College Football 2017, Week #4: the top 15 matchups

The weekly explanation of this post:

On his college hoops ratings website, Ken Pomeroy has an algorithm called ‘FanMatch’, in which “games are rated for competitiveness and level of play with a lean towards higher-scoring games”. It is a way to rate the potential watchability of various basketball contests. There is just a touch of whimsy involved, which makes it even better…

Mimicking this idea, I’ve created a somewhat byzantine and truly murky formula to produce game ratings; it is called “Tingle Factor”, or TF. The higher the TF, the better.

On the surface, this week does not have a great slate of games, but sometimes the craziest weeks are the ones that on first look seem less than stellar.

To access a Google Document that has a complete schedule of televised/streamed D-1 college football games (including all the announcing teams), see this post: Link

Here are the top 15 games for Week 4. All of them are being played on Saturday, as has been the case for the last three weeks. There haven’t really been that many intriguing Thursday and Friday night games so far this season, though the Utah-Arizona game on Friday night could be worth watching.

Road Team Home Team Gametime (ET) TV/Streaming TF
Mississippi State Georgia 9/16, 7:00 pm ESPN 81.2
TCU Oklahoma State 9/16, 3:30 pm ESPN 80.1
UCF Maryland 9/16, 3:00 pm FS1/FS-Go 79.8
Texas Tech Houston 9/16, 12:00 pm ABC or ESPN2 79.6
Washington Colorado 9/16, 10:00 pm FS1/FS-Go 75.0
Wake Forest Appalachian State 9/16, 3:30 pm ESPN3 73.8
Samford Western Carolina 9/16, 3:30 pm ESPN3 73.1
Toledo Miami (FL) 9/16, 3:30 pm ACC Regional Nets 71.8
Notre Dame Michigan State 9/16, 8:00 pm FOX/FS-Go 69.8
Duke North Carolina 9/16, 3:30 pm ESPNU 69.3
N.C. State Florida State 9/16, 12:00 pm ABC or ESPN2 69.1
Michigan Purdue 9/16, 4:00 pm FOX/FS-Go 67.3
Arkansas State SMU 9/16, 7:00 pm ESPN3 66.1
Florida Kentucky 9/16, 7:30 pm SEC Network 64.8
Cincinnati Navy 9/16, 3:30 pm CBS Sports Network 63.1

 

Additional notes and observations:

– CBS/CBS Sports Network games will also be streamed on CBS Sports Digital.

– The games on the ESPN “Family of Networks” will also be streamed via WatchESPN.

– The first five games on the list feature matchups between undefeated teams — including UCF, which has only played one game to this point in the season.

– Miami (FL) has also played only one game this year to date, and will host a Toledo squad that is averaging 46 points per game.

– This week, one FCS game sneaks into the top 15, and it’s a surprising one, a matchup between two offensive-minded teams in Samford and Western Carolina. The over/under is 74 for this Southern Conference clash.

– Other games in the top 15 that the oddsmakers think could be high-scoring include UCF-Maryland (over/under of 67), Texas Tech-Houston (71), Arkansas State-SMU (73), and TCU-Oklahoma State (68.5).

– Against Rice, Houston had a 22.5-yard edge in average field position for the game, the biggest advantage in that category for all of last week’s FBS matchups.

– Even though Georgia and Mississippi State were both charter members of the SEC (founded in 1932), there have only been 23 football games between the two schools. UGA leads the all-time series 17-6.

– After Saturday, there are no more scheduled meetings between Notre Dame and Michigan State until at least 2026. The two programs have met on the gridiron 78 times since 1897.

– This is the first time Duke and North Carolina have ever played each other in football in the month of September. The earliest date the schools had faced each other before this season was October 10 (a game played in 1925).

Other than an October 20 meeting in 2012, 77 of the previous 78 meetings had occurred in November.

– Saturday’s Cincinnati-Navy game is the first gridiron meeting between those two schools since 1956. They will meet more often in the future, now that both are football members of the American Athletic Conference.

In the last ten years, Navy has an overall record of 79-41. Cincinnati has an overall record of 78-41.

– Not part of the TF rating, but definitely part of the story: Kentucky is trying to end a 30-game losing streak against Florida.

It should be another great week. Saturday is just around the corner!

2016 Football, Week 2: The Citadel vs. Furman

The Citadel…was expected to nose out a victory from the visiting Furman contingent, while the Baptists, being exceedingly jealous of their position in the football world, were counted on to put their last ounce of strength into the fray with a view to nothing less than copping the contest. Hence Hampton Park bade fair to be the scene this afternoon of a hotly contested battle between two well nigh evenly matched teams.

Preview article, The Evening Post, November 1, 1913

 

The Citadel football machine ran up the biggest score of its season yesterday, when it swamped Furman, 75-0. Although the Baptists were fully as husky as the local boys and played a hard game throughout, they were simply up against a far superior team…

…End runs, off-tackle plays, line plunges, and forward passes were all successful ground-gainers, and it is the consensus of local opinion that The Citadel has improved 100 per cent since she smothered the College of Charleston 72-0 in her previous appearance here…

…There was plenty of drive and pep in the Blue dashes, the quartet of Folger, Weeks, Holliday, and James, showing much sang-froid and elan, as they say at Furman.

…taking all this into consideration, The Citadel put up the best exhibition of offensive play in years, and it is doubtful if the famous 1909 gang had anything on Folger, Weeks, and Company in their exhibition of yesterday.

Game story, The Sunday News, November 2, 1913

The Citadel vs. Furman, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 10. The game will not be televised.

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

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

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

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

Links of interest:

Game story for The Citadel-Mercer, The Post and Courier

– Box score from The Citadel-Mercer

– The Citadel faces a choice at quarterback

–  Johnson Hagood Stadium’s East Stands won’t be used this week

– Tyler Renew is the SoCon offensive player of the week

– Game notes from The Citadel and Furman

SoCon weekly release

Brent Thompson’s 9/6 press conference (video)

Brent Thompson 9/7 radio show (video)

– Furman set for first SoCon challenge at The Citadel

– Box score from Furman-Michigan State

– BTN highlights of Furman-Michigan State (video)

Entire Furman-Michigan State game in less than 23 minutes (video)

Promotional spot for Furman-The Citadel (video)

FCS Coaches’ Poll

A quick review of last Thursday’s opener…

For the third straight year, The Citadel eked out a win over Mercer. This time the Bulldogs built a big lead early, let it slip completely away, then retook the lead and held on.

I thought Jordan Black did a nice job in his first start. The coaching staff also should be commended for not overburdening him, but instead letting him use his strengths, including mid-range passes. The absence of turnovers was pleasing.

The offense was mostly shut down after the first quarter, but Mercer’s defense has to get some credit for that. Also, with the game on the line, the Bulldogs marched 65 yards down the field, in just over seven minutes, setting up the game-winning field goal.

The biggest play of the night, in my opinion: after a bad pitch on the aforementioned drive resulted in a 2nd-and-17 on The Citadel’s 20-yard-line, Black completed a 15-yard pass to Tyler Renew (who hurdled over a defender for the last four yards). That set up a manageable 3rd-and-2, which Black converted with a 5-yard run.

Two plays later, Black hooked up with Reggie Williams on a 25-yard completion. Then, on 3rd-and-7 from the Mercer 32-yard-line, Cam Jackson brushed aside an early challenge from a defender and used his blockers well to pick up a key first down. Shortly thereafter, Cody Clark kicked the 35-yard field goal that proved decisive.

The Citadel’s defense struggled at times during the the first half, which is indicated in Mercer’s yards-per-play statistics. The Bears averaged 6.4 yards per play. However, Mercer only had 96 yards of total offense in the second half.

The Bulldogs did a good job in the Red Zone, allowing just one touchdown in Mercer’s three trips inside the 20. The Citadel also had three sacks and forced two bookend turnovers (a strip-sack by Kevin Graham on Mercer’s first offensive play from scrimmage, and an interception by Kailik Williams to end the Bears’ last possession).

Mercer’s surfeit of offensive penalties could arguably be attributed to pressure from the Bulldogs’ D.

The Citadel’s special teams units were solid, the missed field goal aside.

I won’t miss seeing John Russ under center for the Bears against the Bulldogs. He’s a good college quarterback, a smart playmaker. I expect Russ to lead Mercer to several conference wins this season.

The Citadel won a road game in league play against a quality opponent. It’s a victory that looks good now, and could look really good in November.

Furman was supposed to be a pushover for Michigan State, but the Paladins gave the defending Big 10 champions all they wanted on Friday night. It was a one-possession game midway through the fourth quarter.

Darius Morehead, a “true” freshman running back, rushed for 83 yards on 20 carries against a normally stout Spartans defense. Furman only committed one turnover, and could have had a real chance to win if it had done a better job in the Red Zone. The Paladins had two separate drives in which they had first-and-goal from the five-yard-line or closer, only to settle for field goals.

On defense, FU forced two turnovers and held the potent Michigan State ground game to 4.3 yards per rush.

