Game Review, 2016: North Carolina

North Carolina 41, The Citadel 7.

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

Video from WCIV-TV

– School release from The Citadel

– School release from North Carolina

– Game story, The News and Observer

Box score

The Citadel’s post-game notes

Well, if The Citadel needed to fulfill its season-long quota of mistakes, this was probably the right game to do it…

Four turnovers? Sure. Costly false start penalties? Yep. Poor kick coverage? Uh-huh. A missed field goal? Why not.

The game was never in doubt, thanks to a series of errors by the Bulldogs. It was a tough day at the office.

However, those missteps hid a few positives.

The defense actually played fairly well at times. UNC scored 41 points, but two of its touchdowns were on returns.

North Carolina’s three offensive touchdowns came on a sustained drive, a long TD pass, and another drive that was helped along by a dubious pass interference call. Considering how explosive the Tar Heels’ offense can be, that’s not too bad from the Bulldogs’ perspective (it’s not great either, to be sure).

The offense controlled the ball to an enormous degree (42:25 time of possession), which is why The Citadel ran so many more offensive plays than UNC (80 to 47). However, the Bulldogs did not take advantage of the discrepancy. A lot of that can be credited to UNC’s defense, but the Bulldogs also lacked some of their usual crispness in execution.

I was more disappointed in the kick return TD than anything else. There is no excuse for that, especially coming out of the halftime break.

The Bulldogs played hard. They didn’t play very well. Every now and then, that’s going to happen.

It just can’t happen again this season.

A few other thoughts:

– It was a tough night to be in the stands, with the cool air and the wind proving a wicked combination. Nevertheless, a couple of Bulldog fans thought it was t-shirt weather.

My blood is a little thinner than theirs.

– The Summerall Guards were excellent, as usual. That performance was one of the highlights of the entire day.

– The Citadel had plenty of fans in attendance. It was a very good showing by the travelling support.

– The replay review in the second quarter took about ten minutes, which to me was at least eight minutes too long. I’m also not sure they got the call right in the end.

I don’t think anyone enjoyed that delay, with the possible exception of the folks working the concession stands.

– Mitch Trubisky is a better athlete than I realized (and I thought he was a pretty good one as it was). He showed an ability to move in the pocket that should be beneficial in the NFL.

At one point late in the third quarter, though, with a big lead, he kept on a designed run. I wondered what Larry Fedora would have said afterwards if his star QB had suffered an injury in that situation.

– Speaking of injuries, Cam Jackson did not play for the second consecutive week. I hope he is ready to go by December 3.

I’ll write about the FCS playoffs later in the week. For now, I’ll just say that my cynicism regarding the FCS selection committee was well-founded.

Below are a few pictures. Are they good? Of course not.

I included a few shots I took while wandering around the UNC campus. The game action photos are not annotated (there also aren’t nearly as many of them as usual).

 

2016 Football, Game 11: The Citadel vs. North Carolina

The Citadel vs. North Carolina, to be played at Kenan Memorial Stadium in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with kickoff at 3:34 pm ET on Saturday, November 19. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed on ACC Network Extra, with Dan Gutowsky providing play-by-play and John Gregory supplying the analysis.

The game 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.

This light blue vs. light blue matchup is brought to you by Eiffel 65:

I’m blue da ba dee da ba di da ba dee da ba di da ba dee da ba di…

Links of interest:

– Game notes for The Citadel and North Carolina

SoCon weekly release

The Citadel makes its case for a top-4 seed

Jonathan King, internet meme

UNC prepares to face the Bulldogs’ triple-option offense

Tar Heels to face another triple-option foe

Undefeated Bulldogs present legitimate test

– Larry Fedora says UNC only looking at The Citadel (video)

– The UNC coach is not overlooking the Bulldogs

– Fedora: “I don’t think we’ll take The Citadel lightly”

– If UNC doesn’t “beat the unbeaten Bulldogs by 50 points” it is because the Tar Heels are “still hung over from losing at Duke”

– Game preview from Campus Insiders

– SB Nation preview: Players to watch

Brent Thompson’s 11/15 press conference, including comments from Kevin Graham, Jonathan King, and Kyle Weaver (video)

Brent Thompson’s 11/16 radio show (video)

– Brent Thompson is a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award

– FCS Coaches’ Poll

– STATS FCS Poll

– NCAA FCS selection committee rankings for November 15

The last time The Citadel played North Carolina (in 2009), the game was on ESPN3.com, and the announcers were Bob Picozzi and Paul Maguire. That was the first time Maguire had ever announced a game involving The Citadel (his alma mater).

This week’s ACC Network analyst, John Gregory, also has a connection to The Citadel, though perhaps not one he would fondly remember.

Gregory was Marshall’s starting quarterback in 1988. That season, the Thundering Herd began the year 8-0, rising to #1 in the I-AA polls.

Marshall then traveled to Johnson Hagood Stadium to play The Citadel. Very few games at the old stadium have ever matched that contest for intensity or general atmosphere. It was electric.

MU had been averaging 32.6 points per contest. Gregory was at the time the third-rated passer in I-AA.

However, that day wasn’t one of Gregory’s best. The quarterback finished with 12 completions on 25 attempts, for 176 yards. Three different Bulldogs intercepted Gregory passes (for the record, they were J.D. Cauthen, Terrance Young, and David Matherly).

All in all, it was a long afternoon for the visitors from West Virginia. The Bulldogs upset the Thundering Herd, 20-3.

To be fair, Marshall still shared the SoCon title that year, and advanced to the I-AA quarterfinals. Both of the Thundering Herd’s losses in 1988 were to Palmetto State schools — The Citadel and Furman. Gregory also led Marshall to a victory over The Citadel the following season, 1989.

The third (and thankfully, final) preliminary rankings list for the FCS playoffs was released on Tuesday night:

Rank School Last week
1 North Dakota State 3
2 Eastern Washington 2
3 Jacksonville State 1
4 James Madison 4
5 Sam Houston State 5
6 The Citadel 6
7 Central Arkansas 9
8 Richmond 8
9 North Dakota 10
10 South Dakota State NR

In each of the three rankings, the top 4 has changed, despite none of the teams in the top 4 having lost during that time period. However, The Citadel has been stuck at #6 on all three lists.

After North Dakota State debuted in the rankings at #4 on the initial list, angry shouts from Fargo could be heard throughout the land — or at least in the homes of the selection committee members, as the complaining appears to have had an effect.

Now, does NDSU deserve to be #1 or #2 in the rankings? Probably. How the Bison got there, though, does not reflect well on the committee. Neither does The Citadel’s status as a team with a demonstrably better case for a top-4 seed than either Sam Houston State or Jacksonville State, both of which are ahead of the Bulldogs in the rankings.

Alas, the selection committee apparently can’t get past SHSU’s gaudy offensive statistics (never mind the opposition). A cynic would suggest Jacksonville State is benefiting from having two OVC advocates for its cause on the committee — one the chairman, the other JSU’s own director of athletics.

Per the Massey Ratings, Sam Houston State’s best opponent to date is Nicholls, which is ranked 35th. Its second-best win is versus McNeese State (42nd). Meanwhile, The Citadel has played three opponents ranked in the top 14.

