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!

2011 Football, Game 2: The Citadel vs. Furman

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 be televised on WYMA (Asheville, NC), and will be available on  There will also be a webcast on Bulldog Insider (subscription service), and the game can be heard on radio via The Citadel Sports Network, with new “Voice of the Bulldogs” Danny Reed calling the action.

The Citadel begins play in the Southern Conference with a game against traditional rival Furman.  It’s only the third time the two schools have ever met in a league opener, but it’s the second consecutive season that has been the case.

I’m not going to rehash the history of the series in terms of the time of year the game has been held; anyone interested can read what I wrote on the subject for last year’s game preview.  Regardless of whether you think the game should be a midseason clash (my preference) or played at the end of the year (a not-insignificant number of fans from both schools), I think everyone can agree that September 10 is too early for this game to be played.

Jeff Hartsell has reported that, per the SoCon office, next year’s meeting will come at the end of the 2012 season, on November 17.  (The conference does not make league schedules beyond one year in advance.)

I’m okay with that, as long as the Clemson-South Carolina game continues to be played the Saturday after Thanksgiving, as is now the case.  I just don’t want The Citadel and Furman to play on the same day as the matchup between the Tigers and Gamecocks.

Furman was 5-6 last season, its first losing campaign since 1998.  Bobby Lamb resigned after nine years in charge and over a quarter-century at the school as a player or coach.  The Paladins had missed the FCS playoffs for four consecutive seasons, which did not go over well among some supporters.  It was time for Furman to make a change.

The question, though, is did Furman really make a change?

The new coach is Bruce Fowler.  Fowler is a 1981 graduate of Furman who played for Dick Sheridan.  Lamb was a 1986 graduate of FU who had played for Sheridan. Fowler spent 18 years at Furman as an assistant coach.  Lamb had been an assistant coach at Furman for 16 seasons.

One difference is that Fowler wasn’t a complete Furman lifer like Lamb had been.  For the past nine years, he had been an assistant at Vanderbilt, where he was defensive coordinator for Bobby Johnson (and Robbie Caldwell in 2010).  Of course, Johnson had been the head coach at Furman before taking the Vandy job, and before that he had been an assistant under Dick Sheridan.

You may have noticed a pattern here.  Dick Sheridan left Furman after the 1985 season to take over at N.C. State, but his presence is still felt in the program.  All four of the men who have held the head coaching position since Sheridan left (including Fowler) were players and/or assistants under him.

If you were going to have your football program maintain what is in effect a 25-year tie to a former coach, you could do much worse than Sheridan, who did nothing but win throughout his coaching career (even as a 28-year-old rookie head coach at an Orangeburg high school).  It’s a type of continuity that may be worth preserving.

On the other hand, there is always the possibility that Furman risks going to the well once too often.  Fowler isn’t exactly a carbon copy of Lamb, though — for one thing, he’s 52 years old, 13 years older than Lamb was when Lamb got the job.  Also, he’s primarily a defensive coach (though he was the receivers coach at FU for seven seasons).  Lamb was mostly an offensive coach (and a former quarterback) during his time with the Paladins.

Usually when a school is in a position to make a coaching change after a run of disappointing seasons, it brings in somebody to shake things up.  That’s certainly not what Furman has done.  Besides Fowler, three of the assistant coaches played for Sheridan; another has been a Paladins assistant for 13 years.

Before I move on to the Paladins of 2011, I should note that Art Baker, who preceded Sheridan as head coach at Furman (eventually leaving to take the job at The Citadel), hired Sheridan, Jimmy Satterfield, and Bobby Johnson as assistant coaches, all of whom would later ascend to the top job at FU.  Baker had a significant impact on Furman’s coaching tree.

Furman lost 30-23 at Coastal Carolina in its opener.  The Paladins never led the contest.  The game had been tied at 16 and 23 before the Chanticleers scored the game-winning touchdown with 1:23 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Coastal Carolina gained 231 yards rushing and 195 yards passing against the Furman defense, but perhaps more interesting was that the Chanticleers had 59 rushing attempts for the game.  CCU ran 81 offensive plays from scrimmage for the game, while the Paladins had just 58.

As Bruce Fowler noted in the SoCon teleconference, Furman had trouble getting its defense off the field.  Coastal was 7-16 on 3rd-down conversion attempts and made its only 4th-down try, a major reason the Paladins trailed by over 12 minutes in time of possession.  That continued a trend from last season, when Furman finished last in the SoCon in time of possession.

The Paladins do have two impact players on defense, middle linebacker Kadarron Anderson and cornerback Ryan Steed, both of whom are on the Buck Buchanan Watch List.  Another linebacker, Chris Wiley, had fourteen tackles against Coastal Carolina.  Furman defensive end Josh Lynn is tall (6’5″) and rangy, and may be a key factor in how the Bulldogs’ triple action attack fares on Saturday.  Against Coastal, he had five tackles and a sack.

Furman’s starting quarterback against Coastal Carolina was Chris Forcier, of the Forcier Family of Quarterbacks.  I think it’s fair to say that the Forciers are, as a group, somewhat controversial.  I guess it’s a question of style.  When Chris Forcier decided to transfer from UCLA to Furman, the family issued a press release that wound up being posted on Deadspin.

