2013 Football, Game 5: 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 28. The game will not be televised, although it will be streamed on Bulldog Insider (subscription service) and can be heard on radio via the thirteen affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze roaming the sidelines and Walt Nadzak providing pre-game, halftime, and post-game commentary.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for the network; the station will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game. 

Also, as pointed out in a comment below, it’s possible to listen to the game via a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Furman game notes

SoCon weekly release

Kevin Higgins on the SoCon media teleconference

The Kevin Higgins Show

Bruce Fowler on the SoCon media teleconference

TV promotional spot for the game

Article on Ben Dupree in The Post and Courier

Furman’s Jordan Snellings will be “back in full force” for the game against The Citadel

The Paladins will have a home-and-home series with South Carolina State in 2014-15

Furman has a new secondary logo, because its primary logo “reflects a country club mentality”

Quick thoughts on the game against Old Dominion:

— Brandon McCladdie had 14 tackles in the game, twice as many as any other Bulldog. I hope he spent some extra time in the whirlpool this week.

— The Citadel had eleven possessions; on those drives, the Bulldogs scored eight touchdowns and kicked a field goal. ODU matched both the TDs and FG in twelve possessions (not counting its final drive of the second half as a possession).

— Thanks in part to ODU’s onside kicks and its fumbled kickoff, the time of possession in the second half varied wildly from the third quarter to the fourth. The Citadel only had the football for 4:18 of the third quarter, but held the pigskin for 12:36 of the final period.

— There was considerable discussion in the press about Bobby Wilder calling for three onside kicks during the game, but to be honest both coaches may have been better off trying onside kicks after every score. We’re talking about a game in which over five points were scored per possession. An extreme rate like that has to be considered when evaluating the risk/reward of an onside kick.

— Ultimately, I’m not sure how much The Citadel can take from the Old Dominion game, either offensively or defensively. During the SoCon teleconference, Kevin Higgins referred to the game as an “anomaly” when asked a question by Chattanooga sportswriter John Frierson, and I think anomaly is a fair adjective to use in describing the events in Norfolk.

Higgins pointed out that ODU rarely sees the option, as opposed to SoCon programs like Furman, which has faced it three times each season for several years. Based on the game against the Bulldogs, and two recent playoff matchups with Georgia Southern, it seems apparent that ODU still has no real idea of how to properly defend the triple option.

Conversely, it’s hard to worry too much about the defense’s struggles against the Monarchs, because ODU’s offense has gone into overdrive against a lot of teams. New Hampshire was good enough to make the FCS playoffs last season; the Wildcats allowed 730 yards passing to Taylor Heinicke and company.

I guess what I’m saying is not to read too much into the fact that The Citadel averaged 8.3 yards per play on offense against ODU, and allowed 7.2 yards per play on defense.

— I suppose the special teams kick return unit has some things it can work on this week, though.

— Oh, one last thing: going for two was the right call. I think almost every Bulldog fan agreed with Higgins’ decision, too. It’s rare to see such near-unanimity for that situation.

The coach made an excellent observation about the decision when discussing it with Danny Reed during his coaches’ show. Higgins noted that it wasn’t an absolute end-of-game call, as there was 1:39 remaining in the contest after Jake Stenson’s TD catch drew the Bulldogs within one point. ODU was presumably going to get the ball back with a chance to win, but the pressure (and approach) would have been very different if the Monarchs were trailing, rather than tied.

This will be the third time in four years Furman and The Citadel will meet in September. This is way too early for some people (okay, maybe most people), but as I’ve noted before, the series has been moved around on the calendar throughout the years.

It has been played in October more than any other month. I hope the SoCon considers setting up the matchup for an October meeting every year going forward.

Speaking of conference scheduling, I noticed in Furman’s game notes that the Paladins will play at Mercer in the second week of next season. That will be a league game (probably Mercer’s first). The league actually hasn’t officially released its 2014 schedule yet (that is expected to happen in October).

There is going to be some home-away shifting because of the transition from App/GSU/Elon to Mercer/VMI (and later, ETSU). One thing I would like to see from The Citadel’s perspective is for the league to “split” Furman and Wofford in terms of home and away. Right now, The Citadel plays both upstate schools at home in odd-numbered years and on the road in even-numbered years.

I think it would be more beneficial to play one game in the upstate every year, and one in Charleston. In other words, in years Furman comes to Charleston, The Citadel would travel to Wofford (and vice versa). Upstate alumni could then count on one “home” game for themselves every season.

Furman fired Bobby Lamb after the 2010 season, a campaign in which the Paladins went 5-6. The school had missed the FCS playoffs in four consecutive seasons, and so a change was deemed necessary.

However, at the time it was fair to ask if Furman had actually made a change at all after it hired Bruce Fowler to replace Lamb. Fowler was yet another member of the Dick Sheridan coaching tree. While a school might do worse than grabbing a branch from that particular member of the forest, it could have been argued that Furman needed a different approach.

This is Fowler’s third season in Greenville as the head coach; he will arrive in Charleston on Saturday with a record of 10-15, including a 3-8 mark during last season’s campaign. The Paladins are 1-2 so far this season, suffering losses to Coastal Carolina and Gardner-Webb (each by 7 points). Furman’s victory came in its home opener two weeks ago against Presbyterian, a 21-20 final.

Losing to Gardner-Webb and CCU had to be disappointing for Paladin fans, particularly the setback in Boiling Springs. However, G-W later followed up its win over Furman with victories over Richmond and Wofford, so the Runnin’ Bulldogs may be better than expected.

The victory over PC, a program that hasn’t beaten Furman since 1979, did not inspire much confidence from the Paladin faithful either. It took a second-half comeback and a last-minute blocked field goal to keep Furman’s 15-game winning streak against the Blue Hose alive. The announced attendance for that game was only 6,500.

While the early results for Fowler haven’t been that great, it may be that Furman’s administration is willing to be patient during what could be described as a transitional period. The school has almost completed a major facilities upgrade for the football program. From Furman’s game notes:

This fall Furman will open the new Pearce-Horton Football Complex, a 44,000 square-foot, four-story facility that will serve as the new operational home for Furman football and include locker room, coaches’ offices, meeting rooms, sports medicine center, and “Heritage Hall.” The new building will also feature a club level and new press box…

…Furman’s Paladin Stadium sports a new playing surface this year following the installing of Shaw Sports Turf’s “PowerBlade Bolt” system, which replaces the original natural grass field that debuted with the opening of Paladin Stadium in 1981.

Furman wasn’t expected to compete for the league title this season, ranking fifth (not counting Georgia Southern or Appalachian State*) in both the SoCon media and coaches’ preseason polls (though one sportswriter gave FU a first-place vote).

*Last season, I was critical of a reference in Furman’s game notes, so I want to give the school’s sports information department credit for its approach to the league standings. Not only are those schools listed at the bottom of the league standings column put out by the school, but Furman also doesn’t credit App or GSU with any league wins or losses. The SoCon’s weekly release does list those schools with conference wins and losses (which it shouldn’t, in my opinion).

Reese Hannon, who started at quarterback for Furman in last season’s game against The Citadel, missed the opener at Gardner-Webb with a strained oblique. Dillon Woodruff became the first true freshman to start at quarterback in a season opener for the Paladins since 1956. Unfortunately, Woodruff broke his shoulder during the game and was lost for the season.

Hannon returned for the game against Coastal Carolina and is expected to start against the Bulldogs. In last year’s matchup between the two teams, Hannon did a solid job of leading the Paladin offense until he got hurt. Furman’s offense was never quite as effective after he left the contest.

At running back, Furman no longer has the services of the always-impressive Jerodis Williams, but it does return Hank McCloud, an excellent option in his own right who rushed for 100+ yards against Coastal Carolina and Presbyterian.

Last year, I thought the Paladins made a mistake by abandoning the run too early against The Citadel, not giving either of its quality running backs a carry in the entire fourth quarter. I don’t expect Furman to forget about McCloud in this game, particularly because the Paladins have not been very efficient in the passing game thus far (5.4 yards per attempt, 3 interceptions in 67 throws, and only a 51% completion percentage).

Furman’s offensive line is led by left tackle Dakota Dozier, the best player on the Paladins’ roster. Dozier, a four-year starter, is probably the league’s top offensive lineman and was named to several preseason All-American lists. According to his bio on the school website, the 6’5″, 303 lb. Dozier also plays the cello.

There is experience along the Paladin o-line at every position except right tackle, where two players have split the starts this year. Another thing worth noting (well, I think it’s worth noting) is that Dozier is also listed on Furman’s two-deep as the backup at left guard and right guard. I don’t know whether or not that says something about Furman’s depth.

At wide receiver, Jordan Snellings (who made the SoCon’s all-freshman team last season) is Furman’s big-play threat; he led the Paladins in touchdown receptions last year. Snellings has only played in one game so far in 2013 due to an ankle problem, but is supposed to back to full strength for this week’s game.

Gary Robinson, Furman’s starting flanker, caught a 70-yard touchdown pass in the Gardner-Webb game and added a 23-yard TD reception versus Coastal Carolina. His brother Terry Robinson is the Paladins’ backup QB; both brothers scored touchdowns against G-W.