Jacksonville State’s best two wins are against Coastal Carolina (ranked 18th by Massey) and Liberty (26th).

In the NCAA’s “toughest schedules to date” category, The Citadel’s slate is ranked 22nd. Jacksonville State’s schedule is 101st; Sam Houston State’s, 116th.

All those pesky facts are likely to be ignored by the selection committee, however, based on the preliminary rankings (and the committee’s historical bent). I would really like to be wrong about that, but I don’t think I will.

The seeding order matters because home field advantage is very important in the FCS playoffs. The last champion to have won a game on the road en route to a title was Richmond, in 2008. That’s right — North Dakota State has not had to play a road game during its entire five-year championship run.

At least the Bulldogs are almost certain to get a seed. Avoiding a first-round game and getting to host a second-round game are both important keys to advancing in the tournament.

That is particularly true because the assignment of first-round host sites is a process driven by money. Some would argue that in a few cases, team selection is monetarily driven:

It’s down to the Brawl of the Wild Game, beat Montana State and with the Griz’ history of big crowds, [Montana will] make the playoffs.

The writer of that blurb isn’t wrong. Montana is a decent bet to make the field if it wins in part because the program is a money-maker. If you are a fan of the team that gets paired with the Griz for a first-round game, you might as well resign yourself to a road game, even if your team has a better résumé.

More than a few people wondered last year if the deciding factor in picking one particular at-large squad was because the school was within 400 miles of a potential opponent. Thus, it could be bused to the game, saving the NCAA the cost of an extra team flight.

The CFP setup is positively pristine when compared to the selection and seeding for the FCS playoffs.

North Carolina is 7-3 overall, 5-2 in the ACC.

After opening the season with a loss to Georgia in Atlanta, the Tar Heels won four straight games. UNC averaged over 44 points per game in those victories, which included a last-second defeat of Florida State in Tallahassee, a comeback victory over Pittsburgh, and easy wins against Illinois and FCS power James Madison.

However, North Carolina’s surge was ended rather emphatically by a combination of Virginia Tech and Hurricane Matthew. The final score was 34-3; it could be argued that the Hokies were stylistically more suited to play a game in poor weather conditions, though perhaps not so much as to win by 31 points.

UNC recovered from that debacle to win three more games, beating Miami and Virginia on the road before returning home and thumping Georgia Tech, 48-20.

Then came last Thursday night, when the Tar Heels blew an early 14-0 lead and lost to a 3-6 Duke team, 28-27. It was the most disappointing result of the season for UNC.

Statistics of note for North Carolina:

UNC Opp
Points/game 33.5 26.4
Rushing yardage 1482 2223
Yards/rush 4.8 4.5
Rush TDs 20 24
Passing yardage 3058 1936
Comp-Att-Int 255-360-4 157-278-0
Average/pass att 8.5 7.0
Passing TDs 22 9
Total offense 4540 4159
Total Plays 672 769
Yards/play 6.8 5.4
Fumbles/lost 11/8 23-9
Penalties-pen yds 79-636 73-624
Pen yards/game 63.6 62.4
Net punt average 40.9 37.3
Time of poss/game 24:42 35:18
3rd-down conv 63/130 68/161
3rd-down conv % 48.5% 42.2%
Sacks by-yards 20-122 16-94
Red Zone TD% (30-45) 66.7% (28-44) 63.6%
  • No, that’s not a typo — the Tar Heels have yet to intercept a pass this season, which is really amazing
  • On the other hand, UNC quarterbacks have only thrown 4 picks, which is tied for 4th-fewest in FBS
  • North Carolina is ranked 16th in FBS in offensive third down conversion rate (second in the ACC, to Clemson)
  • One way to consistently convert on third downs is to complete passes, and UNC’s 70.8% completion rate is third-best nationally
  • Conversely, the Tar Heels are 93rd in the country in defensive third down conversion rate
  • UNC is 17th in FBS in net punting, and has only allowed a net of one (1) punt return yard all season
  • The lack of interceptions by the defense is a major reason why the Tar Heels are 93rd in turnover margin
  • North Carolina is among the most-penalized teams in the nation
  • UNC has the third-lowest time of possession in all of FBS; only Missouri and Iowa (!) have possessed the football for less time this season

North Carolina’s ranking in rush defense is 106th nationally, a statistic that has been bandied about in a few places this week. However, in terms of yards per rush, the Tar Heels don’t look quite as bad, ranking 79th in that category.

Stats of consequence for The Citadel:

The Citadel Opp
Points/game 30.7 18.8
Rushing yardage 3599 1211
Yards/rush 5.5 3.8
Rush TDs 31 13
Passing yardage 673 1808
Comp-Att-Int 39-96-2 155-267-8
Average/pass att 7.0 6.8
Passing TDs 5 10
Total offense 4272 3019
Total Plays 745 583
Yards/play 5.7 5.2
Fumbles/lost 16-7 13-8
Penalties-pen yds 51-538 42-400
Pen yards/game 53.8 40.0
Net punt average 36.8 36.8
Time of poss/game 33:56 26:03
3rd-down conv 80/162 39/123
3rd-down conv % 49.3% 31.7%
Sacks by-yards 28-185 1-6
Red Zone TD% (25-44) 56.8% (13-21) 61.9%
  • The Citadel leads FCS in rushing yards per game (359.9); the Bulldogs’s average per rush attempt of 5.5 is 7th-best nationally
  • The Bulldogs are 7th in offensive third down conversion rate
  • The Citadel is 13th in FCS in defensive third down conversion rate
  • The Bulldogs are 4th nationally in time of possession
  • The Citadel’s offense suffered its first sack of the season last week against VMI
  • Despite being tied for 18th in fewest penalties per game, the Bulldogs have committed more penalties than their opponents
  • The Citadel is 20th in turnover margin
  • The Bulldogs are 11th in FCS in scoring defense, 22nd in rushing defense, and 21st in pass defense

North Carolina has had its fair share of great players over the years, from Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice to Lawrence Taylor.

However, the most successful NFL quarterback to have been a UNC alum is T.J. Yates, who started against The Citadel when these two schools last met. Yates has thrown six career TD passes in the NFL, just five more than Stump Mitchell.

A lot of people think UNC may finally have produced a future pro all-star QB, though, in current signal-caller Mitch Trubisky (6’3″, 220 lbs.), a junior from Metter, Ohio. Trubisky is in his first year as a full-time starter, and he has excelled for the Tar Heels.

For the season, Trubisky is completing 70.6% of his passes, averaging 8.6 yards per attempt, with 22 touchdown tosses against only four interceptions. Trubisky had a streak of 243 consecutive passes without an interception end versus Virginia Tech.

Elijah Hood (6’0″, 200 lbs.) is a junior running back from Charlotte who rushed for 1,463 yards last season, averaging 6.7 yards per carry, with 17 touchdowns.

I have friends who are UNC fans. The common refrain from them last season was that Hood should have been featured even more than he was (particularly in the Tar Heels’ borderline ridiculous loss to South Carolina).