His brother Tate is a former Michigan quarterback who has now transferred to San Jose State (after originally announcing he was going to Miami).  His oldest brother, Jason, also played quarterback at Michigan before transferring to Stanford.  The brothers also transferred to different high schools at various times.

Against the Chants, Forcier was solid, completing two-thirds of his passes while averaging over seven yards per attempt.  A classic “dual threat” quarterback, Forcier also rushed for 50 yards before leaving the game in the third quarter, apparently suffering from cramps.  Without him, the Furman offense sputtered, not scoring in the fourth quarter.

Assuming he is healthy (and there is no reason to believe otherwise), stopping Forcier will be a difficult task for The Citadel’s defense.

If dealing with Forcier wasn’t enough, the Bulldogs must also contend with Jerodis Williams, who rushed for 142 yards and 3 touchdowns against Coastal (including a 68-yard score).  Williams was the Southern Conference offensive player of the week, and also picked up FCS National Back of the Week honors from something called the “College Football Performance Awards“.

Furman had five different receivers catch passes against the Chanticleers (including Williams).  Tyler Maples had five receptions for 65 yards.  Colin Anderson had four catches, and presumably will have a career day against The Citadel, as has often been the case for Furman tight ends.

Along the offensive line, Furman has experienced and well-regarded tackles (one of whom, Ryan Lee, is moving from guard to tackle) and a veteran center, Daniel Spisak (who is Matt Millen’s nephew).  The guards include a first-year starter who came to Furman as a walk-on, and a sophomore who started three times last season before a season-ending foot injury.

Furman placekicker Ray Early was 11-12 on field goal attempts last season, including a long of 52 yards, and only missed one extra point all year (40-41).  Against Coastal Carolina, however, Early’s first field goal attempt of the season was blocked, and he then missed the PAT after the Paladins’ first touchdown.

After that, Early did not attempt a placekick in the game (although he did kick off), giving way to Furman punter Chas Short.  That may be something to watch on Saturday.

Short, incidentally, had a fine year for Furman in 2010.  The Paladins finished in the top 10 nationally in net punting.

With Furman having allowed a bunch of rushing yards to Coastal Carolina, and having lost the time of possession battle so decisively, there may be some hope among Bulldog fans that the Paladins’ defensive issues could play into The Citadel’s hands on Saturday.  As Jeff Hartsell wrote in The Post and Courier:

…on defense, the Paladins’ 4-3 look was blitzed for 237 rushing yards, including 105 yards and two TDs by CCU quarterbacks Aramis Hillary and Jamie Childers. That might bode well for the Bulldogs’ option attack, as QB Ben Dupree went for 141 yards and two scores in a 31-9 win over Jacksonville. Higgins said Dupree was 23 for 23 on his option reads, and The Citadel rushed for 439 yards, the most since 1994.

That does seem promising from The Citadel’s perspective.  I would make this observation, though:

The Bulldogs ran the ball well on Furman last year, dominated time of possession, and lost 31-14.  The Citadel gained 294 net yards rushing on 60 attempts, held the ball for over 36 minutes — and did not score until the fourth quarter.

Actually, The Citadel’s 359 total yards against Furman in 2010 was the most yardage gained by the Bulldogs in any Southern Conference game for the entire season.  The problem?  Three turnovers, a missed field goal, and a failed fourth-down try inside the Furman 25.  Another issue was that The Citadel started very slowly on offense, gaining only 64 total yards on its first five possessions.

Conversely, Furman got out of the blocks fast on offense in each half, scoring touchdowns on its initial drive in both the first and third quarters.  Of the Paladins’ other three scores against The Citadel, two came on drives starting in Bulldog territory after an interception and a failed onside kick.

Kevin Higgins has said in the past that sometimes it takes a triple option team a possession or two to figure out how the defense is playing.  That makes sense.  You could see it in last week’s game against Jacksonville, as the game was well into the second quarter until Triple O’Higgins got fully warmed up.

Against a SoCon opponent, though, it needs to warm up faster.  The Bulldogs can’t go an entire quarter with no offensive production, especially as running the offense generally means there are fewer possessions in the game.  Also, while obvious, The Citadel must control its fumbling problems, which cropped up against Jacksonville (albeit with only one coming on an exchange) and stay “on schedule”.

The other thing that can’t happen Saturday if The Citadel has any chance of winning is for the defense to concede relatively easy touchdown drives right out of the dressing room.  Last season, Furman’s TD drives in each half were for a total of 123 yards and featured only two third-down plays.

What the defense really needs is to force some turnovers.  Last year against Furman, the Bulldogs forced no turnovers and also did not record a sack.

The Bulldogs must also contain Forcier, who is capable of making big plays with his arm or his feet, and prevent Williams from breaking long runs, such as the one he had against Coastal Carolina.  (Also, the defense must watch the tight end.  He’ll be catching the ball over the middle for 15 yards before you know it.  Two or three times.)

I thought Ben Dupree played well against Jacksonville.  What he proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that he has the ability to make big plays.  While the triple option is mostly about moving the chains, it’s important to have a breakaway aspect to the offense, and Dupree can provide that with his running ability.  He is still a work in progress as a passer.  If he continues to improve that part of his game, he will be a very dangerous weapon indeed.