While it was a loss, it was still a very encouraging performance by a team that has struggled in each of the last two seasons. The Paladins’ coaches and players will be very confident when they arrive at Johnson Hagood Stadium on Saturday.

The next few sections include statistics for 2015 SoCon contests only, unless otherwise indicated.

Before making some statistical comparisons, a quick review of each team’s 2015 SoCon season (and yes, I’m repeating myself with regards to The Citadel’s season and stats):

Furman was 4-7 overall last season, 2-5 in conference play. After losing two of its first three games, FU opened league play in 2015 with a 24-21 victory over VMI. The Paladins trailed 14-0 midway through the second quarter before rallying past the Keydets. A blocked punt returned for a touchdown was a key play in the game. Also of note: Furman had almost a 16-minute advantage in time of possession.

FU won a non-league game against South Carolina State before resuming its SoCon campaign, but the Paladins threw up a dud at Chattanooga, losing 31-3. Furman only managed 59 rushing yards during the contest, and was also victimized by a pick-six.

After a bye week, Furman hosted The Citadel. The Bulldogs won the matchup 38-17, overcoming an early 7-0 deficit by scoring 24 straight points. The Citadel rushed for 388 yards. My review of that game can be found here: Link

Furman rebounded from that loss to The Citadel with a stirring comeback at Samford, winning on a last-second field goal 20-17. The Paladins had trailed 17-0 at halftime. FU’s rushing output of 252 yards was easily its highest of the season.

The momentum from that victory was short-lived, however, as the following week the Paladins were crushed in Cullowhee by Western Carolina, 48-10. The Catamounts led 31-3 at halftime after turning two early turnovers into touchdowns; Furman was never in the game after that.

Furman then lost at Mercer, 27-20 in overtime. FU trailed 20-0 before making another comeback, tying the game late on a touchdown run by running back Kealand Dirks. However, Dirks received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after spiking the football following his TD, which meant the Paladins had to attempt a 35-yard PAT. It missed, setting up the OT session won by Mercer.

In its final game of the 2015 season, Furman lost 38-28 at Wofford. The Terriers outrushed the Paladins 417-109, with 73 of Wofford’s rushing yards coming on a game-clinching fourth-quarter drive after Furman had rallied to within a field goal.

The Citadel opened its SoCon campaign in 2015 with a fine home win over Western Carolina, 28-10. The Bulldogs’ next conference game was also at Johnson Hagood Stadium, against Wofford, and The Citadel ran past the Terriers 39-12.

Following that victory, The Citadel won consecutive road games in impressive fashion, versus Samford (44-25) and Furman (by the 38-17 score mentioned earlier). The Bulldogs then edged Mercer 21-19, and retained the coveted Silver Shako with a tough 35-14 win over VMI.

Both of those games were at home. The Citadel lost its final league game of the season, 31-23 at Chattanooga; despite that setback, the Bulldogs still won a share of the Southern Conference title.

In conference play, Furman’s offense averaged 17.4 points per game. The Paladins averaged 4.8 yards per play, including 3.2 yards per rush and 6.7 yards per pass attempt.

Furman threw the football 213 times, averaging 30.4 tosses per league game. FU passed or was sacked attempting to pass on almost half (49.4%) of its offensive plays from scrimmage. Paladin quarterbacks were sacked nineteen times in seven SoCon matchups.

In terms of yardage, 63.5% of FU’s total offense came via the air. Furman scored fourteen touchdowns in conference play, six rushing and eight passing. The Paladins were intercepted eight times (twice versus the Bulldogs) and fumbled thirteen times in league contests, losing six of those fumbles.

Defensively, The Citadel allowed 18.3 ppg in SoCon action. The Bulldogs allowed 5.1 yards per play, including 3.7 yards per rush and 6.7 yards per pass attempt. As I mentioned last week, my statistical review of The Citadel’s 2015 league campaign included the tidbit that the Bulldogs’ yards per rush stat was an improvement over the corresponding 2014 average by almost exactly two yards.

The Bulldogs sacked opposing quarterbacks twenty times in league play, and intercepted thirteen passes (breaking up twenty other throws). SoCon opponents averaged 30.3 pass attempts per game versus The Citadel, with those tosses accounting for 46.1% of all offensive plays run from scrimmage against the Bulldogs. Furman attempted 26 passes against the Bulldogs in last year’s matchup, picking up 159 yards on those throws (6.1 yards per attempt).

The Citadel’s defense recovered seven fumbles in conference action.

Furman had 106 third-down attempts in SoCon play, converting 46 of them into first downs (43.4%). The Paladins went for it on fourth down eleven times in conference action, successfully picking up the first down six times (54.5%).

FU was in the Red Zone eighteen times in seven league contests, scoring nine touchdowns in that situation (for a RZ TD rate of 50%; hey, that was easy math).

Furman’s time of possession per game in conference play was 30:56. While this is close to break-even in terms of TOP, the Paladins occasionally controlled the football for major portions of individual quarters. That included the third quarter of last season’s game versus the Bulldogs, when FU had the ball for exactly 11 minutes.

Other quarters in which Furman had the football for an extended period of time: the first quarter against VMI (10:44), the fourth quarter versus Samford (11:56), and in the fourth quarter of two of the Paladins’ non-conference matchups (10:59 against UCF and 11:30 versus South Carolina State).

In games (including non-conference matchups) last season in which Furman had what I’ll call dominant possession quarters, defined as controlling the football for 10:30 or longer, the Paladins were 4-1, with the loss against The Citadel.

On Friday night, Furman had yet another dominant possession quarter, holding the ball for 11:47 of the third quarter against Michigan State. The Spartans turned that around in the fourth quarter, as MSU possessed the football for 10:41 of the final period.

FU averaged only 4.1 penalties per SoCon game. Curiously, the average yardage assessed for Paladin infractions in league play was more than 10 yards per flag, so when Furman committed a penalty, it was often a major foul.

The Citadel’s defense held conference opponents to a third-down conversion rate of 33.7%. Furman was 5 for 13 converting third downs against the Bulldogs in last season’s contest.

Against the Bulldogs, SoCon opposition was 8 for 13 on fourth-down tries (61.5%). Last year, the Paladins converted their only fourth-down attempt against the Cadets.

In Red Zone situations versus league teams, the Bulldogs allowed a TD rate of 52.2% in 2015. Furman’s offense was in the Red Zone three times in last year’s matchup. The Paladins scored two touchdowns and kicked a field goal.

As we all know, SoCon officials rarely call penalties against The Citadel’s opponents (with last week’s game against Mercer a notable exception to that rule). In 2015, the Bulldogs were called for 42 penalties in seven conference games (6.0 per contest), while the opposition was only flagged 29 times (4.1 per game).

In last year’s game, Furman and The Citadel combined for nine penalties. Naturally, six of them were against the Bulldogs.

FU allowed 31.4 points per game against conference opposition. League teams averaged 5.7 yards per play against the Paladins, including 5.5 yards per rush and 6.2 yards per pass attempt.

Furman’s defense faced 177 pass attempts in SoCon action. The Paladins’ D had only six sacks in conference action (and just eight sacks all season).  Only 37.0% of their opponents’ plays were pass attempts (or sacks while attempting to pass).

FU allowed 2,838 yards of total offense in seven SoCon games, with 38.9% of that total being passing yardage. The Paladins allowed 26 touchdowns in SoCon play, 19 via the rush (five of those rushing TDs were by the Bulldogs).

Furman intercepted five passes in league play (one was against The Citadel), and recovered three fumbles.

Offensively, The Citadel put up 32.6 points per game in conference action. The Bulldogs averaged 6.1 yards per play, including 5.6 yards per rush and 9.7 yards per pass attempt (on 63 total throws in seven SoCon contests).

League opponents intercepted two Bulldog passes (as mentioned, the Paladins got one of those), and broke up four others.

The Citadel lost eight fumbles in seven SoCon games. As I noted in last week’s preview, the Bulldogs lost twelve fumbles in their other six matchups, losing at least one fumble in every non-league contest except the matchup against South Carolina.

Holding onto the football will be a point of emphasis for The Citadel all season. The 2016 Bulldogs passed their first test on that front, with no turnovers and only one mishandled pitch (which was recovered by The Citadel).

Furman’s defense allowed a third-down conversion rate of 47.6% against league teams. On fourth down, Paladin opponents were eight for twelve (66.7%).

SoCon opposition entered the Red Zone against FU 27 times in conference play. The Paladins allowed 19 touchdowns in that situation (70.4%).

The Citadel’s third-down conversion rate on offense was exactly 50% in SoCon games. On fourth down, the Cadets were 3 for 8 (37.5%). In last year’s game between the two teams, the Bulldogs were 7 for 12 on third down and had no fourth down conversion attempts.

In 2015, The Citadel’s time of possession in SoCon play was 32:13. The Bulldogs had a Red Zone TD rate of just 56.3% in 2015 against conference opposition. The Bulldogs scored three touchdowns in five Red Zone situations against the Paladins.

For individual statistics, all games (SoCon and non-conference) are included.