The Citadel has historically struggled to contain Furman’s tight end, regardless of who was playing the position for the Paladins. My personal opinion is that your average farm animal could line up at tight end for Furman and catch 4 passes for 60 yards against the Bulldogs. This year, the starter is redshirt senior Cameron Mason, who began his college career at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Furman’s defense has been hit by a rash of injuries, particularly along the line. This week’s two-deep lists a “true” freshman starting at DT and redshirt freshmen backing up all four of the DL spots. In all, the Paladins have a redshirt or true freshman listed as the backup for all but one defensive position (middle linebacker).

The most recent injury among the starters was suffered by defensive end Shawn Boone, who tore his ACL in the week leading up to the game against Presbyterian. As a result, Furman has moved one of its starting DTs to end. The other defensive end spot is manned by preseason all-SoCon pick Gary Wilkins, formerly a linebacker. Wilkins is one of the Paladin defenders with significant experience; another is strong safety Greg Worthy, who will make his 30th career start in Saturday’s game.

Furman’s leading tackler is linebacker Cory Magwood, a sophomore who had 18 tackles against Gardner-Webb. Magwood suffered an ankle injury against PC but is slated to start against The Citadel. Fellow linebacker Carl Rider, also a sophomore, leads the Paladins in tackles for loss.

One of the things to watch will be how well the younger Paladin defensive players adapt to defending the option. Furman’s coaching staff has a lot of experience defending the offense, and the Paladins have generally fared well against it. Whether the coaches can get a large number of relatively inexperienced players up to speed on defending the option is open to question.

That’s why having the week off before playing The Citadel was a huge break for the Paladins. The bye came at a really good time for Furman.

Furman’s punter and placekicker is senior Ray Early, who made the preseason coaches’ All-SoCon team at both positions. Early converted a 52-yard field goal against The Citadel last season.

So far this year, Early is 0-3 on FG attempts.  However, his punting has been exemplary, averaging 46.4 yards per kick (42.8 net), with six of his eleven punts landing inside the 20-yard line. Eight of his thirteen kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks.

Hank McCloud and Gary Robinson are Furman’s kick returners. Starting nickel back Jairus Holloman returns punts for the Paladins. Holloman blocked the potential game-winning field goal to preserve Furman’s victory over Presbyterian.

Odds and ends:

– The Citadel is a ten-point favorite against Furman, according to various sources in Las Vegas. That strikes me as an absurdly large spread.

– On Saturday, The Citadel will wear a special “throwback” jersey/helmet combination. The jerseys will be auctioned off after the game.

This will be the second consecutive time the Bulldogs have worn an alternate jersey for a game in Johnson Hagood Stadium against Furman. In 2011, The Citadel wore its “Big Red” jerseys.

– The halftime show will feature The Citadel Pipe Band and the Charleston Police Department Pipe and Drums.

In my opinion, the key to Saturday’s contest will be if Furman’s mostly young defense can force more than its fair share of three-and-outs and/or six-and-outs against The Citadel’s offense. The longer the Bulldogs’ offense stays on the field, the more likely The Citadel will win the game.

One of the most interesting takeaways from the Bulldogs’ game against Old Dominion was the platooning of the offensive line, with the second unit getting a lot of snaps. I could see The Citadel doing that again versus a very thin Paladin defensive line, hoping for a repeat of last year’s game, when the Bulldogs scored 21 unanswered points in the third and fourth quarters.

Defensively, The Citadel must put consistent pressure on the quarterback, and force more turnovers. Sure, that’s obvious, but it’s obvious for a reason.

The Bulldogs were never able to sack ODU quarterback Taylor Heinicke, and the only turnover given up by the Monarchs came on a botched kickoff return. The defense has to do better than that against Furman.

I think it’s likely that Furman is better than its reputation. Neither of the Paladins’ losses is that bad. Furman gets one of its key difference-makers on offense back this week, has several impact defenders, and has had two weeks to get healthy and prepare for this game.

The Citadel should be more confident as a team than it was two weeks ago, but it has a tough task ahead of it. I believe this matchup is essentially a toss-up.

We’ll know for sure on Saturday.

John Feinstein’s misguided column about FBS-FCS matchups

Normally, I don’t post on this blog about specific articles, but I felt compelled to write something after reading John Feinstein’s recent column in The Washington Post.

Let’s start at the beginning, with the column heading:

College football: FBS vs. FCS games need to be limited

Feinstein then lists the scores of four one-sided games played last Saturday:  Florida A&M-Ohio State, Florida International-Louisville, Idaho State-Washington, and Savannah State-Miami (FL). Immediately it is apparent that there is a conflict between his theme and the column heading — namely that one of these matchups is not an FBS-FCS affair (FIU-Louisville). That doesn’t stop Feinstein:

Games like this have to stop. They have to stop because they are unfair — first and foremost — to the overmatched players who are publicly humiliated and beaten up playing against opponents who are much bigger, much stronger and much faster at every position. Florida A&M and Florida International combined for 100 yards of offense on Saturday against teams that totaled 148 points.

This is competition?

Later, he writes:

Some routs occur because reasonably good programs are having down seasons: Maryland-West Virginia is clearly a game worth playing even if it wasn’t worth seeing Saturday….Even Baylor’s 70-7 embarrassment of Louisiana-Monroe wasn’t a game that should not have been played. Monroe was coming off a big win (for it) over Wake Forest and got down quickly, and the game got way out of hand.

So it’s okay that ULM lost 70-7 to Baylor, but FIU’s 72-0 loss to Louisville led to its players being “publicly humiliated”. Got it. Never mind that ULM is in an FBS league (the Sun Belt) that FIU just left in a move “up” the ladder.

An unaware reader wouldn’t have known that FIU was actually an FBS squad until three-quarters of the way through the article:

Of course, Florida International is an FBS school. Schools like Old Dominion, Georgia Southern and Charlotte have all made the decision to transition into the FBS. Massachusetts, which won what was then the Division I-AA national title in 1998 and played in the championship game in 2006, is in its second season as an FBS team. The Minutemen are 1-15 so far and, to meet FBS stadium requirements, moved their home games 91 miles from campus to Gillette Stadium. On Saturday, an announced crowd of a little more than 16,000 watched U-Mass. lose 24-7 to Vanderbilt in the 68,000-seat stadium.

Clearly, there need to be stricter limits on who is allowed to move into the FBS….

…How’s it working out at U-Mass. so far? Old Dominion, also a very good FCS program, opened its season by giving up 99 points to East Carolina and Maryland.

Feinstein makes a decent point about a school possibly overreaching (UMass playing in Gillette), but ruins it with comparisons to ODU and Charlotte. The comment about Charlotte, in particular, is off the mark. The 49ers are only transitioning to FBS in the sense that the school needed a couple of years to get its brand-new program up to the necessary scholarship levels.

Old Dominion was a “very good FCS program”, to be sure, but one that only re-started its program four years ago. It has little history as an FCS school.

Also, I’m not sure giving up 99 points to ECU and Maryland says much about ODU’s future prospects in FBS. For one thing, the Monarchs only lost to ECU by 14 points.

ODU did lose to Maryland by 37 points.  Two weeks later, that same Maryland squad beat West Virginia by…37 points. For some reason, though, Feinstein thought that Maryland-WVU was “clearly a game worth playing”.

Feinstein also proposed this idea:

The question then becomes how do you tell North Dakota State or other quality FCS programs they can schedule FBS teams but tell Savannah State, Florida A&M and Eastern Kentucky they cannot schedule them…

…Pass a rule that allows any FCS school that qualifies for the 20-team NCAA tournament to schedule one future game against an FBS school. Each time you make the tournament, you get the right to schedule another game…

If you aren’t good enough to make the FCS tournament, you aren’t good enough to schedule an FBS school…

What’s more, any FBS school that schedules an FCS team is automatically ineligible for that season’s four-team national championship playoff…

There will still be plenty of FBS schools that will play FCS schools…

This is so bad, I hardly know where to start…

I guess I’ll begin by correcting an error in the column. This year, the FCS tournament will include 24 teams, not 20.

Feinstein’s idea that only FCS playoff participants should be allowed to schedule FBS schools falls apart for numerous reasons. Just to mention some of them:

– The 24-team playoff field includes automatic qualifiers from leagues with schools that don’t offer the full 63-scholarship allotment. One of those conferences, the Pioneer League, consists of institutions that don’t offer any scholarships at all.

So in that scenario, Northern Iowa (which did not make the FCS playoffs last year) can’t schedule an FBS opponent unless it returns to the postseason; UNI is a member of the very competitive Missouri Valley Football Conference. However, a school like Drake could schedule the likes of Iowa or Iowa State if it won the Pioneer League.

I am using the Iowa schools as examples because this season, Northern Iowa played an FBS school, Iowa State — and defeated the Cyclones in Ames, 28-20. As it happens, UNI played Drake the following week, and won that game 45-14.

– Another problem with this suggestion is it eliminates the SWAC schools from being able to schedule FBS teams, because that conference doesn’t participate in the FCS playoffs. (Neither does the Ivy League.)

– Feinstein believes there “will still be plenty of FBS schools” that would schedule FCS squads even if doing so made those FBS schools ineligible for the postseason playoff. I suspect otherwise.

He names a number of FBS schools, mostly well-regarded academic institutions like Vanderbilt and Duke. I don’t think there is a chance that any of the BCS member schools would schedule an FCS team in that situation; I seriously doubt their conferences would permit it.