Terrell Dallas’ injury against the Dolphins was not serious, thankfully, but it appears he may not play on Saturday.  That will be a loss, but Darien Robinson showed he is quite capable of handling the fullback position.

I thought the defense really came to play against Jacksonville.  Now it faces another challenge.  It won’t have the size and depth advantage against Furman that it had against the Dolphins.

Odds and ends:

— Check out the game notes to see all the different helmet logos The Citadel has had over the years (page 5).  There have been no fewer than 25 different designs since 1952 (and I think it’s likely there have been a few more that went unrecorded).

Those artist renderings/photos in the game notes came from the Helmet Archive, a good site if you want to peruse helmet histories of other teams as well.

— Has anyone else noticed that there are a lot of entities giving out “player of the week” awards these days?  It’s hard to figure out which ones to take seriously.  I can’t decide if the plethora of “recognition sites” is a boon or a curse for athletic media relations departments.

— The Summerall Guards are performing at halftime, but not at Johnson Hagood Stadium.  The Guards will be in Death Valley for the Wofford-Clemson game (it is Military Appreciation Day at Clemson).  It strikes me as a little odd that they would perform at another stadium on the same day as a home football game, but no big deal.

I’m looking forward to the game.  I am hopeful that the success of the home opener, along with Saturday’s opponent, results in a nice crowd at JHS.  As for the on-field action, I’m not quite sure what to expect.  I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw against Jacksonville.  I would like to be pleasantly surprised again.

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.

Football, Game 4: The Citadel vs. Furman

Now that all the non-conference games have been played, it’s time for Southern Conference action to begin.  The Citadel will begin the SoCon slate by going on the road to face its traditional league opening game opponent…Furman.

Uh, Furman?  As the first conference game of the season?  In September?  When has that ever happened?

It’s happened once before.  In 1976, the Bulldogs and Paladins met on September 25 (same date as this year) in Greenville (same locale as this year) to play the league opener for both schools (same situation as this year).  The Citadel edged Furman that day, 17-16 (hey, that can be the same too, as far as I’m concerned).

The other 88 gridiron meetings between the Palmetto State schools took place in October or November.  Occasionally you will hear someone (often a Paladin supporter, but sometimes a Bulldog fan) gripe about how the game should be played at the end of the season, “like it used to be,” and blame somebody (The Citadel’s former AD, Walt Nadzak, usually plays the bogeyman) for the end of “the tradition” that was the season finale.

I want to delve into this a little, because the notion that Furman and The Citadel used to always play at the end of the season is wrong, and so is the idea that there is an implied tradition with regards to end-of-season meetings for either school.

The Citadel and Furman have met 89 times.  On 19 of those occasions, the game was the last game of the (regular) season for both schools.

The Citadel and Furman met in the season finale in 1965, 1966, and 1967, and then for sixteen straight years, from 1977 through 1992.

Prior to that 16-year stretch, though, the game was generally a midseason clash, much like Clemson-South Carolina was for many years (“Big Thursday”).  The opponent that has been Furman’s season-ending opponent most often is actually Clemson, and the Paladins also have had numerous seasons end with games against Wofford and UT-Chattanooga (which replaced The Citadel in the last-game rotation for a decade).  Furman has finished campaigns with opponents as diverse as Georgia and Maryville; as recently as the 1970s, the Paladins ended seasons against Louisville and Wake Forest.

Tangent #1:  While researching Furman’s football history, I enjoyed looking through the school’s excellent media guide, which includes some cool photos.  My personal favorite is the picture of the 1927 squad, known as the “30-Mule Team”, which went 10-1 and appears to have been sponsored by Target.

The Citadel has finished its season with Furman more than any other school, but has ended its season with South Carolina almost as many times (17), and has concluded numerous campaigns with Davidson, Wofford, and VMI.  The full list of final opponents for the Bulldogs is long and includes both Florida State (during the Lee Corso era) and Florida (during the Tim Tebow era), along with Clemson, Vanderbilt, North Carolina State, Sewanee, and the Parris Island Marines, just to name a few.

Tangent #2:  The Citadel actually has finished with Furman in twenty different seasons. In 1942 the two schools played on November 2.  That would wind up being the last game of the year for The Citadel in a shortened season, as every available upperclassman was called up to serve in World War II.  The Paladins played two more games that year.  Furman also had its fair share of students who went to serve their country; neither school would field a football team again until 1946.

The argument over whether the two schools should meet at the end of the season can be looked at in two ways:  1) How important is it to play a “rival” at the end of the season, and 2) how much tradition does The Citadel-Furman have as a year-end rivalry game?  My answers would be 1) it’s of limited importance, and 2) not a whole lot.

There are great end-of-season rivalries, of course — Army-Navy, Michigan-Ohio State, Harvard-Yale.  However, there are also great midseason rivalries, like Oklahoma-Texas, or Alabama-Tennessee.  Then you have Southern Cal-Notre Dame, which is a midseason game in South Bend but is played near the end of the year in Los Angeles.

What those end-of-season games have in common, for the most part, is that they have been the final game for each school for decades.  That’s not something that can be said for The Citadel-Furman, a game that has been played more often in October (51 times) than in November (37).

Part of this, of course, is how each individual fan views the series.  For me, I have always thought of it as a midseason contest.  When the game is played in Greenville, I picture a mid-October fall day with the leaves just beginning to change color.  When it’s in Charleston, I think of gorgeous October afternoons, crisp and clear as the late-summer low country heat finally dissipates.