A quick review of the four non-conference games Furman played last season:

Furman opened the 2015 campaign with a tough home loss to Coastal Carolina, 38-35. The Paladins had 525 yards of total offense, including 365 passing yards from Reese Hannon — a school record. The game was statistically very even, two Furman turnovers being the difference.

The next week, the Paladins were thumped 42-3 by Virginia Tech. The Hokies had 583 yards of total offense, and Furman didn’t help itself by committing three more turnovers.

Furman then upset UCF, 16-15. The winning margin came courtesy of a 55-yard fourth-quarter field goal by Jon Croft Hollingsworth, the longest in Paladins history. After not forcing a turnover in its first two games, Furman intercepted three passes and recovered a fumble against the Knights.

FU’s game versus South Carolina State was played in difficult conditions, with both rain and wind affecting the contest. The Paladins won the turnover battle, 3-0, and were never seriously threatened after halftime. The final score was 17-3.

Furman returns 15 starters (including offense/defense/specialists), including six on offense and seven on defense.

Offensively, it appears the Paladins will generally operate out of the pistol formation.

FU did not announce who its starter at quarterback would against Michigan State until shortly before kickoff in East Lansing. It turned out to be junior P.J. Blazejowski.

Blazejowski (6’0″, 193 lbs.) started three of the final five games last season for Furman, and also played last season against The Citadel after Reese Hannon was injured.

You may recall Blazejowski from his performance against the Bulldogs in the 2014 matchup, when he compiled 382 yards of total offense in a wild game The Citadel managed to win in OT. He will make his 12th career start on Saturday (if he remains the starter, which seems likely).

Entering this season, he had a career pass completion rate of 58.3%, averaging 7.5 yards per attempt, with 13 TDs and 13 interceptions. Against Michigan State, Blazejowski was 15-30 passing, for 123 yards. He threw one interception (which came after the Paladins had picked off a Michigan State pass attempt on the preceding play).

I mentioned in my brief summary of the Michigan State game that freshman running back Darius Morehead (5’9″, 171 lbs.) had a promising collegiate debut for the Paladins. Morehead was a track star in high school, winning the Tennessee D2-AA state title in the 100-meter dash.

His primary backup is Richard Hayes III (5’11”, 201 lbs.), a senior who played safety last year for Furman. Hayes actually tied for the team lead in tackles against the Bulldogs in last season’s meeting, with ten. Based on that game, I think it is safe to say that he’s not afraid of contact.

Six different receivers caught passes last week for Furman. As always with the Paladins, the tight end is a key player. Duncan Fletcher (6’4″, 234 lbs.) had four receptions last week, and also completed a 16-yard pass on a trick play; that tied for FU’s longest completion against MSU.

Last year against the Bulldogs, Fletcher was on the receiving end of a wide receiver pass, one that went for a TD. He began his collegiate career as a quarterback, and played that position versus The Citadel in 2013.

Andrej Suttles (5’11”, 187 lbs.) was a second-team All-SoCon selection last season. The redshirt senior wide receiver has 138 career receptions. He also sees action at punt returner, and had one return last week against Michigan State for five yards.

Furman’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’3″, 293 lbs. Junior center Matthew Schmidt (6’3″, 290 lbs.) played tackle for the Paladins last year, before having his season cut short by an injury suffered in the game against the Bulldogs.

Against Michigan State, Furman started a true freshman at left tackle, Tim Coleman (6’3″, 285 lbs.). The other side of the line, however, features two experienced performers — senior right guard Jackson Buonomia (6’3″, 299 lbs.) and redshirt senior right tackle Harrison Monk (6’4″, 278 lbs.).

Starting defensive end T.J. Warren (6’2″, 233 lbs.) is a redshirt senior who has also seen time at linebacker during his career for the Paladins. According to Furman’s game notes, Warren (a native of Chattanooga) will attend Marine Corps Officers Candidate School at Quantico following graduation.

Furman’s starter at DE opposite Warren is also a redshirt senior. Brian Ross (6’4″, 246 lbs.) has made 13 straight starts. He can be a factor on special teams, too, having blocked a punt last year against VMI that he picked up and ran in for a TD.

Seven of the eleven projected starters for the Paladins are seniors, either fourth- or fifth-year players. One who isn’t is redshirt sophomore DT Jaylan Reid (5’11”, 265 lbs.), a member of last year’s SoCon all-freshman team.

Middle linebacker Carl Rider (6’2″, 232 lbs.) has seemingly been at Furman since the Truman administration. Now finally a redshirt senior (allegedly), Rider was a first-team All-SoCon selection in 2013.

Furman’s active leader in tackles with 260, Rider intercepted a pass last year versus the Bulldogs.

Safety Trey Robinson (6’2″, 220 lbs.) was a second team all-conference pick in 2015, and the senior is a preseason first-team choice this year.

Jon Croft Hollingsworth (5’11, 169 lbs.) handles all of Furman’s kicking duties — placekicking, punting, and kickoffs. The junior did the same last year.

He made two field goals last week versus Michigan State. Hollingsworth also missed a field goal against the Spartans, a 50-yarder, but he is more than capable of making a long kick (as UCF found out last season).

Hollingsworth averaged 38.9 yards per punt last season. On kickoffs, he had 18 touchbacks.

Luke Cuneo is in his second year as the Paladins’ holder. As I noted last year, Cuneo is one of the smaller football players in Division I; the Massachusetts native is 5’6″, 165 lbs.

Furman has a new long snapper this year, true freshman Evan Vaughn (6’1″, 230 lbs.) Vaughn was a Shrine Bowler at Belton-Honea Path High School.

Starting cornerback Aaquil Annoor (5’10”, 165 lbs.) returned one kickoff last week against Michigan State. The sophomore had eight returns last season, all in the final three games.

This is not the greatest ticket sales stadium graphic in the history of The Citadel: Link

Furman fans will be sitting on one end of the West Stands on Saturday, because no one will be sitting in the East Stands. To recap:

The Citadel is considering tearing down the visitors’ side at Johnson Hagood Stadium and expects to make a decision by the end of the week, athletic director Jim Senter said Monday.

Flaking lead paint, a health hazard, was discovered on the east side of the 21,000-seat stadium over the summer, and fans were not allowed to sit on that side during the Sertoma Football Classic earlier this month.

The Citadel had planned to repaint the east side stands over the summer. But a lead-testing report received on July 28 confirmed a level of lead-based paint applicable to disposal standards of the S.C. Dept. of Health and Environmental Control and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Conditions on the east side of the stadium deteriorated quickly over the summer, said Col. Tom Philipkosky, senior vice president for operations and administration.

“We have been monitoring conditions there, and it got worse very quickly this past year,” he told [The Citadel Board of Visitors’ operations and risk management committee]. “And unfortunately, we caught up to it late.”

Lead paint also is on the underside of the structure on the east side, Senter said.

“So we have to mitigate the entire east side stands,” he said. “At this point, the most important thing is, can fans be seated on the top side with safety? And then, how do we go about utilizing the underneath side, where the restrooms and concession stands are located?”

Johnson Hagood Stadium was originally built in 1948. The old home side was knocked down in 2005, with the new west side stands opened in 2006 and the West Side Tower, housing luxury suites and the press box, opened in 2008.

The fact this problem wasn’t discovered (at least, in its totality) until shortly before the beginning of the season is more than a little irksome, but that can’t be helped now. The question is, what will The Citadel do going forward?

I don’t know, but the long-term answer has to involve replacing the East Stands, and sooner rather than later. Even before the current issue arose, that section of the stadium was problematic.

The visitors’ side of the football stadium needed to be a high priority for the school, in terms of maintenance and upgrading/replacing the structure. I’m not sure that has been the case.

It is now, though, and that’s a good thing. I’m hopeful that in the long run the visitors’ side of the stadium will become a source of pride for the school and something that is appreciated by travelling supporters. That should be the goal.

Regardless, the lack of seating will be a problem this season (I’ll be curious to see what happens for the Parents’ Day and Homecoming games). I get the distinct impression, however, that Jim Senter is going to get things moving.

Part of my confidence in Senter’s ability to navigate the stadium issue is the deft way he handled the Charleston Southern situation, the other off-the-football-field event that has been in the news of late.

The Citadel will play Charleston Southern again (starting in 2018), but the scheduled four-game series will not be a home-and-home. Johnson Hagood Stadium will be the site for all four games. That should never have been in question, really. As Senter pointed out:

“The bottom line is if we draw 9,000 or 10,000 people for each of those games,” he said. “And their capacity is (4,000). Frankly, we’re leaving money on the table that both of us need. So the arrangement is that we will provide 3,000 tickets for (CSU) to monetize, so it would be pretty much like they had the game there, monetarily.”

To his credit, Charleston Southern director of athletics Hank Small saw the writing on the wall:

“At some point, you have to make a decision,” he said. “We’d love to play College of Charleston and The Citadel in basketball home-and-home, as well. But that’s not happening. So what do you do about it? Do you say, we’re just not going to play people? Or do you make the decision that we want to play?