Imagine if Vanderbilt won the SEC but couldn’t compete in the national playoffs because it had played Tennessee State during the season. Do you think Mike Slive would allow even that slim possibility to happen?

Feinstein mentioned certain schools that aren’t considered by most people to be serious contenders for their respective league titles, now or in the future. Notice a couple of similar schools that he doesn’t mention, though — Stanford and Northwestern. Ten years ago, Stanford would have been in that same sentence with Vandy and Duke.

I don’t think most of the non-BCS schools would schedule FCS schools under those circumstances, either. Maybe a few would, but not many.

– He does add that exceptions can be made for traditional matchups, mentioning Villanova-Temple. This would obviously lead to issues with fairness, and also what constitutes a “traditional” game. Besides, what is really different from that and (for example) Clemson or South Carolina annually playing an FCS school from the Palmetto State? Not much.

There may be a legitimate case to be made that the number of FBS-FCS matchups in college football should be reduced. I don’t really believe that, to be honest, but I’m willing to acknowledge a decent argument.

John Feinstein’s column is not such an argument.

2013 Football, Week 4: The Citadel vs. Old Dominion

The Citadel at Old Dominion, to be played in Norfolk, Virginia, on the grounds of Foreman Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 21. The game can be heard on radio via the thirteen affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze roaming the sidelines. The contest will also be televised in the Hampton Roads (VA) metropolitan area by Cox Communications, with play-by-play from Doug Ripley and analysis by John Bunting.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, is the flagship station for The Citadel Sports Network; audio of the game is also available at Bulldog Insider.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Old Dominion game notes

SoCon weekly release

SoCon media teleconference: The Citadel head coach Kevin Higgins

The Kevin Higgins Show

Video of ODU head coach Bobby Wilder’s Monday press conference (with a transcript)

ODU improves, now prepares for The Citadel

Kevin Higgins says that ODU is ahead of Appalachian State and Georgia Southern in its FBS transition

Catching up with…Brandon McCladdie

Strength and Conditioning video, featuring the football travel squad

A few thoughts on the game against Western Carolina:

– Each team had eight possessions in the game (not counting The Citadel’s touchdown off of a fumbled punt as a possession). With so few drives, it becomes even more important to cash in on opportunities.

You can argue about the play call that led to the Bulldogs’ only turnover of the game. I understand the notion that the play was open for a TD before the untimely deflection.

I think the decision to pass was probably a mistake, though, not as much because of the result but for the fact that 14 of The Citadel’s previous 16 plays (all rushes) had resulted in a gain of at least  five yards. There was no reason at that point in the game to believe the Catamounts were going to hold the Bulldogs to less than eight yards over the next three plays (assuming The Citadel would have gone for it on 4th down if necessary).

Then there was the sequence at the end of the first half. The Citadel probably missed a chance at either a TD or an easier field goal attempt by not calling a timeout once inside the Catamounts’ 40-yard line. I can understand the reasoning (why give the other team momentum when you’re up 21-0), but the field position definitely was in the Bulldogs’ favor. The Citadel had all three timeouts available, but elected not to use any of them until only four seconds remained in the half.

– A bunch of the “true” freshmen came to play. Devan Robbins. Tyler Renew. Tevin Floyd. Also mixing it up are guys like Jorian Jordan, Nick Jeffreys, Ryan Bednar, Rudder Brown, and DeAndre Schoultz.

All of them can and will help the Bulldogs all season long. That’s an especially good thing at The Citadel, which has historically struggled with depth. So far, so good for this year’s crop of freshmen.

– Not committing any penalties in a league road game is very impressive.

– Carl Robinson had nine more tackles in the WCU game. He is now tied for the SoCon lead in tackles for the season, with 39. James Riley led the Bulldogs in tackles against the Catamounts, with eleven.

Old Dominion was founded in 1930. It was originally an extension of the College of William & Mary, set up in Norfolk as a two-year school. The following year, Virginia Tech began offering classes at what came to be known as “The Division” (a nickname/setup that is vaguely reminiscent of “The Arsenal”).

The school would eventually become a four-year institution (first awarding bachelor’s degrees in 1956), was spun into an independent entity in 1962, and attained university status in 1969.

Incidentally, Old Dominion College was chosen as the new name of the independent school in 1962 over (among others) College of the Atlantic and Thomas Jefferson College.

The school played football from 1930 to 1941, competing as the “Braves” (the Monarchs nickname came about in 1961). As a two-year college, the Norfolk Division compiled a record of 62-19-4 in twelve seasons. One of the nineteen losses came against Miami (FL); the Hurricanes apparently thought they were scheduled to play William & Mary, and wound up competing against the Braves instead (the final was 6-2).

The football program was dropped when a rule was passed that precluded freshmen from playing. However, Foreman Field (built in 1936) remained, and served as the host of the Oyster Bowl for many years. Foreman Field was the site where The Citadel’s Gene Brown rushed for 286 yards in a 1988 game against VMI (on only 13 carries); it also was the setting for a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young concert in 1974.

The Citadel played four times in the Oyster Bowl at Foreman Field, all matchups with VMI, winning three of those contests.

By the time the 21st century rolled around, it occurred to a few people that it might be neat for ODU to have a football team again, particularly since it was now a four-year school with almost 20,000 undergraduate students, and located in an area noted for having a lot of talented football players. In other words, it was a natural.

Bobby Wilder, then an assistant at Maine, was hired to revive the program, and in 2009 the Monarchs returned to the gridiron. Wilder has orchestrated a very successful startup.

ODU is 39-12 during his tenure, including an 11-2 record last year. The success of the team on the field, as well as the support off of it (home games at 20,068-seat Foreman Field are regularly sold out), certainly helped the school gain admission to Conference USA, where it will begin play next year as a full-fledged member of that league.

The school’s decision process for moving to FBS took about 6 1/2 weeks, which is borderline insane. Actually, forget borderline — it’s just insane. A good read on that time period can be found here: Link

There are many things to digest from that article. I’ll just mention two of them:

– Halfway through that 6 1/2 week period, ODU called fifteen of its biggest donors to gauge their interest in FBS football. The result of those calls: $3 million raised in less than two weeks.

– During that time, Old Dominion representatives talked to CUSA honchos, of course, and also had discussions with league officials from the MAC, Atlantic 10, ACC, and Big East — but never spoke to anyone from the Sun Belt.

From The Post and Courier:

ODU’s quick rise is due to three main factors: Quarterback Taylor Heinicke, a 6-1, 205-pound junior from Atlanta; a rabid fan base that has sold out all 30 of its home games to date at 20,068-seat Ballard Stadium, and bought more than 14,000 season tickets for this season; and the fertile recruiting area around its home base in Norfolk, Va.

“It’s amazing to see what they’ve done,” [Kevin] Higgins said. “You look at teams like Georgia State that have struggled making that adjustment. People don’t realize how fervent a football area Virginia Beach is. They put a team there, and now everyone is coming out to see them.

“They picked the right guy in Bobby Wilder, a guy from a solid program in Maine. And he hit right away on this guy Taylor Heinicke.”

Did he ever, coach. Did he ever.

Heinicke won the Walter Payton Award as the top player in FCS last season, passing for 5,076 yards and 44 touchdowns last season.

Heinicke threw 7 TD passes against Campbell, but that wasn’t even his best game. Nor was his 6-TD performance in the playoffs against Coastal Carolina.

No, Heinicke’s most absurd day came against New Hampshire, a come-from-behind 64-61 victory in which he threw for 730 (!) yards and five touchdowns. He also rushed for 61 yards in that game (he’s versatile enough to have rushed for 11 TDs last season).

He’s really, really good, and The Citadel’s D has its work cut out. Last week against Howard, Heinicke threw for 406 yards in a little over two quarters of action. That 406-yard effort didn’t even crack his personal best top 5.

Against East Carolina (a 52-38 loss), Heinicke was 38-51 for 338 yards, completing passes to seven different receivers. He struggled the following week versus Maryland, with only 166 passing yards and three interceptions.

In terms of style and scheme, Higgins said ODU’s spread attack most resembles that of App State, among teams The Citadel has played in recent years.

“They are going to spread it out, and there will be a lot of bubble screens on the outside, trying to get matchups there,” he said. “And as good a thrower as the quarterback is, he is deceptively fast.”

Heinicke likes to spread the wealth, as the ECU game would attest, and he has a lot of options. Antonio Vaughan only caught one pass against Howard, but it was for 76 yards and a TD. Vaughan had three 100-yard receiving days last season.

Redshirt freshman Zach Pascal caught nine passes against Howard. Another wideout, Larry Pinkard, has 18 receptions in three games. Starting tailback Colby Goodwin can also catch the ball (11 receptions this year).

ODU has a lot of experience along the offensive line, with four returning starters who all weigh at least 300 lbs. Left guard David Born is 6’8″, 328 lbs. Right tackle D.J. Morrell is 6’6″, 330 lbs. Yes, they’re big.

The Monarchs scored 49 points in the first half against Howard, and 76 for the game. Among the things that might make a Bulldog fan shudder:

– ODU scored on its first 11 possessions. Nine of those scores were touchdowns.

– Nine of those eleven scoring drives were of less than two minutes’ duration.

