During the 2018 season, which teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

Other links related to The Citadel’s upcoming gridiron campaign:

Preseason rankings and ratings

Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium: the annual review

For the sixth consecutive season, it’s time to examine this momentous topic. Below, I’ll list which teams The Citadel’s opponents face before and after playing the Bulldogs, along with various other items of interest (other schedule-related information, a little history, some trivia, etc.).

Naturally, the review begins with the opener. This year, the Bulldogs will begin their gridiron campaign in the upstate of South Carolina.

September 1: The Citadel opens on the road, and in conference play. The Bulldogs (and their fans) will be in Spartanburg, where they will face Wofford.

Two years ago, The Citadel also opened its season on September 1 with a conference road game (against Mercer). The Bulldogs emerged victorious, and kept winning until they had captured the league title.

Wofford begins its 2018 season under new coach Josh Conklin with consecutive home matchups with military colleges, as VMI comes to Gibbs Stadium on September 8. The following week, Wofford travels to Wyoming.

In fact, after playing the Keydets, the Terriers don’t have another home game until October 20, when ETSU is the opponent (for Wofford’s Homecoming).

This will be the earliest meeting of the season on the gridiron between The Citadel and Wofford. Previously, the earliest battle came on September 3, 1977, at Johnson Hagood Stadium, a game won by the Bulldogs 7-0. Lonnie Ford scored the contest’s only touchdown. Tyrone Roper helped preserve the shutout with a big stop on a late fourth-and-goal play; he also had an interception and a fumble recovery.

Incidentally, there were 35 policemen on hand for crowd control that night. This was a reaction to violence the week before at the Sertoma Classic (also held at JHS), which had led to 18 injuries among attendees.

However, there were no reported incidents for the matchup between the Terriers and Bulldogs. Indeed, police Major W.J. Tindal stated that “you could hold a church service out here”, perhaps not a scintillating advertisement for the game atmosphere. I suppose that was better than having another bloody skirmish in the stands, though.

September 8: The Citadel’s opener at Johnson Hagood Stadium is a matchup with Chattanooga. The Mocs begin their 2018 campaign with a Thursday night home game against Tennessee Tech, so Chattanooga will have a couple of extra days to prepare for the Bulldogs.

After playing The Citadel, the Mocs travel to UT Martin (which defeated UTC in Chattanooga last season). After that, UTC plays host to Samford.

The last time Chattanooga faced The Citadel in Charleston, in 2016, the Bulldogs held off the Mocs 22-14. In the game, Dominique Allen gained 15 yards on The Citadel’s first offensive play.

That would prove to be the most yardage gained on any single play from scrimmage all afternoon for The Citadel, but the Bulldogs won anyway.

The Citadel has triumphed in its last three games played on September 8, including a 76-0 rout of Webber International in 2007 and a 23-21 victory over Georgia Southern in 2012. While scoring 76 points in a football game is always pleasant, it was actually the latter contest that was more memorable (including Jeff Monken’s fire-breathing “they whipped our fannies” postgame comments).

September 15: The Bulldogs host Charleston Southern on Military Appreciation Day. It will also be Hall of Fame weekend.

The Buccaneers open their season at Florida on September 1, then have a bye the next week. Thus, CSU will have two weeks to get ready for its game versus The Citadel.

If you were asking yourself “does CSU usually have extra days to prepare before playing the Bulldogs?”, the answer to the question is, well, yes (at least in recent years). In the previous two regular-season meetings, Charleston Southern played Thursday night games the week before facing The Citadel.

Most of the other regular-season games between the two programs were season openers, with the 2002 meeting (delayed by a hurricane) the exception.

After the game against the Bulldogs, Charleston Southern hosts Elon in North Charleston.

September 22: The Citadel’s second road game of the season is against Mercer. The Bears play at Memphis to start the year, then host Jacksonville.

The first conference game for Mercer is at Samford on September 15, the week before MU hosts the Bulldogs. Mercer has a bye the week after playing The Citadel, then travels to VMI.

In fact, Mercer’s next home contest after facing the Bulldogs won’t be until October 20 (against Western Carolina).

The Citadel is only 3-5-1 alltime on September 22, but one of the wins was particularly noteworthy — a 27-14 victory at Vanderbilt in 1979. Stump Mitchell and Danny Miller combined for 229 yards rushing that day, with three touchdowns. The other TD came on a pass from Tim Russell to Byron Walker.

September 29: The Citadel travels north to play Towson at Johnny Unitas Stadium. It will be the Tigers’ home opener after three road games (which are against, in order, Morgan State, Wake Forest, and Villanova). Towson has a bye the week prior to its matchup with the Bulldogs.

It will also be the designated celebration game for Towson’s “50 Years of Football”, a season-long commemoration of the school’s gridiron history. Part of the hoopla: a $50 season ticket promotion.

I bet Sean Landeta is excited about that.

Following its game versus The Citadel, Towson next plays host to Stony Brook, followed by another home contest in CAA play, against William and Mary.

October 6: The Citadel is off this week. In related news, I will be on vacation.

October 13: On Parents’ Day, The Citadel will host East Tennessee State. The Bucs have a three-game homestand prior to making the trip to Charleston, with games against Furman, Chattanooga, and (for ETSU’s Homecoming) Gardner-Webb.

After playing The Citadel, the Bucs travel to Spartanburg to face Wofford, completing a three-game stretch of games versus teams with canine mascots.

Where were you on October 13, 2007? Well, if you were at Johnson Hagood Stadium, you saw one of the crazier games ever played there.

The Citadel trailed Furman by 20 points in the second quarter, 17 points in the third quarter, and 10 points in the fourth quarter…but wound up winning in overtime, 54-51. Duran Lawson! Andre Roberts! Tory Cooper! Ta’Mar Jernigan! Joshua Haney! Mike Adams!

Also worth mentioning: on October 13, 1962, The Citadel upset Vanderbilt, 21-6. It was the first time the program had defeated an SEC team (but not the last). Vandy was a 28-point favorite at home, but the Bulldogs came to play. Mike Lane! Sid Mitchell! Charlie Brendle! Gene “Buzzy” Dice! Nick DiLoreto! Eddie Taylor!

October 20: The coveted Silver Shako will be on the line, as The Citadel journeys to Lexington, VA, to play VMI. It will be Parents’ Weekend for the Keydets.

The week before facing the Bulldogs, VMI is at Samford, the longest trip in the SoCon. That game is preceded (for the Keydets) by a week off.

After the Military Classic of the South, VMI travels to Chattanooga.

As for previous contests played on this day — well, there was a game played on October 20, 1990, that is fondly remembered by fans of the Bulldogs. All the opponent had to do to win, according to a local newspaper, was just show up. It didn’t quite work out that way.

The afternoon also included a pregame speech of note:

“He never said anything, but in the locker room he silenced all of us and said, ‘Don’t tell me if we took off our gear and met them at the 50-yard line, we wouldn’t win.’ The place just went crazy.”

I wonder whatever happened to the guy who made that speech…

October 27: The Citadel hosts Furman, the 98th meeting in the series. It will be the 53rd time the two schools have played in October; they have met 40 times in November, and five times in September.

After a September 22 contest versus East Tennessee State in Johnson City, the Paladins won’t play another road game until they meet the Bulldogs.

Following the ETSU matchup, Furman hosts Western Carolina, has a week off, then plays Wofford and Samford in back-to-back games in Greenville (with the second of those two contests on FU’s Homecoming). That is a key stretch for Furman as it attempts to return to the FCS playoffs.