There have always been two major issues related to The Citadel playing Charleston Southern in football. One has to do with schedule flexibility, the other CSU’s stadium. Those concerns have not received a lot of attention from the local media, though one gets the idea that perhaps the press may finally begin to cast a more critical eye on CSU’s facilities issues (after all, it’s not just about The Citadel — College of Charleston isn’t going to play any basketball games at the “Buc Dome”, either).

One thing left unsaid by both ADs is that no matter where the games are played, the overwhelming majority of fans will be supporting The Citadel. Hence, there is no philosophical or practical reason to play the games anywhere other than Johnson Hagood Stadium.

That is something that nobody seems to really want to discuss, but it is reality. Charleston Southern simply doesn’t have that many fans. This isn’t an indictment of its program; it’s just the truth.

On the heels of the program’s most successful season, and after a huge amount of publicity from its televised game at North Dakota State (a contest that was covered onsite by a columnist from The Post and Courier and at least one Charleston-area TV station), Charleston Southern’s announced attendance for its home opener last Saturday was 1,780.

1,780.

That was the lowest attendance of any of the 41 games hosted by FCS schools during the first week of the season. Even Georgetown, which plays its home games at a “stadium” that only has temporary bleachers, drew more fans for a game against Davidson.

It was the second-lowest total for a CSU home game during Jamey Chadwell’s tenure as the Buccaneers’ head coach. It was also the smallest crowd for a Bucs home opener since 2005.

For the record, The Citadel has not appeared in a game with attendance that low, home or away, since at least 1966.

I was a little surprised, but I probably shouldn’t have been. After a strong attendance boost in Chadwell’s first season in North Charleston, the crowds haven’t consistently been coming, other than for home games against Coastal Carolina and The Citadel. In fact, if you take the games against those two schools (and their respective fan bases) out of the equation, average attendance at CSU home games has declined in each of the last two seasons.

There is no doubt that Jim Senter and his staff are well aware of those facts.

The beginning of this post includes blurbs from a preview article and game story for the first matchup between The Citadel and Furman, a 1913 contest played at Hampton Park that was won by the military college 75-0.

The Citadel scored eleven touchdowns in the game, with six different players accounting for them. There were six rushing touchdowns, three passing TDs, a touchdown scored on a blocked punt, and a TD after The Citadel fumbled the ball into the end zone, where a blue-clad lineman fell on it.

Furman was held to two first downs, one in each half. One reason for that is the Baptists elected to kick off to The Citadel after most of those touchdowns, rather than receive the football (teams were allowed to do that back then, which I guess says something about the perceived value of field position in those days).

Incidentally, I called Furman’s team the “Baptists” in the preceding paragraph because that’s how it was described in the newspaper. About a decade later, the football team at Furman would be nicknamed the “Purple Hurricane”. The gridiron squad wouldn’t officially become the “Paladins” until 1963, when students voted to call all of their varsity athletic teams by that moniker (previously, it had been limited to the school’s basketball team).

Furman wasn’t done playing football in the Low Country after its game against The Citadel. Two days later, the twenty-player squad rebounded nicely from that loss by defeating College of Charleston, 30-0.

(Yes, the game against CofC was played just two days after the matchup with The Citadel. It was a different time.)

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service:  mostly sunny with a high near 88, then turning partly cloudy that night with a low around 76.

Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 15.5-point favorite over Furman. The over/under is 46.5.

Last year, The Citadel entered this matchup as an eight-point favorite.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Chattanooga is a 23-point favorite over Presbyterian; Samford is a 5.5-point favorite at Central Arkansas; Western Carolina is a 15-point favorite over Gardner-Webb; VMI is an 8.5-point favorite at Morehead State; Mercer is a 32.5-point underdog at Georgia Tech; and Wofford is a 40.5-point underdog at Mississippi.

East Tennessee State is off this week. ETSU will be back in action next week in the “Second Battle of Bristol” against WCU.

Last week in non-conference action, SoCon teams were 6-1 against the spread, with only Western Carolina failing to cover.

North Carolina, which The Citadel will play in its regular-season finale, is a 10-point favorite at Illinois.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is 12th among FCS teams, unchanged from the previous ranking. Furman is ranked 45th, a six-spot jump after its performance at Michigan State.

Massey projects The Citadel to have an 82% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of 28-14.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Chattanooga (9th), Samford (21st), Western Carolina (28th), Wofford (31st), Mercer (49th), Gardner-Webb (56th), VMI (64th), East Tennessee State (109th).

Mercer’s ranking was the same this week as it was last week. Gardner-Webb leaped 25 spots after its 31-6 road rout of Elon.

ETSU moved up 11 positions following a surprising 20-17 2OT win at Kennesaw State. The Buccaneers were a 26-point underdog, having lost 56-16 to KSU in Johnson City last year.

– As noted by Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier, this season marks the first time The Citadel has begun its gridiron campaign with two Southern Conference games since 1963. That year, the Bulldogs lost to William & Mary in their opener before defeating Davidson in the season’s second contest.

In fact, 1963 is the only other year The Citadel has opened the season with two SoCon games. The last time the Bulldogs played two conference games to start the season, the year was 1935 and the conference was the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA). That team, under the tutelage of Tatum Gressette, began the year 2-0 by defeating Erskine and Wofford in league play.

Both of those games were played in October, as the 1935 season did not begin until October 5.

– Before 2010, The Citadel and Furman had only met one time on the gridiron in the month of September (that happened in 1976). However, since 2010 the two schools have played in the ninth month no fewer than four times, counting this Saturday’s game.

The 2011 matchup was also contested on September 10, which is the earliest any game in the series has been played.

I’ve mentioned this before (actually, several times), but The Citadel-Furman can’t be an end-of-season matchup because of the military college’s academic calendar. That’s not a big deal, because historically the game has been played at midseason more than at any other time.

Having said that, it really shouldn’t be played in September, either. I wish the SoCon office would set aside the second or third Saturday in October on the league schedule every year for these two teams to play. I know it’s not that easy to set up a conference schedule, but I suspect there may be more room to maneuver in October than in September or November (due to more “guarantee games” being played in those months).

– According to the roster included in its game notes, Furman has 30 players from Georgia on its roster, the most from any state. Other states represented: South Carolina (17), North Carolina (14), Florida (12), Tennessee (12), Alabama (6), Ohio (2), and one each from Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

The Paladin who will be closest to home on Saturday is Hilton Head resident Brad Meccariello, a redshirt sophomore. The 5’11”, 185 lb. safety went to Hilton Head Academy.

– Furman has three changes this season from its 2015 schedule. Michigan State, Kennesaw State, and East Tennessee State replace Virginia Tech, UCF, and South Carolina State as opponents, evidence the Paladins’ slate is more stately this year.

FU will play the same seven league teams it faced last year, of course, with ETSU now included as an additional conference foe. Coastal Carolina repeats as a non-conference matchup for the Paladins.

– Furman got a guarantee of $655,000 for playing Michigan State.

– After playing The Citadel, Furman will host Chattanooga next week in Greenville.

– Next season, Furman’s three non-conference games will be at North Carolina State, at Colgate, and home against Elon. In 2018, the Paladins will play Colgate, Elon, and Clemson (the latter two on the road).

In 2019 (a year in which FCS schools can schedule 12 regular-season games), three of FU’s non-league opponents are set: Georgia State, Virginia Tech, and Kennesaw State, all away from home. Presumably, Furman will add a home game against a non-conference opponent to complete its slate for that season.

Furman is also scheduled to play at North Carolina State in 2021, and will host Colgate that same season. The following year, the Paladins will travel to Hamilton, New York, to conclude the four-game series with the Raiders.

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

– It’s only one week, but I took a look at the FCS national statistical rankings anyway. The Citadel leads the nation in fewest penalties (1); considering the contest in question was a Southern Conference game, that has to be a borderline miracle.

Among individuals, Tyler Renew is 8th nationally in rush yards per game (after his 146-yard effort versus Mercer), while Malik Diggs is 6th nationally in solo tackles per conference (he had nine such stops against the Bears, finishing with 11 tackles overall). Quinlan Washington averaged 32 yards per kickoff return in two opportunities, which ranks 6th nationally after one week.

– The game notes factoid of the week: Reggie Williams averaged 14 yards per play last week, carrying the ball four times for 45 yards, including a 29-yard TD (that was a very nice play call, perfectly executed), and making that big 25-yard catch on the drive that set up the winning field goal.

– Triple option oddity: more players caught passes last week for The Citadel (five) than had rushing attempts (four).

– Saturday’s game will be Military Appreciation Day.

While The Citadel is opening with two league contests, after Saturday’s matchup it won’t play another SoCon game until October 1, when the Bulldogs travel to Cullowhee to face Western Carolina. The next home conference game isn’t until October 15, against Chattanooga.

That puts a little extra emphasis on this week’s game for the Bulldogs, not that more juice is really needed when Furman comes to town.

Of course, this is a big game for the Paladins as well. If it wins this matchup, Furman gets a shot at home against Chattanooga next week with the chance to go 2-0 over the 2015 conference co-champions.

