Ruminating about ratings — 2019 preseason numbers for The Citadel, SoCon, FCS, and more

Recent posts about football at The Citadel:

“Advanced” statistics from The Citadel’s 2018 football season

– Inside the Numbers, Part 1: The Citadel’s 2018 run/pass tendencies and yards per play statistics, with SoCon/FCS discussion as well

– Inside the Numbers, Part 2: The Citadel’s 2018 4th down decision-making, plus Red Zone stats, 3rd down conversion info, etc.

– Football attendance at The Citadel (and elsewhere) — an annual review

– 2019 preseason rankings and ratings, featuring The Citadel and the rest of the SoCon

– During the 2019 football season, which teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

– Homecoming at The Citadel — a brief gridiron history

Other links of interest:

– Cam Jackson, playing American football in Turkey (and enjoying dessert)

Brandon Rainey talks about the upcoming season, and about closure

Dante Smith had a very good game against Alabama; is ready to have even more very good games this season

Bulldogs hold first scrimmage in the heat of Charleston

Usually, I discuss the Massey Ratings at the same time that I write about the preseason rankings from the various college football magazines. This year, because the ratings came out a little later, I decided to have two posts, one for rankings (which can be read here) and one for ratings.

I’m going to also briefly delve into several other preseason computer ratings for FCS teams. There will be a table!

For several years now, I’ve been incorporating the Massey Ratings into my game previews. For those not entirely familiar with this ratings system, here is an explanation:

The Massey Ratings are designed to measure past performance, not necessarily to predict future outcomes…overall team rating is a merit based quantity, and is the result of applying a Bayesian win-loss correction to the power rating.

…In contrast to the overall rating, the Power is a better measure of potential and is less concerned with actual wins-losses.

…A team’s Offense power rating essentially measures the ability to score points. This does not distinguish how points are scored, so good defensive play that leads to scoring will be reflected in the Offense rating. In general, the offensive rating can be interpreted as the number of points a team would be expected to score against an average defense.

Similarly, a team’s Defense power rating reflects the ability to prevent its opponent from scoring. An average defense will be rated at zero. Positive or negative defensive ratings would respectively lower or raise the opponent’s expected score accordingly.

…the Massey model will in some sense minimize the unexplained error (noise). Upsets will occur and it is impossible (and also counter-productive) to get an exact fit to the actual game outcomes. Hence, I publish an estimated standard deviation. About 68% of observed game results will fall within one standard deviation of the expected (“average”) result.

Preseason ratings are typically derived as a weighted average of previous years’ final ratings. As the current season progresses, their effect gets damped out completely. The only purpose preseason ratings serve is to provide a reasonable starting point for the computer. Mathematically, they guarantee a unique solution to the equations early in the season when not enough data is available yet.

As I’ve mentioned before, Massey has ratings for almost every college football team — not just FBS and FCS squads, but D-2, D-3, NAIA, junior colleges, and Canadian schools. This season, there are preseason ratings for 927 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, from Clemson (#1) to Vermilion Community College (#927).

Vermilion is located in Ely, Minnesota. The Ironmen were 1-7 last season (1-5 in the Minnesota College Athletic Conference).

This year, The Citadel is #176 overall in the preseason ratings. In previous campaigns, the Bulldogs had overall preseason rankings of 218 (in 2018), 130 (2017), 113 (2016) and 174 (2015).

The teams on The Citadel’s 2019 schedule are ranked in the ratings as follows (with the chances of a Bulldogs victory in parenthesis):

  • Towson: 151 (45%)
  • Elon: 161 (36%)
  • Georgia Tech: 54 (3%)
  • Charleston Southern: 245 (86%)
  • Samford: 148 (32%)
  • VMI: 249 (85%)
  • Western Carolina: 220 (75%)
  • Furman: 153 (34%)
  • Mercer: 181 (58%)
  • East Tennessee State: 192 (50%)
  • Chattanooga: 183 (47%)
  • Wofford: 138 (39%)

Going by the ratings, a Massey preseason poll for the SoCon would look like this:

1 – Wofford
2 – Samford
3 – Furman
4 – The Citadel
5 – Mercer
6 – Chattanooga
7 – East Tennessee State
8 – Western Carolina
9 – VMI

Massey’s FCS-only rankings (ratings) for select schools:

  • North Dakota State – 1
  • South Dakota State – 2
  • Eastern Washington – 3
  • Princeton – 4
  • Dartmouth – 5
  • UC Davis – 6
  • James Madison – 7
  • Northern Iowa – 8
  • Illinois State – 9
  • Weber State – 10
  • Colgate – 11
  • Harvard – 15
  • Kennesaw State – 19
  • Wofford – 21
  • Samford – 24
  • Towson – 26
  • Furman – 28
  • Elon – 33
  • Jacksonville State – 38
  • The Citadel – 46
  • Mercer – 49
  • Chattanooga – 51
  • North Carolina A&T – 54
  • East Tennessee State – 55
  • San Diego – 58
  • Duquesne – 59
  • Richmond – 61
  • Alcorn State – 70
  • Western Carolina – 75
  • Charleston Southern – 87
  • VMI – 91
  • South Carolina State – 94
  • Campbell – 96
  • North Alabama – 103
  • Gardner-Webb – 104
  • LIU – 110
  • Davidson – 114
  • Hampton – 117
  • Jacksonville – 118
  • Presbyterian – 122
  • Mississippi Valley State – 125
  • Merrimack -126

In the “overall” category, some schools of note:

  • Clemson – 1
  • Alabama – 2
  • Georgia – 3
  • LSU – 4
  • Oklahoma – 5
  • Ohio State – 6
  • Notre Dame – 7
  • Florida – 8
  • Texas A&M – 9
  • Auburn – 10
  • Syracuse – 15
  • Texas – 16
  • Washington – 17
  • Missouri – 18
  • Kentucky – 19
  • UCF – 20
  • Fresno State – 25
  • North Dakota State – 26 (highest-rated FCS team)
  • Stanford – 27
  • South Carolina – 34
  • North Carolina State – 35
  • Virginia – 40
  • Wake Forest – 42
  • Miami (FL) – 44
  • Appalachian State – 47
  • Vanderbilt – 49
  • Army – 50
  • Georgia Tech – 54
  • Southern California – 56
  • Florida State – 59
  • Ohio – 66
  • Marshall – 71
  • Air Force – 79
  • Georgia Southern – 85
  • Navy – 98
  • North Texas – 99
  • Rutgers – 103
  • Oregon State – 116
  • Coastal Carolina – 127
  • Liberty – 131
  • Laval – 155 (highest-rated Canadian team)
  • Connecticut – 169
  • Ferris State – 174 (highest-rated D-2 team)
  • Rice – 179
  • Laney College – 184 (highest-rated junior college team)
  • UTEP – 191
  • Mary Hardin-Baylor – 227 (highest-rated D-3 team)
  • Morningside (IA) – 237 (highest-rated NAIA team)

Of course, the Massey Ratings aren’t the only ratings out there. On his website, Massey himself lists 19 other services, some of which include FCS teams in their respective ratings. Not all of those have preseason ratings, however.

There appear to be five other ratings systems (on his list, anyway) that have updated preseason FCS ratings. I decided to create a table in order to compare the ratings (by rankings) of 17 different FCS schools — the nine SoCon institutions, along with The Citadel’s three non-conference FCS opponents this season (Towson, Elon, and Charleston Southern), two other instate schools (Presbyterian and South Carolina State), and three other solid programs in the league footprint (Jacksonville State, Kennesaw State, and North Carolina A&T).

Like any good table, there is a key:

Drum roll…

The table (remember, these are rankings only for the 126 FCS teams; i.e., VMI is the preseason #91 team among all FCS squads in the Massey Ratings):

Team A B C D E F
The Citadel 46 24 43 36 39 59
VMI 91 111 114 107 106 120
Furman 28 33 20 25 27 32
Wofford 21 22 13 17 13 13
Chattanooga 51 49 54 42 33 43
ETSU 55 56 31 65 83 19
Samford 24 23 25 24 20 52
WCU 75 82 86 78 76 99
Mercer 49 54 56 48 41 67
Towson 26 29 11 28 18 23
Elon 33 36 24 40 38 26
Ch. Southern 87 83 62 74 97 62
Presbyterian 122 115 115 112 112 114
S.C. State 94 85 88 81 71 71
Kennesaw St. 19 5 7 9 15 8
N.C. A&T 54 37 18 37 53 11
Jacksonville St. 38 26 6 12 10 16

While some teams have fairly small groupings in terms of rankings among the services (such as Furman, Wofford, and Presbyterian), others differ wildly (particularly East Tennessee State and North Carolina A&T).

I was perhaps most surprised by the generally solid rankings for Samford, which comes across as a borderline top 25 preseason pick in these ratings. That certainly isn’t how SU has been perceived in the various rankings that have been released this summer, either league or national.

A few other things I’ll mention that aren’t reflected in the table:

– Entropy System’s preseason #1 FCS team isn’t North Dakota State, but South Dakota State. Hmm…

–  CSL included Virginia University of Lynchburg in its rankings. VUL is not an FCS school, but the computer program that put together the list may have thought it was, given that the Dragons play seven FCS opponents this season (Merrimack, Davidson, Mississippi Valley State, Prairie View A&M, Hampton, Southern, and Morgan State).

All of those games are on the road — in fact, the Dragons will play ten road games in 2019. VUL, a member of the National Christian Colleges Athletic Association (NCCAA), has two home games this year.

For the purposes of this post, I removed Virginia University of Lynchburg from the CSL Ratings, so that all the teams ranked were actually FCS squads.

– LIU, which will field an FCS team for the first time (having combined varsity programs at its two branch campuses), is ranked #22 by CSL, probably because the then-Pioneers (new nickname: Sharks!) were 10-1 in D-2 last season. Considering LIU did not play a Division I team last season, that high of a preseason ranking seems a bit dubious. We’ll know rather quickly just how dubious it is, as LIU opens its season at South Dakota State.

The overall situation with LIU is quite interesting. Basically, a D-2 varsity athletics program is being folded into an existing D-1 setup. Not everyone was happy about that decision.

College basketball fans may be familiar with the LIU Blackbirds, which made the NCAA tourney a few times and once played home games in the old Paramount Theater in Brooklyn. Now there are no Blackbirds, and no Pioneers (from the LIU-Post campus). Everyone is a blue-and-gold Shark.

LIU-Brooklyn didn’t have a football team, unlike LIU-Post. Thus, the D-2 football program is simply moving up to D-1 — but because it is going to be part of an already existing D-1 athletics program, it doesn’t have to go through a “transition” period and is immediately eligible to compete for the NEC title and an NCAA playoff berth.

– Steve Pugh is the creator/publisher of the “Compughter Ratings”. He has a master’s degree from Virginia Tech, as does Ken Massey. Apparently VT grad students spend most of their waking hours coming up with sports ratings systems.

– The Laz Index also rates Florida high school football teams. It has done so since 1999.

– Along with college football, the Born Power Index rates high school football teams in Pennsylvania and New Jersey — in fact, it was used last year by the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association to rank playoff teams in that state.

This didn’t go over too well:

There has been a tremendous amount of criticism heaped on the NJSIAA for the new United Power Rankings.  A complicated formula that no one is 100 percent sure is accurate at any time, it basically breaks the ranking of teams into numbers – The Born Power Index and average power points.

The Born Power Index has been around since 1962, and is a mathematical rating system which somehow, determines how good a team is. Somehow, I say, because the formula is proprietary, and William Born, its creator, is not sharing with the public. That lack of transparency has a lot of people bothered.

The index will apparently not be a part of the “power ranking” for the New Jersey high school football playoffs this season.

– Five of the six ratings systems have Princeton in the top 7. The exception is the Compughter Ratings, which has the Tigers ranked 19th. On the other hand, fellow Ivy League school Dartmouth is ranked 12th by the Compughter Ratings.