After facing The Citadel the week after the Samford game, the Paladins return home and play Chattanooga before finishing the regular season with road games at VMI and Mercer.

November 3: The Citadel will be Western Carolina’s opponent for Homecoming in Cullowhee, the fifth time the Bulldogs will have filled that role for WCU since 2007.

The Catamounts, a “sleeper” pick to to win the SoCon this year in some quarters, have two road games before facing The Citadel. WCU travels to Mercer on October 20, and then plays at East Tennessee State on October 27.

Western Carolina has an early bye week in 2018 (September 8), so the meeting with The Citadel will be the Catamounts’ eighth consecutive football Saturday. WCU will stay at home the following week to play Wofford before completing its regular season schedule at North Carolina.

The Citadel’s last road win on November 3 came in 2001, a 20-17 double overtime victory at Chattanooga — on UTC’s Homecoming.

November 10: There will be a battle of Bulldogs at Johnson Hagood Stadium on November 10, as The Citadel hosts Samford.

As mentioned earlier, Samford will be at Furman on October 20. SU has a bye before hosting Wofford on November 3. It will be Homecoming for Samford, which will then face The Citadel on the military college’s Homecoming.

SU finishes its regular season slate with a contest at East Tennessee State. Johnson City proved to be a tricky spot for the Birmingham Bulldogs two seasons ago, as they were upset by the Bucs in a game which was also the season-ender that year.

The Citadel beat Mercer 10-0 on November 10, 1906. However, that would be the last time the Bulldogs were victorious on that date until 1973 (a win over Furman). In between, The Citadel went 0-6-2 on November 10.

The good news, though, is the Bulldogs have won their last five gridiron contests on the tenth day of November.

November 11: The Bulldogs finishes their regular season schedule with a trip to Tuscaloosa. The opponent is Alabama, a school that has never beaten The Citadel in football.

The Crimson Tide closes out the regular season with three straight home games. The Citadel is the second of the three opponents, and the second straight group of Bulldogs, as Mississippi State plays Alabama on November 4.

Nick Saban’s squad faces Auburn on November 18. Last year, the Crimson Tide lost at Auburn, which means The Citadel currently has a longer road winning streak against SEC opponents than does Alabama.

A quick summary:

  • Teams that will have “extra prep time” before playing The Citadel: Chattanooga, Charleston Southern, Towson
  • Teams that have road games the week before playing the Bulldogs: Mercer, VMI, Western Carolina
  • Teams that play Wofford during the season before playing The Citadel (“option preview”): VMI, Furman, Samford
  • Teams that play Furman during the season before playing the Bulldogs (another type of “option preview”): East Tennessee State, Western Carolina, Samford

I can see something in the distance that looks like it might be a pigskin. We’re getting closer…

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…

McAlister Musings: are the Bulldogs turning the corner?

Links of interest:

Zane Najdawi is the reigning SoCon player of the week for the second time this season

Bulldogs make huge comeback, beat Furman

On January 21, The Citadel was 6-13 overall, 1-6 in the league, and coming off of a very poor game at VMI. Things were not exactly looking up.

Two weeks later, the Bulldogs are 9-14, 4-7 in the league, with four straight encouraging performances, three of which resulted in victories. Birds are singing, and happy days are here again.

What happened? Well, for one thing, Duggar Baucom challenged his squad after the VMI loss, telling them they were “better than that”.

However, there has also been a tactical shift — at least, according to Furman coach Bob Richey:

It’s a totally different team. They are playing totally different.

…At our place, The Citadel played more zone defense, zone pressure back to a a zone. They were trying to out-score you. This team now is taking more pride in their defense, and they are guarding people now.

They change up their defenses, try to keep people on their heels. They’ve shrunk their rotation down, and are playing harder with a lot more belief. Najdawi is as good as any post in the league, and we couldn’t do anything with him. Frierson’s shooting the ball, Harris is shooting it, Frankie (Johnson) is driving it.

Look, they are good. If you ask any of the four coaches they’ve played in the last four games, they’d agree.

 —
Let’s break down the stats to see what Richey is talking about.

Possessions* PPP – TC PPP – Opp FTA/FGA – TC FT% – TC
WCU 86 0.92 0.94 0.46 0.55
@Furman 83 0.81 1.29 0.29 0.50
@Wofford 90 1.02 1.21 0.44 0.58
Samford 87 1.05 1.23 0.26 0.59
UTC 69 1.39 1.28 0.43 0.81
@UNCG 68 0.85 1.06 0.28 0.60
@VMI 81 1.00 1.09 0.38 0.80
@Mercer 68 1.12 1.09 0.26 0.86
ETSU 77 0.92 0.95 0.50 0.85
Wofford 75 1.07 1.04 0.34 0.82
Furman 69 1.28 1.18 0.49 0.73
First 7 80.57 1.01 1.16 0.37 0.63
Last 4 72.25 1.10 1.07 0.40 0.82

* Overtime possessions not counted (this applies to the home games versus UTC and Furman)

  • TC = The Citadel, obviously
  • PPP = Points per possession
  • FTA/FGA = Free throws attempted/field goals attempted
  • FT% = Free throw percentage

I broke down the numbers by totaling the first seven games (WCU through VMI) and the last four (Mercer through Furman).

Clearly the number of possessions have declined as the league campaign has progressed. It is possible that a trend in that direction began when the Bulldogs played Chattanooga, though A) I think the UTC game may have been an outlier due to the Mocs’ depth issues, and B) The Citadel reverted to an 81-possession contest versus VMI two games later.

The slight dialing down of the pace has benefited the Bulldogs on both sides of the court, at least statistically, but I believe The Citadel’s offense has been helped the most. The Bulldogs were not really scoring at a rate that would give them a chance to win most games, but of late that has markedly improved.

Of course, there is a symbiotic relationship between offense and defense in basketball, so it can be hard to say that one element is clearly the beneficiary of a switch in tempo.

One other major positive development, which I have included in the table above, has been the Bulldogs’ vastly improved free throw shooting. If The Citadel had shot from the foul line in its last four games as it did in its first four contests, the Bulldogs would have gone 0-4 in that stretch instead of 3-1.

The other thing to watch when it comes to the charity stripe is the number of opportunities The Citadel gets over the course of a game. This is generally reflected in FTA/FGA numbers (as opposed to raw totals).

The Bulldogs have done a much better job in this area in league play (the non-conference D-1 slate was not kind to them in that respect). They currently lead the SoCon in the category in league-only games.

Conversely, The Citadel is seventh in the conference in defensive FTA/FGA. The Bulldogs need to keep the opponents off the foul line as much as possible.

A few other stats of note (SoCon games only):

  • If you want to see a blocked shot, go watch a game involving The Citadel. Opponents are blocking 13.2% of the Bulldogs’ field goal attempts, most in the league. That isn’t good, but on the bright side The Citadel is blocking 10.1% of its opponents’ shots (third-best in the conference).
  • 53.9% of The Citadel’s field goal attempts in league play have come from three-point land, most in the conference — and that is really saying something, because teams in the SoCon love to hoist up shots from beyond the arc. No league in the country shoots a higher percentage of three-pointers as a whole.
  • The Citadel leads the conference in assist-to-made field goal rate (61.0%). Again, this is another area in which the league in general excels (second-best rate among all conferences).

What should The Citadel’s goal(s) be for the rest of the season?

I think the Bulldogs should aim for a top-6 seed in the league tournament. If a team finishes in the top six in the conference standings, it avoids having to play a first-round game on the first day of the SoCon tournament (which this year is Friday, March 2, in Asheville).