Okay, so maybe the weather isn’t always so nice.  Just work with me…

I also think it’s not a bad thing that it is played at a different time of year than Clemson-South Carolina.  I always felt the matchup was given short shrift from the state’s media entities when it was played on the same day.  Having it at midseason gives it a time and place of its own in the state, and some additional publicity.

I can understand why some Furman fans want the game to be the season finale. Back in that stretch during the 1980s when it was the final game of the year, Furman was at its zenith as a football program.  Alums remember those days fondly and want to revisit them in every way possible.  Homecomings on the Greenville campus usually feature men wearing Members Only jackets and women with shoulder pads bigger than those of the football players, many of them gyrating to the sound of their favorite band, Winger.  Big hair is everywhere.

The scene is very different at The Citadel, of course, as it is renowned as a forward-thinking institution, and its alums have led the way into the 21st century.

Since this is a blog that tends to focus on The Citadel, I’ll now return to the 21st century.  Let’s take a brief look at the game to be played on Saturday…

Adam Mims is good.  He already holds the Furman career record for receptions (157), and he added to that mark in a major way against a very good South Carolina defense on Saturday.  Mims had 10 catches for 202 (!) yards, which included a 72-yard TD reception.  Just for fun, he also had two rushes for 26 yards.  In his previous two games against the Bulldogs, Mims has totaled 15 receptions for 156 yards and two touchdowns.

Furman was trailing 31-19 with less than six minutes to play against the Gamecocks, but had the momentum and was driving for another score before an ill-fated pass resulted in a pick-six that iced the game.  It would have been very interesting to see what would have happened if the Paladins had scored to get within a touchdown.  I would not have bet against a 3-and-out for the Gamecock offense, and Furman then having the chance to drive down the field for a game-winning TD.

That it didn’t happen doesn’t take away from Furman’s solid performance.  The Paladins scored as many points against South Carolina as the Gamecocks’ first two opponents combined, and those opponents were Southern Mississippi and Georgia.

The bad news for the Paladins is that its two-quarterback rotation was reduced to one, as Chris Forcier (the “running” QB) suffered an injury against the Gamecocks and is out for the season.  That leaves the reigns entirely to Cody Worley, the “passing” quarterback.

This will be a blow for Furman (Forcier was averaging over 15 yards per rush, including an 85-yard TD against Colgate), but Worley seems more than capable of shouldering the load.  I’m not sure how much more of a passer Worley really is as compared to Forcier, and at any rate I would expect him to do his fair share of running too.

Furman rushed for 377 yards against Colgate, which is probably a better approximation of what to expect from the Paladins’ running attack than its numbers versus the Gamecocks.  Tersoo Uhaa rushed for 126 yards on 16 carries.  With that kind of success on the ground, the Paladins only attempted 18 passes, completing eleven — interestingly, to seven different receivers.

Furman had two tight ends each catch one pass in that game, which is about four catches less than that position seems to historically have against The Citadel on a per-game basis.  Speaking of history, starting tight end Colin Anderson is a direct descendant of the man who commanded Fort Sumter at the beginning of the Civil War.

On defense, Furman appears improved from last season, although obviously it’s hard to tell after just two games, with one of those against an FBS opponent.  The Paladins may be susceptible to the pass, but that isn’t likely to be a problem for them against the Bulldogs.  However, I do expect The Citadel to go to the air a few more times than would normally be the case.

The key man in the defensive unit is safety Max Lerner, who spends most of his time somewhere other than where the opposition wants him to be.  He’s a very good player.  How Furman chooses to employ him against The Citadel’s triple option attack will be something to watch on Saturday.

Furman has dangerous return men.  Mims handles the punt return duties, and the kickoff returners include Mike Brown, who had a 76-yard kickoff return for a TD against The Citadel in that nutty 2007 game.

Saturday’s game is going to be a “white out” for Paladin fans.  I’ve always been a little leery about the effectiveness of these types of things (with occasional exceptions).  I think it’s because I remember the time a few years ago when South Carolina had a “black out” for a night game against Florida.  The Gator QB was Rex Grossman.  After the game, an easy Florida win, someone asked Grossman about it, and he said something like “you couldn’t see any of the fans, it was like nobody was there.”

The Citadel is going to have a “red out” for Homecoming.  I’m on record (from my preview of the Presbyterian game) as being a touch dubious about that one too, especially given the opponent, but it’s all in the name of merchandising.

I don’t pretend to be an insider when it comes to The Citadel, so I certainly won’t try to suggest I know the inner workings in Paladin Land, but I have to wonder how big a year this is for Bobby Lamb.  Furman fans are getting antsy about a playoff drought, and about being an also-ran for the SoCon crown in recent years.  Losing three of four to The Citadel would not help the cause.

For The Citadel to emerge victorious in this game, it must win the battle of clichés.  By that I mean it has to win the turnover battle and control the clock and field position. The time of possession is something that I think the Bulldogs can have some success in managing, but only if the defense can prevent the Paladins from those long, 70+-yard drives that Furman has specialized in over the years.  You’ve seen the script:  the throw down the middle to an open tight end…the delayed handoff on 2nd and 7 that goes for nine yards…the quarterback keeper for six yards…etc.