Entropy has both Princeton and Dartmouth in the top 5, and Harvard ranked 14th among FCS schools. Massey also has Princeton and Dartmouth in the top 5; Harvard is 15th in that service.

Ivy League schools with high ratings (and rankings) are the norm for most of these college football ratings services. I think this is a bug, not a feature.

Personally, I find it difficult to justify ranking Princeton and Dartmouth in the top five, or even the top 20 for that matter. That said, the Tigers and Big Green might be very good.

However, the Ivy Leaguers’ lack of schedule connectivity with the vast majority of their FCS brethren — particularly the more highly-regarded teams — makes it all but impossible to compare those squads to the elite outfits in the sub-division. For example, in 2019 none of the Ivies will face a team from the MVFC, Big Sky, SoCon, Southland, OVC, Big South, or SWAC.

Here is a list of all the non-conference games played by Ivy League schools this season against teams ranked in the STATS preseason Top 25:

  • Dartmouth hosts #13 Colgate
  • Cornell hosts #13 Colgate
  • Penn is at #22 Delaware

Princeton has been the standard-bearer for the league in recent years. The Tigers host Lafayette and Butler, and travel to Bucknell. Those three teams were a combined 8-25 last season; this year, their respective preseason Massey rankings in FCS are 100, 112, and 108.

It is very hard to say that Princeton is one of the best FCS teams in the country when there is no practical way to demonstrate the validity of such a statement.

At any rate, we’re getting even closer and closer to football season, which is all that really matters.

“Advanced” stats from The Citadel’s 2018 SoCon campaign

Other recent posts about football at The Citadel:

Inside the Numbers, Part 1: The Citadel’s 2018 run/pass tendencies and yards per play statistics, with SoCon/FCS discussion as well

Inside the Numbers, Part 2: The Citadel’s 2018 4th down decision-making, plus Red Zone stats, 3rd down conversion info, etc.

– Football attendance at The Citadel (and elsewhere) — an annual review

– 2019 preseason rankings and ratings, featuring The Citadel and the rest of the SoCon

– During the 2019 football season, which teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

– Homecoming at The Citadel — a brief gridiron history

Additional links about the Bulldogs’ upcoming gridiron campaign:

Hero Sports previews The Citadel

Five questions as The Citadel opens fall practice

WCSC-TV was at the first fall practice

What about a preview of the Bulldogs’ first opponent, Towson?

What follows is mostly (but not exclusively) about the “Five Factors” of college football. This is the third straight year I’ve written about The Citadel and the Five Factors; you can read my previous efforts here and here.

Later in this post I’ll discuss a few stats not directly related to the Five Factors, but we’ll start with the 5F. First, here is Bill Connelly of ESPN (formerly of SB Nation; he moved to the four-letter about a month ago) on what the Five Factors actually are. This is from 2014, but it still applies:

…I’ve come to realize that the sport comes down to five basic things, four of which you can mostly control. You make more big plays than your opponent, you stay on schedule, you tilt the field, you finish drives, and you fall on the ball. Explosiveness, efficiency, field position, finishing drives, and turnovers are the five factors to winning football games.

  • If you win the explosiveness battle (using PPP), you win 86 percent of the time.

  • If you win the efficiency battle (using Success Rate), you win 83 percent of the time.

  • If you win the drive-finishing battle (using points per trip inside the 40), you win 75 percent of the time.

  • If you win the field position battle (using average starting field position), you win 72 percent of the time.

  • If you win the turnover battle (using turnover margin), you win 73 percent of the time.

Connelly later adjusted some of the formulas that result in the five factors, but the basic principles are the same.

I’ve already discussed a lot of other statistics in my annual post on per-play numbers, conversion rates, etc. (see Part 1 and Part 2, linked above), but these are slightly different types of stats.

They are “advanced” statistics for the Bulldogs’ 2018 season. Is there a really convenient spreadsheet that goes with this post? You bet there is!

Keep in mind that these stats are for SoCon games only. Eight games. Sample size caveats do apply.

Also, please remember that the stats were compiled by me, so they may not be completely perfect. However, finding “ready-made” FCS stats for these categories is not easy. Actually, it’s just about impossible. I’m not complaining…okay, maybe I am complaining.

Since there are no readily available equivalent stats online for FCS teams, I will occasionally be using FBS data for comparisons. With that in mind, let me quote something from last year’s post about advanced stats.

Now, you may be wondering whether or not FCS stats would be similar to those for the FBS.

For the most part, they should be — with a couple of possible caveats. I asked Bill Connelly a question about FBS vs. FCS stats and potential differences, and he was nice enough to respond. Here is what he had to say about it on his podcast:

…The one thing you will notice is the further down you go, from pro to college, from FBS to FCS, Division II to high school and all that…the more big plays you’re going to have, and the more turnovers you’re going to have. That’s going to be the biggest difference, because you’re going to have more lopsided matchups, and you’re just going to have more mistakes. And so if you go down to the FCS level, it’s not going to be a dramatic difference with FBS — but that’s going to be the difference. You’re going to have more breakdowns, you’re going to have more lopsided matchups to take advantage of, you’re not going to have quite the same level of proficiency throughout a defense, and so there will be more mistakes on defense, and I think the reason North Dakota State has been so good is that they’re about as close as you can get to kind of being mistake-free in that regard.

As long as an FCS team plays in a league in which most, if not all, of the teams are competitive (such as the SoCon), statistical variance should be relatively normal, so I feel reasonably confident that there is validity to the numbers I’m about to present.

Okay, time for the Five Factors.

Field position

Annual reminder: the key to evaluating and understanding this category is that an offense’s effectiveness (in terms of field position) is measured by the starting field position of its defense (and vice versa).

Special teams play is obviously critically important for field position as well. Net punting, kickoff coverage, the return game — it all counts. Last year, The Citadel benefited from strong special teams play.

The FBS national average for starting field position in 2017 was the 29.6 yard line. Unfortunately, I was unable to determine the average starting field position for 2018, but it is probably similar. There may have been a very slight uptick due to the rule change for fair catches on kickoffs.

-Average starting yard line of offensive drives-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
Home 32.3 24.3  8.0
Road 33.9 28.7  5.2
Avg. 33.1 26.5  +6.6

The Citadel won the field position battle in six of eight league contests. The exceptions were Mercer and ETSU.

However, the numbers for the Mercer contest do not include Rod Johnson’s game-winning 94-yard kickoff return for a TD. That is because this statistic only reflects where offensive drives started, and the Bulldogs did not have an offensive drive after Johnson’s return (because he scored).

There is a similar issue with Dante Smith’s touchdown in the Western Carolina game, which came directly after a blocked punt by Bradley Carter. This isn’t a flaw in the statistic, but just something that has to be kept in mind.

The Citadel’s net punting average in SoCon play was 38.3 (third-best, behind Mercer and Furman). The league average was 35.5. Trust my numbers on that, as the net punting averages on the SoCon website are incorrect.

The Bulldogs were fourth in both punt return average and kickoff return average in conference play. The Citadel was third in kickoff return coverage, with a touchback rate of 43.2% (second-best in the SoCon). That TB rate is in line with the 2017 average (46.7%).

A corollary stat to field position is “3-and-outs+”, which is forcing an offense off the field after a possession of three plays or less that does not result in a score.

After a sizable edge in this stat in 2016 (a 7.7% positive margin), the Bulldogs’ differential in during the 2017 campaign was -2.5%. Last year, The Citadel rebounded in a major way, with a differential of almost 9% (33.70% – 24.73%). It helped that the offense reduced its number of 3-and-out drives by a significant margin (though there were occasional struggles in this area).

Toledo (+8.2) and Syracuse (+7.6) ranked 1-2 in field position margin for FBS. Other teams that had sizable edges in field position included Michigan, Marshall, Ohio State, LSU, and Auburn.

Florida State, with a FP margin of -9.3, was the worst FBS team in the category. It was a tough year in Tallahassee.

Efficiency

For defining efficiency, a stat called “Success Rate” is useful. Via Football Outsiders:

A common Football Outsiders tool used to measure efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not. The terms of success in college football: 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down.

The FBS average for Success Rate in a given season is roughly 40%.

-Success Rate-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
Home 41.37% 41.21% 0.17%
Road 38.53% 39.76% -1.23%
Avg. 40.02% 40.42% -0.40%

The Citadel was 3-5 in the efficiency battle in league games, coming out ahead against Mercer, ETSU, and Western Carolina. (Yes, VMI edged the Bulldogs in Success Rate, and by more than you might think.)

Two years ago, The Citadel had a differential of -4.24% in Success Rate, so 2018 was an improvement. That said, the Bulldogs have to stay “on schedule” on offense with their triple option attack, and 40% is not quite good enough.

During the 2016 season, The Citadel had an offensive Success Rate of 45.4%. Last year, such a percentage would have resulted in about 30 more “successful” plays in league action for the Bulldogs, or 3.75 per game. Three or four more successful plays per contest, whether they were long gainers or just helped move the chains, could have made a difference in several close games.

In FBS, Alabama led the way in offensive Success Rate, at 56.2%. Oklahoma ranked second, at 54.9%. Other squads that fared well in this sphere included Ohio, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Wisconsin, and Missouri. Army was also solid (22nd nationally).

Rice, Central Michigan, and Rutgers (130th and last) were the most inefficient offensive units in the subdivision.

UAB ranked first in defensive Success Rate. Another C-USA team, Southern Mississippi, was second, followed by Michigan and Cincinnati. Alabama, Fresno State, and Appalachian State also finished in the top 10.

It should come as no surprise that the worst defensive teams in this category were Louisville, Oregon State, and cellar-dweller Connecticut, with the Huskies in particular having a historically bad defense.

In terms of margin, Alabama dominated (+22.0%). Clemson was second. Also in control from a marginal efficiency perspective: Wisconsin, Florida, Mississippi State, and Ohio State.

Explosiveness

Here is an explanation of “IsoPPP”:

IsoPPP is the Equivalent Points Per Play (PPP) average on only successful plays. This allows us to look at offense in two steps: How consistently successful were you, and when you were successful, how potent were you?

The triple option offense does not lend itself to explosive plays, as a rule. Now, big plays are certainly important to the overall success of the offense. However, the modest-but-successful plays generally associated with the attack tend to cancel out the “chunk” plays when calculating the stat.

The Bulldogs only came out ahead in this category in one of eight league contests, the third consecutive season that was the case. That one game was against Samford.

-Explosiveness (IsoPPP)-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
Home 0.98 1.25 -0.27
Road 1.06 1.41 -0.35
Avg. 1.02 1.33 -0.31

The averages are slightly worse than last season, with the largest discrepancy the defensive rate at home (it was 1.05 in 2017).

FBS rankings are from Football Outsiders, which also includes “IsoPPP+”, which adjusts for opponent strength. However, I’m just going to list the unadjusted IsoPPP averages here.

The FBS national median for Explosiveness was 1.17. Oklahoma led the subdivision, at 1.46, followed by Maryland (in a bit of a surprise), Memphis, Houston, and Alabama.

As would be expected, the triple option (or triple option oriented) teams were all below average in explosiveness, with the notable exception of Georgia Southern (1.19, 53rd overall). Navy was 111th, New Mexico 112th, Georgia Tech 113th, Air Force 120th, and Army 129th (next-to-last, only ahead of Central Michigan).

BYU was the champion when it came to defensive IsoPPP (0.90). The rest of the top five: Iowa, Georgia, Washington, and Wyoming. Clemson was 8th, South Carolina 12th, and Georgia Southern 15th.

Last season, Georgia Southern was next-to-last in defensive IsoPPP, so there was a dramatic improvement on defense for that program. Beautiful Eagle Creek shimmered in the moonlight again.

On the wrong end of too many explosive plays: Virginia Tech, Coastal Carolina, South Alabama, East Carolina, Georgia State, and (of course) Connecticut, which had a defensive IsoPPP of 1.50. Yikes.

Imagine what would have happened if Oklahoma had played Connecticut last season…

Finishing Drives

This category calculates points per trip inside the opponent’s 40-yard line, based on the logical notion that the true “scoring territory” on the field begins at the +40.