That would be ideal for The Citadel as far as the dream scenario is concerned (shocking the world by winning the tourney). Winning three games in three days is clearly easier than having to win four games in four days. It would also be good from a long-term perspective, as it would be tangible proof that the program is on the rise and will be a factor in the SoCon for the next few years to come.

It won’t be easy, although if the tourney were held on February 7, The Citadel would in fact be the sixth seed. Alas, the tournament doesn’t begin on February 7, and the schedule is not going to be particularly favorable for the Bulldogs down the stretch (only three of the remaining seven conference matchups are at McAlister Field House).

According to kenpom, The Citadel is projected to finish seventh in the SoCon with a 6-12 league record, a full three games behind the projected sixth-place finisher (Mercer). That is a reflection of the schedule, and also what the numbers say about the Bulldogs – namely, that The Citadel is still a bottom 50 team nationally according to the website.

The Bulldogs haven’t played like a bottom 50 team over the last two weeks, however. If they continue to improve (or even just maintain their current level of play), I think there is a solid chance The Citadel could indeed wind up as a top-6 seed.

The Citadel is currently only favored in one of its last seven games (the home game against VMI, which incidentally is going to be the day to Pack the Mac). At a minimum, the Bulldogs need to win three of the seven contests to have a shot at the top six. I suspect the Bulldogs will have to win two of their three home games, and at least one road matchup (if not two), to pull it off.

Winning at Chattanooga on Thursday would be a great way to start the stretch run…

I’ll finish off this post with some random statistics, many of them courtesy of Synergy Sports. Do I really understand all the numbers put out by Synergy Sports? No, I do not. Do I look at them anyway? Yes, I do.

These stats include all games — conference games, non-conference games, even the non-D1 matchups. Most are based on points per possessions (PPP).

  • The Citadel ranks 14th nationally in offensive PPP after timeouts (1.036). Boise State leads the nation in this category (1.09). Other teams in the top 10 include Campbell (2nd), Xavier, Kansas, Villanova, and Purdue.
  • The Bulldogs are not very good at making catch-and-shoot jump shots when guarded (bottom 20 nationally). However, opponents that don’t guard in that situation pay for it. The Citadel is 5th in the country in points per possession when shooting unguarded catch/shoot jumpers, just ahead of Kansas. Leading the world in this category: St. Mary’s.
  • The Citadel remains the shortest team in D-1 (per kenpom), with an “average height” of 74.0 inches.
  • Individuals who rank in the 85th percentile or better nationally in various offensive categories: Matt Frierson (overall PPP, transition scoring, shots off screens, and spot-up shooting), Zane Najdawi (post-up play), Alex Reed (spot-up shooting), Tariq Simmons (isolation), Quayson Williams (shots off screens), and Kaelon Harris (offensive rebound put-backs). Harris also ranks in the 92nd percentile in a category called “Miscellaneous”, which sounds like a we-don’t-know-what-he-did-but-he-somehow-scored kind of thing.
  • The Citadel actually ranks 5th in the nation in half court man-to-man defense, which seems more than a little odd. I’m going to guess that most of the Bulldogs’ man-to-man defending has come against its non-D1 opponents (notable exception: The Citadel extensively employed man-to-man against Wofford in the game at McAlister Field House). For the season, the Bulldogs have played man-to-man in the half-court only 28.6% of the time; as a comparison, Virginia has played half-court man-to-man 99.9% of the time. The two teams that have been truly dominant defensively this season, Cincinnati and UVA, rank 1-2 in this category.
  • The Bulldogs are poor defending plays in out-of-bounds situations along the endlines (1.055 PPP), but are very good defending out-of-bounds plays that originate from the sidelines (0.7 PPP). I don’t really understand why that would be the case.

Okay, that’s enough for now.

Go Dogs!

Game Review, 2017: Mercer

Links of interest:

– Game story, The Post and Courier

– “Notes” package, The Post and Courier

– AP game story

– School release

Video from WCSC-TV, including postgame discussion with Brent Thompson

– Game highlights (video)

– Boxscore

ESPN3 video of the game

This isn’t going to be a long review (and it is late, for reasons not having anything to do with the game itself). Nevertheless, I wanted to make a few quick observations.

– The Citadel threw 13 passes in the first half — six in the first quarter, and seven in the second quarter. The Bulldogs completed five of their first six throws, but were only 1-for-7 in the second quarter.

I wasn’t really sure why The Citadel threw so often in the first half. Later in the game, sure, but it seemed to me that the Bulldogs got out of their natural offensive rhythm. I realize much of the passing was based on what Mercer’s defense was doing, but I still thought it was odd.

– The two-deep for Saturday’s game included ten freshmen on offense (five starters) and seven on defense. The Bulldogs also featured a freshman punter and numerous other first-year players on all the special teams units.

It showed at times, particularly on offense. The Bulldogs may be better later in the season once this group of players has more experience, but that fact may be hard for some supporters to accept.

– Dominique Allen played the entire game at quarterback, as Jordan Black did not take a snap under center. Brent Thompson explained why:

Just a different game plan. We ran a lot more zone options last week (at Samford). This week, it was more operational, and Dom was operating just fine. We had to move pretty quickly, because (Mercer’s defense) was moving around quite a bit, and one quarterback seems to suit me better with all those moving parts.

I don’t have a problem with that decision. Allen certainly wasn’t making bad plays. The only real reason to change QBs in that situation is if you think just making a switch could spark the team, and Thompson clearly didn’t believe that.

However, I wish Thompson could have gone into the stands during one of the media timeouts and explained the situation to the fan behind me who yelled “Put in Black!” at least 300 times during the game.

– The officials didn’t decide the game, but they weren’t in good form, either, unless you enjoy the art of haphazard ball-spotting.

The SoCon crew seemed to delight in delaying the game for instant replay reviews whenever possible (one reason the contest took 3:21 to play), but there was somehow no review of a punt that hit a Mercer gunner in the back on a would-be return.

ESPN announcer Kevin Fitzgerald, looking at the scrum of players around the football: “Whoever comes out of this pile physically holding it is going to get the football.”

You would have thought so, but nope. The Citadel’s Logan Bailey came out of the pile with the football. The referee looked at him — and then awarded possession to Mercer.

I guess that play wasn’t worth a review. Maybe the wrong team recovered the football.

– It was one of the muggier days at Johnson Hagood Stadium in recent memory, which made the length of the game all the more arduous. The announced attendance was disappointing (9,969), which was due to a lot of factors, including the heat (I’m sure a significant number of people with tickets wound up not going to the game).

This is just a theory of mine, but I believe one thing that will improve attendance is a permanent seating structure on the East side. That isn’t going to be around again until at least the 2019 season, of course.

This week’s pictures aren’t half-bad, at least compared to most weeks. They are currently not annotated (I may go back and do that later). They are in order, however, so anyone trying to piece together plays/results can use the play-by-play from the box score to match things up (at least through most of the first three quarters).

2017 Football, Game 5: The Citadel vs. Mercer

The Citadel vs. Mercer, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on October 7, 2017.

The game will be streamed on ESPN3.com. Kevin Fitzgerald will handle play-by-play, while former Bulldogs linebacker James Riley 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. 