There is also the fact The Citadel has won three of the last four meetings between the schools, including the last two. Furman desperately wants to get on the right side of the ledger again as far as the series is concerned. Otherwise, the Paladins are looking at a potential 0-4 start (a trip to Conway to play Coastal Carolina is Furman’s fourth game on its schedule).

Furman has only won seven games in the past two seasons. A bad start this year would not bode well for head coach Bruce Fowler.

This is a critical game for Furman, and the Paladins will treat it as such. The Bulldogs better be ready.

I think they will. It should be a fun game on Saturday.

Complaint to ESPN, c/o The Sports Arsenal

From time to time I get e-mail responses to things I’ve written on the blog.  They tend to run the gamut, from words of encouragement to criticism to spam (plenty of spam).  However, I got an e-mail on Saturday that I think is worth sharing.  I won’t include the name of the lady who wrote it, because I don’t think that would be fair.  

First, some background.  On Saturday afternoon Michigan played Indiana in a game televised on ESPNU.  The announcers for the game were Pam Ward (play-by-play) and Danny Kanell (analyst).  I didn’t see it, as I was at Johnson Hagood Stadium watching The Citadel’s game, but apparently the matchup in Bloomington was an exciting contest that featured very little defense.  The Wolverines prevailed, 42-35.  Shortly after the game ended, the following e-mail was sent to me:

If Pam Ward was the announcer for the U of M game today (Saturday, 10/2/2010) at 3:30 p.m., you should be ashamed of yourselves.  Aside from the mispronounciation of Denard “Dernard???!!!” Robinson’s name, could you please find an announcer who’s excited about the game?  She’s boring and uninformed, maybe why she falls back on the criticism she’s ridiculed everywhere for?  There are so many awesome sports broadcasters in the industry – please get creative!  We hate every game she announces and we’re sick of being forced to listen.  Not as agonizing as watching the Lions play every Thanksgiving… BUT CLOSE.  Thanks!

This is, obviously, a fantastic e-mail.  That last line about Pam Ward as an announcer not being as agonizing as watching the Lions play on Thanksgiving puts it over the top.

Some points:

— While she criticizes Ward, the e-mailer doesn’t seem entirely certain it was actually Ward doing the announcing (“If Pam Ward was the announcer…”).  However, that doesn’t stop her from blasting Ward anyway.

— More importantly, to me anyway, is the notion that I might somehow be affiliated with ESPN (“you should be ashamed of yourselves”, “could you please find an announcer who’s excited about the game?”).  I am guessing that the e-mailer googled Pam Ward’s name and found this post I wrote about ESPN’s announcers for 2010, and assumed I was a publicist for the network or something.

I found this amusing, because while I do write about things that involve ESPN on occasion, so would anyone who writes about sports in this country, given the pervasive nature of the network.  I haven’t always written favorably about ESPN, either (see this post or this post, just for a couple of examples).

— The e-mailer is apparently a Michigan fan.  She is sick of “being forced to listen” to Ward, but to be honest I don’t think Ward has done a whole lot of games featuring the Wolverines.  When she was calling the noon game on ESPN2 the past few years, she usually called Big 10 games  — but the two schools I always associate with a Ward call are Michigan State and Northwestern.  Michigan usually was televised on ESPN (or the Big Ten Network) if it drew the noon slot.  At least, that’s how I remember it.  I could be wrong about that.

Incidentally, Ward now wants to call NFL games.

— I couldn’t agree more with the e-mailer about the Lions, though.  Why should the entire country be subjected to that franchise every Thanksgiving?  Can’t they rotate host teams?  I’m tired of the Cowboys too, but at least Dallas usually has a good team.  The Lions are almost always bad and boring.  This year, turkey day at Ford Field will include the visiting New England Patriots, so at least one of the teams involved should be good.  Of course, that means the score will probably be something like 47-10 or 34-12 (the score of the last two games played on Thanksgiving in Detroit, both losses by the Lions). 

That game will be on CBS.  I suppose Phil Simms will give away a silver iron again.  It’s a lame gimmick, but not as lame as the thing Fox hands out to its game MVP.

To sum up, I’m sorry I can’t do anything about Pam Ward (or any other ESPN announcer) calling your team’s game(s), but I’m not affiliated with the four-letter.  If I’m going to field complaints about ESPN, though, the least the folks in Bristol could do is send me some free stuff. 

I’m not asking for an ESPY gift pack or anything; I would settle for a College Gameday t-shirt (size XXL – I’m fairly tall).  I would ask for a hat, but I doubt ESPN carries a lot of promotional caps in size 7 ¾.  If they did, Mark Schlereth would probably grab all of them anyway.  He looks like he’s got a large noggin.

As always, thanks to the e-mailers (and commenters) for all their feedback.

Conference expansion: should The Citadel join the Big 10?

Nebraska, Missouri, Notre Dame, Texas — it’s hard to take in all that’s (not) going on right now…

With all this expansion talk, there is a chance the Big 10 (motto:  “Just ignore the ’10’ thing”) might wind up with an odd number of teams.  Of course, it has an odd number of teams right now.  However, I’m thinking that when all the dust settles from this latest realignment, Jim Delany and company are going to want to be at 12 or 14 or 16 teams, if only to end speculation the league might expand again (and thus prevent all those late-night telephone calls from the folks at Iowa State begging for admission).

If the Big 10 needs an extra team, The Citadel would be an obvious candidate and would presumably get an invitation.  The question is, should the military college accept the Big 10’s offer and leave the Southern Conference?  What are the positives and negatives of making the move?

Positives

— There would be no controversy over where the conference baseball tournament would be hosted, as the other schools in the Big 10 would have no problem playing in Charleston every May.  Charleston versus Columbus?  No contest.  No more carping from the likes of UNC-Greensboro.  (And do you see UNCG mentioned as a candidate to join the Big 10?  No.  The Spartans should be grateful just to be in the same hemisphere with the Bulldogs, much less the same league.)

The Citadel would be a favorite to win the league in baseball every season.  Also, we could probably demand that all of our conference games would be played at Riley Park.  Fun spring trip for the guys from Minnesota and Wisconsin, and an easy three-game sweep for us.

–All home games in football and basketball would be on TV, along with a lot of televised games for the other sports.  Also, the Big 10 Network has a slightly larger distribution nationally than the SoCon TV package.

It’s important for The Citadel to increase its TV presence, as I have written many times before.  I have previously advocated playing Big 10 teams in non-conference action so as to get on TV.  Now, the opportunity could be there to play Big 10 teams as league games.

–By 2012 or 2013 or whenever we joined the league, there is a chance Indiana still wouldn’t have its act together on the hardwood and we could snag a road victory at Assembly Hall, which would be neat.  Plus, you know Nebraska won’t be any good at hoops, and Northwestern would be a promising opportunity for a road W.  So we could be competitive almost immediately.

–A new recruiting territory would open up, and with the advantage of offering recruits the best weather in the conference (unless Texas joins the league, and even then it’s a push).  The Citadel has already had some good luck recently with players from Big 10 country (Ohio is the home state for basketball’s Austin Dahn and baseball’s Justin Mackert).

If Texas winds up in the conference along with the Bulldogs, that opens up the Lone Star state even more to The Citadel’s predatory hoops recruiters (see:  Cameron Wells, Zach Urbanus, Mike Groselle).  With that type of opening, regular trips to the Final Four would be inevitable.

–The extra money from being a Big 10 member could go toward expanding Johnson Hagood Stadium.  The Big 10 could also flex its collective muscle and break the NCAA’s silly postseason ban in the Palmetto State.  That, combined with the newly expanded JHS, would result in a new bowl game for Charleston, so the community would also benefit.

Negatives

–Well, the road trips would feature a lot of snow and ice (excepting UT-Austin, which would probably be worth a mandatory travel game for the corps of cadets).  There is only so much places like East Lansing and Iowa City have to offer (not to mention Lincoln).

That’s why you can expect a lot of the league meetings to get moved to Charleston. Also, look for a lot of the Big 10 coaches to acquire beachfront property in the Low Country, a la Roy Williams, Ralph Friedgen, Les Robinson, etc.  It’s just a natural thing for them to do.

–Big 10 basketball can often be unwatchable.  Actually, you could say that about a lot of Big 10 sports…

–The Citadel probably would not be able to play schools like Chowan or Webber International in football.  Wait, that’s a positive!

–Women’s sports:  The Citadel has a limited number of women’s teams, and the ones we have would probably struggle in the Big 10.  We don’t have a women’s lacrosse program, though, which may be just as well.

–The other schools in the Big 10 would be much larger than The Citadel, which could lead to their fans trying to take over our home parks/arenas.  If we made sure the corps of cadets was fully armed before games, however, I think we would maintain our home field advantage.

–There is a possibility that a spot in the ACC or SEC could open up.  If that happens, it’s important for The Citadel to explore all its options.

All in all, I’m undecided about a potential berth in the newly constructed Big 10.  One thing I can say for sure, though, is that The Citadel will be okay wherever it lands.  Can Rutgers or Kansas say the same?