The Bulldogs also need to avoid penalties.  The Citadel committed only two infractions against Arizona, but regressed against Presbyterian.  Penalties on offense are particularly costly in the triple option, as they throw the team “off schedule”.

I don’t think The Citadel’s squad has many advantages in this game.  One possible advantage is that the pressure should be on Furman, which has greater expectations this season and which excited its fan base with its excellent effort against South Carolina.  With that considered, a good start for the Bulldogs would be particularly welcome.

Regardless of how you feel about what time of year these two schools should play their annual football game, I think everyone agrees that September 25 is too early.  For that, we can all join together to blame the SoCon league office.  However, I’m sure all the fans and players will be ready to go at 2 pm this Saturday anyway.

College baseball bubble, 5/29

Just a quick update…for the breakdown prior to conference tournament play, see this post:  Link

The Saturday morning report, with changes noted from what I wrote in midweek:

– Locks (36):  Louisville, Connecticut, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Miami, Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Coastal Carolina, Cal State Fullerton, Rice, TCU, Arizona State, UCLA, Washington State, Oregon, Florida, South Carolina, Auburn, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Mississippi, Alabama, LSU, College of Charleston, Florida Atlantic, Louisiana-Lafayette, Kansas State, UC Irvine, The Citadel, New Mexico, Stanford, Baylor

Change: Six teams that were not locks earlier in the week are now:  Kansas State, UC Irvine, The Citadel, New Mexico, Stanford, and Baylor.

– Champions from “one-bid” leagues:  15

Congratulations to Stony Brook and Rider for clinching automatic bids on Friday out of the America East and MAAC, respectively.

— Champions from leagues likely to get just one bid, but that do have bubble teams (but no locks):  4 (the leagues in question are the A-Sun, Big 10, MVC, and Southland)

Change: Florida Gulf Coast did lose in its tournament.

That means 55 spots are taken, with 9 still to go.

— Florida Gulf Coast University’s loss in the Atlantic Sun tournament will hurt, but it may still draw an at-large bid, making the A-Sun a two-bid league.  Could be close for the Eagles.

— The Big 10 is not likely to be a two-bid league.  Minnesota is in the driver’s seat for the auto bid.  I won’t completely discount this league getting a second team (Michigan), only because it’s the Big 10, and not because it deserves one.

— Wichita State is in the final of the MVC tournament and plays Illinois State for the title on Saturday.  The Shockers could lose today and still get in the NCAAs, but I tend to doubt it.

— Texas State is still alive in the bloodbath that has been the Southland tournament.  Could Texas State get an at-large bid, if needed?  Possibly.  Like FGCU, it would be a close call.

— The Big East has two locks and likely will get a third team in the field.  That team would have been Pittsburgh, but the Panthers went 1-2 in the tourney.  Also, St. John’s could steal a bid.  If the Johnnies win the tournament, is this a 4-bid league?

— Results in the Pac-10 on Friday broke almost perfectly for that league getting 8 teams in the field.  Stanford locked up a bid, and there were big wins for Oregon State and California.  Washington also won, but I think the Huskies are the ninth team and will not make it.  Oregon State and Cal both probably need one more win.  Arizona is still in good shape, but the Wildcats need to beat the Beavers at least once during the weekend to feel 100% secure.

— The Big XII is going to be a five-bid league.  It also has four completely meaningless games in its tournament today, thanks to the wonder that is pool play.

— The Southern Conference will be at least a three-bid league.  Elon should be that third team, despite losing a fight and a game on Thursday.  The Phoenix can still win the SoCon tourney, but if Elon doesn’t and either Western Carolina or Appalachian State does, I’m not sure the committee is taking four teams from this league.  The Citadel and the College of Charleston will be in the field of 64.

— Southern Mississippi plays Rice in the C-USA title game on Saturday, and the Golden Eagles probably have to win that game to get a bid.

— Liberty is still alive in the Big South tournament, but with more conference tourney upsets looming, it looks like the Flames must win that tourney to snatch a bid.  That will be a tall order, as Liberty will have to beat High Point once and Coastal Carolina twice.

— The Sun Belt could become a three-bid league if a team other than Florida Atlantic wins its tournament.  Either Arkansas State or Troy will be in the final, and FAU has to beat Florida International to get to the other side of the title matchup.  It would be interesting to see Garrett Wittels continue his hit streak in the NCAAs, but I think FIU has to win the SB tourney to make it.  Of course, they may just do that.

— Boston College is probably out of the mix for an at-large after going 1-2 in the ACC tourney (a result that helps North Carolina).  North Carolina State beat Clemson in its opener and probably needs one more win to feel good about its chances.  At this point, I think the Wolfpack might need that win only to further differentiate itself from BC.

— I still think the SEC will get 8 bids.  Kentucky is still in the mix, but I just don’t see it.  I wouldn’t be shocked if Kentucky’s name popped up on the selection show, though.

So, there are nine spots to fill.  As of Saturday morning, I think they might go like this:

Arizona, North Carolina, Oregon State, FGCU, Pittsburgh, North Carolina State, California, Elon, Liberty

Still alive:  Texas State (if needed), Southern Mississippi, Washington, Michigan, Boston College, Wichita State (if needed), Kentucky

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.

