South Carolina State — #206 (#57 in FCS)
  • Charlotte — #226
  • Elon — #250 (#78 in FCS)
  • Gardner-Webb — #258 (#80 in FCS)

Sure, this is relatively light fare. Right now, though, it’s all we have.

Keep counting down the days…