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

The Citadel Sports Network — 2017 Affiliates

Charleston: WQNT 1450AM/92.1 FM/102.1 FM (Flagship)
Columbia: WQXL 1470AM/95.9FM
Greenville: WLFJ 92.9FM/660AM
Sumter: WDXY 1240AM/105.9FM

Links of interest:

– The Citadel won’t hit the panic button

– Back at home after a month away

– Game notes from The Citadel and Mercer

– SoCon weekly release

– FCS Coaches’ poll (The Citadel is ranked #17)

– STATS FCS poll (The Citadel is ranked #17)

– Brent Thompson’s 10/3 press conference, including comments from Tyler Davis and Kailik Williams (video)

– Brent Thompson’s 10/4 radio show (video)

– The Bulldog Breakdown [10/2] (video)

Mercer running game searching for its rhythm

Bears rout VMI

Mercer is right back in the SoCon title race

Bobby Lamb says the series has been “a bloodbath”

Mercer’s student newspaper: this is the best MU team since football was re-instituted in 2013

Mercer highlights versus VMI (video)

Mercer highlights versus Wofford (video)

It is very disappointing when the Bulldogs throw in a complete clunker of a game, regardless of the sport. That is magnified in football, however, because there are only a limited number of opportunities to generate a positive outcome. It is important to make the most of each and every contest.

That didn’t happen on Saturday. The contest was essentially over after the first quarter. I know that the team “played better” in the second half, but does that really matter? I don’t think so, to be honest.

Garbage time is garbage time, particularly when the team in question is not an extremely young squad, but rather an outfit coming off consecutive league titles and expected to compete for another one. There are no truly positive developments to be taken from the debacle at Seibert Stadium. It was simply a bad loss.

That said, the following is also true: many of the players and coaches on the current team have been part of the pigskin scene at the military college for the last 2+ years.

Over that time period The Citadel is 22-7, 15-2 in the SoCon, with two conference crowns and a win over an SEC team (along with a road playoff triumph). The next victory by the current edition of the Bulldogs will tie the 1959-60-61 teams for most wins by the program over a three-year period (23).

In other words, there are a bunch of winners on the roster. They are used to success, and they’re not likely to take a step back after a bad performance.

Temporary stands have been set up on the East side of Johnson Hagood Stadium in time for the game against Mercer:

Seating has been added to the east side of Johnson Hagood Stadium for the stretch run of the 2017 season. The seating is general admission and will be available on a first-come, first-serve so fans are encouraged to purchase their general admission tickets in advance. The seating is in close proximity to the Bulldog Beer Garden and the Kids’ Zone…

The Bulldog Beer Garden…is located next to the Altman Center on the southeast side of the stadium. Concessions including food and beverages will be located in this area presented by Sticky Fingers.  The adjacent location will also have a kid’s fun zone with inflatables for children of appropriate ages.  The Bulldog Beer Garden will be tented, accommodate up to 500 patrons, and will have TVs playing football games of interest…

…[the Kids’ Zone] includes Jumpcastles, face painting, and other fun activities [that] are available for ages 12 & under.

The temporary seating (not including the beer garden) will have room for approximately 1,000 spectators.

Saturday’s game is part of Parents’ Weekend. Schedule of events: Link

On Friday, seniors will receive their class rings. That is a big deal at The Citadel, of course, even for football players who have already picked up their fair share of hardware. As Kailik Williams said:

It means a lot. A lot of people didn’t think I was going to make it. Sometimes, I didn’t even think I was going to make it.

There are plenty of alums who can relate to that sentiment.

The football program is currently on a very good run when it comes to the “celebration games”, Parents’ Day and Homecoming. The Citadel has won ten straight of those contests, winning on Parents’ Day and Homecoming in each of the last five seasons.

From what I can tell, that is the longest winning streak in those games since the Bulldogs’ first Homecoming game — which, according to former school president/historian Oliver Bond, occurred in 1924. The Citadel defeated Furman 6-0 in that October 25 contest at Hampton Park before more than 4,000 fans, with Anderson native Carl Hogrefe scoring the winning touchdown.

However, five Parents’ Day wins in a row is not a school record. The mark for sustained success on Parents’ Day is eight, a streak that began in 1978 with a 21-14 win over Delaware and lasted through 1985, a 10-3 victory over Western Carolina.

The Citadel has not played Mercer on Parents’ Day or Homecoming before this season.

The Bulldogs led FCS in offensive 3rd-down conversion rate prior to the Samford game (61%). However, The Citadel only converted 3 of 13 third-down attempts last Saturday.

A look at first down/third down plays explains why, especially when compared to the first three games this season.

Average yards picked up on first down by The Citadel:

  • vs. Newberry: 8.1 yards
  • vs. Presbyterian: 7.0 yards
  • vs. East Tennessee State: 6.0 yards
  • vs. Samford: 5.2 yards

That is not a great trend.

It also leads to more difficult third down situations for the Bulldogs:

  • vs. Newberry: average of 5.1 yards needed on third down to pick up a first down
  • vs. Presbyterian: average of 3.0 yards needed on third down to pick up a first down
  • vs. East Tennessee State: average of 6.3 yards needed on third down to pick up a first down
  • vs. Samford: average of 8.8 yards needed on third down to pick up a first down

Those third down conversion attempts against Samford included a 3rd-and-15, a 3rd-and-19, and a 3rd-and-28.

Penalties were a major factor in the offensive struggles. The Bulldogs were flagged eight times on offense (not counting two other infractions that were declined).

On defense, the Bulldogs have to do a better job against the pass.

Yards per pass attempt allowed:

  • vs. Newberry: 7.2 yards
  • vs. Presbyterian: 5.1 yards
  • vs. East Tennessee State: 5.7 yards
  • vs. Samford: 12.4

You aren’t going to win many games allowing 12.4 yards per pass attempt.

It should be noted, though, that The Citadel’s offense averaged 10.9 yards per pass attempt itself, in line with its season average. I wouldn’t mind that number for the Bulldogs in any game they play during the season.

Key stats for The Citadel through four games:

The Citadel Opponents
Points per game 31.0 20.2
Rushing yardage 1334 351
Average per rush 5.0 3.5
Average per game 333.5 87.8
TDs rushing 12 5
Passing yardage 440 822
Comp-Att-Int 20-42-2 66-108-7
Average per pass 10.5 7.6
TDs passing 5 6
Total offense 1774 1173
Total plays 309 207
Yards per play 5.74 5.67
Kick returns-yards 6-128 12-236
Punt returns-yards 6-44 1-1
Fumbles/lost 6/1 2/1
Avg penalties/penalty yards per game 5.0/43.0 2.5/23.8
Net punt average 39.7 37.2
Time of possession/game 37:24 22:36
3rd down conversions 33/62 12/38
3rd down conversion rate 53.2% 31.6%
Sacks by-yards 8-44 3-20
Field goals-attempts 2-3 1-2
Red Zone touchdown rate 13-19 (68.4%) 6-9 (66.7%)
  • The Citadel leads the nation in time of possession
  • The Bulldogs are second nationally in rushing offense and 14th in the country in rushing defense
  • Despite the 3rd down struggles last week, The Citadel is still 4th in FCS in offensive third down conversion rate
  • Defensively, the Bulldogs are 22nd nationally in third down conversion rate
  • The Citadel is 12th in turnover margin
  • The Bulldogs are 11th in net punting
  • Even with 10 accepted penalties versus Samford, The Citadel is 17th nationally in fewest penalties per game
  • The Citadel is 35th in scoring offense and 29th in scoring defense
  • The Bulldogs are 12th in offensive pass efficiency, a number that includes The Citadel’s 22 yards per catch rate, tops in FCS

Mercer has been competitive ever since joining the Southern Conference in time for the 2014 football season. The Bears have had a habit of playing close games. What they have not done as often as MU fans would like is win those games.

Since 2014, Mercer has played 14 conference games decided by five points or less. The Bears are 4-10 in those contests. Three of those losses have come against The Citadel, by a total of five points.