Football, Game 2: The Citadel vs. Princeton

Tune every heart and every voice,
Bid every care withdraw;
Let all with one accord rejoice,
In praise of Old Nassau.

In praise of Old Nassau we sing,
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!
Our hearts will give while we shall live,
Three cheers for Old Nassau.

**Quick Facts**

– The Citadel’s game against Princeton will be broadcast by Sirius/XM Radio as the “Ivy League Game of the Week”.  The game can be heard on channel 130 (the contest starts at 3 pm ET).
– FIOS1 of New Jersey will televise the game.  The telecast does not appear to be available on any other outlet.
– This will be the Tigers’ first game of the 2009 season, which will be the 141st season of Princeton football.
– The Citadel defeated Princeton at Johnson Hagood Stadium last season, 37-24.  That was not only the first time the two schools had played, it was the first time Princeton had ever faced an opponent from the Southern Conference.

Princeton, of course, played in what is considered the first college football game, losing to Rutgers 6-4 in 1869.  That game was played in New Brunswick, New Jersey.  In a return match the following week, Princeton beat Rutgers 8-0 at Princeton (the first of 33 consecutive victories for the Tigers over the Scarlet Knights), thus claiming the first of what the school’s media guide trumpets as “28 national titles”.

Princeton’s football history has a lot of historical significance, but the “28 national titles” bit is pushing it, in my opinion.  None of those titles were recognized at the time the games were played.  They are all “retro titles”, awarded by various college football historians.  Also, the game was far from “national” in the 19th century, when Princeton had most of its championship teams.

There were only two games played in 1869, so Princeton is generally considered to have shared the mythical national title with Rutgers, since the two schools split the games.  A couple of  authorities give the title to Princeton alone, probably based on point differential, and possibly the fact that Rutgers as a national title winner in football just seems instinctively wrong.

There were also only two games in 1870.  Rutgers played in both, beating Columbia but losing to Princeton.  With a 1-0 record, Princeton claimed (many years later) its second consecutive national championship.  The media guide notes this particular championship was “unanimous”.

Another 1-0 record in 1872 was enough to garner a share of the national title.  In fact, from 1869 to 1877 the Tigers would play 11 games, winning 9 (with one tie).  That 9-1-1 record over a nine-year period was enough for Princeton to retroactively claim eight national titles, either undisputed or shared, only missing out in 1871, a year in which no college football games were played.  (I am mildly surprised Princeton does not claim at least a share of the 1871 title.)

Princeton continued to have success on the gridiron in the 1880s and 1890s, as well as the early 1900s, racking up many more national titles, and actually playing more than one or two games per season.  The Tigers’ status as a “national” power began to wane when the game started to become truly national.  Princeton continued to play like-minded institutions in its home region, rarely venturing outside the east.

In fact, in 141 years of football, which includes 1197 games, Princeton has only played 82 different opponents (and that’s counting opponents like Lawrenceville Prep, Columbia Law School, and Princeton Seminary).  In contrast, The Citadel (which historically has tended to play close to home itself) has played 93 different opponents, 11 more than Princeton, despite playing 211 fewer games than the Tigers.  Princeton has never played a current member of the Big XII or Pac-10, and has played only one SEC school (Vanderbilt).

Michigan comes to mind as an example of a school that became a football power near the end of the 19th century, and maintained a national presence.  The Wolverines have played 138 different opponents in 1207 games.

So if you hear a Princeton alum boast that his team won the national title in ’89, just keep in mind that he’s talking about 1889, and that all the games took place in the east, against opponents like Stevens Tech and Wesleyan, and that the national title was not based on an 1889 poll, but rather was retroactively awarded to the Tigers in 1932 by Parke Davis.  Davis was the pre-eminent college football researcher of his day.  He was also a Princeton alum who happened to play on the 1889 team.

(Davis also determined that in 1896, Lafayette and Princeton had shared the national title.  The two teams had played a scoreless tie early in the season; each had then won the remainder of its games.  The head coach of Lafayette in 1896?  Parke Davis.)

I don’t really intend to belittle Princeton’s football history; far from it.  I just think claiming a bunch of “national titles” which are something less than national detracts from the larger point, which is that the Tigers’ football past is both long (longer than any other school save Rutgers, obviously) and fascinating.  I could write about it all day, but nobody wants that.  I will mention a few things, though:

– Princeton has been known as the “Tigers” since at least 1880, a nickname that came to be when the team played a game wearing black shirts with orange stripes.
– The Tigers’ career rushing TD record is held by Knowlton “Snake” Ames, who scored 62 times in a career that ended at the close of the 1889 season.  I’m guessing that may be the longest-held individual school football record of consequence, for any school.
– Hobey Baker, who is the namesake of college hockey’s version of the Heisman Trophy, played hockey and football at Princeton.  Baker was the captain of the 1913 gridiron squad.  He is the only person to be a member of both the College Football Hall of Fame and the Hockey Hall of Fame.
– The first non-Princeton grad to coach the football team was Fritz Crisler, who coached the Tigers from 1932-1937.  Crisler was very successful at Princeton before leaving to coach Michigan (where the basketball arena is named for him).  He is generally credited with creating the two-platoon system (different players for offense and defense), and the distinctive Michigan helmets were his design.  Crisler had originally created the “winged helmet” look at Princeton.  When he left, Princeton dropped the look, only to bring it back in 1998.
– Princeton had a great run of success from 1950-52, going 26-1 over those three years.  The coach of the Tigers during this period, Charlie Caldwell, had pitched briefly for the New York Yankees.  Caldwell would eventually be elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.
– In 1951, Dick Kazmaier would win the Heisman Trophy, the third and last player from a current Ivy League school to win that award.  His performance that year against Cornell was so good it would be the subject of a Sports Illustrated piece ten years later.  Kazmaier (who also won the Maxwell Award that season and was named the AP’s Male Athlete of the Year) was drafted by the Chicago Bears, but turned down the NFL in favor of Harvard Business School.
Charlie Gogolak, the younger of the kicking Gogolaks (older brother Pete played for Cornell), kicked for Princeton in the mid-1960s.  The Gogolaks, born in Hungary, were the first “soccer style” placekickers to make an impact on the college and pro football scene.  Charlie Gogolak was the first placekicker ever selected in the first round of the NFL draft, by the Washington Redskins.
– Dean “Superman” Cain is both the single-season (12) and career (23) record holder for interceptions at Princeton.  Cain’s 12 interceptions in 1987 came in just 10 games, an FCS record on a per-game basis.
– For 82 years, Princeton played its home games at Palmer Stadium (which had a capacity of anywhere between 45,000 and 70,000, depending on era and what source you believe).  In 1998, the Tigers began playing at the new Princeton Stadium, which has a listed capacity of 30,000.

Princeton certainly doesn’t need more than 30,000 seats anymore.  Attendance used to be much higher in the days when Ivy League football was more prominent.  An estimated crowd of 49,000 watched the 1951 Cornell-Princeton contest referenced above, and similarly-sized or larger crowds would occasionally watch league games as recently as the 1970s.  However, with the Ivy League’s “demotion” to I-AA (now FCS) status in 1981, attendance (and the quality of players in some cases) began to decline.

Last season Princeton averaged 9,384 fans in five games at Princeton Stadium.  This wasn’t a one-season blip, either.  Average attendance in 2007 was 10,215; in 2006, 12,220; and in 2005, 9,370.  When the new stadium opened in 1998, the initial attendance figures rose to a season average of 20,475, but as the draw of the stadium wore off, attendance gradually declined to its current level.

This has happened despite inexpensive ticket prices, and when I say inexpensive, I mean it:  season tickets are just $25, with single-game tickets going for $7.  There can’t be many better deals than that in all of Division I football.

Declining interest in Princeton football, and Ivy League football in general, can be traced to the aforementioned transition to I-AA in 1981.  An article in The New York Times (from 2006) details the decision by Ivy administrators to go along with the move down the gridiron ladder, which still angers a number of former players, coaches, and alumni.

The supporters argue (I believe with some merit) that the Ivies could have continued to play non-conference games against the service academies and other upper-tier private schools (like Duke or Northwestern), maintaining I-A (now FBS) status.  After more than 25 years at the lower level, however, I think the window of opportunity for the Ivy League to move back up to I-A has passed.  As it is, Princeton’s last game against Rutgers came in 1980, which is perhaps symbolic of the Ivy League’s move down the football pyramid.

Another issue that rankles some is the Ivy League’s continued refusal to participate in the FCS playoffs.  From the linked article, former Harvard president Derek Bok was quoted as saying:

“Once you start worrying about a national football championship, then you begin to worry about getting the quality of athlete, and the numbers needed, to win a national championship…that worry leads to pressure to compromise academic standards to admit those athletes. That’s how even responsible institutions end up doing things they don’t like doing.”

Sorry, but I’m not buying that.  First, the Ivies compete in championships in other sports, including basketball, lacrosse, soccer, and baseball.  Are academic standards being compromised to admit athletes in those sports?  Bok’s comment also implies that other schools that do compete in the playoffs compromise their standards.  It’s essentially an insult to leagues (and their member institutions) that do participate.  He’s looking down his nose at schools like The Citadel, or Colgate, or William & Mary.

There can be a fine line between being elite and being elitist.

Of course, I can’t write a preview of the game without at least briefly discussing the events surrounding the appearance by the Princeton band at last year’s football contest in Charleston.  From an article in The Star-Ledger of New Jersey:

In a clash of cultures that threatened to spiral into bloodshed, the Princeton University band received a harsh welcome from offended cadets at the Charleston, S.C., military college when the two schools’ football teams squared off for the first time over the weekend.

The band’s president, Princeton senior Alex Barnard, said some 80 over-aggressive cadets roughed up two people, broke a clarinet, stole members’ hats and cursed the band when it inadvertently marched along the “Avenue of Remembrance,” a campus street that honors The Citadel’s war dead.

Later, as the band performed its unusual routine during the halftime show, the crowd of 13,000 booed relentlessly, chanting “Go home, Princeton” and shouting profanities and anti-homosexual slurs. Several videos of the display have made it onto YouTube.

After the show, a group of cadets again gathered around the band members, reducing some to tears before police intervened, Barnard said.

Of course, that was one viewpoint.  There were others, like this one.