The New Big 10

Win one, lose one: The Citadel’s hoops team marches on

The Citadel is now 10-10 overall, 4-4 in the Southern Conference.  It’s been a .500 kind of year from the start; the Bulldogs have been 1-1, 2-2, 3-3, 6-6, 7-7, 8-8, 9-9, and the current 10-10 mark — and in league play the cadets have been 1-1, 2-2, 3-3, and now 4-4.  The Citadel hasn’t won more than two games in a row, and has lost more than two in a row just once (the three-game stretch against Michigan State, Texas A&M, and Houston).

Last week was more of the same, as the Bulldogs lost at home to Wofford on a last-second tip-in on Thursday before recovering to beat Furman on Saturday at McAlister Field House, a game in which Regan Truesdale’s jersey was honored at halftime.  The win over the Paladins (final score:  70-60) broke a six-game streak of Bulldog games decided by seven or fewer points, with three of those matchups decided by two points or less.

Brief thoughts on the two games:

– When the final score is 44-42, as it was in the game against Wofford, it’s an indication that neither team’s offense had a good day, and that was certainly the case, tempo-related adjustments aside.  Wofford won despite shooting 30% from the field (just 2-12 from 3-land).  The Citadel did not shoot much better and was outrebounded by the Terriers (including allowing 14 offensive boards).

The Bulldogs also lost the turnover battle 12-11; they are now 0-6 in games in which they commit more turnovers than the opposition.  Joe Wolfinger, in particular, struggled holding on to the ball, committing four turnovers in only twelve minutes of action.  Wasted was a fine defensive effort by The Citadel that included a surprising six blocked shots, four of them courtesy of Harrison DuPont, who is beginning to assert himself in league play.

– The win over the Paladins was a nice bounce-back game, although it took a while for the offense to get into gear.  With the Bulldogs trailing 40-32 in the second half, Ed Conroy called time.  The Citadel would proceed to score on eleven of its next twelve possessions, resulting in a 15-0 run that completely turned the game around.

That is what is known by basketball experts as a “good timeout”.

One interesting aspect of the game against Furman was Conroy’s reliance on his starting lineup (Harrison DuPont, Bryan Streeter, Cameron Wells, Zach Urbanus, and Austin Dahn).  Those five players each played over 30 minutes in the contest, which struck me as a bit unusual.  The Bulldogs committed just eight turnovers, won the rebound battle and actually shot well from beyond the arc (8-20).  It was The Citadel’s third consecutive win over Furman.

Next up is a road trip within the division, with The Citadel playing Georgia Southern in Statesboro on Thursday and traveling to Davidson on Saturday.  Like Furman, Georgia Southern has lost three games in a row against The Citadel, including earlier this season at McAlister (68-43).  The two games before that streak were Eagle victories until last week, when the wins were vacated.  GSU is now on NCAA-imposed probation for two years, thanks to serious academic irregularities.

In the game in Charleston, The Citadel shot 14-22 from 3-land, outrebounded the Eagles, and won the turnover battle 20-8.  I don’t expect all of that to happen again; Georgia Southern has been playing a little better since that December 5 matchup, and can claim home victories over Appalachian State and Western Carolina, along with a close loss to Davidson.

GSU still isn’t a good offensive team, ranking last in the conference in shooting percentage and assist/turnover ratio, and also struggles defending the three (allowing a league-worst 43.4% to its opponents).  The Eagles play a higher-tempo game than any team in the league (75.5 possessions per game in SoCon action), and it will be important for The Citadel to keep the game at its preferred slower pace.  Patience, and good work on the offensive glass, will carry the day.

Davidson beat The Citadel at McAlister in the conference opener on December 3, 74-63.  In that game, the Wildcats were an absurd 15-27 from beyond the arc.  William Archambault had a career night from outside, making 6 of 9 three-pointers.  J.P. Kuhlman was 3-4, and Jake Cohen was 4-8.  Ben Allison made his first three-pointer of the season in that game (he now has four).

The Wildcats are certainly a capable outside shooting club, but it’s hard to imagine them shooting as well as they did that night.  The Citadel needs to contain that part of Davidson’s game, and take advantage of what the Wildcats don’t do well.  So far this SoCon season, that would be playing defense, as Davidson current ranks last in league play in points allowed per possession and FG% defense.  The Wildcats are also next-to-last in 3FG% defense and tend to commit a lot of fouls (10th in that category out of 12 SoCon teams).

I would imagine that last statistic might particularly trouble a Davidson fan when considering the game against The Citadel will be played on a Saturday night, and all SoCon fans are aware of the vast disparity in officiating quality between weekday and weekend games in the conference.  Of course, that doesn’t necessarily bode well for The Citadel, either, as it has seen its own fair share of SoCon ref “issues” (including a rare technical for Ed Conroy in a Saturday matchup against Samford two weeks ago).

One final note:  for The Citadel to have a realistic chance of garnering a first-round bye in the Southern Conference tournament, it probably needs to win both games this week, in part because both are divisional games.  Davidson, of course, is also competing for a top-2 finish in the South division, which makes that game even more important.  Winning two league road games, while an achievable goal, will be a tall order.

Highlights from five games at McAlister

I’m going to discuss the actual basketball played by The Citadel over the past week and a half, including some statistics.  Before I do that, though, I’m going to mention some other statistics…about officials.

On Monday night The Citadel hosted Michigan State at McAlister Field House.  It was good of Tom Izzo to honor a commitment to play the game in Charleston (West Virginia decided to buy its way out of a trip), but I’m guessing he did ask for some big-time officials to work the game, just to make sure that the lead referee wasn’t General Rosa’s brother or something.  That’s fine, and as a result the game was officiated by Karl Hess, Jamie Luckie, and Mike Wood.

If you follow college basketball at all, you probably recognize those names, because they are on television all the time, working games from coast to coast.  They’re certainly on TV more than The Citadel (the MSU game will be the only nationally televised game this season to feature the Bulldogs). 

Mike Wood has actually worked five games in Charleston so far this season, a bit of an oddity.  He called three games at the Charleston Classic, and then worked the Thursday night game between Davidson and The Citadel.  Wood has called two games involving Davidson and two involving Penn State, and all four games were played in Charleston.  He probably did a lot of Christmas shopping on King Street, but he didn’t do any the weekend between the Davidson and MSU games. 

No, on the Saturday after the Davidson game Wood worked the Arkansas Pine Bluff-Michigan game in Ann Arbor; he then flew to Tallahassee to call the Florida International-Florida State game on Sunday before venturing back to Charleston.  The game between the Spartans and Bulldogs was Wood’s 19th of the season.

Wood actually hasn’t worked as many games as either of his Monday night colleagues.  Both Karl Hess and Jamie Luckie were working their 21st game of the season that night.  Hess had been in Washington, DC, on Sunday, calling Villanova-Maryland; the game in Charleston was his fourth in four days and his seventh in eight days.  However, Luckie had actually been a touch busier, as he was calling his tenth game in eleven days.  Luckie had been in Blacksburg on Sunday to call Georgia-Virginia Tech.

In terms of number of games officiated, the contrast between those three officials and the trio who worked the game on Saturday between Georgia Southern and The Citadel is stark.  Bill Cheek, John Corio, and Robert Robinson combined have worked only eleven games, just more than half of the total worked by Luckie (and Hess) alone.

This leads me to mention the difference in officiating in lower-echelon conferences between games played on weekdays and those on weekends.  During the week, there aren’t as many games played every night, because there are five days in which most schools will play just once.  However, on weekends there are obviously just two days, and most schools play on either Saturday or Sunday.  

The big-time officials follow the money, naturally, and the BCS leagues have the most money, so guys like Hess and Wood will work ACC or Big East games during the weekend, leaving lower-profile officials for leagues like the SoCon or the Big South.  On weeknights, it’s different; you might see one of those guys or some other TV-star ref working in the smaller conferences, because there aren’t as many games in the larger conferences on that particular night.

The quality of officiating in leagues like the Southern Conference is thus wildly variable, depending on what day a game is played.  I think this is a problem.  I don’t believe it’s a good idea for some of these guys to work so many games, either, although I can’t really fault them for doing so — they’re independent contractors, trying to make a living. 

What I would like to see is a system where a league like the SoCon can count on at least one quality veteran ref for all of its games.  This would probably mean the NCAA would have to get involved, which I realize wouldn’t necessarily be a good thing, but ultimately I think there needs to be an adjustment made in the way officials are assigned to contests. 

The first game in the recent five-game homestand for The Citadel was a 69-37 pummeling of UVA-Wise, an NAIA school that was no match for the Bulldogs.  The game didn’t really do much for The Citadel, although it’s a win, and every win counts.  The defense was excellent throughout; the offense was okay but not great.  Not much else to say about that game, really.

The next night, The Citadel defeated Central Connecticut State 67-53, pulling away late in the contest.  This was a slowly-paced game (CCSU had only 53 possessions) in which the Blue Devils played zone and dared the Bulldogs to beat them from outside.  CCSU actually led at halftime, but the strategy couldn’t hold up for 40 minutes. 