Of the four close SoCon victories, two have come on the road (both against VMI). One of the two home wins was a 17-14 decision over Chattanooga in 2015, a result that helped The Citadel claim a share of the Southern Conference title.

This year, Mercer has lost two hard-fought SoCon contests, including a home loss to Wofford that the Bears probably should have won.

Mercer’s schedule after five games:

  • beat Jacksonville 48-7, an easy win over an overmatched Pioneer League foe (JU has recovered to win its next 3 games, though)
  • lost 28-27 to Wofford, a game in which the Bears led by 13 points midway through the fourth quarter
  • played very well (particularly on defense) in a 24-10 loss at Auburn; Mercer forced five turnovers in that contest
  • lost 26-23 in overtime at East Tennessee State; MU led by 10 points entering the fourth quarter
  • defeated VMI 49-14, rolling up 575 yards of offense in the process

Statistics of note for the Bears:

Mercer Opponents
Points per game 31.4 19.8
Rushing yardage 790 721
Average per rush 3.9 3.4
Average per game 158 144.2
TDs rushing 10 9
Passing yardage 1108 1009
Comp-Att-Int 83-135-5 88-125-5
Average per pass 8.2 8.1
TDs passing 10 3
Total offense 1898 1730
Total plays 340 334
Yards per play 5.58 5.18
Kick returns-yards 12-242 22-267
Punt returns-yards 7-75 7-68
Fumbles/lost 4/2 9/6
Avg penalties/penalty yards per game 5.4/46.2 6.2/62.8
Net punt average 37.4 35.3
Time of possession/game 29:15 30:45
3rd down conversions 28/67 32/72
3rd down conversion rate 41.8% 44.4%
Sacks by-yards 9-57 6-48
Field goals-attempts 4-6 3-6
Red Zone touchdown rate 15/20 (75.0%) 8/15 (53.3%)
  • Mercer leads the nation in kick return defense
  • The Bears are 30th nationally in net punting
  • MU is 40th in FCS in offensive third down conversion rate and
  • Conversely, the Bears are 100th (out of 123 teams) in defensive third down conversion rate
  • Mercer is 54th in rushing offense and 57th in rushing defense
  • MU is 31st in scoring offense and 27th in scoring defense
  • Mercer is 23rd nationally in turnover margin, helped by six recovered fumbles on defense (1oth-best in FCS)

Mercer’s passing attack accounts for 58.3% of its total offense, though only 41.5% of its offensive plays from scrimmage are passing attempts (including sacks).

After four years as the starter, MU quarterback John Russ graduated. Mercer had a replacement ready, however.

Redshirt freshman Kaelan Riley (6’3″, 222 lbs.) is 80 for 132 passing this season (a 60.6% completion rate), averaging 8.3 yards per attempt, with 10 TD passes against five interceptions. The native of Calhoun, Georgia accounted for 75 touchdowns in high school (with a win-loss record of 54-4) while also playing basketball and tennis. Brent Thompson described him as a “spectacular” player.

Running back C.J. Leggett (5’9″, 217 lbs.) began his college career at Georgia Tech. After an injury, he transferred to Mesa Community College.

The redshirt junior from Suwanee, Georgia is averaging 4.6 yards per carry for the Bears. In recent weeks, his workload has increased, despite not being listed as the starter on the two-deep. He rushed for 109 yards on 19 carries versus ETSU, and added 89 yards on 16 rushes against VMI.

Other MU running backs of note include Tee Mitchell (5’10”, 203 lbs.) and Alex Lakes (5’11”, 221 lbs.). Lakes has had an injury-ravaged career, but the redshirt senior is still Mercer’s all-time leading rusher.

Mitchell was a second-team All-SoCon pick in 2015, but was suspended for the entire 2016 season. He is now back and a definite threat in the backfield.

Two years ago, Mitchell (a former Air Force Prep school student) and Lakes combined for 98 yards and a TD against The Citadel at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

Junior tight end Sam Walker (6’4″, 229 lbs.) was a preseason first-team All-SoCon selection. He did not play versus VMI, but is expected to suit up against The Citadel.

Wide receiver Marquise Irvin (6’2″, 215 lbs.) is a junior from Huntsville, Alabama. He was a second-team all-conference choice in 2016. Irvin had eight catches for 81 yards in last year’s game against the Bulldogs.

Brent Thompson noted that Mercer does a good job of getting Irvin the pigskin, including bubble screens. He can catch the deep ball too.

Avery Ward (6’2″, 191 lbs.) is a senior wideout from Alpharetta, Georgia, who has been a regular for the Bears since his freshman campaign. In 2014, he had 104 yards receiving (including a 65-yard TD catch) against The Citadel. He also led the team in catches versus the Bulldogs the following season.

Chandler Curtis (5’11”, 200 lbs.) is a senior who, when not injured, is a fine wide receiver and a scintillating return man. The problem for Curtis over his college career has been staying healthy.

He was healthy enough to haul in a 61-yard touchdown pass against VMI last week. Curtis has been the primary punt and kick returner for the Bears this season.

Mercer’s projected starting offensive line averages 6’3″, 298 lbs. Right guard Caleb Yates (6’3″, 294 lbs.) is a three-year starter who was a preseason second-team all-league pick.

Mercer noseguard Dorian Kithcart (6’0″, 285 lbs.) was described by Brent Thompson as a “big load” who “moves extremely well”. He is a redshirt sophomore from Durham.

Defensive end Isaiah Buehler (6’3″, 262 lbs.) was a preseason second-team All-SoCon selection. This season he has 2 1/2 tackles for loss, along with 2 quarterback hurries.

Eric Jackson (5’8″, 190 lbs.), a redshirt sophomore from Powder Springs, Georgia, is a strong safety who currently leads the team in tackles. He has 39 stops through five games.

Inside linebacker Lee Bennett (6’0″, 221 lbs.) is filling up the stat sheet for the Bears this season. He is second on the team in tackles, and also has two tackles for loss (including a sack), a quarterback hurry, a pass breakup, and a fumble recovery. Bennett had six tackles versus The Citadel in 2016.

LeMarkus Bailey (5’11”, 201 lbs.), an outside linebacker, leads the team in tackles for loss, with 6 1/2. The native of Marietta, Georgia is a redshirt junior. He had one of the three tackles for loss Mercer recorded against The Citadel in last year’s contest.

Placekicker Cole Fisher (6’1″, 190 lbs.) was the preseason first-team all-conference kicker. Fisher made a 50-yard field goal against Samford last year. This year he hasn’t made one of that distance, though he did attempt a 52-yarder versus Jacksonville.

Fisher is also Mercer’s kickoff specialist. While only four of his 29 kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks, opponents are only averaging 12 yards per return against the Bears (which leads the nation, as mentioned earlier).

Mercer’s punter is true freshman Grant Goupil (6’2″, 184 lbs.). Nine of his 22 punts have been downed inside the 20-yard line.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday, per the National Weather Service: a 30% chance of showers, with an expected high of 84 degrees. It will be mostly cloudy, with winds of 6-14 mph.

I have a feeling it is going to be one of those wet and windy days. Field conditions could be tricky for both teams and might favor the defenses.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 6-point favorite over Mercer. The over/under is 50.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams: Furman is a 4-point favorite at Chattanooga; Samford is a 35-point favorite at VMI; Wofford is a 3.5-point favorite over Western Carolina; and East Tennessee State is an 8.5-point favorite over Robert Morris;

Around the Palmetto State, Clemson is a 21.5-point favorite over Wake Forest; South Carolina is a 2.5-point home underdog versus Arkansas; South Carolina State is a 16.5-point favorite against Morgan State ; Coastal Carolina is a 1-point underdog at home versus Georgia State; Presbyterian is a 20-point home underdog against St. Francis University (which upset Liberty last week); and Charleston Southern is a 31-point underdog at Indiana.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 42nd in FCS, a drop of 12 spots from last week.