This year, Hood has had some injury issues that have limited his productivity, but he has still rushed for 719 yards and 8 touchdowns, averaging 5.9 yards per rush.

Hood’s occasional absences from the lineup have been somewhat mitigated by the fine play of another running back, T.J. Logan (5’10”, 190 lbs.), a senior who has stepped up for the Tar Heels. Logan is also averaging 5.9 yards per carry, with a total of 533 yards rushing and 7 TDs.

North Carolina has several outstanding receivers.

Ryan Switzer (5’10”, 185 lbs.) leads the team in receptions, with 75. Switzer is also a great — not good, great — punt returner, probably the outstanding return man of this era. The senior from the other Charleston (in West Virginia) has been compared more than once to Wes Welker.

Bug Howard (6’5″, 210 lbs.) is averaging 15.8 yards per reception. The senior leads the team in touchdown catches, with six.

Austin Proehl (5’10”, 175 lbs.) is a junior who has 34 catches and three touchdowns. His father Ricky played in the NFL for several decades.

UNC sustained a tough loss last month in its receiving corps when Mack Hollins suffered a broken collarbone. The senior wideout was leading the team in yards per reception.

North Carolina’s starters on the offensive line average 6’5″, 300 lbs.

The o-line has been somewhat depleted by injuries, but still features several experienced performers. Center Lucas Crowley (6’3″, 290 lbs.) and right tackle Jon Heck (6’6″, 310 lbs.) have combined to make 84 career starts.

Middle linebacker Andre Smith (6’0″, 240 lbs.) and strong safety Donny Miles (5’11”, 205 lbs.) are tied for UNC’s team lead in tackles, with 89. Both will have important roles for the Tar Heels on Saturday, particularly Smith, a sophomore from Jacksonville who drew praise from Brent Thompson during the coach’s radio show.

Smith is a player with excellent lateral movement, according to Thompson. One of the keys to the game for the Bulldogs’ offense is to keep him from making plays (“limit him” in Thompson’s parlance). Against Georgia Tech, Smith had 12 tackles.

Miles made 11 tackles in UNC’s victory over Florida State. The junior from Miami had nine tackles and recovered a fumble in the Tar Heels’ win over Pittsburgh.

Thompson described North Carolina’s defense as “big up front, long up front. They can lock you out a bit if you don’t watch out.”

Defensive tackle Nazair Jones (6’5″, 310 lbs.) certainly qualifies as “big” and “long”. The junior leads UNC in tackles for loss, with 7 1/2. Jones had eight stops against Georgia Tech.

Mikey Bart (6’3″, 270 lbs.) leads the Tar Heels in sacks, with four. Bart has made 25 career starts during his time in Chapel Hill.

Cole Holcomb (6’1″, 220 lbs.) is a former walk-on who ranks third on the team in tackles, with 87. The junior had eleven stops against Duke.

Nick Weiler (6’0″, 190 lbs.) starred in one of the more memorable moments of the college football season. The senior placekicker booted a game-winning 54-yard field goal versus Florida State, and then proceeded to do the “Tomahawk Chop” for the benefit of the Tallahassee crowd.

Up to that point, Weiler had never made a kick of 50 yards or longer, but he has added two more such kicks to his total since then. For the season, he is 12 for 16 on field goal attempts.

Weiler is also a prohibitive favorite to be first-team All-Hair.

Tom Sheldon (6’3″, 200 lbs.) is an Australian who handles the punting duties for the Tar Heels. Although just a freshman, the left-footed Sheldon is 28 years old.

As noted above, UNC’s net punting has been very good this year, with only one net yard allowed all season in returns.

Sheldon had never been to the United States before he arrived at UNC on a recruiting visit. His previous team had been an Australian Rules Football outfit called the Kyabram Bombers, which has its own theme song:

We’re the bombers
we’re the greatest team alive
We’ll wear the red and black,
Pride and courage never lack,
All for one and one for all.

Wearing light blue and white may have been an even bigger culture shock for Sheldon than Lexington-style barbecue…

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, per the National Weather Service: mostly sunny, with a high of 70 degrees. There is a 20% chance of rain after 2 pm. The low on Saturday night is projected to be 34 degrees.

Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is an 21.5-point underdog against North Carolina, with an over/under of 58.5. As a comparison, the Bulldogs were 20-point underdogs at South Carolina last season.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Chattanooga is a 49.5-point underdog at Alabama; Western Carolina is a 30.5-point underdog at South Carolina; Wofford is a 22.5-point favorite versus VMI; Samford is a 29.5-point favorite at East Tennessee State; and Furman is a 2.5-point favorite at Mercer (that last one surprised me).

Gardner-Webb (4-6) finishes its season by hosting Monmouth. The Runnin’ Bulldogs are a 11.5-point favorite.

North Greenville (7-4) received a bid to the NCAA Division II playoffs and will play at Florida Tech on Saturday. The Crusaders are 14.5-point underdogs.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 4th in FCS (unchanged from last week). North Carolina is ranked 25th in FBS.

Massey projects The Citadel to have a 5% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of North Carolina 37, The Citadel 14.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Samford (11th), Wofford (12th, a jump of seven spots), Chattanooga (14th, a drop of six positions), Furman (43rd), Mercer (46th), Gardner-Webb (48th), Western Carolina (69th), VMI (72nd), East Tennessee State (87th).

The top ten in Massey’s rankings, in order: North Dakota State, Eastern Washington, Jacksonville State, The Citadel, Central Arkansas, South Dakota State, Youngstown State, Sam Houston State, James Madison, and Northern Iowa.

– UNC’s game notes roster includes 51 natives of North Carolina. Other states represented on the squad: Georgia (12), Florida (12), Virginia (8), New Jersey (5), Alabama (3), California (3), Maryland (3), Texas (2), Tennessee (2), South Carolina (2), Ohio (2), and one each from Missouri, Illinois, Louisiana, and West Virginia.

As mentioned above, punter Tom Sheldon is from Australia — specifically, Echuca, Victoria.

– 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.

– North Carolina concludes its regular season on the Friday after Thanksgiving, hosting North Carolina State. UNC could still potentially play a game the following week for the ACC championship; for that to happen, the Tar Heels need a victory over the Wolfpack combined with a loss by Virginia Tech to Virginia.

– Non-conference opponents for UNC in future seasons include Western Carolina (in both 2017 and 2018), California, UNCC, Old Dominion, East Carolina, UCF, Notre Dame (in 2017 and 2022), Georgia State, and South Carolina (in 2019 and 2023, with both games played in Charlotte).

– Brent Thompson is the seventh coach that North Carolina will face this season in his first year as the head coach at his current school. The others: Mike Houston (James Madison), Mark Richt (Miami), Kirby Smart (Georgia), Lovie Smith (Illinois), Justin Fuente (Virginia Tech), and Bronco Mendenhall (Virginia). UNC is 4-2 against that group.

– Saturday’s game is the last of three contests that The Citadel will play in the state of North Carolina this season, against opponents that compete in 3 different leagues — the Big South (Gardner-Webb), the SoCon (Western Carolina), and the ACC (UNC).

– There are no changes to The Citadel’s two-deep this week.