The FBS national average for points per trip inside the opponent’s 40-yard line in 2017 was 4.42.

-Finishing Drives-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
Home 4.56 3.90 0.66
Road 4.82 5.41 -0.59
Avg. 4.69 4.55 0.14

This was a big improvement over a terrible 2017, when the Bulldogs struggled to put points on the board while in the Red Zone or the Front Zone.

The margin in 2018 might have been modest, but it was much more respectable than the -2.64 put up the year before. The defense does need to do a better job of bending (as opposed to breaking) when on the road, but that unit still improved by over a point in this category from 2017.

  • Scoring margin per game in SoCon play, 2016: 11.1
  • Scoring margin per game in SoCon play, 2017: -6.6
  • Scoring margin per game in SoCon play, 2018: 2.0

There are usually a lot of close games in the Southern Conference (five of the Bulldogs’ eight league games last season were decided by 7 points or less). That makes it all the more important, when approaching the goal line, to put the pigskin in the end zone.

Oklahoma led FBS in finishing drives (offense) last year, with a borderline-ridiculous 5.7 points per trip inside the 40-yard line. UCF was 2nd, followed by Utah State, Houston, Clemson, and Washington State. The worst team at finishing drives was UTSA.

The best defense inside the 40-yard line was Clemson, which allowed only 3.0 points per trip. Other stout defensive units in this area included Mississippi State, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Miami (FL), Kentucky, and Appalachian State. The worst defense inside the 40 was also the worst defense outside the 40, or on the 40, or above the 40, or anywhere — Connecticut.

As you might imagine, Clemson topped the charts in finishing drives margin, at +2.4. As succinctly noted in Athlon’s college preview magazine, that meant opponents needed to create twice as many chances as Clemson to score as many points. That never happened, obviously.

Mississippi State (+2.1) was second. In last place was Louisville, at -2.0, but at least the Cardinals were consistent — they finished 126th in finishing drives (offense), and 126th in finishing drives (defense). Louisville’s scoring margin from 2017 to 2018 dropped by an incredible 35 points per game, a monumental collapse.

Turnovers

First, a table of the actual turnovers:

The Citadel Opponent Margin
Home 7 2 -5
Road 4 10 6
Total 11 12 1

This was the second year in a row the Bulldogs didn’t fare well at home in the turnover department.

The next table is the “adjusted” or “expected” turnovers:

The Citadel Opponent Margin
Home 6.04 3.82 -2.22
Road 5.70 8.02 2.32
Total 11.74 11.84 0.10

As mentioned in previous posts, the expected turnovers statistic is based on A) the fact that recovering fumbles is usually a 50-50 proposition, and B) a little over 1/5 of passes that are “defensed” are intercepted. The “passes defensed” interception rate is calculated at 22%.

Essentially, The Citadel’s turnover margin was almost exactly what you would expect it to be. There was a bit of “turnover luck” both at home and on the road, but it all canceled out in the end.

The luckiest FBS team by far, at least in terms of turnovers, was Kansas — which makes one wonder how bad the 3-9 Jayhawks would have been if they hadn’t received a friendly roll of the dice when it came to takeaways.

Also fortunate in 2018: FIU, Maryland, Arizona State, and Georgia Tech. Among those teams not so lucky: ULM, Connecticut, UTEP, Tulane, Rutgers, and Florida State, with the Seminoles having the worst turnover luck in the country. Did I mention it was a tough year in Tallahassee?

How did The Citadel fare in the “Five Factors” head-to-head with each opponent in league play?

  • at Wofford: 2-3, with sizable edges in field position and turnovers, but a terrible efficiency number
  • Chattanooga: 2-3, again winning the field position battle, and with a slight edge in finishing drives
  • at Mercer: 2-3, coming out ahead in efficiency and turnover margin
  • ETSU: 1-4, with only an edge in finishing drives (though with most categories closely contested)
  • at VMI: 2-3, with an enormous edge in field position (and committing one fewer turnover)
  • Furman: 1-4, again having a field position edge, but not in front in any other category
  • at Western Carolina: 4-1, only trailing in explosiveness
  • Samford: 3-1-1 (neither team committed a turnover), with The Citadel playing its best 30 minutes of football all season in the 2nd half

There are three other statistical categories that I’ll mention here. All of them are included in tabs on the linked spreadsheet (and all reference SoCon games only).

-First down yardage gained per play-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
Home 6.50 5.59 0.91
Road 5.00 5.95 -0.45
Avg. 6.01 5.78 0.23
  • The Citadel’s offense averaged 6.21 yards on first down in 2016
  • The Citadel’s offense averaged 5.83 yards on first down in 2017
  • The Citadel’s offense averaged 6.01 yards on first down in 2018

In 2017, the margin in this category was -0.23; last year, it flipped (in a good way) in the other direction. The Bulldogs’ first-down defense was better on the road in 2018 than it had been the previous season.

-3rd down distance to gain (in yards)-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
Home 5.99 8.68 2.69
Road 6.09 7.85 1.76
Avg. 6.04 8.28 2.24

The margin in 2017 was 1.64, while it was 2.49 in 2016. Thus, last year was a nice rebound, but there is room for improvement.

In FBS, Army’s offense averaged 5.4 yards to go on third down, best in the nation. Army’s opponents averaged 8.4 yards to go on third down, also best in the nation.

In related news, Army won 11 games last season.

Definition of “passing downs”: 2nd down and 8 yards or more to go for a first down, 3rd/4th down and 5 yards or more to go for a first down

-Passing down success rate: offense-

Rushes Pass Attempts Success rate
Home 62 23 20.00%
Road 71 12 19.28%
Total 133 35 19.64%

Last season, the Bulldogs ran the ball 79.2% of the time on “passing downs”, a dramatic increase from 2017 (65.6%), and actually a higher percentage than in 2016 (75.6%). The success rate declined by more than ten percentage points, though.

I think this is an area that needs work. I will say that the emphasis on running the ball on passing downs — even more so than might be expected from a triple option team — may at least in part have been an attempt to position the offense for a more manageable 3rd-down or 4th-down play. This is not a bad idea (Army last year was extremely effective with a similar philosophy).

Still, that success rate has to increase.

-Passing down success rate: defense-

Rushes Pass Attempts Success rate
Home 36 62 30.61%
Road 31 66 29.90%
Total 67 128 30.26%

This isn’t bad; the passing attempts success rate against the Bulldogs’ D was 32.0%. That 26.8% success rate for opponents when running the ball on passing downs was too high, though.

No matter how “advanced” the statistics are now or might become in the future, the essence of football remains the same. Run. Throw. Catch. Block. Tackle. Kick.

That is why people love watching the game. It was true 100 years ago, and it is still true today.

It is almost time for another season. It cannot come soon enough.

Inside the Numbers, Part 1: The Citadel’s 2018 run/pass tendencies and yards per play statistics, with some SoCon and FCS discussion as well

Other recent posts about football at The Citadel:

– Football attendance at The Citadel — an annual review

– 2019 preseason rankings and ratings, featuring The Citadel and the rest of the SoCon

– During the 2019 football season, which teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

– Homecoming at The Citadel — a brief gridiron history

Also of interest from around the internet:

The time a couple of cadets swiped an elephant and took it to a football game

Brent Thompson talks to SportsTalk

The Citadel was picked to finish 7th in the SoCon by both the coaches and media polls

Thompson wasn’t impressed with those polls

Bulldogs punter Matthew Campbell is on the “Watch List” for the FCS Punter of the Year award (presented by the Augusta Sports Council)

“Meet the Bulldogs” is on August 24

This is Part 1 of a two-part post that focuses on select statistics on the 2018 football season. As was the case last year, I broke it down into two parts.

Part 2 can be found here.

I’ll also be releasing a couple of other stats-oriented posts in the (hopefully) near future. When I do, I’ll link them in this spot.

[Link when available!]

In recent seasons, I have written about play-calling tendencies by The Citadel’s coaching staff; I’ll continue to do that this year. I like to compare statistics over a rolling three-year period.

For this post, I’ll take a look at the 2018 season stats, and compare/contrast them with those from the 2016 and 2017 campaigns. All three campaigns have featured Brent Thompson as head coach, so there is some consistency there.

My focus will be on the following:

  • down-and-distance run/pass tendencies (for The Citadel and its opponents)
  • yards per play numbers (offense and defense, rushing and passing)
  • select defensive passing stats (including sacks, hurries, and passes defensed)
  • success in the “red zone” (essentially defined as scoring or preventing touchdowns)
  • plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more (“big plays”), and how they impact TD drives
  • fourth-down decision-making (for The Citadel and its opponents)
  • situational punting for The Citadel and its opponents (i.e. punting from inside the 50-yard line); I’m generally not a fan of this tactic
  • the all-important coin toss (with a curious change in philosophy for The Citadel!)
  • attendance and time-of-game information

Some of these items will be in Part 1, while others will be in Part 2.

First things first: The Spreadsheet

One thing you will notice is that almost all of the statistics in the spreadsheet are broken down by game. In other words, if you wanted to know about The Citadel’s yards per pass attempt versus Mercer (outstanding), or the Bulldogs’ Red Zone numbers against VMI (not good for the second straight season), or The Citadel’s time-of-possession for every quarter of every SoCon game this season, or any number of other things that you always wanted to know, but didn’t actually know that you wanted to know — well, this is the spreadsheet that you never dreamed about because you have really lame dreams.

If you didn’t want to know about any of those things, you should re-evaluate the priorities in your life.

The statistics that follow are (unless specifically noted) based on league play, and only league play. It’s easier and fairer to compare numbers in that way. The Citadel’s on-field success or failure will be judged for the most part on how it does in the Southern Conference, not against its out-of-conference slate.

The league schedules over the last three years looked like this:

  • The Citadel played eight games in 2016 versus Southern Conference opponents. The league schools that year: Mercer, Furman, Western Carolina, Chattanooga, Wofford, East Tennessee State, Samford, and VMI (with ETSU joining the league for football that season).
  • In 2017, the Bulldogs played the same SoCon opponents as they had in 2016. The Citadel faced East Tennessee State, Samford, Chattanooga, and Furman on the road, while playing Mercer, Wofford, VMI, and Western Carolina at home.
  • Last season, The Citadel’s league opponents remained unchanged. At home, the Bulldogs played Chattanooga, East Tennessee State, Furman, and Samford; away from Johnson Hagood Stadium, The Citadel faced Wofford, Mercer, VMI, and Western Carolina.

Caveat alert: I am reasonably confident in the overall accuracy of the statistics, though I am definitely capable of making mistakes. The SoCon included league-only stats on its website for the second year in a row, which was helpful.

I am happy to report that this year, the play-by-play data summaries were much cleaner. The glitch that affected kickoffs has been fixed, which was a blessing. Other than a weird (but easily navigable) hiccup in the Mercer game summary, and some minor issues in a couple of other summaries, I didn’t have too much trouble compiling the data I needed.

As additional references, here are the links to the spreadsheets from 2017, 2016, and 2015.

2017: Link

2016: Link

2015: Link

Some definitions:

– 2nd-and-short: 3 yards or less for a first down
– 2nd-and-medium: 4 to 6 yards for a first down
– 2nd-and-long: 7+ yards for a first down
– 3rd-and-short: 2 yards or less for a first down
– 3rd-and-medium: 3 to 4 yards for a first down
– 3rd-and-long: 5+ yards for a first down

The first number that will follow each down-and-distance category will be the percentage of time The Citadel ran the ball in that situation in 2018. Next to that, in parenthesis, is the run percentage for The Citadel in 2017, and that will be followed by the Bulldogs’ run percentage for that situation in 2016 (which will be in brackets).

For example, when it came to running the ball on first down, the numbers looked like this:

– 1st-and-10 (or goal to go): 84.3% (81.1%) [86.0%]

Thus, The Citadel ran the ball on first down 84.3% of the time last year, while the Bulldogs ran the ball in that situation 81.1% of the time in 2017. The Citadel ran the ball 86.0% of the time on first down during its 2016 campaign.