Mercer is ranked 56th in FCS, moving up three places from last week. Overall (all college teams ranked), The Citadel is 176th, while Mercer is 202nd.

Massey projects a final score of The Citadel 26, Mercer 23. The Bulldogs are given a 56% chance of winning.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Wofford is 17th (up one spot), Samford is 24th (up 14 spots), Western Carolina is 29th (a jump of 18 places, the second week in a row the Catamounts have moved up exactly 18 spots), Furman is 35th (up 8 places), Charleston Southern is 38th, Chattanooga is 54th (down 22 spots), East Tennessee State is 76th (down six places), South Carolina State is 87th, Presbyterian is 101st, and VMI is 109th (down three places).

The FCS top five in Massey’s rankings, in order: North Dakota State, James Madison, Youngstown State, South Dakota, and Illinois State.

– Since 1911, The Citadel has a 9-5-1 record for games played on October 7. That includes two wins over Richmond and victories over the Charleston Navy and the Parris Island Marines.

The Bulldogs last played at home on October 7 during the 2004 season. That was a Thursday night game against Benedict in Johnson Hagood Stadium during the year of “half a stadium”, which included temporary stands for the cadets on the West side (shades of this week’s game in reverse).

I was at that contest (won by the Bulldogs 29-0), which is on the short list for “worst atmosphere” of any game every played by The Citadel at JHS. Attendance: 5,127, which I believe is the lowest recorded for any game at Johnson Hagood Stadium since at least 1964.

– Changes to The Citadel’s two-deep for the Mercer game: Gage Russell is now listed as the starter at punter; the backup at that position is Branden Glick. At B-back, Brandon Berry has been added to the depth chart.

– Baseball facts about Mercer that I am required to mention every time the Bulldogs meet the Bears:

Mercer was once coached by George Stallings, who helmed both the football and baseball teams. He was a little better at coaching baseball.

Stallings would later become known as “The Miracle Man” for leading the Boston Braves to the 1914 World Championship. That team was in last place in the National League on the 4th of July but stormed to the pennant (by 10 1/2 games!), then dispatched the favored Philadelphia Athletics in a four-game sweep to win the World Series.

Denton True “Cy” Young served as Mercer’s baseball coach from 1903-05. Mercer won the Georgia state championship for college teams in all three of those years.

After each spring in Macon with the Mercer team, Young returned to pitch for Boston (the team now known as the Red Sox); during that three-year stretch, he compiled a major league record of 72-44 with a 1.96 ERA.

– Among Mercer’s notable graduates are TV personality/attack dog Nancy Grace, missionary/spy John Birch, and current Georgia governor Nathan Deal.

– Mercer disbanded its football program following the 1941 campaign, and didn’t field a team again until 2013. This is the fifth year for the program since the re-institution of the sport in Macon.

– The roster for Mercer (per its game notes) includes 62 players from the State of Georgia. Other states represented on the roster: Florida (15 players), Tennessee (9), Alabama (5), South Carolina (2), and one each from North Carolina and Texas.

The two Palmetto State players on Mercer’s squad are redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Destin Guillen (who attended Berea High School), and freshman quarterback Brett Burnett (a product of Airport High School). However, Mercer has no players from Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School on its roster, an inexplicable oversight for a university actively searching for high-quality gridiron talent.

– 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.

After the first four to five games of the 2017 season, it appears that the SoCon could be a complete free-for-all. Every team except VMI is capable of winning (and losing) in conference play on any given week.

While that is good from a competitiveness standpoint, I’m afraid it might also mean that a team with a 5-3 conference record will struggle to gain a playoff spot, because it may be hard to for the league squads to separate themselves into easily defined groups (playoff-caliber teams, non-playoff teams, etc.). The league’s non-conference results haven’t been terrible, but they haven’t been that good, either.

For The Citadel, that potential problem is even more acute, because the Bulldogs finish the regular season at Clemson.

That is why each SoCon contest is so important. It is quite possible that to participate in the postseason for a third consecutive season, the Bulldogs can only afford one more league setback.

It is thus even more critical to “hold serve” at home. The one advantage The Citadel has is that it has not played a conference game at Johnson Hagood Stadium thus far.

The Bulldogs have to cash in on their four SoCon home games. Those matchups will be against Mercer, Wofford, Western Carolina, and VMI.

It won’t be easy, and that starts with this week’s matchup. Mercer has been very close to beating the Bulldogs for three straight years.

There is no question that the team from Macon desperately wants to end the close-but-no-cigar run it has had against The Citadel. Those losses have undoubtedly been very hard to take, particularly for head coach Bobby Lamb.

There is also no doubt, however, that the Bulldogs want to put their poor afternoon at Samford in the rear view mirror. The surest way to do that is to win in front of a supportive Parents’ Day crowd.

The stakes, as always, are high. The drive for the playoffs begins anew on Saturday.

During the 2017 season, which teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

Other links related to The Citadel’s upcoming gridiron campaign:

A quick glance at the 2017 SoCon non-conference football slate

– Inside the Numbers: The Citadel’s run/pass tendencies, 4th-down decision-making, and various per-play statistics, along with the highly anticipated coin-toss data

– A look at “advanced statistics” from the Bulldogs’ 2016 league campaign

– Preseason rankings and ratings

– The Citadel’s fans aren’t afraid to travel

For the fifth consecutive season, it’s time to take a look at this all-important topic. In this post, I’ll list which teams The Citadel’s opponents face before and after playing the Bulldogs, along with other items of interest (in terms of schedule “flow”).

I’ll also throw in a few odds and ends just for fun.

We start with the opener.

September 2: The Citadel opens at home against Newberry. The last time the Bulldogs played the Wolves (in 1997), they weren’t actually the Wolves — they were the Indians.

The only previous time these two programs met on September 2 was in 1995. The Bulldogs escaped that day with a 21-20 victory.

Newberry finished last season with a 35-33 loss at home to Tuskegee in the 2016 D-2 playoffs. That came after 10 consecutive wins for the Wolves, which finished with a 10-2 record.

After playing The Citadel, Newberry goes on the road again the following week, facing fellow D-2 squad Virginia Union.

September 9: Presbyterian comes to Charleston to play The Citadel. When the Blue Hose last squared off against the Bulldogs, in 2010, The Citadel prevailed 26-14.

The only other game in the series played on September 9 came in 1978, a 28-17 victory for the Bulldogs. It was Art Baker’s first game as head coach of The Citadel; 17,840 fans at Johnson Hagood Stadium watched PC take a 17-14 lead into the fourth quarter before the Bulldogs scored two unanswered touchdowns to make Baker a winner in his debut.

Presbyterian opens this season on Thursday night at Wake Forest, thus getting two extra days of preparation for the game against the Bulldogs. After the Blue Hose’s matchup with The Citadel, PC plays its first home game of the season, versus Campbell.

September 16: The Citadel’s first road contest of the 2017 season comes at East Tennessee State. It will be the second game played at ETSU’s new football stadium. The Buccaneers’ first game at their new home will be against Limestone in the season opener.

After playing the Saints, East Tennessee State goes on the road to play defending national champion James Madison. Following the Buccaneers’ game versus The Citadel, ETSU stays in Johnson City to play Mercer.