– Game notes factoid of the week: Brent Thompson’s eight SoCon victories are tied for the most by a first-year head coach in Southern Conference history. Thompson shares the record with Bob Pruett, who won eight league contests in his first year as Marshall’s head coach in 1996. That season was Marshall’s last as a I-AA program; the Thundering Herd went 15-0 and won the national title.

This could be a strange game for The Citadel in the sense that, for the first time all season, expectations are limited. There is no real pressure.

The Bulldogs have done everything that could possibly be asked of them this year. Eight conference games, eight victories. Two non-conference road games in which The Citadel was favored, two more wins.

After this matchup, the Bulldogs will begin what amounts to a second season.

That said, this game is not a throwaway for The Citadel by any means. It is another chance to make a positive impression.

The win last year over South Carolina provided the program (and its fan base) with a huge jolt of energy. A victory over UNC on Saturday would be an even bigger statement.

I’m looking forward to this game. That anticipation is not strictly based on a hope for victory, though I do harbor such thoughts. I don’t think it is unrealistic to think the Bulldogs can win, either.

After all, no one should doubt this team.

During the 2016 season, what teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

That’s right, it’s time for the annual July topic. In this post, I take a look at football schedules, and note which teams The Citadel’s opponents face before and after playing the Bulldogs. Sometimes, of course, the answer is “bye”.

Let’s review…

September 1 (Thursday): The Citadel’s first game of the season is a road conference matchup with Mercer. The game will be played on Thursday night, the first time I can recall the Bulldogs not opening the season on a Saturday.

As the opener for both teams, obviously neither will have faced a prior opponent this year. Mercer’s last game was a 47-21 home loss to Samford to close out the 2015 campaign.

After playing The Citadel, the Bears will prepare for another triple option team — Georgia Tech. It will be the first time the schools have met on the gridiron since 1938 (and the first game for Mercer against an FBS opponent since it restarted its football program in 2013).

September 10: Furman makes the trip to Charleston to face the Bulldogs. The Paladins open their 2016 season on Friday night (September 2), travelling to East Lansing for a meeting with Michigan State (the first time Furman has ever played a Big 10 team in football).

The Paladins’ home opener is on September 17, versus Chattanooga. It is the only one of FU’s first four games that will take place in Greenville, as Furman will play at Coastal Carolina on September 24.

September 17: The Citadel makes the journey to Boiling Springs, North Carolina, for a Bulldogs-vs.-Bulldogs battle.

It will be Gardner-Webb’s only home game in the month of September. The Runnin’ Bulldogs open with road games at Elon and Western Carolina before playing The Citadel, and will venture into the world of the MAC on September 24 for a contest against Ohio.

September 24: This is the open week for The Citadel. I’ll be on vacation myself. No, that isn’t a coincidence.

October 1: The Bulldogs will be in Cullowhee on the first day of October, tangling with Western Carolina. Both teams will be coming off a bye week.

WCU plays East Tennessee State in Johnson City on September 17. The game against The Citadel will be the first of two straight home contests for the Catamounts, as they play Wofford on October 8.

Western Carolina has FBS bookends on its schedule this year. WCU opens its season with a game versus East Carolina. There will be plenty of purple in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium that night.

The Catamounts will conclude regular-season action with a trip to Columbia for an SEC-SoCon Challenge game against South Carolina. Will the local alt-weekly refer to the game as a “cupcake” matchup? I’m guessing it will not.

October 8: After almost a month away from Johnson Hagood Stadium, The Citadel returns home for a Parents’ Day game against North Greenville.

The Crusaders are at home on October 1, facing Mars Hill. After playing The Citadel, the next game for North Greenville is a road matchup versus Tusculum.

October 15: The Bulldogs play Chattanooga in Charleston on this date. The Mocs are at home for both their prior game (Mercer) and the contest that follows (VMI).

After playing eight SoCon games in nine weeks, Chattanooga finishes its regular season campaign with a non-conference clash against Alabama.

October 22: The Citadel faces Wofford in Spartanburg. The Terriers have a bye on October 15. The week following the game against the Bulldogs, Wofford hosts Mercer.

The Terriers open the season with two road games. Wofford plays Mississippi in the second of those contests.

October 29: The Bulldogs play East Tennessee State in the next-to-last home game of the season. The Buccaneers don’t have a bye the week before, but will get a couple of extra days of preparation, as ETSU hosts West Virginia Wesleyan on Thursday, October 20.

East Tennessee State is at Mercer the week following its trip to Johnson Hagood Stadium. ETSU finishes the season with two home games, against Cumberland (yes, the Cumberland of 222-0 fame) and Samford.

November 5: Samford is the Homecoming opponent for The Citadel this year. With the possible exception of Furman, none of the military college’s other opponents has a tougher task the week prior to facing The Citadel. Samford has a matchup at Mississippi State on October 29.

On November 12, Samford holds its own Homecoming game against Mercer.

November 12: The battle for the coveted Silver Shako resumes once again on November 12, this time in Lexington, Virginia. VMI plays at Western Carolina the week before, and concludes its regular season with a game at Wofford the week following this game.

November 19: There will be lots of light blue in Chapel Hill on November 19, as The Citadel comes to town to face North Carolina. The Tar Heels are at Duke on November 12, and have another rivalry game the following week, versus North Carolina State (with that game taking place on the Friday following Thanksgiving Day).

A couple of observations about the schedule:

– Mercer wound up as a de facto “travel partner” of sorts for The Citadel this season. The Bears play Chattanooga the week before the Bulldogs do. Following that, there are three consecutive weeks in which a team will play Mercer the week after playing The Citadel (those three squads being Wofford, East Tennessee State, and Samford).

– As far as “option preview” situations are concerned…

Western Carolina and VMI both face Wofford the week after playing The Citadel. Only two league teams (Samford and East Tennessee State) play Wofford before matchups with The Citadel; both play the Terriers several weeks before meeting the Bulldogs.

North Carolina will play Georgia Tech two weeks before hosting The Citadel in Chapel Hill. North Greenville has a meeting with Lenoir-Rhyne a few weeks before playing The Citadel, but L-R (which has a new head coach) is moving to a more balanced offense after several years running the triple option.

Football season is getting closer…

Why exactly is The Citadel playing Arizona in the first place?

I didn’t touch on this in my preview of the game between The Citadel and Arizona, but I figured I could make a quick post out of the question:  why exactly is The Citadel playing Arizona in football in the first place?  I’m sure fans of both schools are a little curious about that.

Well, for money, of course.  The Citadel has to play at least one football “guarantee” game every season to balance (or attempt to balance) its budget for athletics.  On the other hand, surely The Citadel could find an FBS opponent a little closer to home, an ACC or SEC team, or even a Big East squad.  After all, the Bulldogs have played teams from all those leagues in the last few seasons, along with a Big XII team (Texas A&M), a Big 10 outfit (Wisconsin)…oh, wait a second.  I see a pattern — a pattern created by none other than Les Robinson.