Defensively, ODU has struggled. Part of that probably has to do with trying to replace six starters from last year’s team. How will that impact The Citadel as it runs the triple option?

Well, Old Dominion had major problems with Georgia Southern’s triple option attack in the FCS playoffs, allowing 1200 yards of total offense in two games against the Eagles. This year, the Monarchs have a new defensive coordinator, Rich Nagy. Also of note is that backup quarterback David Washington ran the triple option during ODU’s spring practice.

Strong safety Fellonte Misher is Old Dominion’s leading tackler, with eighteen through three games. Linebacker John Darr, a 232-lb. redshirt senior, is the second-leading tackler on the squad and had nine stops against Howard.

Starting middle linebacker Richie Staton is a true freshman, one of ten such freshmen on ODU’s two-deep.

Putting aside the triple option issue and focusing purely on this year’s ODU defense, it’s not the numbers from the ECU or Maryland games that would really concern a Monarchs fan. Let’s face it, plenty of teams wouldn’t be able to cover Maryland wide receiver Stefan Diggs.

The Howard game, though…hmm. Lost in the shuffle of ODU’s 76-19 obliteration of the Bison:

– Howard ran 85 plays on offense, including a staggering 51 in the first half, for 331 total yards. That’s in one half.

– The Bison had four drives of 60+ yards in the first half, and another that went for 49.

What did Howard in? Turnovers, five of them (Old Dominion had none). The Bison also were stopped on fourth-and-goal from the eight in the first half after a 74-yard drive. Thanks to two first-half turnovers and that stoppage on downs, ODU only allowed 10 points in the half. Five different Monarchs accounted for those five turnovers, by the way.

Old Dominion’s special teams include a fine placekicker, Jarod Brown, who has not missed a FG or PAT so far this season. Jake Walsh is ODU’s punter; in keeping with recent college football trends, he’s a native of Australia.

To recap, ODU scored on its first 11 possessions, while last week The Citadel only had 8 possessions the entire game. It is in the Bulldogs’ interest to keep that possession total down for both teams. Holding on to the football, both in terms of offensive time of possession and turnover avoidance, is critical against the Monarchs.

There were 211 snaps in the Howard-Old Dominion game, according to Bobby Wilder. The Citadel needs to make sure that number is substantially lower.

Field position is something else to watch. ODU had a 76-yard kickoff return against the Bison, just one reason its average starting field position against Howard was the Monarchs’ 40-yard line. The Citadel’s special teams units must be at their best in Norfolk, or they will be punished.

Odds and ends:

– Saturday night’s game at Foreman Field has been designated a “blackout” for the home fans (the Howard game was a “whiteout”). It’s important to be color-coordinated for sporting events these days.

I’ve never quite bought into having a blackout for a night game, to be honest. I remember South Carolina having a blackout against Florida when Rex Grossman was the Gators’ quarterback. Asked about it after the game, Grossman said that it felt like no one was in the stands.

– The Citadel is getting a $250,000 guarantee for this game. Originally, the Bulldogs were supposed to play East Carolina this season, but ODU and ECU wanted to play each other, and a deal was worked out.

– ODU is a 17.5-to-18 point favorite over The Citadel, per various Las Vegas sources.

It could be argued that this is the least important game on The Citadel’s entire 2013 schedule (aside from that check for $250,000). That doesn’t mean it is meaningless.

A win would obviously go a long way to erasing the memory of a difficult start to the season, though it wouldn’t affect the SoCon race. It would be a nice chip if the Bulldogs made a late-season playoff push, to be sure.

What I want from this game (besides no injuries) is for the team to regain more of its confidence. The offense needs to continue to get back to where it was at the close of last season while incorporating some of the talented newcomers who have arrived on the scene.

The defense will get a stern test from ODU. It needs to be able to take some positives from the game, regardless of the final score. Playing ODU will at the very least be a good way to prepare for Appalachian State.

I’m not expecting a victory, though I’m not counting out the Bulldogs either.

I never do that.

Conference realignment: an open window to the world of the CAA (with guest appearances by the SoCon, America East, and Patriot League)

A few things I’ve written about conference realignment as it relates to the SoCon over the past few months (listing the most recent first):

Conference realignment, SoCon style: finally, expansion rather than contraction

Conference realignment, SoCon style: history repeats itself 

Conference realignment, SoCon style: the football/hoops conundrum

This post was inspired by some great work recently done by Shadesof48, a blog focused on William & Mary athletics. Shadesof48 sent in a Freedom of Information Act request to W&M. That request asked for information (primarily emails) from the Tribe’s AD, associate AD, an assistant AD, and the head football coach. The description of the FOI request was as follows:

[M]aterial regarding the school’s future plans about conference affiliation. For example, any correspondences between those people I listed and officials at the Colonial Athletic Association or other conferences as they relate to membership and composition of the Colonial Athletic Association or those other conferences (the Southern Conference, Conference USA, the Atlantic 10 conference, the Big South conference, the Patriot League, or the Sun Belt Conference).

Shadesof48 received copies of 45 emails (with a few attachments) as a result of the request, and published its findings in two posts. The first post delved into emails relating to William & Mary and a possible move to the Patriot League. The second post, released last week, was a look at emails directly tied to CAA realignment discussion.

What I want to do is look at this information in relation to other moves taking place concurrently, and what else had been reported — follow a timeline of events, if you will. By combining information that was already acknowledged with what has been divulged via the CAA emails, a more complete picture of the events of the last two years can be created.

Before reading the rest of my post, I would highly recommend reading both Shadesof48 posts. As I noted earlier, that blog did an excellent job acquiring and then putting together the information, with appropriate analysis to boot. Again, links to those posts: here (William & Mary/Patriot League discussions) and here (general CAA expansion hijinks).

In the spring of 2012, things weren’t going so well for the CAA. Georgia State announced in April that it was departing the conference. In May, Virginia Commonwealth and Old Dominion both declared their intent to leave as well.

On the very day ODU announced it was heading to CUSA, CAA commissioner Tom Yeager called his opposite number with the SoCon, John Iamarino, to inform him that the CAA would be talking to multiple SoCon schools about making a switch. However, it appears that Yeager had already been talking to schools in other leagues.

One of those schools was Boston University, then a member of the America East conference and perhaps the CAA’s top choice as an expansion target. On June 15 of that year, however, BU made a surprise shift to the Patriot League, blindsiding Yeager and the CAA.

William & Mary director of athletics Terry Driscoll notified his school president, Taylor Reveley, of the startling news and noted that the league would “continue to explore institutions in the north.” Reveley’s response to BU’s move: “Not helpful.”

Three days later, a clearly concerned Yeager sent an email to Driscoll. For anyone who thought league commissioners don’t pay attention to message board/blog rumors, Yeager’s request for information might come as a surprise:

The blogosphere has the Patriot League recruiting W&M to be the 10th member. Supposedly a W&M Board meeting this week to consider. Any help?

That email was sent on June 18, 2012. Eight days later, Yeager sent another email to the CAA presidents/ADs in which he said:

…I would encourage you not to be too swayed by the latest internet or hallway rumor…We are spending more time calming people down and stomping out erroneous reports than responding to real situations.

Uh-huh. Do as I say, not as I do…

As Shadesof48 reveals, there was truth to the rumors about W&M/Patriot League talks. They had been going on for a while before Yeager’s email, and in fact at least some discussion had apparently taken place off-and-on for at least three years beforehand.

However, William & Mary wouldn’t become the 10th member of the Patriot League. That distinction fell to Loyola (MD), which accepted an invitation in August 2012.

Shadesof48 has a lot more information concerning W&M’s interest in the Patriot League. I’m not going to regurgitate it in this space. I would suggest, however, that Boston University’s jump was a jolt to the Tribe administration in two ways.

Not only did the CAA miss out on a school that would have been acceptable to William & Mary, BU’s move also affected W&M’s own position as a Patriot League candidate. With Loyola later joining Boston University in the fold, the Patriot League no longer had a pressing need for another all-sports member.

Now I’m going to move to the meat of the CAA/SoCon information. First, though, I want to point out that Tom Yeager had a very difficult task on his hands.

Yeager has been the only commissioner in the CAA’s entire 28-year history. It’s his league, and he is obviously devoted to it.

With specific regards to adding schools, he has had to deal with some of the same issues as the SoCon’s Iamarino. Those issues include a divide between football and non-football schools, geographic considerations, a public/private balance, and some hard-to-please personalities (we’ll get to Hofstra president Stuart Rabinowitz later).

It’s not an easy job. In general, though, Yeager has been good at navigating through some difficult waters.

I liked his April 2013 report/essay on “General Membership Perspectives”, which includes an excellent breakdown on basketball RPI. Yeager told his league presidents the truth after a tough year in hoops for the CAA:

I believe that we are scheduling properly to position our teams for at-large consideration. In 2012-13 we simply did not win enough, especially key games.

Yeager’s rundown of the basketball profiles of expansion candidates was good. He followed that up with an explanation of scheduling well worth reading, as it is solid, nuts-and-bolts information.

Having said all that, the CAA maneuvering about to be discussed isn’t pretty. It’s easy to second-guess after the fact, to be sure, but some of what the CAA tried to do would have been first-guessed.