September 23: The Citadel is off this week. It’s a good time to take a vacation. At least, I think it’s a good time to take a vacation…

September 30: The Bulldogs go on the road to tangle with another bunch of Bulldogs, the group from Samford. In the series between the two schools, this will be the first game played in September.

SU itself must make travel plans in the two weeks prior to its game against The Citadel, as Samford faces Georgia in Athens and then Western Carolina in Cullowhee.

Samford then packs its bags for the longest trip in conference action, Birmingham to Lexington, Virginia (and a 1:30 pm ET kickoff). Two weeks, two games against military colleges.

October 7: It will be Parents’ Day at The Citadel, and the Bulldogs are hosting Mercer. Samford and Mercer will trade opponents, as the Bears play VMI in Macon the week before travelling to Charleston.

Incidentally, Mercer had the same scheduling setup with the two military schools in 2015. That year, the Bears lost 28-21 at home to VMI, and then fell 21-19 to The Citadel in Charleston.

October 14: The Bulldogs play Wofford at Johnson Hagood Stadium. The Terriers open the season with two SoCon games (against Furman and Mercer), and then have a bye week before non-conference matchups against Gardner-Webb and Presbyterian.

Wofford hosts Western Carolina the week before playing The Citadel. The following week, the Terriers face Samford in Spartanburg, which is also Wofford’s Homecoming game.

October 21: The Citadel travels to Chattanooga for a matchup with the Mocs. It will be Military Appreciation Day at Finley Stadium.

The game against the Bulldogs is the second of a very difficult five-game stretch for UTC. After a home game against Furman, Chattanooga is at Mercer the week before playing The Citadel; the following two weeks are road games against Samford and Wofford.

Chattanooga gets a late-season bye week after playing the Terriers, which may come too late for UTC (though it conceivably could be well-timed, if the Mocs get through that four-game gauntlet unscathed).

October 28: This year, Homecoming comes in October for The Citadel, in a game against VMI. It is the earliest in the season the two teams have battled for the coveted Silver Shako since 1991, when the Bulldogs beat the Keydets 17-14 in the Oyster Bowl in Norfolk, Virginia. That contest was played on October 26.

VMI does not have a bye week in 2017. The Keydets play 11 consecutive games and end their season on November 11, at home versus Wofford. The week before that (and the week after playing The Citadel), the Keydets play East Tennessee State in Johnson City.

Prior to its game against the Bulldogs, VMI hosts Western Carolina.

November 4: Speaking of the Catamounts, WCU is The Citadel’s final regular-season home game opponent of the season. Western Carolina will play back-to-back games against Palmetto State schools, hosting Furman in Cullowhee the week before its game versus the Bulldogs.

Western Carolina is back in the mountains on November 11, playing Mercer.

November 11: The Citadel travels to Greenville to play Furman. The two programs have played on this date once before, in 1972, a matchup also hosted by the Paladins. The Citadel won that game 19-13, behind two touchdown runs by Harry Lynch and 102 yards rushing from Bob Carson (which included a 58-yard TD run). It was the final game at Sirrine Stadium for longtime Furman head coach Bob King.

The Paladins have a bye week before playing The Citadel this season, the only team on the Bulldogs’ schedule to have that benefit (not counting Presbyterian’s two-day head start after playing Wake Forest). Furman’s last regular-season game is at Samford.

November 18: The Bulldogs’ eleventh game of the campaign is against Clemson, the third straight year The Citadel will end the regular season against a Power-5 conference opponent. It will be Military Appreciation Day in Clemson (as was the case when the two programs met in 2013).

The Tigers face Florida State in Death Valley the week before hosting The Citadel. Clemson then travels to Columbia for its traditional season finale versus South Carolina.

A quick note on “option preview” situations in 2017:

  • Furman, Mercer, and Western Carolina all play Wofford before facing The Citadel, while the other league teams play the Terriers before taking on the Bulldogs.
  • Samford opens its season on Thursday night against another triple option team, Kennesaw State.
  • Clemson plays Georgia Tech on October 28 (and has a bye week before that game to prepare for Paul Johnson’s offense).

Just a few more weeks to go…

A quick glance at the 2017 SoCon non-conference football slate

Some other links related to the upcoming season for The Citadel:

Inside the Numbers: The Citadel’s run/pass tendencies, 4th-down decision-making, and various per-play statistics, along with the highly anticipated coin-toss data

A look at “advanced statistics” from the Bulldogs’ 2016 league campaign

Preseason rankings and ratings

The Citadel’s fans aren’t afraid to travel

This year, the SoCon cohort will have its usual share of games against major conference teams, along with several intriguing matchups with FCS squads in other leagues. While there are four games against Division II schools, at least two of those D-2 teams (possibly three) are of playoff caliber in that division.

That said, I think contests against non-D1 teams should be avoided by SoCon schools (the same is true for basketball). I realize that putting together a schedule can be a challenge, but from a playoff perspective, it’s important for league teams to have as many opportunities as possible to accumulate victories against D-1 opposition. From that standpoint, playing an FBS team and a D-2 squad in the same season is less than ideal.

Every SoCon team will play three non-league games, with the exception of Western Carolina. The Catamounts have four matchups against out-of-conference opponents, because one of those four games is at Hawai’i. Thus, with the “Hawai’i Exemption” in effect, WCU is playing a 12-game regular-season schedule.

East Tennessee State is the only conference team that will not face at least one FBS opponent. The Buccaneers are only in their third year since re-starting their football program. However, ETSU will play at Tennessee in 2018.

Of the eight schools that are playing FBS squads, seven of them have matchups with teams from Power-5 conferences. The only one that doesn’t is VMI, which has Air Force as its FBS opponent.

Which SoCon outfit has the toughest non-conference schedule? That’s an easy question to answer — it’s Mercer. The Bears tangle with two SEC teams this season.

Around the league:

– Chattanooga:

The Mocs open the season in “Week 0” with a nominally neutral-site matchup in Alabama against OVC kingpin Jacksonville State, with the contest billed as the “Montgomery Kickoff Classic” and televised on ESPN. Chattanooga has lost four games to JSU since 2012; all were close, with two going to OT (including a playoff meeting in 2015).

UTC plays all three of its non-league opponents in the first four weeks of the season. After the Jacksonville State game, Chattanooga has a week off before facing LSU in Baton Rouge. The Mocs then host UT Martin, which won 7 games last season and has finished in the top 3 of the OVC in each of the last five seasons.

– Mercer:

Uh, yikes. After a Thursday night home opener versus Jacksonville that shouldn’t be too treacherous, the Bears will travel to Auburn (September 16) and Alabama (November 18). Good luck with that.

An argument could be made that Mercer has the toughest non-conference schedule in all of FCS. There are arguably three other contenders for that “honor”: Northern Colorado (which plays at Florida and at Colorado), Delaware State (at West Virginia, at Florida State) and Alabama A&M (the only FCS squad to play three FBS opponents this year).

My vote goes to Delaware State, in part because the Hornets were winless last season. Kenny Carter has a tough row to hoe in Dover.

– Samford:

This may be one of the trickier out-of-conference slates in the SoCon, at least in terms of being more difficult than it appears on the surface.

Samford opens the season at home on Thursday night versus Kennesaw State, which you may recall beat Furman last year (though KSU also lost to ETSU in 2016). I think Kennesaw State may be a “sleeper” team this season in the Big South. At least one preseason publication ranked the Owls in its Top 25.

The Birmingham Bulldogs keep the home-on-Thursday thing going in Week 2, playing a weeknight contest against Division II West Alabama. The Tigers are a solid D-2 program, having averaged almost 7 1/2 wins per season since 2009.