That’s right, The Citadel’s national tour of BCS conferences is a result of one of former AD Les Robinson’s grand ideas.  You can read about it here:  Link

The game against the Pac-10’s Arizona is the last of the “BCS series” for The Citadel, which in the past five years has traveled to play against the aforementioned Texas A&M and Wisconsin, along with Pittsburgh of the Big East, Florida of the SEC, and North Carolina and Clemson of the ACC.

Just prior to that five-year run the Bulldogs traveled to Oxford to play Mississippi and Tallahassee to tangle with Florida State.  The coach for all these games has been Kevin Higgins, so keep that in mind when evaluating his 25-32 record at The Citadel. I think there is a good chance Higgins is the only head coach in the country to have played teams from all six BCS conferences in the last five seasons.

After this game the Bulldogs will have completed the Robinson Quest, having played teams from all six BCS leagues.  Robinson even set up a “bonus” two-game series with Princeton of the Ivy League.  I am not sure current AD Larry Leckonby is crazy about scheduling the likes of Arizona or (to a lesser extent) Wisconsin, as the travel for those games eats into the guarantee.  It was also a significant issue for the game at Princeton.

I can certainly understand that, and in the future I expect most, if not all, of The Citadel’s football guarantee games to come against SEC/ACC schools.  However, I don’t think it hurts the school to travel out of its home region on occasion.  I agree with the comment Robinson made in the linked article about such games providing needed national exposure.  Another thing they provide is an opportunity for alums living outside the southeast to attend a game.

The Citadel brought a very good crowd to the Princeton game last year.  I can attest to the number of PA/NJ/NY alums in attendance, most of whom showed up with their families, and some with friends too.  We need to play games like that once in a while, if only for those fans.

The game against Arizona will give some of our alums on the west coast a chance to see their team in action.  Admittedly, a game against UCLA or Stanford might have been a better bet in terms of Bulldog supporters showing up — I’m not sure how many alums live in Arizona — but still, it’s in the general area.

Anyway, I hope the following gives a little insight into how this game came to be.  I don’t think we’ll be seeing any other matchups on the gridiron between The Citadel and Pac-10 teams in the near future, but you never know.

Football, Game 2: The Citadel vs. Arizona

Gametime:  10 pm ET, September 11.

Telecast:  KWBA, local channel 58 in Tucson, and on Fox College Sports Pacific (FCS-Pacific), joined in progress; announcers are Dave Sitton, John Fina, and sideline reporter Glenn Howell

There won’t be many schools this season who will face in consecutive weeks opponents as different as Chowan and Arizona.  Chowan is a small Division II school in North Carolina.  Arizona is a large Division I (FBS) school, the flagship university of a populous western state.  Chowan has about 1,100 undergraduate students. Arizona has 30,000.  Indeed, Arizona has more undergraduate and graduate students than The Citadel has living alumni.

The difference is reflected in the football teams as well, of course, and thus The Citadel’s football team has its work cut out for it this week as it ventures to Tucson, the longest trip in program history.  Since The Citadel has never played Arizona (or any Pac-10 school) before, let’s take a brief look at the history of the University of Arizona’s football team.

The Wildcats (originally just known as the “Varsity”) started playing football in 1899, 14 years after the school’s founding.  Keep in mind that Arizona didn’t become a state until 1912 (it was the 48th and last of the contiguous states).  It had been a recognized U.S. territory since 1862.

The first official coach of the football team was “Pop” McKale, for whom the McKale Center (UA’s basketball arena) is named.  McHale also coached the basketball team for a time and was the school’s longtime director of athletics.

McHale was also a central figure in the story of Arizona’s great tradition, its motto “Bear Down”.  In 1926, Arizona quarterback and student body president John “Button” Salmon was critically injured in a car accident after the first game of that season. McHale regularly visited Salmon in the hospital until Salmon’s death on October 18.

During the coach’s final visit, Salmon told McHale to “tell them…tell the team to bear down.”  McHale reportedly told the team just that, repeating Salmon’s words during a game against New Mexico State which the Wildcats managed to win, 7-0.  It’s a tale not unlike Knute Rockne’s “Win one for the Gipper” speech for Notre Dame.

Ever since, “Bear Down” has been the official slogan for all of the university’s athletic teams.

Salmon is one of two players to have his jersey retired at Arizona.  The other, running back Art Luppino, led the nation in rushing twice in 1954 and 1955.

Arizona first joined a conference in 1931, becoming a charter member of the Border Conference, and remaining in that league until it disbanded in 1961.  Other schools in the league included Texas Tech, UTEP, New Mexico, New Mexico State, and Arizona State.  They were joined at various times by Hardin-Simmons, Northern Arizona, and West Texas A&M.  The Wildcats won three league titles while in the Border Conference and played in one bowl game during that time, losing the 1949 Salad Bowl (yes, Salad Bowl) to Drake (yes, Drake).

Arizona then became a founding member of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC). That league was basically a merger of the Border and Skyline Conferences, except not every school in those leagues was invited (New Mexico State, for example).  Also in the original WAC:  Arizona State, BYU, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming.  Arizona won two league titles in the WAC and played in one bowl game, the 1968 Sun Bowl (losing to Auburn).

Arizona and Arizona State gradually outgrew the WAC, mostly because the state of Arizona was outgrowing (by percentage) most of the other states in and around the mountain time zone.  The development of air conditioning helped produce a population boom in the state, and the increase in population/resources trickled down to the state universities.  The two schools joined the Pac-8 (renamed the Pac-10) in 1978, and have remained in that conference since then.

The hallmark of the program in that time, much to the frustration of  Arizona’s fans, has been its inability to make a trip to the Rose Bowl.  Its rival, Arizona State, has been to the big game twice (winning once), but the Wildcats have never been.  Arizona has come close on two occasions, both times under the direction of Dick Tomey.

In 1993, Arizona shared the Pac-10 title with UCLA and Southern California, but lost a tiebreaker to UCLA for the Rose Bowl berth.  This is the only time the Wildcats have claimed even a piece of the Pac-10 crown.  Arizona had lost earlier in the season to UCLA, but as late as November 14 still had a shot at Pasadena after a UCLA loss. However, the Wildcats blew a 20-point lead and lost to California, 24-20, eliminating them from Rose Bowl consideration.

The Wildcats did rebound from that disappointment, beating their rivals in Tempe and then dominating Miami 29-0 in the Fiesta Bowl to finish the season 10-2, with the bowl game arguably being the pinnacle of Arizona’s “Desert Swarm” defense, which was the national identity of the program in the mid-1990s (and personified by Tedy Bruschi).

The Fiesta Bowl victory was a major reason why Sports Illustrated ranked Arizona No. 1 in its 1994 preseason issue, but after starting the campaign 4-0 the Wildcats were upset at home by Colorado State.  Arizona also suffered road losses to Oregon and Southern California and finished with a Freedom Bowl loss to Utah and a disappointing 8-4 season.

In 1998, Arizona finished 12-1, losing only to UCLA (albeit at home by four touchdowns).  However, the Wildcats were looking good for a Rose Bowl appearance anyway, as the Bruins completed their Pac-10 schedule undefeated and were poised to play for the mythical national title at the Fiesta Bowl.  That would have sent Arizona to the Rose Bowl.