Overall, the Bulldogs ran the ball 83.7% of the time in 2018, after rushing 77.9% of the time in 2017, and on 85.6% of all offensive plays in 2016. This return to running on more than four-fifths of all offensive plays can be attributed to not having to pass as much in late-game situations, which was the case in 2017. The Bulldogs did not face significant deficits last season in the way they occasionally did the year before.

Here are the rest of the down-and-distance categories (in terms of rush percentage):

– 2nd-and-short: 75.0% (88.9%) [94.1%]
– 2nd-and-medium: 88.0% (87.2%) [96.1%]
– 2nd-and-long: 87.6% (76.9%) [83.8%]
– 3rd-and-short: 96.2% (91.7%) [100.0%]
– 3rd-and-medium: 88.2% (83.9%) [88.5%]
– 3rd-and-long: 70.2% (57.6%) [68.1%]

There were naturally a few called pass plays that turned into runs. However, if the result of a play was a sack, that counted as a passing down even if a pass wasn’t thrown. For the season, Bulldog QBs were sacked 6 times in league play (after being sacked 10 times in 2017), for a loss of 38 total yards.

  • In the past three seasons, the Bulldogs have faced 3rd-and-short 78 times in league play, and have thrown the ball just three times, including once last season (against VMI; the pass was not completed).
  • While The Citadel threw the ball more often on 2nd-and-short last year, beware of small sample sizes: 3 of the 7 times the Bulldogs did so were against ETSU, with two of those passes coming on The Citadel’s final drive, while trailing and running out of time.
  • To sum up, last year on 2nd-and-short and 3rd-and-short, the Bulldogs went back to pass eight times. The results were not good; The Citadel was 2-7 throwing the ball for 28 yards, with one sack/lost fumble. The Bulldogs have to take better advantage of the surprise element when passing in those down-and-distance situations.
  • The Citadel threw the ball on first down far more often versus ETSU and Furman than any of its other SoCon opponents. Twenty of the Bulldogs’ 35 first-down passes came against those two squads.

In this section, I’m listing what The Citadel’s conference opponents did in down-and-distance situations over the last three seasons.

Overall, conference opponents rushed on only 42.4% of their plays from scrimmage against the Bulldogs in 2018, after doing so on 53.5% of their plays in 2017 and 49.7% of their plays in 2016. On first down, league teams rushed 44.0% of time, as compared to 62.5% two years ago and 56.2% in 2016.

Here are the rest of the down-and-distance categories (in terms of rush percentage). The 2017 numbers are in parenthesis, while the 2016 stats are in brackets.

– 2nd-and-short: 73.7% (81.8%) [75.9%]
– 2nd-and-medium: 46.4% (61.0%) [47.9%]
– 2nd-and-long: 39.7% (41.5%) [44.8%]
– 3rd-and-short: 83.3% (78.6%) [66.7%]
– 3rd-and-medium: 41.7% (46.7%) [36.4%]
– 3rd-and-long: 27.8% (22.6%) [27.3%]

Some of the differences between last year and the previous two seasons can be attributed to game situation circumstances (i.e., The Citadel trailed more often in 2017 than in the other two years).

Another factor is VMI’s transition to the Air Raid, which markedly changed things in a couple of categories. Notably, the Keydets called pass plays on first down a remarkable 37 out of 40 times against the Bulldogs.

  • Teams that passed more than they rushed against The Citadel were 1-4 against the Bulldogs (Chattanooga won; Mercer, VMI, Western Carolina, and Samford all lost).
  • In 2017, Mercer did not attempt a pass versus the Bulldogs on either 2nd-and-short or 2nd-and-medium. Last year, the Bears faced six of those particular down-and-distance situations, and threw the ball on four of them.
  • VMI was the only SoCon squad to pass the ball on 3rd-and-short against The Citadel, doing so twice.
  • Samford did not run the ball once versus The Citadel on 2nd-and-medium, 3rd-and-medium, 3rd-and-long, or on 4th down.

In the next few sections of this post, I’m going to alternate offensive and defensive numbers.

  • The Citadel’s offense in 2016 in SoCon action: 72.1 plays per game, 11.4 possessions per game
  • The Citadel’s offense in 2017 in SoCon action: 70.1 plays per game, 12.1 possessions per game
  • The Citadel’s offense in 2018 in SoCon action: 69.0 plays per game, 11.6 possessions per game

*Overtime possessions are not included in any of the conference-only statistics, for the sake of consistency (and avoiding statistical sample size issues).

**I don’t count a drive as an actual possession when it consists solely of a defensive TD via a return, or when it is a defensive turnover that ends the half or game. I also don’t count a drive as a possession when the offensive team doesn’t attempt to score (such as a kneel-down situation). That accounts for any possession discrepancies between my numbers and a game summary.

Last year, the Bulldogs had a time of possession edge in league play of almost six minutes (32:55 – 27:05), which was the second season in a row TOP for The Citadel declined slightly. In 2017, the Bulldogs kept the ball for 33:10, while in 2016 they held it for 33:41.

The Citadel held the ball longer than its opponents on average in three of the four quarters in 2018, with the second quarter being the outlier. The Bulldogs won the TOP battle in every game except one (Furman, the second consecutive season the Paladins had the edge in that category).

Nationally (counting all games, not just conference matchups), the Bulldogs finished fifth in total time of possession per contest, behind Cal Poly, Portland State, Wofford, and Yale. In the previous two seasons, The Citadel had finished first (2017) and second (2016) in TOP.

The bottom three teams in the FCS for time of possession per game were VMI (third from last), Brown (second from last), and Prairie View A&M (last, at 24:26).

  • The Citadel’s defense in 2016 SoCon play: 57.6 plays per game, 11.4 possessions per game
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2017 SoCon play: 58.8 plays per game, 11.8 possessions per game
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2018 SoCon play: 62.3 plays per game, 11.5 possessions per game

VMI and Samford each broke the 80-play mark against the Bulldogs’ defense, but The Citadel won both of those games anyway. The 89 offensive plays run by Samford were the most faced by The Citadel in at least the last five years, and probably longer than that. By way of comparison, Charlotte’s offense ran “only” 88 plays in the wild 63-56 2OT game The Citadel had with the 49ers in 2014.

The school’s official record book states the most plays run by an opponent against the Bulldogs is 99, by Davidson in 1972. The Bulldogs won that game 25-16, despite committing seven turnovers (the Wildcats only managed to score three points after all of those takeaways, and also committed five turnovers themselves).

Another memorable aspect of that matchup with Davidson: The Citadel was assessed a fifteen-yard delay of game penalty before the contest even started. The team was penalized because the band was late getting off of the field.

Annual note: while NCAA statistical records count sack yardage against rushing totals, the NFL considers sack yardage as passing yardage lost. I take the NFL’s position on this, because it makes much more sense. Thus, all conference statistics included in this post count sack yardage against passing stats.

  • The Citadel’s offense in 2016 in SoCon games: 5.58 yards per play, including 5.28 yards per rush and 7.4 yards per pass attempt
  • The Citadel’s offense in 2017 in SoCon games: 5.38 yards per play, including 5.24 yards per rush and 7.0 yards per pass attempt
  • The Citadel’s offense in 2018 in SoCon games: 5.36 yards per play, including 4.89 yards per rush and 7.8 yards per pass attempt

The rushing yards per play numbers were down by a fairly significant margin. They did trend upward towards the end of the season, however.

– 2016 passing for The Citadel in eight conference games: 83 pass attempts for 615 yards (two interceptions)

– 2017 passing for The Citadel in eight conference games: 114 pass attempts for 797 yards (five interceptions)

– 2018 passing for The Citadel in eight conference games: 90 pass attempts for 701 yards (three interceptions)

That 2018 line isn’t going to match up with the SoCon official totals, mostly because of the sacks issue, and also because it doesn’t include a nine-yard pass completion in overtime against Chattanooga. As I mentioned earlier, overtime statistics are not included (because they tend to radically skew the numbers).

While it was somewhat disappointing that The Citadel couldn’t break the 8-yard per pass attempt barrier in SoCon action, the Bulldogs actually fare well in this category when compared to the rest of the league. I ran the numbers for each of the nine teams in conference play, taking sacks into account. Here are the results:

 

Furman 8.44
The Citadel 7.80
Wofford 7.45
Samford 7.40
Mercer 6.95
Western Carolina 6.76
Chattanooga 6.10
ETSU 5.49
VMI 5.19

Because The Citadel does not throw the ball very often, however, it still needs to improve in this area. That may seem counter-intuitive, but the fact is that when the Bulldogs do toss the pigskin into the air, they need to really make it count.

Let’s take a look at The Citadel’s per-play stats from a national perspective (all of FCS, and including all games, not just conference play). I’ll include stats from select FBS teams as well, concentrating (in that subdivision) on schools that run the triple option, teams of local interest, and a few others.

The Bulldogs’ offense was 84th nationally in yards per play, with a 5.23 average (all games). Davidson led FCS, averaging 7.79 yards per play while running the curiously named “gun-spread” offense.

This was just one of several offensive categories in which the Wildcats (a much-improved 6-5 last year) finished near (or at) the top of the subdivision; winning a game by a 91-61 score can certainly help your stats, at least on the offensive side of the ball. Davidson also had seven other games in which it scored at least 40 points; the Wildcats were 4-3 in those contests.

Davidson was followed in the yards per play department by South Dakota State, Eastern Washington, North Dakota State, and Princeton, all of which enjoyed outstanding seasons in 2018. SoCon teams in the top 50:  Wofford was 13th, Samford 20th, Western Carolina was 23rd, and Mercer was 33rd.

Kennesaw State was 11th, Hampton 22nd, Towson 34th, Elon 63rd, Charleston Southern 101st, South Carolina State 103rd, Presbyterian 111th, and VMI 112th. Bucknell finished 124th and last, averaging just 3.49 yards per play.

Oklahoma led FBS in yards per play again last season, with a mind-boggling 8.60 average. Other FBS rankings in this category of interest: Alabama (2nd, at 7.76 yards per play), Clemson (3rd), Memphis (4th), Mississippi (5th), UCF (9th), Appalachian State (14th), South Carolina (24th), Georgia Tech (39th), Georgia Southern (53rd), Coastal Carolina (59th), Air Force (tied for 72nd), Army (79th), Navy (tied for 101st), Florida State (110th), New Mexico (tied for 116th), Central Michigan (130th and last, at 3.78 yards per play).

The Bulldogs’ overall yards per rush was 38th-best in FCS, third in the SoCon behind Wofford (8th) and Western Carolina (20th).

The FCS top five in yards per rush attempt: Davidson (7.44 yards/rush), Eastern Washington, Princeton, South Dakota State, and North Dakota State (the same top five for overall yards/play). Kennesaw State was 9th, Towson 33rd, Elon 47th, Mercer 49th, Charleston Southern 53rd, ETSU 54th, Furman 69th, South Carolina State 72nd, Presbyterian 99th, Chattanooga 100th, VMI 121st, and Fordham 124th and last, averaging only 1.71 yards per rush.

I should point out (not for the first time) that these national rushing numbers include sacks. You may recall that in 2017 Mississippi Valley State actually finished with a negative rushing total, due to a ton of sacks (and some less-than-stellar actual rushing). This past year, the Delta Devils managed to finish in the positive column (115th nationally).

Oklahoma’s amazing offense led FBS in yards per rush at 6.57, just ahead of Clemson. Memphis, Wisconsin, and Ohio rounded out the top five.

Illinois was a somewhat surprising 6th, followed by Georgia, UCF, and Appalachian State. Georgia Tech and Maryland tied for 10th. Others of note: Georgia Southern (17th), Alabama (23rd), Army (31st), Navy (32nd), Air Force (tied for 41st), Coastal Carolina (48th), South Carolina (58th), Ohio State (tied for 76th), New Mexico (tied for 113th), Florida State (129th), and San Jose State (130th and very much last, at 2.07 yards per rush).