Like UTC, Samford wraps up its non-conference campaign early, as SU goes between the hedges to play Georgia on September 16.

– Western Carolina:

As mentioned above, the Catamounts are playing four non-league teams this year as part of a 12-game slate. The game at Hawai’i is the season opener.

WCU’s other three out-of-conference opponents are all from the state of North Carolina. Western Carolina hosts Davidson on September 9, and then travels to Boiling Springs (the N.C. version) to face Gardner-Webb the following week.

The Catamounts conclude regular-season play with a game in Chapel Hill against North Carolina on November 18, the first football game ever between those two programs.

– VMI:

The Keydets’ meeting with Air Force (September 2) is the first of its kind on the gridiron between those two military schools.

VMI returns to the post the following week to play D-2 Catawba, which went 5-6 last year but was 9-3 the season before. That 2015 campaign for Catawba included a two-touchdown victory over Davidson, the last time the Indians faced a D-1 opponent.

On September 16, VMI travels to Moon Township, PA, to play Robert Morris. The Keydets are one of two Southern Conference teams to have scheduled the Colonials this season; those are the only two NEC-SoCon meetings this year.

RMU was 2-9 last season, with one of the losses coming to another Virginia squad, Liberty (41-7). VMI and Robert Morris last played in 2013, a 37-31 2OT victory for the Colonials in Lexington.

– The Citadel:

The Bulldogs open with two home games against familiar non-conference opposition. The Citadel has played Newberry and Presbyterian a combined 102 times in its football history.

Newberry was 10-2 last year, and made the D-2 playoffs for a second consecutive season. The Wolves have played two D-1 schools in the last three years (Jacksonville and Charleston Southern), losing the two games by a total of nine points.

Presbyterian was 2-9 last season, with just one win in Big South action (versus Monmouth). PC opens at Wake Forest on Thursday night before travelling to Charleston to face the Bulldogs for the first time since 2010.

The Citadel ends the regular season with a game at Clemson, which has been a fairly decent FBS program over the past couple of years.

– East Tennessee State:

ETSU opens at home against Limestone, a Division II school entering its fourth year of playing varsity football. The Saints were 5-6 last season. Limestone’s only D-1 opponent to date was a home game against Jacksonville in 2014; the Dolphins won 61-10.

The Bucs then play the defending national champion, James Madison. That game will take place in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

East Tennessee State closes out its non-conference action with a home game versus Robert Morris, three weeks after the Colonials host VMI.

– Furman:

The Paladins open the season with a conference game, travelling to Spartanburg to face Wofford. Furman’s first non-league opponent is actually a former conference foe, as Elon will be in Greenville on September 9.

The following Saturday, Furman will play North Carolina State in Raleigh. FU leads the all-time series between the two programs, 8-4-4. The two teams last met in 1985, a 42-20 Furman victory. In related news, N.C. State hired then-Paladins head coach Dick Sheridan after that season.

Furman’s next game will be in Hamilton, New York, as Colgate will host the Paladins. It’s a relatively unusual Patriot League-Southern Conference gridiron battle. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing a few more meetings between teams in those leagues.

– Wofford:

As noted above, Wofford will open at home against Furman in a SoCon matchup. In fact, Wofford’s first two games are in conference play (the second is at Mercer), and then the Terriers have a bye week.

Wofford’s initial non-conference game of the season isn’t until September 23, when it faces Gardner-Webb in Spartanburg. The following Saturday, the Terriers make the short trip down the road to Clinton to play Presbyterian.

On November 18, Wofford will play its last regular-season game of the year at South Carolina, the third consecutive year the Gamecocks have hosted a SoCon team the week before South Carolina plays Clemson. Last year, the Gamecocks beat Western Carolina 44-31; in 2015, The Citadel defeated South Carolina 23-22.

As a whole, the SoCon’s non-league schedule compares favorably to other conferences in FCS.

Only the Big Sky has more matchups against Power-5 conference teams than the SoCon (11* to 8), and the western league has 4 more teams in its conference for football. All 13 of those Big Sky teams will play at least one FBS team this year, however, with three of the schools facing two FBS opponents.

*I’m counting BYU as a “Power-5” program.

Several of the Big Sky teams expected to contend for the league title are playing opponents from the Pac-12, including Weber State (California), North Dakota (Utah), and Northern Arizona (Arizona). I wouldn’t be surprised if one of those teams pulls an upset (Weber State having the best shot, in my opinion).

Another Big Sky power, Eastern Washington, plays at Texas Tech in its season opener. I hope there is enough electrical power available in Lubbock to run the scoreboard for that one.

EWU also has non-conference games against North Dakota State and Fordham, the latter on the road in the Bronx.

While teams in the CAA have a combined total of 12 meetings with FBS squads this season, only three of those are against Power-5 teams (Towson-Maryland, Delaware-Virginia Tech, and William & Mary-Virginia).

James Madison has to like its chances against an East Carolina team that was defensively challenged last season. In fact, one offshore site currently lists the Dukes as a 4 1/2 point favorite.

Maine is playing two FBS teams. One of the games, versus Massachusetts, will be at Fenway Park (box seats above the 30-yard line can be yours for just $99 each).

The MEAC has six games against Power-5 squads (including the aforementioned two for Delaware State), the OVC has five (one of which is Jacksonville State-Georgia Tech), the MVFC has four, the Big South has two (not counting Liberty’s game at Baylor), and the Southland and SWAC also have two. The NEC has one (Central Connecticut State-Syracuse).

While it doesn’t feature any games against Power-5 opposition, the Patriot League does have three games against FBS teams (Colgate-Buffalo, Fordham-Army, Holy Cross-Connecticut).

Incidentally, I’m a fan of the non-conference schedule Colgate put together this year — games against Furman and Cal Poly (the latter on the road), and then stepping outside the division to play a MAC school. Well done, Raiders. Rob Stone must be very proud.

None of the Ivies will play an FBS team this season, and the same is true for the teams in the Pioneer League.

Of the teams ranked in the Street & Smith’s preseason Top 25, only eight are not playing at least one FBS opponent this season. Those eight squads include three MVFC teams (North Dakota State, South Dakota State, and Illinois State); two Southland outfits (preseason #1 Sam Houston State and McNeese State); CAA power Richmond; Patriot League favorite Lehigh; and defending Pioneer League champ San Diego.

It should be pointed out that at least in the case of North Dakota State, the absence of an FBS team on the schedule certainly isn’t about an unwillingness to play teams in the bowl subdivision; rather, it more likely reflects the fact that fewer and fewer FBS programs are interested in playing NDSU.

In addition, two of the eight teams play each other this season. Sam Houston State hosts Richmond on Sunday, August 27, an attractive matchup that will be televised on ESPNU. It will also be the sideline debut for new Richmond coach (and former UTC boss) Russ Huesman.

On September 9, South Dakota State travels to Montana State in an MVFC-Big Sky intersectional affair. Another non-conference matchup featuring teams from those two conferences is Illinois State-Northern Arizona, which kicks off in Flagstaff on October 7.

Lehigh hosts Villanova in what could be the Mountain Hawks’ toughest non-conference test. It is also the season opener for both teams. Lehigh also has a potentially difficult game against Penn; like the Villanova contest, it will be played at Goodman Stadium.

San Diego’s non-conference slate includes a long road trip to Princeton. The Tigers are expected to compete with Penn and Harvard for the Ivy League title this season, after sharing the crown with the Quakers last year.

We are now less than two months away from the start of football season for almost every FBS and FCS team (Ivy League excepted). Can’t wait…