Unfortunately for Arizona (and the Bruins, as it turned out), UCLA had to play a December game originally delayed by a hurricane against the Hurricanes — and lost to Miami, 49-45.  That result meant the Bruins took the berth in the Rose and the Wildcats had to settle for the Holiday Bowl (which they won, beating Nebraska).

When I was looking at Arizona’s football history, and wondering what was preventing Arizona, a big school in a BCS conference with success in a lot of sports other than football, from grabbing the brass ring, one thing stood out.  It must have stood out to Joe Tessitore and Rod Gilmore too, because while calling the Wildcats’ 41-2 dismantling of Toledo last Friday on ESPN, they mentioned (and marvelled at) the following factoid:

Arizona hasn’t had a quarterback drafted by the NFL since 1985.

Think about that.  There can’t be that many BCS programs who have gone that long between QB draft picks.  In fact, that QB (10th-round pick John Conner, who did not throw a pass in the NFL) is the only quarterback out of Arizona drafted since 1972 (when another Wildcat signal-caller who never played in the league, Brian Linstrom, was selected in the 16th round).  It’s not like Arizona’s been running the wishbone all this time, either.

Arizona’s football program has had three different quarterbacks make a total of 29 starts in the NFL, none since 1974.  So in all the time UA has been in the Pac-10, it’s never developed an NFL quarterback.

It’s hard to win big games, or even get to big games, without a pro-caliber quarterback.  Since 1975, only one Arizona alum has thrown a TD pass in the NFL — a punter, Josh Miller, who did it for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2003 (an 81-yard pass play, incidentally).  Here is a little chart comparing alums from Arizona, The Citadel, and a mystery school:

TD passes thrown in the NFL since 1975

Arizona — 1

The Citadel — 1

Mystery School — 0

If you’re wondering, the graduate of The Citadel with a touchdown pass is Stump Mitchell.  Now, that mystery school that hasn’t had a grad with a TD toss in the NFL in the last 35 years?  Well, it’s a school that has quite a bit in common with Arizona on the athletics front.  It’s a “basketball school” that has won multiple titles in other sports, but hasn’t been able to parlay its success in those sports into a nationally prominent football program.

Like Arizona, a good argument can be made that the reason for that has a lot to do with never having an “NFL ready” quarterback.  What school is that?  Why, it’s the BCS school The Citadel played last season.

North Carolina.

I wrote about UNC’s football history in my preview of The Citadel’s game against the Heels last year.  At the time, I noted that the overall QB rating for players from The Citadel to have thrown a pass in the NFL (which would be just two, Mitchell and Paul Maguire) was exactly 100 points better than their UNC counterparts (119.6-19.6). Arizona is a little better than North Carolina in this respect (47.7), but again the mighty Bulldogs prevail.

What will this mean on Saturday?  Not much, since it’s probable the Wildcats have finally found themselves an NFL prospect at QB in Nick Foles.  Foles is a native of Austin (went to the same high school as Drew Brees) who began his collegiate career at Michigan State before transferring to Arizona after one season.

He has NFL size (6’5″, 245 lbs.) and a good arm.  Last season he completed 63% of his passes for 19 TDs (9 interceptions).  His yards per attempt was not that high (just over 6 yards), but he was only sacked 13 times all season (so not a lot of negative plays).  His three 300-yard games included a 4-TD effort against league champion Oregon.

Foles isn’t the only impressive skill-position player on the Wildcat offense.  Nic Grigsby, when healthy, is an outstanding running back.  Grigsby averaged over seven yards per carry last season.  His problem was a bad shoulder that cost him three games and limited him in several others.  He appears to be healthy now.  Then there is Juron Criner, a rangy 6’4″ wideout who hauled in nine touchdowns last season.

Criner had a ridiculous game against Toledo on Friday, catching eleven passes for 187 yards and a touchdown.  Forty-five of those reception yards came on a one-handed, falling-down circus catch in the third quarter.  His TD grab was almost as good.

Arizona had to replace seven defensive starters from last season, but you would have never known it against Toledo, which did not score on the Wildcat defense (the Rockets’ only two points came on a safety called for offensive holding in the end zone).

Arizona is as good a bet as any team to make a run at the Pac-10 title.  Oregon, the defending champ (and coming off a 72-0 demolition of hapless New Mexico), probably has to be the favorite, but if the Ducks slip it’s possible the Wildcats could be the team to make the move to the top and claim the school’s first Rose Bowl trip.

Arizona was picked in the middle of the conference pack in most preseason polls, likely thanks to getting manhandled 33-0 in the Holiday Bowl by a certain Mr. Suh and Nebraska.  Its most recent impression among those who vote in pre-season polls was not a good one.  Otherwise, I think a team with the talent (particularly on offense) that Arizona has might have been nationally ranked to start the season.

Arizona’s coach is Mike Stoops, also known as “Bob Stoops’ brother”.  He has very slowly built the program since arriving in 2004 (wins per year:  3, 3, 6, 5, 8, 8).  Some Arizona supporters have become a bit impatient.  He needs to have a good year this year.  He’s probably going to have one, so I wouldn’t assign him “hot seat” status, but if the Wildcats were to tank this season, I think he would be out the door.

It could be a long night for The Citadel.  In fact, it would be surprising if it weren’t.  The problem is that the defense is going to have some matchup problems (particularly with Criner), and will not be likely to get much help from the offense.

Last season against BCS foe North Carolina the defense got no help from the offense either, but the UNC offense wasn’t dynamic enough to take full advantage of its field position and time of possession.  As a result, the Bulldogs lost, but only by a 40-6 score.  Arizona may not have as good a defense as UNC did, but The Citadel’s offense will be worse (as it is still in its embryonic stage in the triple option) and the Wildcat offense is considerably more talented than the Heels’ O was.

I wrote about some on-field things that concerned me in my review of the Chowan game.  I am hoping that the blocking improves, that the quarterbacks get more comfortable taking the snap and making the proper reads, and that the defense does a better job in assignments and tackling.   Against Arizona, I don’t really expect to see much visible progress from the offense, although I am willing to be pleasantly surprised.

I do think that the one player who might not be physically out of place in the game for The Citadel’s offense is Domonic Jones.  I could see him making a play or two.  First, of course, the QB has to get him the ball, or at least give him a chance to get the ball.

On the other hand, I do expect the defense, even against a squad as talented as the Wildcats, to avoid multiple mental errors and not miss tackles.  That should happen. If it doesn’t, things could get ugly.

I’ll be watching anyway…

Variety Pack: The Citadel’s uniform follies, another transfer, a tough loss ESPN left out, Plant of the Week

Yes, it’s another edition of the Variety Pack, a new TSA series that debuted a couple of weeks ago.  The idea is to write briefly (I hope) on a few different topics without having to be mindful of the 140-character limit of my Twitter tweets.

Last year, I wrote what amounted to a manifesto on The Citadel’s uniform history.  I concluded the screed with this:

To sum up:  simple is best, get the name of the school right, and don’t screw up the colors.  That’s all.