The week after Yeager’s plea to William & Mary for an update, Adam Smith of the Burlington Times-News tweeted this:

Davidson, College of Charleston and App State – yes, App State – formally have been contacted by the CAA.

Davidson and the CofC weren’t surprises, but Appalachian State was. Smith would write an article the following week explaining why:

Appalachian State, if it were to join the CAA, would be expected to abandon its well-known pursuit of climbing from the Football Championship Subdivision to the top tier Football Bowl Subdivision, because the CAA competes on the FCS level.

That was never going to happen, not unless the CAA became an FBS conference. Why did the CAA think it was possible to land Appalachian State?

From a Yeager email sent to the league presidents on June 26, 2012:

Discussions at the commissioners’ meetings last week further confirms that App State is NOT on the potential expansion list of CUSA…As reported by [UNCW] Chancellor [Gary] Miller, the “dream” may take some time to evaporate, so a decision is not imminent.

The “dream”, in this case, was App’s move to the FBS. The problem with the CAA’s analysis was by that time, the powers that be at Appalachian State were committed to going the FBS route, and had a tagalong partner (Georgia Southern) in case the Sun Belt was the only landing spot.

I understand the basic idea behind approaching Appalachian State along with Davidson and College of Charleston as part of a three-school invite; App would offer geographic relief to Davidson/CofC while also satisfying the CAA’s football contingent (notably James Madison and Delaware). It’s just that by June of 2012, Appalachian State was about as realistic an option as North Carolina State.

Incidentally, in his story Adam Smith also stated that “per multiple sources”, Furman and the CAA had not been in contact with each other. That appears to be borne out by the CAA emails, though other “sources” had told ESPN’s Andy Katz that Furman was “on a lengthy list” (with Elon). That doesn’t mean Katz’s information was completely off base; it may be that the CAA’s prospective list was really, really long.

That June 26 email had other items of interest. Of Davidson, Yeager wrote:

As we agreed on the call last Monday [note: I think he is actually referring to the previous Monday, June 18], our plan is to ‘close out Charleston’ which hopefully will create a new dynamic in Davidson’s decision process.

Basically, the CAA decided to bring in CofC in order to force the issue for Davidson. This was not really a new strategy (as I’ve written before, the CAA has tried to put a serious dent in the Southern Conference at least three times since 1996). Ultimately, College of Charleston did join the CAA, the first time a SoCon school had made the direct SoCon-to-CAA switch (the CAA had been rebuffed in previous years by Davidson, Furman, Wofford, The Citadel, VMI, UNC-Greensboro, and yes, CofC).

Yeager also mentioned that “several [school] Presidents were interested in traveling to Charleston to meet with [CofC president George Benson] personally to answer any questions and move the process to conclusion.” This is one of the advantages of being located in Charleston; everyone is more than willing to take a trip to see you, even if an onsite visit isn’t really necessary.

His email on June 26 (it was an info-packed missive) also discussed football-only expansion. Albany and Stony Brook appeared more than ready to accept invites to help create a northern division for the CAA. However, there was a potential glitch.

Patriot League commissioner Carolyn Schlie Femovich had informed Yeager she was “pursuing several CAA schools for football membership”. Those schools were William & Mary, Richmond, Villanova, and New Hampshire. Said Yeager:

I have spoken directly with W&M and Villanova — and indirectly with UR — who all expressed that they are not interested. UNH however, appears very interested in considering the Patriot League…the whole northern expansion plan hangs with UNH.

Obviously, William & Mary had at least some degree of interest, based on the correspondence received by Shadesof48. Actually, a running theme of the emails is that the CAA office never had a very good grasp on what its member schools were considering, or what its expansion candidate schools were mooting as options.

For example, Davidson had evidently been approached by the Atlantic 10 early in 2012, and had been in talks with that league ever since. I’m not sure anyone affiliated with the CAA knew that. If Yeager did in fact know that, it’s not immediately apparent based on subsequent CAA machinations.

One other thing about that June 26 email: in the subject line, Yeager asserted attorney-client privilege. Of course, just asserting the privilege doesn’t mean it automatically applies. I think it’s fair to say that Shadesof48 has conclusively demonstrated it didn’t apply in this case…

On August 7, 2012, Albany and Stony Brook accepted football-only invitations from the CAA, becoming serious candidates (if they weren’t already) for full CAA membership as well. Adding the two schools for football had an additional benefit, as Rhode Island reversed course and elected to remain in the CAA for football (as opposed to moving to the NEC in that sport). That was a possibility Yeager had referenced in the June 26 email. In this case, his strategy paid off.

After a few delays, the CAA finally got a new all-sports member (not counting football) on November 30, 2012, when College of Charleston joined the league.

A major stumbling point back in October for several board members was the notion of creating a Southern division within the CAA — a conference that now stretches nearly 1,000 miles from Charleston to Boston.

“I would be shocked if the Colonial didn’t come up with a Southern division that all of the people that support the College of Charleston will be pleased with,” said College of Charleston athletic director Joe Hull.

It was the assurance of a Southern division within the CAA from the school’s administration that swayed trustee Jeff Schliz, who voted against the proposal back in October, to back the move on Friday.

“The administration, through its contacts within the Colonial Athletic Association, believes that there are a number of schools changing conferences and coming into the CAA,” Schliz said.

Alas, the CAA was unable to convince Appalachian State or Davidson to join CofC in making the move. As of August 2013, the “number of schools changing conferences and coming into the CAA” for all sports stands at one (Elon).

As I’ve said before, the CAA’s long-sought “expanded southern division” remains as elusive as the Kingdom of Prester John.

On January 24, 2013, Georgia Southern AD Tom Kleinlein spoke to a booster club in Savannah. His main purpose at the meeting was to tighten up fan support for GSU’s proposed move to FBS.

Kleinlein told the booster group that the SoCon was considering UNC-Wilmington, Richmond, and Mercer. His intent for stating this was basically to illustrate that the league and GSU were heading in different directions.

I have no idea if Kleinlein’s comments were based on fact. Mercer would eventually join the SoCon, of course, and theoretically Richmond would at least be a feasible football-only candidate. However, I’ve never seen this particular combination of schools mentioned by any other school official, or even from “internet sources”.

The inclusion of UNC-Wilmington was a bit curious because by early 2013, that school had become one of the primary CAA flag-wavers. UNCW owned a special kind of flag, though, one that waved even when there was no wind in the area.

UNCW chancellor Gary Miller became Yeager’s point man among the school presidents. From an email sent by Miller on February 20, 2013:

As the likelihood of the ‘Catholic 7’ from the Big East Conference increases so does the opportunity for the CAA to secure exciting new members. Our previous discussions about membership…demonstrated strong support among our membership for the addition of George Washington University, the University of Richmond and Davidson…I believe it is the feeling of most of us that we would consider reentry for VCU given the right circumstances. Davidson appears to be several years away from a serious consideration of conference realignment. It appears that GW, UR, and VCU will be ‘in play’ to some extent or another in the coming weeks requiring us to give Tom [Yeager] some clear authority to move forward on out behalf. To that end, I am asking you to consider approving the following instructions for [Yeager] in priority order.

I highlighted the part about Davidson being “several years away from serious consideration of conference realignment” because, well, sure. As for Miller’s further comments, he wanted approval for Yeager to approach George Washington with an invite in hand, and also asked if any of the current CAA presidents had a personal relationship with GW’s president. He suggested GW had serious interest in the CAA based on “recent informal discussions” and thought that going after GW first would give the league “better position in reentry discussions” with Richmond and/or Virginia Commonwealth.

Miller also mentioned that Yeager’s information suggested Richmond was “not really in the mix” for a Catholic 7 [now known as the “new” Big East] invite and thus would be “ultimately receptive” to a bid from the CAA.

If Appalachian State getting a CUSA invite was considered a “dream” by Yeager/Miller, what on earth would this proposed George Washington/Richmond/VCU move back to the CAA be? A delusion?

According to Shadesof48, though, at least six CAA members (William & Mary, College of Charleston, Hofstra, Delaware, James Madison, and Northeastern) responded back in support of Miller’s proposal.

Exactly why Miller and/or Yeager thought any of UR/VCU/GW might want to leave the Atlantic 10 to join the CAA is beyond me. The A-10 is the superior hoops league (regardless of recent defections), routinely getting multiple bids to the NCAAs every year, and has a better TV contract. It’s a hoops-centric league for hoops-centric schools.

I can’t imagine how badly the school fan bases (and key boosters) would revolt if Richmond and VCU moved back to the CAA. As for George Washington, maybe its administration had some interest — but on the other hand, GW president Steven Knapp was the chairman of the Atlantic 10 membership expansion committee. I have my doubts the school gave serious consideration to making a switch.

Any hopes the CAA had of pulling off this grandstand play were decisively dashed on March 24, 2013, when George Mason announced it was moving to the Atlantic 10.

The next two weeks proved to be trying ones for Yeager. He had to put together another expansion plan, and he didn’t have a lot of time to do it.

Sometime prior to April 4, 2013, the CAA held a conference call among its members; I am not sure if this call included the schools presidents or just the ADs. During the call, the CAA identified five schools as expansion candidates: Albany, Davidson, Elon, UNC-Greensboro, and Stony Brook. Two other schools, Fairfield and Hampton, initiated discussions with the league indicating an interest in joining.