In terms of yards per pass attempt, The Citadel finished 18th nationally in FCS, at 8.3 yards/attempt. (That obviously includes all games.)

Another triple option team, Kennesaw State, led FCS teams at 9.73 yards per attempt. North Dakota State was 2nd, San Diego 3rd, Davidson 4th, South Dakota State 5th, and Furman 6th.

Wofford was 28th in the category, while Mercer was 31st, Western Carolina 36th, and Samford 37th. Towson was 46th, Elon 63rd, VMI 109th (with 19 interceptions, most in the subdivision), Charleston Southern 119th, and Bucknell last (at 4.95 yards per attempt).

In case you were wondering, Bucknell finished 1-10 last year.

Oklahoma completed the FBS yards-per-play triple crown by leading in yards per pass attempt, at 11.3, just ahead of Alabama (11.1). The Crimson Tide had a slightly better passing rating, thanks to a tiny edge in TD-to-interception ratio.

Two triple option teams also had great stats in this area. Army finished third in yards per pass attempt (10.6), and Georgia Southern finished 9th (8.8). In addition, the Eagles went the entire season without throwing an interception, the only FBS team to do so (Cal Poly also went INT-free in FCS).

Georgia Southern threw ten TD passes in 117 attempts. On the other hand, Rutgers had only five TD tosses in 351 attempts, tied for the lowest number of touchdown passes in FBS (with Navy, which passed the ball 223 fewer times). The Scarlet Knights also led FBS in interceptions thrown, with 22, and tied with Central Michigan for an FBS-worst 4.5 yards per pass attempt.

  • The Citadel’s defense in 2016 in SoCon action: 4.94 yards per play, including 4.61 yards per rush and 5.3 yards per pass attempt
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2017 in SoCon action: 5.69 yards per play, including 4.87 yards per rush and 7.5 yards per pass attempt
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2018 in SoCon action: 6.18 yards per play, including 5.69 yards per rush and 6.5 yards per pass attempt

The Bulldogs were better against the pass in 2018 than they were the season before, though not quite at the level as they were in 2016. The Citadel only had one truly bad game against the pass in league play, against Chattanooga (but it was definitely bad).

The yards allowed per rush stat is concerning. The Citadel got burned on some big rushing plays, particularly against Wofford and Western Carolina. The Bulldogs also gave up a 41-yard scramble to Samford quarterback Devlin Hodges, which really bumped up the opponent’s yards per rush for that game, especially since SU only had 15 rushing plays in the entire contest.

Nationally in FCS (stats are for all games, of course), The Citadel was 104th in defensive yards allowed per play (6.44). Colgage led FCS in this category, at 3.85 yards per play. Also in the top five: Dartmouth, Drake, Georgetown, and North Carolina A&T.

Colgate undoubtedly had an excellent defense, but also was the beneficiary of playing four of the bottom five teams in yards per play (Bucknell, Fordham, Georgetown, William and Mary). Having said that, the Raiders only lost two games all season (to Army and North Dakota State) and beat James Madison in the FCS playoffs. Colgate was a very solid club.

Georgetown managed to finish in the top 5 in defensive yards per play, and the bottom five in offensive yards per play. That strikes me as a novel accomplishment.

The Hoyas (5-6 in 2018) were sturdy against the pass, and other than Dartmouth and Colgate, nobody ran the ball — at least, not successfully — against Georgetown all season. The Hoyas’ offense often had trouble moving the football too, however.

Other teams of varied interest: Kennesaw State was 6th, James Madison 10th, North Dakota State 18th, Wofford 21st, Charleston Southern 23rd, ETSU 28th, Chattanooga 33rd, Samford 38th, Elon 50th, South Carolina State 65th, Towson 76th, Furman 87th, Presbyterian 91st, Mercer 102nd, Western Carolina 105th, VMI 113th, and Arkansas-Pine Bluff 124th and last (allowing 8.55 yards per play, far and away the worst average in FCS).

Mississippi State was the top FBS defense in yards per play (4.13). Clemson was 2nd, followed by Miami (FL), Appalachian State, and Michigan State.

Alabama was 24th, Georgia 25th, Georgia Southern 48th, South Carolina tied for 56th, Army tied for 59th, and Connecticut deader-than-dead last at 130th, allowing 8.81 yards per play. As noted by multiple members of the college football media, Oklahoma only had the second-best offense last season — because the best offense was whatever team played UConn in a given week.

Among all FCS squads, The Citadel was 68th in yards allowed per rush (4.53). Keep in mind (sorry for repeating this) this number does not separate sacks, which are included in the NCAA’s rush statistics (thus accounting for the wide difference from the SoCon-only numbers presented above).

The top five in this category: Maine (2.42 yards allowed per rush), Dartmouth, Drake, Georgetown, and Alcorn State.

Colgate was 6th, North Carolina A&T 8th, James Madison 9th, Kennesaw State 11th, Wofford 12th, North Dakota State 18th, ETSU 28th, Chattanooga 38th, Eastern Washington 40th, Charleston Southern 41st, Samford 42nd, Elon 48th, Monmouth 53rd, Furman 63rd, Towson 79th, South Carolina State 90th, Davidson 95th (basically the opposite of Georgetown when it came opponents running the football), Western Carolina 98th, Presbyterian 112th, VMI 113th, Gardner-Webb 122nd, and Cal Poly 124th and last (7.51 yards allowed per rush).

In the land of FBS, Clemson’s defense allowed only 2.51 yards per rush, leading the nation. The Tigers were followed by Michigan State, Northern Illinois, Mississippi State, and Utah.

Air Force was 17th, Florida State 20th, Alabama 21st (Dante Smith’s 14.4 yards-per-carry put a dent in the Crimson Tide’s average), Georgia Southern 43rd, Georgia 49th, South Carolina 78th, Georgia Tech 89th, Coastal Carolina 127th, and Connecticut 130th and last (7.67 yards allowed per rush).

Tangent: speaking of that game against Alabama, let’s just revisit one stat from it, shall we? From SB Nation:

Nick Saban’s defense had given up fewer than 100 yards on defense in the first half all season. The Citadel had 149 yards of total offense in the first half alone.

I had not seen that statistic before last month, when I encountered it while doing some research. It is kind of amazing. Just remember, though, that in 2018 The Citadel’s best half of football against a team from the state of Alabama came during Homecoming. Never forget that.

The Citadel was 113th in opposing yards per pass attempt in 2018. Again, that number is a bit different from the SoCon stats listed earlier because of the sacks issue, but it is also true the Bulldogs struggled against the pass in two of their three non-conference games, against Alabama (allowing 14.3 yards per pass attempt) and Towson (11.9).

There is no doubt this will be a point of emphasis for The Citadel when the Bulldogs face Tom Flacco and Towson in the season opener.

Colgate led FCS in defensive yards per pass attempt, at 5.06. Also in the top five: Prairie View A&M, Dartmouth, North Carolina A&T, and Campbell.

Georgetown was 7th, Kennesaw State 12th, James Madison 21st, ETSU 33rd, Wofford 39th, Chattanooga 47th, South Carolina State 53rd, Samford 55th, Elon 58th, Presbyterian 67th, Charleston Southern 70th, Towson 82nd, Furman 91st, Mercer 101st, Western Carolina 103rd, VMI 117th, Davidson 121st (basically the opposite of Georgetown when it came to defending the pass, too), and Arkansas-Pine Bluff 124th and last (allowing 11.03 yards per pass attempt).

Mississippi State led FBS in opposing yards per pass attempt (5.6). Miami was second, followed by Temple, Notre Dame, and Penn State.

LSU was 9th, Michigan 10th, Georgia 17th, Clemson 26th, Alabama 30th, South Carolina 55th, Georgia Southern 68th, Army 80th, Georgia Tech 85th, Navy 113th, Coastal Carolina 118th, Air Force 122nd, and Connecticut 130th and last (allowing 10.7 yards per pass attempt, and also winning the reverse defense triple crown).

That concludes Part 1 of Inside The Numbers.

Part 2 will include offensive/defensive statistics for Red Zone play and 3rd-down conversion rates. Also discussed: sacks, passes defensed, fumbles, penalties, punts, big plays, 4th down decision-making, a comparison of league attendance and game length, and (what everyone has been anxiously awaiting) coin toss strategy.

Link to Part 2

Football attendance at The Citadel: an annual review (also including SoCon discussion and assorted FCS observations)

Other recent posts about football at The Citadel:

– 2019 preseason rankings and ratings, featuring The Citadel and the rest of the SoCon

– During the 2019 football season, which teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

– Homecoming at The Citadel — a brief gridiron history

This post is (mostly) about home attendance at The Citadel, a subject I’ve written about many times over the years. However, I’ll also delve into the SoCon and national FCS attendance numbers.

First, a spreadsheet:

Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium, 1964-2018

The above link is to a spreadsheet that tracks attendance for The Citadel’s home football games, and which has now been updated to include the 2018 season. The spreadsheet lists year-by-year totals and average game attendance, and the win/loss record for the Bulldogs in each season. There is also a category ranking the years by average attendance.

This year, I have also included the home win/loss records for each season.

Other columns refer to the program’s winning percentage over a two-year, three-year, five-year, and ten-year period, with the “current” season being the final year in each category. For example, the three-year winning percentage for 1970 (54.84%) is made up of the 1968, 1969, and 1970 seasons.

I include those categories mainly to see what impact, if any, constant winning (or losing) has on long-term attendance trends.

In the last few years, I have compared average attendance for the first two games of a season to the last two contests of the same campaign. Clearly, there are sample-size issues when making such a comparison (weather, opponent fan base, etc.), but I’ve decided to keep up with it anyway. I’ve added the 2018 numbers, as part of an eight-year stretch:

  • 2011 [4-7 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 12,756; final two home games, average attendance of 12,387 (including Homecoming)
  • 2012 [7-4 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 13,281; final two home games, average attendance of 13,715 (including Homecoming)
  • 2013 [5-7 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 13,370; final two home games, average attendance of 12,948 (including Homecoming)
  • 2014 [5-7 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 9,700; final two home games, average attendance of 9,563 (including Homecoming)
  • 2015 [9-4 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 8,356; final two home games, average attendance of 12,465 (including Homecoming)
  • 2016 [10-2 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 13,299; final two home games, average attendance of 13,996 (including Homecoming)
  • 2017 [5-6 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 8,718; final two home games, average attendance of 9,496 (including Homecoming)
  • 2018 [5-6 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 9,559; final two home games, average attendance of 9,511 (including Homecoming and a rescheduled game)

Since 1964, the Bulldogs’ record at Johnson Hagood Stadium is 189-117 (61.8%). The average home attendance over that time period is 13,978. However, there has not been a season in which home attendance averaged more than 13,978 since 2006.

The current stadium capacity is less than 12,000, due to the demolition of the East stands in the spring of 2017. Obviously, The Citadel cannot expect to see an increase in attendance to the levels of the early part of this century anytime soon (to say nothing of the attendance figures for the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s).

Last year’s average home attendance of 9,343 was the second-lowest for any season since attendance figures at Johnson Hagood Stadium can be accurately determined. Over the previous 54 years, only one season featured lower home attendance — 2017.

As always, it is worth mentioning that the cutoff for accuracy in attendance numbers means years like 1959 (eight wins), 1960 (Tangerine Bowl victory), and 1961 (SoCon title) cannot be included for comparison in this review, not to mention any of the other years from 1948, when the most recent iteration of Johnson Hagood Stadium opened, through the 1963 season. I am not particularly confident in any season attendance figures prior to 1964. (It could be argued that I shouldn’t be overly confident of the attendance numbers that followed, either.)

From what I can tell, the largest home attendance at any pre-1964 contest was probably for the Homecoming game against Clemson in 1948, when an estimated 16,000 fans were present for the dedication of the “new” Johnson Hagood Stadium.