I haven’t seen pictures of this year’s jerseys/pants yet, but according to some folks in the know who post on TCISN, The Citadel will feature (at least in some games) navy jerseys this year, with light blue numerals and “CITADEL” across the front in white.  I would like to think this isn’t true, but I’m sure it is, since North Carolina wore a similar jersey last season.  (We are apparently one year behind UNC in all things Nike-related.)

Navy is an accent color for The Citadel’s athletic teams, not a primary color.  Light blue and white are our primary athletic colors.  Last season, of course, the football team broke out navy pants, wearing them with both white and (most memorably) light blue jerseys.  This season the Bulldogs will apparently have the opportunity to wear an all-navy ensemble on occasion (with a light blue helmet).

Basically, it’s the exact opposite of what I would have liked.  The Citadel will have uniforms that do not include the proper school name, and that do not feature the appropriate school colors.  I apologize in advance if I’m jumping the gun on this, but that’s the information I have at present.

Tangent:  speaking of UNC, I’m not sure why that school is so willing to move away from its traditional color combination, which is very popular. I guess there is money to be made in mixing it up a little, but I think it detracts from a classic look.

As far as the helmets go, some pictures of the new helmet design popped up earlier this spring on TCISN.  The “regular” one reminds me of The Citadel’s helmet design during the Charlie Taaffe era.  It’s not bad, and in fact is a probably a little better than the Taaffe helmets.  You could do worse (and The Citadel certainly has).

There will also be a special helmet for Homecoming featuring “Big Red”.  I like the concept and the execution isn’t terrible, but it’s basically a copy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers helmet.  I could do without the sword (incorporating a rifle might have been a better idea).  You can see pictures of both helmets on this thread.

You know, if you wanted to design a distinctive jersey to go with the special Homecoming helmet, and you wanted to also honor the past, this photo might be a good place to start.

When I wrote about graduate student transfers a few weeks ago (and I appreciate the comments, by the way — always good to get feedback), Chuck Driesell had just signed a transfer from Belmont, Mike Dejworek.  Evidently Driesell was not satisfied with just one European-born grad student big man named Mike, because a couple of weeks later he brought in another.

Morakinyo “Mike” Williams is an Englishman who started his career at Kentucky (recruited by Tubby Smith) before transferring to Duquesne, where he played one season before moving again, this time to The Citadel.  Not everyone at Duquesne was expecting his latest move.

It will be interesting to see how Williams does.  He reportedly did not get along with former UK coach Billy Gillispie, which is probably a positive.  I think it’s safe to say that he will be the first player in Bulldog hoops history to have previously been deported from the United States (that had to have been tough).  Also, in his year at Kentucky he picked up a nickname — he was known as “The Member”.  I’m afraid to ask.

ESPN.com, setting the stage for another college football season, ran a series last week called “House of Pain”, featuring the 50 toughest losses in college football history.  It wasn’t a bad list, but there were two minor problems with it (in my opinion):

1)  It focused a little too much on recent history.  It wasn’t terribly slanted, but there was some TV-era bias.  I’m sure Beano Cook would agree (although I was glad to see that the Boston College-Holy Cross game from 1942 made it; an underappreciated game with an epilogue worthy of O. Henry).

2)  More importantly, most of the losing teams involved in the games on ESPN’s list could always take solace that on other occasions they had won the big game.  Maybe Miami and Ohio State and Alabama and Nebraska and Southern Cal have all lost tough games — but they’ve also won big games, on multiple occasions.  To me, a truly tough loss is when a school with limited success has a chance to climb the mountain, and then falls flat on its face.

West Virginia losing to Pittsburgh a few years ago was a good example, and made the list.  Another game that made the list, but which should have ranked much higher, was Missouri-Iowa State (from 2004).  How often are the Cyclones going to have a chance to play in a conference title game?

The game I immediately thought about when the list began to be released, though, is nowhere to be found….this one.

Navy 38, South Carolina 21.  November 18, 1984.

South Carolina was, incredibly, 9-0.  Black Magic!  The Gamecocks could have accepted a bid to the Sugar Bowl after beating Florida State the week before, but held out for a trip to the Orange Bowl and a potential (mythical) national title game.  All they had to do to clinch the Orange Bowl was beat a Navy team coming off a 29-0 loss to Syracuse.

It didn’t happen.  South Carolina lost the game, the chance to be ranked #1 for the first time (which would have occurred had the Gamecocks won), a shot at a national title, and a berth in a major bowl for the first time in school history.

Twenty-six years later, and Gamecock fans are still waiting for their first ticket to a major bowl.  That game is the very definition of a painful loss.

Finally, it’s time for the Plant of the Week.  This week’s honoree is the Rubrum Lily, which made its way to Europe from Japan in 1830 (or thereabouts).

Until next time…

Rubrum Lily

Thoughts on The Citadel and transfers

When I write about The Citadel and transfers, I want to first distinguish between basic types.  One of them is the three-year transfer.  It’s a little bit unusual, but not rare, for someone to spend his or her freshman year at another school, and then transfer into The Citadel.

Now, the “system” at The Citadel is designed for a four-year student.  In other words, the typical member of the corps of cadets spends four years at the school, and those four years have very specific benchmarks.  However, it is possible (and not particularly difficult) for a student to transfer in and spend three years in the corps, and have essentially the same experience as a four-year student.  Basically, the sophomore/junior years are combined.

I don’t know anyone associated with The Citadel who has a problem with a three-year transfer athlete representing the school.  I certainly don’t.  It doesn’t happen often, to be sure.  Recently Kenny Manigault, who played high school basketball in the Charleston area for Pinewood Prep, announced he was transferring from Wichita State to The Citadel. Manigault will have three years of athletic eligibility, and will presumably be spending (at least) three years in the corps of cadets.

Another athlete who will be transferring in to The Citadel is Blane Woodfin, who originally committed to Air Force, but was not admitted to the AFA (reportedly because of a physical problem).  Woodfin attended Montana State last year but did not play football, and will thus apparently have four years of athletic eligibility remaining at The Citadel, not three.

These are not transfers likely to cause any cantankerous old alum heartburn, even though Manigault called Chuck Driesell “real laid back”, which is the first time I’ve ever heard anyone call Driesell laid back.  The Citadel as an institution, as Manigault and Woodfin will soon learn (if they don’t know already), is certainly not laid back…

However, there is another type of transfer that has been popping up more and more at The Citadel in recent years, the “fifth-year” transfer.

This started in football, where a player can transfer from an FBS school to an FCS school and play immediately.  The “trailblazer” in this category for The Citadel was Jeff Klein, a quarterback who transferred from Auburn and played one year for The Citadel (2002).

He was followed the next season by former Clemson QB Willie Simmons and ex-Duke defensive back Anthony Roberts.  Those three players played for The Citadel under former coach (and alum) Ellis Johnson.  In recent years, Kevin Higgins has had two fifth-year transfers — his son, wideout Tim Higgins (who originally played for Florida), and tight end B.J. Phillips (North Carolina).

All of these guys graduated from their original schools and played one year as graduate students for The Citadel, except for Phillips (who had two years of athletic eligibility in football remaining after graduating from UNC).