From an April 4 email from Yeager to the league presidents and ADs:

In the past week, direct conversations have occurred with Davidson, Elon, Fairfield and Stony Brook. Albany is next in the line and will be contacted…Most of the individuals involved will be in Atlanta for the Final Four this weekend, and several follow up conversations have been scheduled to occur over the weekend.

…it is our hope to schedule a conference call for the Presidents for Wednesday, April 10 to discuss and authorize the next steps in the process.

…I have also spent a considerable amount of time answering rumors surrounding whether several current CAA members are also exploring other conference options…I am confident that there is no substance to the rumors which are being created and repeated by speculation outside the institution.

…In the last 10 days, our membership strategy has taken a completely different direction. I believe that we are on target, and while changes for the 2013-14 calendar year are preferable, every day that passes makes that goal more problematic.

It looks like Fairfield basically cold calling the CAA worked, as that school immediately jumped into the expansion derby. UNC-Greensboro appears to have been dropped as a serious candidate, with Hampton also not making the cut.

That conference call scheduled for April 10 didn’t happen, though. I’m sure John Iamarino’s next conversation with Tom Yeager will include a discussion of an April 9 email from Yeager to the CAA honchos that included the following:

Over the weekend, several of  us had conversations with individuals in Atlanta regarding expansion possibilities. Of particular interest is that the Southern Conference (Davidson & Elon) is conducting a meeting tomorrow which may shed additional light on possible scenarios of interest to the CAA. I would like to postpone tomorrow’s call until later in the week when we have had the opportunity to develop additional information stemming from the SoCon meeting.

It looks like Yeager had someone giving him inside information from the SoCon meeting.

The meeting itself received mixed reviews from the participants, though in retrospect it’s hard to take anything Davidson AD Jim Murphy said about it at face value.

On April 11, Miller of UNCW sent a letter to his fellow CAA presidents:

Tom [Yeager] and/or I have visited with the presidents of Elon, Stony Brook and Davidson…The Presidents of Elon and Davidson have discussed CAA membership with their board executive committees…Based on Tom’s report and analysis…I seek your approval to move forward with membership offers to Davidson, Elon and Stony Brook with the understanding that, as in the past, your final approval will be required for each membership agreement…if further discussion is needed, we will be happy to set up a conference call.

While I cannot guarantee we will succeed in securing all three of these institutions as CAA members, given our preliminary conversations and the dynamics of the Southern and America East Conferences, I believe this is the time to move forward.

In an attachment to the email, Yeager noted that “the best expansion outcome would be to expand to 12 teams” (which would mean adding three schools) and that “14 members could be considered by adding Fairfield and Albany to Davidson, Elon and Stony Brook”.

One school president wasn’t willing to go along with the proposed expansion. No, Hofstra president Stuart Rabinowitz had other ideas, and he expressed them later that same afternoon:

Hofstra University is strongly opposed to the substance and process of the recommendation. As to the process, how would a President vote in favor of extending an offer of membership and later ‘finally’ decide otherwise? At the very least, I believe that collegiality requires that we discuss this dramatic change in our membership via a conference call.

As to substance, the proposal would risk (if Davidson doesn’t accept) substituting two schools which add little to our basketball aspirations to replace George Mason. In addition, as I have said numerous times, adding a school further from [New York City] than Hofstra, but in the same Long Island media and recruitment territory does not make sense to us, especially in light of the fact [that] they are already associated with CAA football.

Rabinowitz has drawn some criticism for these comments following the publication of the emails by Shadesof48. To a certain degree, I can understand his point of view. He was surely correct that the process was rushed and that extending an offer, then making it official only later, was a clumsy way to go about things.

The rest of his comments are really about defending home turf, which is fine as far as it goes. However, Rabinowitz’s decision to torpedo his school’s football program in 2009 is arguably a key reason Hofstra’s status on Long Island (in terms of varsity sports) is in danger of being usurped by Stony Brook in the first place.

His stance only hurt the rest of the league, as Stony Brook would have been a very solid addition for the CAA. It is unclear if the rest of the schools were simply unwilling to cross him, giving Hofstra a de facto “veto” over Stony Brook, or whether two other schools (Northeastern and Drexel being the two most mentioned) joined Hofstra to “block” Stony Brook.

Rabinowitz did get at least one thing right, though, in not assuming Davidson was going to finally join the CAA.

After an initial report from CBSSports.com broke the news that Davidson was leaving the SoCon for the Atlantic 10, the school finally confirmed the move on May 8, 2013. The CAA’s long courtship of Davidson had ended, and there would be no marriage between the two.

On April 15, Towson AD Mike Waddell emailed his fellow ADs in the CAA:

If…Davidson is going to the Atlantic 10, then I propose that we…consider Furman for membership for the CAA.

I feel that getting to 12 total schools via adding two southern, and one northern school is imperative for balance in the league and for long term stability. Furman has strong academics, a great overall athletics department, is easy for travel via their airport and they bring the #36 TV market with them as well.

As a group of individually Elon and Furman, along with Albany would be solid additions. We need to act now and be real about the schools that we are considering as well as the institutions [that] may be considering us. We cannot afford to be left at the [altar] any more.

This is the first (and to date only) known reference to Furman made by anyone affiliated with the CAA. While I don’t think Furman would have seriously considered the CAA before (and almost certainly wouldn’t now) barring a complete SoCon implosion, it’s hard to argue with Waddell’s line of reasoning.

The reference to getting to 12 schools was not just a throwaway line, either. Three days later, William & Mary AD Terry Driscoll told his Board of Visitors that “the CAA is hoping to add three schools, to bring the total to twelve.”

Waddell wouldn’t be around for any more CAA expansion talks, though, as he left Towson on May 20.

On May 23, Albany announced that it was staying put in the America East for the immediate future. School officials were reportedly concerned with the failure of Stony Brook to get an all-sports CAA invite. Albany’s decision meant that of the top four candidates on the CAA wish list, #1, #2, and #4 were (at least temporarily) off the table. The league finally got some good news that same day, however, when Elon left the SoCon for the CAA.

Elon president Leo Lambert denied a Burlington Times-News report that his school had been opposed to VMI and East Tennessee State joining the Southern Conference, but that denial had been preceded by an unusually strong message by SoCon commissioner Iamarino. To many observers, this suggested there may have been a considerable amount of truth in the newspaper’s assertion; fairly or not, Elon has been slapped with a “does not play nice with others” reputation.

At any rate, Elon was no longer Iamarino’s problem, and vice versa. With Lambert now in the same league with Hofstra’s Rabinowitz, Tom Yeager’s cat-herding skills will be seriously tested. In one of the email attachments, Yeager referred to Elon (and Stony Brook) as “upwardly mobile”.

VMI and ETSU officially got the SoCon nod on May 30, along with Mercer. There is no evidence supporting rumors that the CAA had made a late run at the Macon school.

Not part of the CAA emails, but just to briefly mention…

The commissioner of the Patriot League essentially confirmed in May 2013 what had been previously rumored in various corners of the internet, namely that the conference is now focused on football-only members. While Villanova is probably the school most mentioned in this regard, other possibilities may include fellow CAA football schools Richmond, New Hampshire, William & Mary, and Delaware (with the latter two currently all-sports CAA members).

There have also been unconfirmed reports that the Patriot League could have interest in certain SoCon schools as football-only members. To be honest I find that a bit hard to believe.

What strikes me as a more realistic possibility is for the SoCon and Patriot League to form a scheduling alliance of sorts, particularly if the Ivy League schools were to quit playing Patriot League teams that are transitioning to scholarship football. I could see matchups like Furman-Holy Cross (an overload of purple) or Lehigh-The Citadel (the Kevin Higgins Bowl).

I’ll wrap this up (phew!) with a few notes:

— Not mentioned at all in any of the CAA correspondence: Coastal Carolina. I found this mildly surprising. It seems CCU didn’t even approach the CAA for potential membership (unlike Hampton and Fairfield).

— Perhaps the key advocate in College of Charleston’s decision to move to the CAA was its president, George Benson, who announced in early August that he would be stepping down as the school’s leader in June of 2014.

— The CAA is presumably still looking to add two members. Albany and Fairfield? Try to convince Hofstra to let Stony Brook into the league for all sports? I’m not sure there is a realistic southern school out there right now (at least, not one with a football program).

— I’m sure everyone is ready for the spring of 2014, and the “will JMU go to FBS?” daily updates. JMU was strictly in observational mode for the entirety of the CAA correspondence uncovered by Shadesof48, perhaps a sign that its administration understands how FOIA works.

— You can bet that schools and conferences around the country will be more careful in the future when discussing sensitive league information via email.

— It is possible that the SoCon is now more stable than the CAA, despite losing five schools — two of them to the CAA.

— While the SoCon is not expected to actively seek to expand, if the right situation is created I fully expect an additional move (or more) to be made. That could happen sooner rather than later.

This stuff fascinates me (as you can probably tell). Again, I can’t emphasize enough the excellent job Shadesof48 did.

Now I’m ready for football season. Actually, I’ve been ready for football season…

Watching a Watch List (from the CFPA), and some early FCS preseason polls

It’s mid-June, and we’re getting closer to actual gridiron activity. There have already been a few national preseason polls released, and a series of watch lists. I decided to take a quick look at a few of them, starting with the CFPA watch lists.