In case anyone was wondering, here are the top average attendance marks over two-year, three-year, five-year, and ten-year periods:

  • Two years: 1975-76 (18,250). Rest of the top five: 1991-92, 1979-80, 1990-91, 1989-90
  • Three years: 1990-92 (17,457). Rest of the top five: 1989-91, 1978-80, 1991-93, 1975-77
  • Five years: 1988-92 (17,126). Rest of the top five: 1989-93, 1975-79, 1976-80, 1990-94
  • Ten years: 1975-84 (16,250). Rest of the top five: 1983-92, 1974-83, 1976-85, 1984-93

Average attendance by decade:

  • 1964-69: 11,998
  • 1970-79: 15,053
  • 1980-89: 15,398
  • 1990-99: 14,955
  • 2000-09: 13,850
  • 2010-18: 11,398

I wrote this in April of 2018:

One obvious issue with attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium is that currently about half of the stadium does not exist. Of course, right now nothing is going to happen on that front, because the school doesn’t have a president or a permanent director of athletics.

When the new president is in place, one of his top priorities should be getting a permanent structure built on the east side of the stadium. It should be the top priority for the new AD.

Well, The Citadel now has a new school president, and it also has a permanent AD. Despite that, there hasn’t been a lot of public discussion about the stadium.

A scan of the minutes from recent meetings of the Board of Visitors doesn’t reveal anything, either. A couple of brief snippets from the January 25/26 minutes:

Mr. [Mike] Capaccio discussed the results of recruitment efforts, competitions and practice opportunities, and a student-athlete academic summary for fall of 2018, including degrees that the student-athletes are pursuing. His noted his goal is to “pay off off past debt and to move forward” and “our fans are loyal and regularly support” Citadel teams…

…Dr. [Jay] Dowd gave an overview of fundraising for 2018 for TCF [The Citadel Foundation], TCBF [The Citadel Brigadier Foundation], and an update on TCREF [The Citadel Real Estate Foundation]. Both TCF and TCBF achieved or exceeded their 2018 goals.

During the meeting on March 1, the field did get a mention:

The donor of the new artificial turf on the field at Johnson Hagood Stadium has opted for a better quality product which has delayed the beginning of the project.

I wish there could be a little more “buzz” about the stadium, to be honest. I’ve been told that it is going to happen, which is good. It would be a touch more reassuring, though, if someone in a position of authority put his or her name on a public statement that said something along the lines of “We’ll have the new East stands ready to go by [a year in the very near future].”

Now it is time to take a look at FCS attendance across the board.

2018 NCAA football attendance (all divisions)

Jackson State led the division in average home attendance, at 24,770 (four games). That was higher than 50 FBS programs, including several bowl teams and one Power 5 school (Kansas).

JSU also had a higher average home attendance than the school average for four FBS conferences (Mountain West, Sun Belt, C-USA, MAC). Overall, Jackson State ranked 81st in NCAA home football attendance, regardless of division.

Montana was second overall in FCS, averaging 24,677 (six games). Four FCS programs ranked in the overall top 100 in home attendance — Jackson State, Montana, James Madison, and Southern.

Those four joined North Dakota State in averaging more than 18,000 fans per game. Last season, seven FCS schools hit that standard.

The Citadel ranked 24th out of 125 FCS schools, and third in the Southern Conference (behind Western Carolina and Mercer). Despite the lack of permanent seating on the east side of the stadium, the program finished in the top 30 of FCS in attendance for the twelfth time in the last thirteen years.

Here is a table that includes all 125 FCS squads (including “transitioning” North Alabama) and their respective home attendance totals/averages/rankings for the 2018 season:

Team G Total Att. Average Rank
Jackson State 4 99,079 24,770 1
Montana 6 148,064 24,677 2
James Madison 6 125,466 20,911 3
Southern 4 75,212 18,803 4
North Dakota State 10 181,055 18,106 5
Florida A&M 6 107,239 17,873 6
Jacksonville State 6 101,421 16,904 7
Montana State 7 115,299 16,471 8
Delaware 6 97,791 16,299 9
Alabama State 4 64,293 16,073 10
North Carolina A&T 5 77,468 15,494 11
Alcorn State 6 91,103 15,184 12
Alabama A&M 4 50,086 12,522 13
Youngstown State 6 69,322 11,554 14
Idaho 5 56,400 11,280 15
McNeese State 5 54,814 10,963 16
Western Carolina 5 52,900 10,580 17
Tennessee State 4 41,688 10,422 18
South Dakota State 7 71,243 10,178 19
New Hampshire 6 60,921 10,154 20
Harvard 5 49,211 9,842 21
Mercer 5 49,015 9,803 22
South Dakota 5 47,098 9,420 23
The Citadel 5 46,715 9,343 24
Northern Iowa 6 56,020 9,337 25
North Dakota 5 46,682 9,336 26
Illinois State 6 55,561 9,260 27
William & Mary 4 36,922 9,231 28
South Carolina State 5 45,871 9,174 29
Abilene Christian 5 44,953 8,991 30
Norfolk State 6 53,211 8,869 31
North Carolina Central 5 44,318 8,864 32
Idaho State 5 44,134 8,827 33
Chattanooga 5 43,761 8,752 34
Prairie View A&M 4 34,620 8,655 35
UC Davis 5 42,529 8,506 36
East Tennessee State 6 50,619 8,437 37
Elon 5 41,336 8,267 38
Weber State 7 57,817 8,260 39
Southern Utah 5 41,019 8,204 40
Grambling State 4 32,738 8,185 41
Richmond 5 40,428 8,086 42
Eastern Washington 8 63,795 7,974 43
Sam Houston State 5 39,554 7,911 44
Stony Brook 5 39,068 7,814 45
Northwestern State 5 38,914 7,783 46
Penn 5 38,839 7,768 47
Nicholls State 6 46,180 7,697 48
Central Arkansas 5 38,416 7,683 49
Yale 5 38,286 7,657 50
Austin Peay 5 37,810 7,562 51
Sacramento State 4 29,850 7,463 52
Missouri State 6 44,432 7,405 53
Eastern Kentucky 6 43,775 7,296 54
Maine 5 35,468 7,094 55
Lamar 6 42,462 7,077 56
Northern Arizona 5 35,178 7,036 57
North Alabama 5 33,774 6,755 58
Princeton 6 39,371 6,562 59
Southern Illinois 5 32,786 6,557 60
Cal Poly 6 39,175 6,529 61
Hampton 5 32,634 6,527 62
Murray State 5 30,945 6,189 63
Furman 4 24,555 6,139 64
Towson 6 36,681 6,114 65
Bethune-Cookman 4 24,310 6,078 66
Lafayette 5 29,219 5,844 67
Cornell 5 29,121 5,824 68
Tennessee Tech 5 29,053 5,811 69
Wofford 6 34,837 5,806 70
Kennesaw State 7 40,295 5,756 71
Howard 4 22,806 5,702 72
Arkansas-Pine Bluff 5 28,435 5,687 73
Columbia 5 28,435 5,687 74
Villanova 5 28,303 5,661 75
Indiana State 5 28,283 5,657 76
Holy Cross 5 27,614 5,523 77
Southeastern Louisiana 5 27,477 5,495 78
Samford 5 27,131 5,426 79
Eastern Illinois 5 26,715 5,343 80
Stephen F. Austin 4 21,189 5,297 81
Campbell 7 35,405 5,058 82
Rhode Island 5 24,662 4,932 83
Colgate 5 24,414 4,883 84
Lehigh 5 24,271 4,854 85
Morgan State 5 23,406 4,681 86
Savannah State 5 23,243 4,649 87
Morehead State 6 27,505 4,584 88
Albany (NY) 6 27,096 4,516 89
Southeast Missouri State 6 26,990 4,498 90
Texas Southern 5 21,773 4,355 91
Northern Colorado 6 25,293 4,216 92
Brown 5 20,563 4,113 93
VMI 5 20,556 4,111 94
Dartmouth 5 20,034 4,007 95
Fordham 6 23,781 3,964 96
Mississippi Valley State 4 15,580 3,895 97
Portland State 5 18,993 3,799 98
Central Connecticut State 5 18,490 3,698 99
Davidson 7 25,884 3,698 100
Incarnate Word 4 14,383 3,596 101
Bryant 5 17,831 3,566 102
Western Illinois 5 15,897 3,179 103
Gardner-Webb 6 18,842 3,140 104
Butler 5 14,997 2,999 105
Dayton 5 14,797 2,959 106
UT Martin 5 14,430 2,886 107
Sacred Heart 5 13,746 2,749 108
Monmouth 6 16,463 2,744 109
Bucknell 5 13,144 2,629 110
Wagner 4 9,070 2,268 111
Valparaiso 5 11,264 2,253 112
Houston Baptist 6 13,304 2,217 113
San Diego 5 10,653 2,131 114
Presbyterian 5 10,287 2,057 115
Stetson 6 12,008 2,001 116
Jacksonville 5 9,945 1,989 117
Drake 5 9,201 1,840 118
Georgetown 5 9,201 1,840 119
Charleston Southern 5 8,820 1,764 120
Marist 5 8,657 1,731 121
Delaware State 4 6,836 1,709 122
Duquesne 6 9,802 1,634 123
Robert Morris 5 7,614 1,523 124
St. Francis (PA) 6 7,804 1,301 125

Odds and ends:

– Furman’s home average attendance fell from 7,775 to 6,139, almost back to where FU was in 2016 (5,771). Despite that decline, Furman still outdrew Wofford for a second consecutive season, after a four-year period in which the Spartanburg school had the higher average attendance.

Of course, Furman lost a home game last year when its matchup against Colgate was canceled due to Hurricane Florence. As for Wofford, hosting a first-round playoff game did not help its attendance numbers (as only 2,157 fans were at Gibbs Stadium to see the Terriers play Elon).

– After an increase of 1,702 fans per home contest in 2017, South Carolina State slipped back to an average of 9,174 fans per game last year. While still good enough to finish in the FCS top 30, it was a per-game decline of 2,709 supporters.

SCSU’s average attendance was significantly affected by a rescheduled game against North Carolina Central, which was played in November instead of its original September 15 date. The matchup (one of many postponed by Hurricane Florence) drew only 3,996 fans.

– Three Division II schools (Morehouse, Tuskegee, and Grand Valley State) all had higher home attendance averages than four FBS institutions (Coastal Carolina, Northern Illinois, Massachusetts, and Ball State).

– Other D-2 home attendance averages of interest: Benedict (4,223); Newberry (2,971); North Greenville (3,243); Lenoir-Rhyne (4,998); Chowan (2,981); Catawba (1,903); Carson-Newman (3,639); Valdosta State (4,890); Mars Hill (3,166); Shorter (1,662).

– The three lowest average home attendance totals in FCS last year: Duquesne, Robert Morris, and St. Francis (PA), all of which play in the Northeast Conference. Duquesne won that league and its automatic bid to the playoffs.

– The lowest average home attendance for any NCAA school last season was at Earlham College (IN), of Division III, with 188 fans per contest. Earlham, which has not won a football game since 2013, suspended its football program after last season, and will not compete in 2019.

Western New Mexico had the lowest attendance in Division II, averaging 292 patrons per game. There is a discrepancy between the NCAA’s numbers and the school’s, as Western New Mexico’s statistical attendance summary is incomplete, as this boxscore may indicate. The Mustangs finished with an 0-10 record.

There were 669 football-playing colleges and universities in the NCAA’s three divisions last season.

The average home attendance for SoCon teams (all games) was 7,611, the second consecutive year league attendance has declined:

  • 2014: 8,204
  • 2015: 8,210
  • 2016: 8,386
  • 2017: 7,827
  • 2018: 7,611

As was the case in 2017, East Tennessee State could be considered the median of the SoCon in terms of home attendance, finishing fifth in the league with an average of 8,437 fans per game. League attendance could be easily broken down into two tiers, with a significant difference in average attendance between 5th-place ETSU and 6th-place Furman.

Average attendance across FCS last season was 7,325, though the median attendance was 6,527. Thus, the SoCon was above the national average in terms of attendance (6th out of 13 FCS conferences).