Princeton’s band is what is known as a “scramble band”.  The point of having a scramble band, from what I can tell, is…well, I’m not sure there is a point.  Princeton’s version has been banned from appearing at West Point (at least two other Ivy League schools have also suffered the same fate; the folks running the U.S.M.A. do not suffer fools gladly), and was also not allowed to play at Lafayette for many years.

Probably the most well-known example of a scramble band inadvertently hurting its own school’s cause occurred in 1982, when Stanford’s band helped archrival California win the annual “Big Game” during what is arguably the most famous play in college football history.  Another such band, the University of Virginia’s “pep band”, is no longer allowed to play at its own school’s varsity events, a ban in place since 2003.

It’s possible that such bands tend to attract students who are naturally go-against-the-grain types.  For example, last year’s Princeton bandleader was a fellow named Alex Barnard.  When not leading the band, Barnard led protests against Ugg boots (one of several animal rights protests in which he participated) and enjoyed the benefits of dumpster-diving.  (Of course, protesting Ugg boots may not be out of the mainstream.)

That’s fine and all — life would be rather boring without some different viewpoints — but there is something to be said for being respectful of others, especially when in their “home”.  Princeton’s band chose not to show such respect last year when it made its brief tour of The Citadel’s campus, and the cadets responded in emphatic fashion.  Maybe they were a bit too emphatic (and some of the, uh, “rhetoric” was not needed), but speaking as someone who is probably more mild-mannered than the average alumnus of The Citadel, I don’t have much of a problem with the overall response.  I am sorry that a wind instrument lost its life in the fracas, however.

I don’t know if The Citadel is sending its band to Princeton for Saturday’s game.  I doubt it, both for financial reasons and because administrators at both schools are undoubtedly going to strive to avoid any repeat of last year’s confrontation.

Last year Princeton led The Citadel 17-7 at halftime.  The Tigers were efficient on offense and kept the Bulldog offense at bay for much of the half.  Princeton did not look like a team playing its first game of the season.

Momentum changed early in the third quarter when Mel Capers blocked a Princeton punt that was subsequently returned for a TD.  The Citadel would score 30 unanswered points to first take the lead, then put away the game, as Princeton was unable to sustain a drive until late in the fourth quarter.  Once Princeton lost control of the game, it was simply unable to get it back.

This year Princeton returns four starters along its offensive line (although there are several changes in position along that line).  Also returning for the Tigers is running back Jordan Culbreath, who impressed many observers during the game at Johnson Hagood.  Culbreath gained 74 yards rushing that day, much of them hard-earned.  He’s a good, tough runner (who can also catch passes out of the backfield).  Culbreath was a unanimous All-Ivy selection last season.

The Tigers need to find new starters at both receiver positions, tight end, and quarterback.  The returning QBs for Princeton have a combined two career pass completions between them.  Figuring out who will start at quarterback is likely to be the Tigers’ biggest challenge.

On defense, Princeton must replace several starters along the line.  The Tigers do have an interesting candidate to play nosetackle in 6’5″, 285 lb. Matt Boyer.  Princeton (which runs a base 3-4) has solid returning starters at inside linebacker, and experience on the outside (although two of the potential regulars there have significant injury histories).

The Tigers have three regulars back in the secondary, including three-year starting cornerback Carl Kelly, who will probably draw the assignment of covering Andre Roberts (who only caught four passes in last year’s game, although he did have a 54-yard punt return).  Kelly will get plenty of help defending Roberts.  The other corner spot appears to be open, with several candidates vying for the starting role.

Princeton has an experienced placekicker but needs to find a new punter.  The Tigers’ return game last season was rather mediocre and needs to improve.

While Princeton has not played a game yet, it did scrimmage Rowan University (a Division III school with a solid football program) in an effort to be prepared for “live” game action.

It’s hard to draw many conclusions from The Citadel’s game against North Carolina.  I am going to assume (hope?) that the offensive line won’t be overmatched quite like that again this season.  In fact, it’s possible the o-line will be a team strength.

The Bulldogs need Bart Blanchard’s ankle to be fully healed.  It appears that Terrell Dallas and Van Dyke Jones may be ready to play against Princeton, which is good, although I worry a little about Dallas coming back relatively quickly from an ACL injury.

I thought the defense acquitted itself well against UNC.  Forcing turnovers should continue to be a major priority for that unit.  It will be interesting to see how the defensive front fares against Princeton’s experienced offensive line.  Mel Capers, whose play in the game against the Tigers last season was so critical to changing the game’s momentum, may not play football again, which is a shame (although a final decision has apparently not been made yet).

The Citadel’s special teams were mostly good against the Tar Heels.  Sam Keeler’s performance, in particular, was encouraging.  The kicking game will need to be just as solid against Princeton.

I like the idea of this series, which was conceived by current Princeton AD Gary Walters and Les Robinson, former director of athletics at The Citadel.  I think it would be neat if The Citadel played other schools from the Ivy League or Patriot League in home-and-home series from time to time.  However, my guess is that this will be the last such home-and-home for a while, particularly with an additional SoCon game (due to Samford joining the SoCon) and the resumption of the series with VMI in 2010.

I should note that Princeton has scheduled some other schools out of its normal “comfort zone” in recent years.  Besides The Citadel, the Tigers have played two games against the University of San Diego, and have also faced Hampton.

I look forward to seeing Old Nassau.  I just hope that the hospitality includes a Bulldog victory.  I’m not counting on it, though.