Two or three years ago, the College Football Performance Awards started to get cited by athletic media relations departments on a regular basis. This is when I first began to wonder if anybody with a pulse could come up with preseason and postseason awards and have them publicized by desperate sports information directors. Of course, the folks behind the CFPA would argue they aren’t just anybody:

The goal of College Football Performance Awards is to provide the most scientifically rigorous conferments in college football. Recipients are selected exclusively based upon objective scientific rankings of the extent to which individual players increase the overall effectiveness of their teams.

As prominent scholars from a wide variety of disciplines note, CFPA eliminates the politics and biases that vitiate balloting-based awards. Furthermore, CFPA has received praise from both Republican and Democratic White House officials for promoting objectivity and fairness in college football.

Well then.

Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports wrote about the CFPA three years ago:

Just what the world needs, more college football awards, right? It has gotten a bit silly. Every position and coach is honored to the point that, well, didn’t some group or another just announce the Petrino Award, for the coach most likely to rent?

Anyway, I clicked on the site just for giggles. Something caught my eye…

…The consultants on this project include noted economist Andrew Zimbalist…

…Former Davidson and USC kicker Brad Smith put the CFPA together.

That’s right. An ex-Davidson placekicker is responsible for the CFPA, which has an “academic review” panel that includes, well, academics. The undergraduate degrees received by members of this group include Davidson, Carleton, Kansas, Columbia, and St. Mary’s College. Very few pigskins have been bruised in recent years at any of those schools.

To be honest, at times when I was wandering through the CFPA website (which needs updating in a major way), the thought occurred to me that the whole enterprise was a giant put-on. I don’t think it is (Andrew Zimbalist isn’t going to lend his name to a joke), but it does not inspire a great deal of confidence.

I noticed that a lot of releases from various schools trumpeting one of their players being selected to a watch list included this phrase (or something very similar):

All CFPA recipients are selected exclusively based upon objective scientific rankings of the extent to which individual players increase the overall effectiveness of their teams.

That’s nice, but what exactly is the process that leads to “objective scientific rankings”? Where is the statistical summary? I couldn’t find any nuts-and-bolts description of the CFPA “methodology”, which I found disappointing (no, the overview on page 2 of its Methodology page doesn’t cut it; besides, the page itself hasn’t been updated since 2008).

Last season, CFPA named Harvard quarterback Colton Chapple its QB of the year and its National Performer of the Year. Chapple led a Crimson squad that set multiple offensive records in the Ivy League. He certainly had an outstanding season, but was it really good enough for a player of the year honor at the FCS level? It’s not like the Ivy is considered to be among the better FCS conferences, and Harvard didn’t even win the league — Penn did.

The CFPA claims to control for strength of schedule. Without more information, it’s hard to know it that is actually true.

Also, someone needs to inform the CFPA that the commissioner of the Southern Conference is John Iamarino.

At any rate, let’s take a quick look at the CFPA watch lists, at least from the perspective of The Citadel. A watch list isn’t really scientific — it’s strictly a promotional vehicle — but that’s okay. It gives people something to read during the summer, after all.

FCS Offensive Awards Watch List

– Ben Dupree is on the list of quarterbacks. Also on the list of note: Jamal Londry-Jackson (Appalachian State), Jacob Huesman (Chattanooga), Jerick McKinnon (Georgia Southern), Andy Summerlin (Samford), and Taylor Heinicke (Old Dominion). The Citadel will face a number of quality QBs this season (including Clemson’s Tajh Boyd).

– Darien Robinson is one of three SoCon players on the running backs list, joining Dominique Swope (Georgia Southern) and Fabian Truss (Samford). Tyree Lee (Old Dominion) is also on the list.

– There are no Bulldogs among the “watch list” wide receivers and tight ends, but plenty of The Citadel’s opponents are represented, including Sean Price and Andrew Peacock (Appalachian State), Kierre Brown (Elon), Larry Pinkard (Old Dominion), Kelsey Pope and Zeke Walters (Samford), and Mario Thompson (VMI).

FCS Defensive Line/Linebackers Watch List

– Derek Douglas and Carl Robinson of The Citadel are both on the watch list at their respective positions. Also on the list from the defensive side of the ball: Derrick Lott, Davis Tull, Wes Dothard, D.J. Key, and Kadeem Wise (Chattanooga), Javon Mention (Georgia Southern), Caleb Taylor (Old Dominion), Jaquiski Tartt (Samford), and Alvin Scioneaux (Wofford).

Chattanooga will undoubtedly be championing the CFPA watch list until at least the start of the season.

Several preseason magazines are already out with their predictions and polls. Here are three of them.

Sporting News Top 25

1. North Dakota State
2. Georgia Southern
3. Montana State
4. Eastern Washington
5. Appalachian State
6. Sam Houston State
7. Villanova
8. South Dakota State
9. Illinois State
10. Old Dominion
11. Central Arkansas
12. Northern Iowa
13. Towson
14. Montana
15. Richmond
16. Arkansas-Pine Bluff
17. Northern Arizona
18. Stony Brook
19. Eastern Illinois
20. Chattanooga
21. Cal Poly
22. New Hampshire
23. Colgate
24. Sacramento State
25. Bethune-Cookman

Its preseason All-American list includes Taylor Heinicke of Old Dominion at QB, Georgia Southern’s Garrett Frye and Furman’s Dakota Dozier along the offensive line, and wide receiver Sean Price of Appalachian State. Davis Tull of Chattanooga (DL) and Jaquiski Tartt of Samford (DB) are on the first-team defense.

Predicted SoCon standings:

1. Georgia Southern
2. Appalachian State
3. Chattanooga
4. Wofford
5. The Citadel
6. Samford
7. Furman
8. Elon
9. Western Carolina

Athlon Sports Top 25

Athlon has five SoCon schools in the Top 25, including The Citadel at #25. About the Bulldogs, the magazine says:

A rare sweep of Appalachian State and Georgia Southern last season could be a prelude for an even better 2013. The Bulldogs’ triple option returns quarterbacks Ben Dupree and Aaron Miller, 1,000-yard fullback Darien Robinson and a veteran offensive line.

Athlon’s first-team All-Americans include App’s Price, Chattanooga’s Tull, and Samford’s Tartt, who was one of two Samford players named (Fabian Truss made the squad as a kick returner).

The magazine projects Chattanooga and Wofford will make the playoffs out of the SoCon.

Lindy’s Top 25

1. North Dakota State
2. Georgia Southern
3. Montana State
4. South Dakota State
5. Wofford
6. Eastern Washington
7. Central Arkansas
8. Towson
9. Villanova
10. Sam Houston State
11. New Hampshire
12. Appalachian State
13. Northern Iowa
14. Stony Brook
15. Coastal Carolina
16. Northern Arizona
17. Bethune-Cookman
18. Eastern Illinois
19. Youngstown State
20. Chattanooga
21. Richmond
22. Illinois State
23. Montana
24. Wagner
25. Tennessee State

Lindy’s first-team All-Americans include Tull, Dozier, Dothard, Tartt, and Truss (again as a kick returner). It also has a preseason second-team AA roster; Price and Frye are on that team.

The magazine also makes an excellent point about the expanded 24-team FCS playoff. There will be no Ivy League or SWAC teams participating in the playoffs, and Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, and Old Dominion are all ineligible for postseason competition.

If you assume that the Pioneer League champion will be the only team from that league to receive a bid (which is likely), then essentially there are 91 schools competing for 23 spots in the playoff. Those aren’t bad odds.

Something to think about as the season draws closer…

Next year’s football schedule: Who will The Citadel’s opponents play before they play the Bulldogs?

This is just a quick post on something I was looking at this past week. One thing that a triple option team sometimes has going for it is that its opponent doesn’t have time to prepare adequately for the offense, because it is so different from the “typical” offense. Of course, these days I’m not sure there really is a typical offense.

There is also something to be said about the quality of the opponent’s immediate prior opposition and how it affects its preparation, regardless of offensive or defensive setup.

The Citadel has announced its 2013 football schedule. Just for the record, here are the Bulldogs’ opponents’ opponents the week before they play The Citadel:

August 31: Charleston Southern — well, it’s the season opener

September 7: Wofford — the Terriers will travel to Florida State Baylor the week before playing The Citadel at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Advantage, Bulldogs.

Edit (2/25/13): Instead of Tallahassee, Wofford will head to Waco on 8/31, thanks to a late change in the Seminoles’ schedule.

Incidentally, Wofford’s game the next week is at home against Georgia Southern. That’s quite a stretch to begin the season.

September 14: at Western Carolina — the Catamounts are tentatively scheduled to play Virginia Tech in Blacksburg prior to facing The Citadel. Yikes. That’s after an opening game at Middle Tennessee State. Later in the year, WCU plays Auburn. Yes, three FBS programs in one season. Great for the financial bottom line, not so hot for trying to build a program.

September 21: at Old Dominion — the Monarchs host Howard on September 14. That follows consecutive games against FBS opposition (East Carolina and Maryland) for ODU, which is making the transition to FBS itself.

September 28: Furman — the Paladins are off the week of September 21. Rats.