In terms of attendance by league games only — in other words, not counting any non-conference home games (regular or post-season) played by SoCon teams — the average attendance was 7,697, a decline of 130 fans per contest from 2017. The median attendance in this category for 2018 was 8,069, an increase of 286 fans per game from the previous season.

Eight of thirty-six conference games were attended by more than 10,000 people. The most attended SoCon matchup last season was VMI’s game at Western Carolina on September 2, with an announced attendance of 12,759.

VMI also was involved in the lowest-attended league matchup, on September 14, a home game against East Tennessee State that drew only 2,764 fans. It should be noted that ETSU-VMI was played one day earlier than scheduled, on a Friday afternoon, because of (yet again) Hurricane Florence.

Average home attendance, league games only:

  • Western  Carolina: 10,197
  • The Citadel: 9,709
  • Mercer: 9,703
  • Chattanooga: 8,685
  • East Tennessee State: 8,400
  • Wofford: 6,751
  • Furman: 6,138
  • Samford: 5,457
  • VMI: 4,234

The Citadel was easily the top overall road draw in league play last season, with the Bulldogs playing before an average of 9,400 fans in four conference contests away from home. Three of those four games (against Wofford, VMI, and Mercer) featured the top home crowd for The Citadel’s opponents in 2018. That is no surprise, given the Bulldogs’ fan base.

Samford finished second in this category (league road attendance average of 9,094). SU was the only other conference team to be the top opposition draw for multiple conference games, with Devlin Hodges and company drawing the best home crowds of the season for Chattanooga and The Citadel.

Western Carolina, which led the conference in average home attendance, was at the bottom of average attendance for league road games, at 6,420.

The average attendance at FCS games decreased by 4.5 percent in the 2018 season, reflecting a continued problem in recent years…

…Seven of the top 13 attendances came from HBCUs – historically black colleges and universities. That helped the Southwestern Athletic Conference to average an FCS-high 15,240 fans per game, with the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference ranking third out of 13 conferences at 9,815. The Missouri Valley Football Conference was second at 9,864.

On the other levels of NCAA football, the average attendance in the FBS was down 0.8 percent; Division II, 6 percent; and Division III, 9 percent.

I think it is interesting that while FBS attendance decreased only marginally last season, there was a substantial decline in attendance for FCS, D-2, and D-3 (and that the dropoff got worse further down the divisional totem pole).

One of the popular theories about declining attendance revolves around fan access to games via TV/streaming. However, very few D-2/D-3 games are televised, and streaming for teams in those divisions is certainly not as widespread as it is in FBS/FCS — yet numerous schools in D-2/D-3 have eroding attendance numbers.

Incidentally, the SWAC and the MEAC were the only two FCS leagues that did not see a decline in attendance. Some of the conferences really took a hit in 2018 (particularly the Ivy League, Southland, and Patriot League).

There are no easy answers to the attendance conundrum. However, there is consensus on the surest way to maintain and/or increase attendance. A former assistant coach at The Citadel said it best:

Just win, baby.

Football season is getting closer…

During the 2019 football season, which teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

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

2019 preseason rankings and ratings, featuring The Citadel and the rest of the SoCon

Homecoming at The Citadel — a brief gridiron history

– Also of note, an interview of new Southern Conference commissioner Jim Schaus by Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier. Here is a friendly tip for the incoming commish:  we do not want Tuesday and Wednesday night football games.

Just say no.

For the seventh consecutive season, it is time to comprehensively review this all-important topic!

Below, I’ll list which teams The Citadel’s opponents face before and after playing the Bulldogs. I’ll also discuss other items of varied importance, including schedule-related information, history, trivia, and other completely useless facts. There is also an audience participation segment. You’ve been warned.

For reference purposes, I’ve compiled the master schedule for the SoCon in a Google spreadsheet. I hope this may come in handy for anyone interested:  Link

This year, the Bulldogs will play 12 games, with one bye week. We begin with the opener, which will be held at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium.

August 31: The Citadel opens at home against Towson. The last time the Bulldogs played their opener at home versus a D-1 opponent, in 2015, they defeated Davidson 69-0. My guess is that this game will be more competitive than that one. The Citadel has only played twice on August 31 in its football history, losing both of those contests.

The Tigers were last seen on the gridiron losing at home to Duquesne in the FCS playoffs, 31-10. Towson won its opening game last year against Morgan State, one of seven victories in 2018 for Tom Flacco and company (including a 44-27 win over The Citadel).

After playing the Bulldogs, Towson returns home the following week to face North Carolina Central. On September 14, the Tigers begin CAA play at Maine. The overall schedule for the Tigers looks imposing; it features a game at Florida.

Incidentally, future Towson games versus FBS opponents include road contests against Maryland, West Virginia, and (somewhat curiously) San Diego State. That latter game is scheduled to take place in 2021; even though it is still two years away, I am going to confidently nominate Towson-San Diego State as the most random D-1 matchup for that season.

September 7: The Bulldogs goes on the road to play Elon, the second of four consecutive non-conference matchups for The Citadel to begin the year. The Bulldogs are 1-3 all-time on September 7.

The Citadel last played Elon on November 9, 2013, when the Bulldogs prevailed on the road 35-10. In terms of the calendar, this will be the earliest meeting on the gridiron between the two schools. The only other September encounter was an 18-15 Phoenix victory at Elon on September 24, 2011.

While Elon made the FCS playoffs last season, the Phoenix are looking to break a three-game losing streak that put a damper on the 2018 campaign, including a 19-7 postseason defeat at Wofford. The game against the Bulldogs will be the 2019 home debut for the Phoenix, after an opening game on the road versus MEAC power North Carolina A&T.

Elon starts CAA play the week after facing The Citadel, traveling to Richmond to face the Spiders on September 14. That contest is followed by a matchup at Wake Forest and a home game against James Madison.

Few teams in FCS have a tougher August/September slate than the Phoenix. It is also worth mentioning that Elon has a new head coach — though there is program continuity, with former defensive coordinator Tony Trisciani assuming the role.

Unlike The Citadel, Towson, and many other FCS teams, Elon will only play 11 regular-season games in 2019.

September 14: The Citadel travels to Atlanta to square off against the Ramblin’ Wreck of Georgia Tech. It will be the Cadets’ first September matchup versus a P5 opponent since 2014 (Florida State).

This date has historically been relatively kind for the Bulldogs, as the program has a 4-1 record on 9/14. On the other hand, The Citadel has never beaten the Yellow Jackets in ten attempts (with the last meeting occurring in 2001).

Georgia Tech opens the post-PJ era with a Thursday night game (on August 29) at Clemson, a difficult way for new head coach Geoff Collins to begin his tenure. After a home game versus South Florida (also a tough test), the Yellow Jackets play The Citadel before a bye week on September 21.

By then, Georgia Tech fans should know just how difficult the transition away from the triple option attack will be.

September 21: The fourth and final regular-season non-conference opponent for the Bulldogs is Charleston Southern. While September 21 was great for Earth, Wind, & Fire, with blue talk and love and a lot of dancing, it hasn’t been a date to remember for The Citadel, which is 1-7-1 all-time on 9/21.

The Bulldogs will try to chase the clouds away for the second year running against the Buccaneers. Last season’s game was postponed from an original September 15 kickoff to November 29, a rare Thursday night game at Johnson Hagood Stadium. The Citadel won 43-14.

Charleston Southern’s 2019 slate begins with a trip to Furman and a game at South Carolina. CSU will host North Carolina A&T the week before it plays The Citadel, and will have a bye week following the game against the Bulldogs.

New CSU head coach Autry Denson may have wished for a more manageable stretch of games to begin his career. He will also be the third straight first-year coach The Citadel will face during this part of the season.

September 28: The Citadel starts SoCon play at Samford. The Cadets are 5-5 on September 28, with the first victory on this date a 1-0 forfeit win over Fort Moultrie in 1912.

In case you were wondering about that one, the soldiers led 13-7 in the 4th quarter when The Citadel scored a tying touchdown. However, before the Bulldogs could kick a PAT that would have given them the lead, Fort Moultrie’s players walked off the field in protest, as they felt the TD had been scored with the help of fan interference.

The opening paragraph of the game story is suggestive:

[On] Saturday afternoon, at Hampton Park, despite the protests of the police and other officials, it proved a hard matter for bashful spectators to tell whether the enthusiastic rooters or the elevens from The Citadel and Fort Moultrie were playing the game. This deplorable state of affairs was the cause of the boys from the island forfeiting the game with a technical score of 1-0 in favor of the Cadets, in the beginning of the fourth quarter. Practically every spectator present appointed himself a field judge, and proceeded to interfere with the players throughout the game, in the meantime taxing his lungs in an endeavor to announce decisions to the State at large.

The Charleston Evening Post, September 29, 1912

Samford’s first game of the season will be on August 24, one week before any of its conference brethren, as the Birmingham Bulldogs play Youngstown State in the FCS Kickoff game. That matchup will be held at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama.

SU then travels to Tennessee Tech on August 31 before enjoying the first of two bye weeks. Samford’s season resumes with a game at Wofford on September 14, followed by three consecutive home games — against Alabama A&M, The Citadel, and Furman.

Samford, like all but two SoCon schools, will play 12 regular-season games in 2019. SU’s final game of the campaign is at Auburn.

October 5: It will be Parents’ Day at Johnson Hagood Stadium, and VMI comes to Charleston. The Citadel is 6-4-1 on October 5, with the tie coming in 1985 — against none other than VMI.

The Keydets open their season at Marshall in the Lee Moon Invitational, followed by a home game versus D-2 Mars Hill. VMI starts its SoCon campaign at East Tennessee State before stepping out of conference again for a game in Lexington versus Robert Morris.

After another home game, this time against Wofford, VMI travels to Charleston for the Military Classic of the South, the legendary battle for the coveted Silver Shako. The Keydets are at home versus Samford the following week, so VMI will have consecutive games against teams called Bulldogs.

VMI plays two FBS games in 2019, with the second a November 16 matchup at Army. The Keydets’ only win in that series came in 1981, coincidentally (or perhaps not so coincidentally) the last time VMI had a winning season on the gridiron.

October 12: The Citadel plays Western Carolina. The program is 6-8 all-time on October 12, with the most notable of the six victories a 20-14 win at Army in 1991.

It was the first time The Citadel had ever defeated the Bulldogs of the Hudson, and it spoiled Homecoming Day at Michie Stadium for the home fans. Jack Douglas and Everette Sands both scored touchdowns, and Rob Avriett kicked two field goals. Meanwhile, the defense forced five turnovers.

Western Carolina opens the 2019 season by hosting Mercer. The Catamounts take on North Carolina State the following week before returning to Cullowhee to face D-2 North Greenville. After a bye week, Western Carolina is at Chattanooga on September 28, and then home to Gardner-Webb the week before playing The Citadel.

For the Catamounts, the game against the Bulldogs is the first of three straight contests versus Palmetto State opposition. On October 19, Western Carolina is at Wofford, and the following week WCU entertains Furman for Homecoming.

Western Carolina finishes the season with a relaxing matchup at Alabama.

In a bit of a scheduling fluke, five of the SoCon’s nine teams are off on October 12. There are two league games, WCU-The Citadel and Samford-VMI. Everyone else is on cruise control.

October 19: One of the teams with a bye week on October 12 is Furman, which will be The Citadel’s opponent on October 19. It will also be the Paladins’ Homecoming.

The Bulldogs are only 4-10 on this date, though one of the wins was a scintillating 66-0 victory over Porter Military Academy. That came in the same year (1912) The Citadel was awarded the aforementioned 1-0 forfeit victory over Fort Moultrie, establishing the Bulldogs as the top football-playing military outfit in the Low Country.

The News and Courier‘s headline above the game story described Porter as ‘plucky’ and also stated that the “game was a good one in spite of the score…Porter played [a] hard game, while Cadets’ work was loose in spots”. Whatever you say, nameless sportswriter (who undoubtedly had a relative playing for Porter).