Zach Urbanus was 7-13 from beyond the arc, and Cosmo Morabbi added four three-pointers of his own.  Cameron Wells had nine assists against only one turnover.  Statistically, the defense for the Bulldogs was average; perhaps playing the second game of a back-to-backer was an issue.  The Citadel also got lucky (or rather, CCSU was unlucky) in that Devil starting guard Shemik Thompson was injured and unable to play.

On Saturday, The Citadel got blitzed by a barrage of three-pointers by Davidson and lost, 74-61.  The Wildcats scored 74 points in only 61 possessions, which isn’t easy to do, but then again converting 15 three-pointers during a game isn’t easy to do either.  Six of those shots from beyond the arc came from William Archambault, who two nights later against the College of Charleston would go 0-5 from three-point land.  Against The Citadel, Davidson shot 56% from outside the line; against the Cougars the Wildcats were 4-24. 

I thought The Citadel didn’t defend that badly along the perimeter, but Davidson made its shots anyway.  That kind of thing happens sometimes, and you just hope that if it happens to your team, that the squad is good enough to hang on against the onslaught and survive.  Michigan State faced something similar in the early going against the Bulldogs (when five different players hit three-pointers before the first TV timeout), but MSU’s clear physical superiority eventually won out.  The Citadel doesn’t have the luxury of a margin for error, though.

Georgia Southern is rebuilding under new coach Charlton Young, and he’s got a bit of a job to do.  GSU has little size (at least, among its regulars in the rotation) and doesn’t shoot well from outside.  Thus, Young and the Eagles try to scramble the game.  However, against The Citadel all that scrambling resulted in only eight turnovers by the Bulldogs.  The Citadel ran its offense well, got plenty of open looks from outside and was 10-22 from three-land.  The Eagles, on the other hand, committed twenty turnovers and made only three shots from beyond the arc.

None of those made three-pointers for The Citadel came from Joe Wolfinger, as the 7-footer seemed out of place in the game and only played eleven minutes.  Another interesting move in the game was to bring Austin Dahn and Bryan Streeter off the bench.  This decision seemed to work, particularly for Dahn, who played fewer minutes than his norm but was more effective offensively.  Both players against came off the bench against Michigan State, too (with Cosmo Morabbi and Matt Clark starting).

As a starter, Dahn is 5-32 from 3-point land.  In two games as a sub, he is 4-9.  Sample size and all that, but if Dahn comes out of long shooting slump, The Citadel is a much better team, one that will be very hard for SoCon opponents to handle from an offensive perspective.

The final game of the homestand (not counting the exhibition game against Allen on Dec. 16) was the much-anticipated clash with Michigan State, live and in color on ESPNU (and in HD, unless you have DirecTV).  I was glad to see the crowd in full voice for the game, with a healthy contingent of the corps present and creating havoc.  I think most of the MSU players got a kick out of the atmosphere (Izzo certainly did).  The TV announcers seemed to enjoy working the game, too (Mark Gottfried referred to people “hanging from the rafters” at least three times).

Tangent:  I wish that type of atmosphere was the norm, or at least close to the norm, at McAlister.  The key to it being so, of course, is the corps of cadets.  There is always a hardy group of cadets at home games, often patrolling one of the baselines, but there aren’t enough of them.  As someone who regularly attended basketball games while a cadet, I find this somewhat frustrating. 

When I was in school, the cadets usually at the games were either A) football/baseball players, B) all-around sports fans (not many of those at The Citadel), and C) native New Yorkers.   Okay, that last one is a semi-exaggeration, but there were several guys from points north who had grown up on college basketball (rooting for the likes of Iona or Seton Hall) and enjoyed getting a “fix” at McAlister.  They were world-class hecklers, too.  No opponent was ever safe at a shootaround, that’s for sure.

One cool thing that happened at the Davidson game was that one of the trainers gave away some old warmups to the cadets assembled along the baseline.  I thought that was a nice gesture. 

I would like for someone (administration, leadership within the corps, whoever) to come up with a way to ensure that at least one-fourth of the cadets attend every home game.  Really, it should be more than that, but I’ll settle for one-fourth right now.

The Citadel got off to the aforementioned hot start against the Spartans and finished 12-20 from beyond the arc.  Unfortunately, the Bulldogs were only 7-29 inside the arc, which tells you which team dominated the paint (and the glass; MSU outrebounded The Citadel 35-16).  The Spartans also took 19 more free throws than the Bulldogs (two of those were by Derrick Nix, who went 0-2 and is now an almost impossible 1-19 from the free throw line for the season).

A few odds and ends, observations, etc.:

— Number of possessions for the five games, in order:  67, 55, 66, 61, 57.  Considering that the UVA-Wise game (67 possessions) was a blowout, and that the Davidson game (66) was one in which The Citadel had to increase the number of possessions because it was trailing, I think the team’s pace of play is just about where it needs to be.  Fewer than ten teams nationally play at a slower tempo. 

— After 11 games, The Citadel is 6-5.  After 11 games last season, The Citadel was 5-6.  Incidentally, Michigan State was the eleventh game in both seasons.

— I think it’s fairly clear after eleven games that Joe Wolfinger isn’t going to be a “like for like” substitute for Demetrius Nelson.  Just some raw stats from the first nine games against Division I opponents:  Wolfinger has 84 shot attempts, with 33 coming from beyond the arc, and 18 free throw attempts, while Nelson had 62 shot attempts, none of them from 3-land, and 33 free throw attempts.  Wolfinger has 52 rebounds (15 offensive) and 13 turnovers, while Nelson had 42 rebounds (16 offensive) and 19 turnovers.

Nelson got better as the season progressed (and also started taking more shots), and Wolfinger certainly has the potential to do so as well.  I think the above stats show that he needs to do a slightly better job grabbing offensive boards, and part of that has to do with shot selection — namely, his. 

When Wolfinger is shooting the three, The Citadel’s tallest player isn’t under the basket to grab an offensive rebound.  He’s obviously an excellent shooter for his size, but he probably needs to be a bit more judicious about when to shoot.  He also is going to have lots of chances to pass out of the post and pick up assists as the season goes on; he only has two assists so far. 

There is definitely something to be said, however, about having a big man who is capable of having a big night from three-land.  It’s disorienting (and sometimes disheartening) for an opponent when he converts those jumpers, and also opens up a lot of things for the other offensive players. 

— Twelve different players have seen significant time in at least one game this season.  Bo Holston followed up a DNP against Davidson with 20+ minute performances against both Georgia Southern and Michigan State.  Mike Groselle has looked very good in spot duty, but is currently struggling with a bad ankle, which just means he could play quarterback for The Citadel.  Ben Cherry and Daniel Eykyn have both had their moments, as has the Midwest City Masked Man, Harrison Dupont.

Basically, if you’re in uniform, be ready for action, because you never know when Ed Conroy is going to wave you into the game.  I guess there is a reason the Bulldogs have so many players on the roster…

— The Citadel is shooting 37.9% from 3-point land, currently second-best in the conference and in the top 70 nationally.  The Bulldogs average only 10.8 turnovers per game, 11th-best in the country, although part of that is due to a lack of possessions.  However, The Citadel’s turnover rate is still solid, as is its assist-to-turnover ratio and assist-to-made-basket ratio (top 75 overall in all three statistics). 

The Citadel commits just 14.4 fouls per game, which is in the top 10 nationally (and was even better before being called for 18 fouls against Michigan State; in that game Cosmo Morabbi was a very unlucky foul magnet).

What are things that need improvement?  Three point defense, for one.  Davidson wasn’t the only team to make more than its fair share of three-pointers against the Bulldogs; at 39.5% against, The Citadel is in the bottom 50 nationally in that category.  The Bulldogs also need to improve their rebounding (particularly on the offensive glass) and force a few more turnovers, as opponents are averaging only 12.1 per game (although part of that, again, is a function of tempo).

Now it’s time for the players to win the game called Exam Week.

Hoops season is upon us, ready or not

Note:  when I refer to a basketball season as “2009” I mean the 2008-09 season; “2010” is the 2009-10 season, etc.

As I did last season, I waited for The Citadel to play a couple of games before writing a season preview.  I like to see the team play a game or two just to get an idea of who is actually going to play, get minutes, that kind of thing (just glancing at the team roster isn’t enough; after all, Ed Conroy seems to have almost as many guys on his squad as the football team does).

Also, even though I love college hoops, it’s still a little early for basketball, at least for me — and that’s despite a poor year on the gridiron for The Citadel, part of the lamest college football season I can remember.

The Bulldogs have now played two regular season games, a 64-45 victory over Kenyon College and a disappointing 61-60 loss against Charleston Southern, both taking place at McAlister Field House.