As students in The Citadel Graduate College, none of these players were members of the corps of cadets (indeed, it’s possible none of them even attended classes with cadets, as graduate classes at The Citadel are held at night).

Reports vary on how seriously these graduate student athletes attempted to bond with their teammates, tried to understand/appreciate what cadets go through, etc.  My general impression, which could be wrong, is that Simmons and the younger Higgins made an effort to try and “jell” with the team and school; Klein, not so much.  Phillips, of course, still has one year left on the football team.

These one-year-only players were not a factor in basketball at The Citadel because there was no lower classification within Division I for them to transfer to without penalty (in other words, no FBS/FCS distinction).  At least, they weren’t a factor until last year, when Joe Wolfinger transferred to The Citadel after graduating from Washington.

Wolfinger had his degree and one year of athletic eligibility in basketball remaining, and he used that year to play basketball at The Citadel, thanks to a technicality.  As this article explained:

Wolfinger will be a fifth-year senior next season and is apparently eligible to play immediately at The Citadel because he has graduated from UW and will enter a Master’s program at The Citadel that is not offered at Washington.

Wolfinger is gone, and so is Ed Conroy, but Chuck Driesell has decided to bring in his own tall transfer for this upcoming season:

Mike Dejworek, a 6-11 center from Belmont University, will play one season for the Bulldogs as a graduate student, new coach Chuck Driesell confirmed…

…Dejworek, a native of Ulm, Germany, sat out last season with a shoulder injury after playing three years for Belmont. In 2008-09, he played in 24 games and started one for a 20-13 Belmont team, averaging 1.7 points and 1.6 rebounds. He was a reserve on a Belmont team that made the NCAA tournament his sophomore season.

I presume that, like Wolfinger, Dejworek will be enterering a Master’s degree program at The Citadel that is not offered by Belmont.

There are plenty of alums who are less than crazy about athletes competing on varsity teams without ever being part of the corps of cadets.  Ken Burger, then the sports editor of The Post and Courier, wrote about this as far back as 2003:

…the school’s old guard is very vocal about this troublesome trend. They say these young men never spent a single day at The Citadel and don’t deserve the privilege of wearing the school’s uniform. Even its football uniform…

…Over the next three months we will find out how this experiment works out for [Ellis] Johnson’s program and The Citadel. And, there will be plenty of people watching and judging from the sidelines…

…While it’s easy to say the old school should stick to the old ways, there’s another side of this controversy that can’t be ignored.

The Citadel’s military counterpart, VMI, recently left the SoCon and downgraded to the Big South Conference because the Keydets could no longer compete…

Ah, yes, the old “we just can’t compete” crutch.  Poor, pitiful puppies; how can our coaches ever win?

First, the obvious.  Charlie Taaffe won a Southern Conference title in football without any non-cadet help.  He beat South Carolina and Arkansas and Army and Navy, and all of his players were in the corps of cadets.

Brief tangent:  Just for clarification, Taaffe did occasionally have some fifth-year guys who had already graduated and had an extra year of eligibility remaining after redshirting, but all of them had spent four years in the corps.  That is a completely different situation than the fifth-year ‘program’ I’m discussing in this post, of course.

Eddie Teague won a SoCon title back in the day, too, with members of the corps of cadets.  It’s not easy (after all, The Citadel has just those two league titles in football), but it can be done.

Meanwhile, the fifth-year recruits have not exactly led to dramatic success on the gridiron.  Klein set lots of passing records in 2002, but the team went 3-9.  With Simmons at quarterback (and Roberts in the defensive backfield)  in 2003, the Bulldogs improved to 6-6.  Tim Higgins’ one season at The Citadel came in 2007, the only season since 1997 in which the Bulldogs have finished with a winning record (7-4).

In hoops, Wolfinger did not prove to be a difference-maker last year, as The Citadel went 16-16, a season that followed a 20-13 campaign.  Wolfinger got progressively less playing time as the year went on, as he turned out not to be a particularly good fit for The Citadel’s style of play.

There is another aspect to this, the “recruited over” concern.  If you are a promising high school football player and you are considering The Citadel, should you be worried about the possibility that down the road, when it’s finally time for you to become a regular, the coach will suddenly bring in some graduate student to take your position?  Being recruited over is something normally associated with players at big-time college basketball programs, not The Citadel.

Those are the on-field results and issues.   What about the off-the-field repercussions?

— The essence of The Citadel, the part that differentiates it from other schools, is the corps of cadets.  Our athletic teams are supposed to represent the students at the military college.  What statement is the school making when it elects to offer opportunities to varsity athletes who have never been a part of the military environment?

— For that matter, the athletic teams represent the alumni as well.  Am I supposed to identify with varsity athletes who did not go through the same experiences that I did?

— If I have misgivings as an alumnus about identifying with these athletes, just imagine how the current members of the corps of cadets must feel.

— There is also the public perception.  Many outsiders are impressed that The Citadel can compete at all with the inherent disadvantages of being a military school.  When you bring in players from outside that environment, do you know what the general public calls them?  Ringers. (So do some alums.)

At that point The Citadel becomes “just another school” in the minds of some people.  Is that something that the powers-that-be at The Citadel want?

I might add that the perception issue is magnified when the player plays a high-profile position (like quarterback) in football.  In basketball, there aren’t that many players, so almost any player is highly visible.

Having said all that, I don’t blame any of the individual coaches for bringing in graduate students.  Coaches are trying to win.  Winning is not easy to do at The Citadel, so it’s not surprising that coaches try to work the system as much as possible.

Coaches also tend to have a narrower focus; it’s hard to expect Chuck Driesell, for example, to consider how a graduate student playing basketball may affect the school, in terms of the big picture.   Driesell is just trying to find a big man who can rebound.

The administration has the responsibility of telling the coaches to focus solely on recruiting players who will be part of the corps of cadets.  It appears that, for whatever reason(s), the current administration does not share the concerns that have been expressed by some alums.

Maybe the thinking from General Rosa and company is that one or two exceptions don’t really matter.  I don’t know.  It’s also possible that the school wants to have occasional graduate student varsity athletes, in an effort to promote the Graduate College.

I tend to doubt that having an occasional hoopster or football player in the graduate school is going to raise the profile of the CGC, although I couldn’t blame the school for trying every avenue to promote it.  The CGC is an opportunity for The Citadel to make money, which the school needs to do.

Over the past few years, the military college has gradually become simply a state school, as opposed to a state-supported school.  That’s because the State of South Carolina continues to cut back on funding for higher education (in general, the state legislature believes higher education should end after the third grade).

[Sorry for the political jibe, but honestly, our state’s lack of commitment to education is embarrassing.]

In closing, one thing I want to emphasize is that I don’t have anything against the players who enter the school as graduate students.  They are taking advantage of a great opportunity, as well they should.  I wish them well, and I hope they are successful in class and on the field of play.  I will be rooting for them, as I do anyone who represents my alma mater.

I just wish the administration would revisit the current policy.  I strongly believe that varsity athletes at The Citadel should all come from the corps of cadets.  I know my opinion doesn’t really matter, but I also know that I’m not the only person who feels this way about transfers and varsity athletics.

Yes, I’m ready for football season…