October 5: Appalachian State — Edit (2/25/13): App State will host Charleston Southern on September 28. The Citadel will be the first of the SoCon’s three triple option teams that the Mountaineers will encounter during the 2013 season.

October 12: at Georgia Southern — the Eagles are at Samford the week before tangling with the Bulldogs in Statesboro. Will this be the last time The Citadel plays at GSU?

October 19: off week

October 26: at Chattanooga — the Mocs travel to Elon prior to facing The Citadel.

November 2: Samford — Pat Sullivan’s crew plays two straight games in South Carolina, traveling to Wofford before making an appearance at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

November 9: at Elon — November 2 will be an off week for the Phoenix. The matchup against The Citadel will also be Elon’s homecoming game.

November 16: VMI — the Keydets, like Samford, will venture to the Palmetto State in consecutive weeks, as they will journey to Presbyterian on November 9 to take on the Blue Hose.

November 23: Clemson — Edit (2/25/13): The Tigers will have two extra days off before playing The Citadel, as they will host Georgia Tech in an ESPN Thursday night game on November 14.

Clemson apparently tried to get out of the game against the Bulldogs. The Tigers have two FCS opponents in 2013 (The Citadel and South Carolina State) primarily as a result of the ACC waffling on having an eight- or nine-game league slate.

Just for comparison, last season’s opponents’ prior opponents:

Charleston Southern — season opener

Georgia Southern — the Eagles hosted Jacksonville

at Appalachian State — the Mountaineers hosted Montana

at North Carolina State — the Pack hosted South Alabama

Chattanooga — the Mocs hosted Appalachian State

at Samford — the Birmingham Bulldogs traveled to Georgia Southern

Western Carolina — the Catamounts hosted Georgia Southern

at Wofford — the Terriers traveled to Appalachian State

Elon — the Phoenix hosted Furman

at VMI — the Keydets traveled to Stony Brook

at Furman — the Paladins traveled to Appalachian State

Does it mean anything? Probably not. It won’t be in The Citadel’s favor that both Furman and Elon have a week off before playing the Bulldogs, but that’s the breaks. Another negative: Clemson will face fellow triple option team Georgia Tech immediately before playing The Citadel.

All this is, really, is something to pass the time while we wait for August 31 to roll around…

Football, Game 7: The Citadel vs. Appalachian State

Time and Place:  6:00 pm ET, Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone, NC

Television:  a tape-delayed broadcast on a local cable channel called MTN-18 that really needs to improve its website

This will be only the second Saturday night game played in Boone since 2001.  I gather that many of the Mountaineer fans wanted a night game; why you would want one in the mountains in mid-October, I have no idea, but their wish has been granted.  Appalachian State also played a Saturday night game against Presbyterian two years ago.

Note that I specified “Saturday night”.  In the last three seasons, the Mountaineers have played two Friday night games in Boone, one a I-AA semifinal against Richmond, the other a regular season game against Wofford televised (unfortunately for Wofford) on ESPN2.  So a night game in Boone isn’t a novelty; it’s just a little unusual.

This preview is a fairly short one, because I am in the middle of a busy stretch that includes some travel.  Among other things, that means I won’t be able to even listen to the dulcet tones of Darren Goldwater on the radio.  I won’t find out how the game went until late Saturday night.  I can probably make a decent guess as to how it will go, though.

Just a few brief observations, while I have a few minutes:

— Appalachian State is ranked #1 in both the FCS Coaches Poll and The Sports Network poll.  The last time The Citadel defeated the top-ranked I-AA team, it was 1988, and the opponent was Marshall.  That is still the most “electric” atmosphere for any game at Johnson Hagood Stadium that I have attended.

The upset on that sunny afternoon was keyed by an outstanding performance by the Bulldog defense.  To stay competitive on Saturday night, The Citadel will need a similar effort from its defensive unit.

— Sam Martin was hurt during the Chattanooga game.  This excerpt from Jeff Hartsell’s Tuesday report in The Post and Courier concerned me:

…early in the second quarter, Martin got hit by Mocs tackle Nick Davison and another player. He got to his feet and called a timeout, to Higgins’ consternation.

“I said, ‘Sam, why did you call a timeout?’ ” Higgins said at his Monday news conference. “He said, ‘Coach, I couldn’t see anything.’ So we got him off the field, and I determined it was a concussion. I’m not sure if that is what our medical staff is calling it, but we didn’t put him back in the game. He was doing fine after the game.

“We’ll keep giving him tests, but (Sunday) he was fine, (Monday) he was fine. I think he will be OK and we’ll get him practicing this week.”

Okay, a couple of things:

1)  Kevin Higgins has considerable coaching expertise, but I’ll go with the medical staff’s determination on whether or not a player has a concussion.

2)  If he really suffered a concussion, he wouldn’t be practicing.

As to what really happened to Martin during the UTC game, I have no idea.  I’m no doctor.  It sounded a little bit like what happened to Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist during the Irish’s game against Michigan State, though.  Crist was reportedly diagnosed with an “ocular migraine”.  He left that game, but later returned (and played very well).

I might add that we are less likely to find out these days exactly what a player’s medical condition is/was due to privacy laws, and I think that’s a good thing.  I also have full confidence in our medical/training staff.

— Alex Sellars tore his ACL and is done for the year.  It’s been a tough season for the fifth-year senior, who had previously suffered from back problems.  He had some outstanding moments for the Bulldogs during his career; it’s a shame there apparently won’t be any more on the field.

— Armanti Edwards is now a Carolina Panther, meaning that in terms of success, he’s gone from the penthouse to the outhouse.  He gets paid better to stay in the outhouse, though.

— His successor, DeAndre Presley, has already been named SoCon offensive player of the week three times this season, including last week against Elon, when he amassed 374 yards of total offense and scored three touchdowns.  Presley has yet to throw an interception this season in 118 attempts.

Presley was injured late in that game, but is expected to play on Saturday.

— The Mountaineers’ offensive line has remained intact through all five games so far this season.  Four of those five linemen also started every game last year, and the fifth (Daniel Kilgore) started on the line for every game in 2008.

— Speaking of experience, Appalachian State has three receivers (Matt Cline, CoCo Hillary, and big-play threat Brian Quick) who seem to have been playing for the Mountaineers since the late 1990s.

— As you can see, Appalachian State had lots of starters on offense coming back, save the quarterback position, and Presley obviously has made the transition from Edwards fairly seamless.  However, the Mountaineers have some new faces on defense, and that’s been a bit of a problem (at least, as big a problem as an undefeated team could have).

Appalachian State is allowing 254 passing yards per game and 381 total yards per contest, both below-average numbers.  However, its average points allowed per game (23.8) isn’t as bad as those peripheral statistics.  App State games are like track meets, and opponents find it difficult to keep up.  No lead is safe, either, as Chattanooga found out (ASU prevailing 42-41 after scoring 28 points in the fourth quarter).

— In last year’s game against the Mountaineers, the Bulldogs just missed pulling off a big upset (30-27, OT).  What The Citadel did well in that game was run the football, compiling 214 yards rushing while in a spread attack, including one of the more spectacular runs in the history of Johnson Hagood Stadium (Van Dyke Jones’ 69-yard TD).

The Bulldogs will need more than 214 yards rushing to compete with App State on Saturday, at least as long as the offense continues to average less than 60 yards passing per game.  Incidentally, The Citadel’s 247.7 ypg rushing is actually less than ASU’s (264.6 ypg).

— Appalachian State has already had ten different players score offensive touchdowns this season.  Five of those players have scored three TDs or more (Presley has eight).

— If the Mountaineers punt, don’t be confused when you hear Sam Martin’s name mentioned.  That’s the name of the ASU punter, no relation (I’m guessing) to the Bulldog quarterback.

— You may have read that Appalachian State is going to conduct a feasibility study on the possibility of moving up to FBS (I-A).  Of course, just last year fellow Southern Conference member Georgia Southern commissioned its own study on the topic, which I wrote about (probably too extensively) here.

In general, I am skeptical about schools moving up to FBS land; while fans and administrators dream of being the next Boise State, the truth is most schools are much more likely to become the next Louisiana-Monroe.  However, I can understand why App State is exploring the terrain.

It’s a strange time right now in the world of FCS.  The CAA is a good example.  Villanova is the reigning FCS champ, but has an offer to move to I-A and the Big East.  Two league schools (Hofstra and Northeastern) dropped the sport last year.  Georgia State and Old Dominion are now fielding teams and will join the league.  Rhode Island is considering a move to the Northeast Conference (motto:  we’re cheaper).

That’s just one league.  Back in the not-so-gentle world of the Southern Conference, it wasn’t that long ago the league included East Tennessee State, VMI, and Marshall.  Things change, and it’s important to evaluate things once in a while.  After all, as recently as 1995, The Citadel studied I-A as a possible option.

I think Appalachian State is marginally better positioned to move to FBS than Georgia Southern.  However, I greatly suspect that the feasibility study will show that ASU should stay right where it is, which I think would satisfy most of its fan base.  However, if “right where it is” were to no longer exist, the school should have a better idea of what its options are.

There won’t be a specific review post of the Appalachian State game on the blog next week.  Writing the preview of the Georgia Southern game is going to be enough of a struggle as it is; I’ll undoubtably take a look back at the ASU game as part of that preview.  The TV schedule post will still happen, possibly a day later than normal.

Go Dogs!