Before examining this season’s team, I would like to take a brief look back at last year’s edition of the basketball Bulldogs…

Prior to last season, I wrote a long (probably too long) post detailing the incredible lack of success the basketball program at The Citadel has had over its long history.  I followed that up with a season preview which I titled “Room for Improvement”.  I think it’s safe to say The Citadel improved last year.  Just some examples:

  • 2008:  RPI of 334;  2009:  RPI of 175
  • 2008:  1 SoCon win; 2009:  15 SoCon wins (most ever by The Citadel)
  • 2008:  6 wins overall (only 2 over D-1 opponents); 2009:  20 wins (only the second team in school history to win 20)
  • 2008:  Points allowed per possession:  1.145 (last nationally); 2009:  0.999 (middle of the pack nationally)
  • 2008:  Opponents’ effective FG%:  51.3% (last nationally); 2009:  43.0% (upper half of national rankings)

The Citadel also improved significantly in offensive effective FG%, offensive points per possession, rebound percentage, and defense against the three-pointer.

Why were the two seasons so different?  Well, Demetrius Nelson, lost early in the 2008 season to injury, returned for a full season in 2009 and had an All-SoCon campaign; his presence in the post was a key factor in the offensive improvement, and also had an impact defensively.  Also, the freshmen who had been thrown into the mix in 2008 (principally Cameron Wells, Zach Urbanus, and Austin Dahn) were stronger, smarter sophomores in 2009.

They were helped out by rotation newcomers John Brown (a redshirt freshman) and Cosmo Morabbi (a true freshman) and the return of Bryan Streeter.  Those seven players got the bulk of the minutes for The Citadel in conference play, with some solid work also done on occasion by reserves Jonathan Brick, Matt Clark, Daniel Eykyn, and Tyrell McDowell.

This season, The Citadel will have to replace Nelson, Brown, Brick, and McDowell, with the contributions of Nelson and Brown obviously being the most difficult to replicate.  Nelson averaged over 16 points per game, added 6.5 rebounds per contest, and was an efficient force on offense (shooting almost 60% from the field, and often camping out at the foul line, where he shot 77%).

Brown also averaged 6.5 boards per game, along with 1.2 steals per game, not to mention numerous deflections and countless hustle plays.  His insertion into the starting lineup against Bethune-Cookman on January 3 (after only playing 14 minutes total to that point of the season) helped key the Bulldogs’ remarkable run of success in league play.  His oncourt presence will be greatly missed.

To replace that production, The Citadel has to turn to new players and hope for improvement from returning team members.  Nelson’s departure left a void in the paint that needed to be filled, and to fill it Ed Conroy is counting on 7-footer Joe Wolfinger, a graduate student who previously played at Washington.

Wolfinger, based on what I’ve seen of him so far, is more of a finesse player than Nelson was.  He can shoot the three, but needs to be more physical to succeed in SoCon play, where he will face post men not as big as he is, but generally more athletic and just as strong.  Against Charleston Southern he struggled, going 4-16 from the floor with three turnovers (although he did have nine rebounds).

He took a lot of shots against CSU, and even if he hadn’t had such a poor night shooting I would suggest that he shot too many and (more importantly) too quickly, at least in the framework of The Citadel’s offense, which relies on a moderate pace of play (fewer than 65 possessions per game last season) to create open looks and frustrate the opposition.  I’m not going to crush him for that after one game, though; he has to get accustomed to playing with his new teammates, and he also has to get used to playing a lot of minutes after being mostly a bench player for the Huskies.

Tangent:  he’s also going to have to get used to the officiating at this level of Division I, a good example of which was on display last night, as all three officials somehow missed a blatant traveling violation committed just before CSU’s game-winning basket.  However, the Bulldogs should not have been in a position to be victimized by a bad (non) call in the first place.

Incorporating Wolfinger into the offense is going to take time.  It may cost The Citadel a game or two in the early going (it could be argued that it was a key reason the Bulldogs lost to the Buccaneers).  Then again, it took The Citadel a few games last year to figure things out (which is how a 20-win team could lose  a home contest to 19-loss UC Davis by 18 points).  As long as things are running smoothly by the time league play rolls around, it’s all good.

Admittedly, that gives the Bulldogs just two weeks, as Davidson comes to town on December 3…

The task of providing the same type of energy that Brown brought to the team will likely fall to several players, including the 6’6″ Streeter (who in many respects is a bigger version of Brown, all the way down to the horrific free throw shooting) and 6’5″ Harrison Dupont, the only one of the incoming freshmen to have played in both games so far for The Citadel.

Streeter averaged a little over 14 minutes per game for the Bulldogs last year; he will probably come close to doubling his time on the hardwood this season.  He brings a lot of strength and grit to the table on both ends of the court, and is a good finisher, provided he isn’t fouled (36.4% from the line in ’09).  His problems from the charity stripe can make him a liability in late-game situations, just another reason he needs to improve in that area.

Another player to watch in the “gets the dirty work done” department is Morabbi, who appears to be stronger this year (and definitely has more hair).  Morabbi’s play in the latter stages of the contest nearly won the CSU game for the Bulldogs, both defensively and with his outside shooting (as he told Rafu Shimpo, “My specialty is shooting”).

Morabbi will occasionally freelance offensively.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, even in Ed Conroy’s disciplined attack, as it keeps opponents honest.  He can also make the corner 3, the thinking man’s favorite three-point shot.  He had a tough night from the field against Kenyon, but was back in form in the CSU game.

Someone who The Citadel would like to see return to good shooting form is Dahn, who struggled from the field last season after enjoying a solid freshman campaign, falling from a 39.7% 3-point shooter to 32.7% beyond the arc.  Now, 32.7% isn’t terrible, but most of Dahn’s shots are from 3-point land, so overall he shot just 32.6% from the field in 2009.  The 6’4″ Dahn is a good defender and a mainstay in the rotation, but his value increases markedly if he can knock down shots.

Zach Urbanus is the epitome of dependability, always in the right place, usually making the right decision, and capable of making big shots.  A comparison of his freshman and sophomore seasons shows just how consistent he is, as in both years he shot 44% from beyond the arc, had 3.3 rebounds per game, and 2.9 assists per contest.  He did improve last season, as his overall shooting percentage increased substantially, and he also cut down on his turnovers.

Cameron Wells is getting some pre-season recognition as a potential MVP candidate in the Southern Conference.  He certainly didn’t hurt his cause against CSU, scoring 23 points on 10-16 shooting and being an all-around defensive pest (including 3 steals).

The 6’1″ Wells is a vital cog in the offense.  He can bring the ball up the court against pressure, penetrate into the lane and finish.  Wells is a good free throw shooter, is able to make the occasional three-pointer, and is an outstanding perimeter defender.  He’s a very smooth performer with a complete game, and he’s still getting better.

Other returners from last season who will see action include Clark, a slender 6’8″ junior forward who is a career 35% three-point shooter, and Eykyn, a 6’4″ native of Charleston who logged double-digit minutes in 11 games last season.  While neither was a rotation regular, both had their moments last year and will be counted on again in 2010 (indeed, Clark has played at least 11 minutes in both games so far).

Some of the newcomers who may see the court include the well-regarded Dupont (a native of Oklahoma who has played 19 combined minutes in the first two games) and 6’8″ forward/center Mike Groselle, a Texan who impressed in a brief appearance against Kenyon.  Also making his debut against Kenyon was 6’2″ guard Ben Cherry, a freshman from Charlotte.

I would guess that all three of those players will be contributors to The Citadel’s cause this season.  I also wouldn’t be surprised if a couple of other players on the Bulldogs’ sizable roster eventually get a chance, as 16 different players participated in The Citadel’s exhibition game against Georgia Southwestern.

Whether Bulldog fans are ready for the season to begin, the Bulldog players and coaches have to be ready, because The Citadel is about to embark on a stretch where it will play nine games in eighteen days, including three on consecutive days this weekend.  The Bulldogs will play in the Hispanic College Fund Challenge, hosted by Missouri State (which beat Auburn on Tuesday).  The Citadel will also play Eastern Michigan and Maryland-Eastern Shore in that event.

The Bulldogs will then venture up to the “other” Charleston in a matchup with West Virginia, formerly of the Southern Conference and currently in the AP Top 10.  After tangling with the Mountaineers, The Citadel will host an in-season tournament of its own at McAlister Field House, playing UVA-Wise (an NAIA school) and Central Connecticut State (of the Northeast Conference).  That tournament honors the late Skip Prosser.

After that, The Citadel begins Southern Conference play, with the aforementioned game against Davidson followed two days later by a game against Georgia Southern.  The last game of the “nine in eighteen” run is arguably the biggest, as The Citadel will host Tom Izzo and his Michigan State Spartans on December 7.

MSU is currently ranked #2 in the nation and, of course, played in last season’s NCAA title game, losing to North Carolina.  It will be the second year in a row a Big 10 school has come to McAlister, although I suspect there will be more “juice” in the arena than there was for Iowa last year.

That’s quite a way to start a season.  It will be a challenge for the players and coaches (heck, it’s going to be a challenge for me just to keep up with it).  After the fun of last year’s campaign, I just hope that this year The Citadel doesn’t revert back to its old, lots-of-losing ways.  I don’t think it will, though, as (barring injury) the core of the team is too solid for that to happen.