On the same page of the game story, there was also an advertisement for castor oil with the tagline “Children like it — it does ’em good”. Sure.

Okay, back to the 21st century…

Furman begins its season by hosting Charleston Southern, and then plays consecutive road games against FBS opponents. The Paladins travel to Atlanta to face Georgia State, and then journey to Blacksburg to tangle with Virginia Tech.

FU plays three straight SoCon opponents (Mercer, ETSU, at Samford) before that bye week. After its game versus The Citadel, Furman has two straight road contests, playing Western Carolina on October 26 and Chattanooga the following week.

Furman’s last two regular-season games are at Wofford and home against Point University, an NAIA school located in West Point, Georgia. The Paladins wanted a sixth home game, and wound up with the Skyhawks, which were 3-8 last year.

While there has been some gentle (and not-so-gentle) online mockery of Furman for scheduling that game, I am slightly more sympathetic to the Paladins’ plight — there are limited options when you have an open date the final week of the season. I also have to wonder if the league office could have rearranged the conference slate a little bit in order to help Furman out.

On Point’s website, I noticed that while the football team’s season opener at Kennesaw State (yes, the Skyhawks are playing two FCS teams this year) is just noted as a regular game, the matchup versus the Paladins is listed as an “exhibition game” — at least, for Point. That is something you see occasionally in college hoops when a D-1 squad plays a non-division opponent, but in football it is rather unusual. Actually, I’m not sure I’ve seen that before for a gridiron matchup.

Also, Point plays its home football games at Ram Stadium, which is located just across the state line in Valley, Alabama.

October 26: Homecoming at The Citadel, for the 92nd time. Mercer will become the Bulldogs’ 18th different Homecoming opponent. The Citadel is 7-6-1 on October 26.

This will be the second time in three seasons The Citadel has played its Homecoming game in October, after 50 straight years of the event being held in November. That is just one of many facts about The Citadel’s Homecoming history you can learn in this inspirational post: Link

Mercer is just one of two SoCon teams that is only playing 11 regular-season games (Wofford is the other). The Bears do have six home games, though.

MU opens at Western Carolina, and then immediately has a bye week prior to its home opener on 9/14 against Austin Peay. The Bears’ other non-conference home game is versus Campbell.

After a second bye week on October 12, Mercer plays consecutive games against military colleges, hosting VMI the week before facing The Citadel. The Bears then have a home game against Samford, so MU will also have two straight games against teams with the nickname “Bulldogs”.

(The “two straight Bulldogs” thing is about to become a theme, so get ready.)

After its own Homecoming against Wofford, Mercer will finish with two straight road games, travelling to East Tennessee State and North Carolina.

November 2: For the third straight week, The Citadel will be involved in a Homecoming game, as the Bulldogs make the journey to Johnson City to play East Tennessee State. On this date, the Bulldogs have an all-time record of 4-6.

ETSU opens the season at Appalachian State, then plays three straight home games, against Shorter (a D-2 school), VMI, and Austin Peay (joining Mercer as one of the two SoCon schools to host the Governors this season).

After a bye week on October 12, the Buccaneers travel to Chattanooga for a Thursday night game, then make the trek to suburban Birmingham to play Samford, prior to the game versus The Citadel. Thus, ETSU will also have consecutive games against teams nicknamed “Bulldogs”.

Following two more league matchups, East Tennessee State will close its regular-season campaign with a game at Vanderbilt.

November 9: Better late than never, The Citadel finally gets a bye week. Ten straight games to open a twelve-game season is less than ideal.

The Bulldogs are the only SoCon team with a bye week in November. Those in charge of scheduling in the league office did The Citadel no favors, to say the least.

November 16: After the week off, The Citadel makes another trip to Tennessee, this time to play Chattanooga.

The Bulldogs are 7-9 on November 16. One of the seven victories for The Citadel was a 3-0 triumph over Clemson in 1916, a contest played on a Thursday afternoon in Orangeburg.

“JOY AND GLADNESS ARE SUPREME HERE” screamed The News and Courier‘s sports headline the following day. The newspaper extolled the virtues of the Bulldogs’ Johnny Weeks, “quarterback extraordinaire and captain unequaled…one of the greatest, if not the greatest gridironists ever turned out by the Marion Square institution.”

The victory all but clinched The Citadel’s second consecutive state championship, as the only remaining game on the Bulldogs’ schedule was against South Carolina, a Thanksgiving Day affair that the newspaper stated for the Gamecocks to win would take “more than a miracle”. (The scribe who penned that sentiment was correct, as The Citadel would go on to defeat South Carolina 20-2.)

Chattanooga has two Thursday night home games this season, its opener against Eastern Illinois and the game versus ETSU that was mentioned earlier in this post. The Mocs arguably have the most difficult non-conference schedule in the league, one that includes road games versus Jacksonville State and Tennessee and a home tilt against James Madison.

Those games are all in a row following the Eastern Illinois game. The Mocs then play two league games before a 10/12 bye week. UTC, like Mercer, has both the “Bulldog double” and the “Military College double”, as it finishes the season with a game at Samford, a home contest versus The Citadel, and then plays at VMI.

Prior to that three-game stretch, Chattanooga has back-to-back games versus Wofford (road) and Furman (home). That is a tough slate, and UTC will also be breaking in a new head coach (Rusty Wright).

Okay, here is the audience participation section of this post. Feel free to skip ahead to November 23 (but let’s be honest; if you’ve somehow come this far, you can read another extra few paragraphs):

The Citadel has played a few Friday night contests in its history, though not many after World War II. Several of them were games played at the Orangeburg County Fair.

I only know of two games played at the “modern” Johnson Hagood Stadium on a Friday. One was against Furman in 1953, and from what I gather was an experiment to see if more people would go to the game. (The answer to that question: uh, no.)

The other was the last game of the 1969 season, versus Chattanooga. I don’t know why that game was played on a Friday.

If anyone reading this does know why, I would appreciate it if you replied to this post with the reason (or you could tweet the explanation to me; just go to @SandlapperSpike).

Thanks in advance. Now to the final regular-season game.

November 23: The twelfth contest of the campaign is a home matchup versus Wofford. The Bulldogs are 6-7 all-time on November 23.

The Terriers are only playing 11 regular-season games, which is not a huge surprise, as Wofford hasn’t played a 12-game regular season schedule since 2002, eschewing four subsequent opportunities to add a 12th game.

Wofford has only five home games, as its three non-conference matchups include two road affairs — the season opener at South Carolina State, and a November 2 game at Clemson. The Terriers’ first bye week immediately follows the SCSU contest.

After the bye week, Wofford hosts Samford and Gardner-Webb before traveling to VMI. The second bye week of the season precedes a Homecoming game versus Western Carolina.

The Terriers finish the regular season with games against Furman and The Citadel (the latter contest in Charleston).

A quick summary:

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

Getting closer to the opening kickoff…

2019 preseason college football rankings, featuring The Citadel (and the rest of the SoCon)

A few links of interest:

Hero Sports FCS Preseason Top 25 (The Citadel is ranked 25th)

Hero Sports FCS Preseason All-American teams (Bulldogs punter Matthew Campbell in on the third team)

Homecoming at The Citadel — a brief gridiron history

 

It must be June, because the college football preview magazines are on the street. What follows is a quick review of the mags’ rankings from The Citadel’s perspective, with a few other tidbits thrown in for good measure.

Not included in this writeup: my annual look at the preseason Massey Ratings. I’ll discuss those in a future post.

Street & Smith’s FCS top 25 has James Madison at #1, with North Dakota State ranked second. South Dakota State is 3rd, followed by Eastern Washington and Jacksonville State. Four of those five teams were in the magazine’s preseason top 5 last year as well.

Wofford is ranked #8, and Furman is #14. Others of interest: Towson (9th), Elon (18th), and North Carolina A&T (19th).

The magazine’s preseason All-America squad includes Wofford offensive lineman Justus Basinger (named the SoCon’s top NFL prospect), East Tennessee State defensive back Tyree Robinson, and Furman specialist Grayson Atkins (honored as a placekicker on this list).

This year’s SoCon preview was authored by Pat Yasinskas, who is currently based in Tampa. In his reportorial career, Yasinskas (a native of Pennsylvania) has primarily written about the NFL, covering the Carolina Panthers for The Charlotte Observer and the NFC South for ESPN.com.

To be honest, I am unsure how much time the graduate of Saint Leo University has spent following the Southern Conference. I found two twitter accounts for him, both inactive.

At any rate, the league preseason rankings for S&S:

1 – Wofford
2 – Furman
3 – East Tennessee State
4 – Chattanooga
5 – Mercer
6 – Samford
7 – The Citadel
8 – Western Carolina
9 – VMI

With regards to The Citadel, Yaskinskas writes that the Bulldogs have “a chance to be competitive, mainly because 10 starters return on offense. The development of quarterback Brandon Rainey will be a key.” He also references new defensive coordinator Tony Grantham and linebacker Willie Eubanks III.

Charleston Southern is projected to finish third in the Big South. Monmouth is the pick to win that league instead of Kennesaw State, which might raise a few eyebrows (and the Owls did not make Street & Smith‘s preseason top 25).

Towson is ranked second in the CAA, while Elon is picked to finish fifth.

S&S has South Carolina State finishing fourth in the MEAC, with North Carolina A&T the favorite in that conference. Other top-dog choices in FCS leagues include Eastern Washington, James Madison, Princeton, North Dakota State, Duquesne, Jacksonville State, Colgate, San Diego, and Nicholls.

In the shadowy world of FBS, Georgia Tech (which will host The Citadel on September 14) is projected to finish last in the ACC’s Coastal Division.

Lindy’s ranks North Dakota State #1 in its FCS preseason poll. The rest of its top 5:  South Dakota State, Kennesaw State, Jacksonville State, and UC Davis.

Wofford is ranked #13, East Tennessee State #17, and Furman #20. Other teams of note include Towson (6th) and North Carolina A&T (22nd).

The Lindy’s preseason first team All-America squad for the FCS includes Tyrie Adams of Western Carolina, who is listed not as a quarterback but as an all-purpose player. Two ETSU defensive stalwarts, defensive lineman Nasir Player and the aforementioned Tyree Robinson, are also on the first team. (Player is a product of Ridge View High School in Columbia.)

Towson quarterback Tom Flacco is the magazine’s first-team quarterback and its preseason MVP for the entire division. His teammate, placekicker Aidan O’Neill, is also on the first team.

The magazine also has a preseason second team, which includes Wofford offensive lineman Justus Basinger and Furman “bandit” linebacker Adrian Hope. Towson running back/kick returner Shane Simpson is the all-purpose designee on the second team.

The national preview (which focuses on North Dakota State) was written by George Gordon. I could not find any background information on him. I am assuming he is not related to any of the Civil War/British generals who also share his name; he presumably has no association with well-known law enforcement officer James W. Gordon or noted library sciences advocate Barbara Gordon, either.

The preseason SoCon rankings, per Lindy’s:

1 – Wofford
2 – East Tennessee State
3 – Furman
4 – Samford
5 – Mercer
6 – Chattanooga
7 – Western Carolina
8 – The Citadel
9 – VMI

A brief blurb about The Citadel in the magazine states that defensive lineman Joseph Randolph II is “one of the league’s underrated players”.

On the one hand, ETSU is picked to finish higher in the league standings by Lindy’s than just about any other source. On the other, the magazine references Logan Marchi as returning at quarterback for the Buccaneers, which will not be the case.

Charleston Southern is the preseason #5 team in the Big South, while South Carolina State is picked to finish fourth in the MEAC.

Teams expected by Lindy’s to win their respective FCS leagues include Colgate, Duquesne, Jacksonville State, Kennesaw State, Nicholls, North Carolina A&T, North Dakota State, Princeton, San Diego, Southern, Towson, and UC Davis.

Georgia Tech is picked to finish last in the ACC Coastal Division, and is ranked the #90 FBS team overall.

As was the case last year, Athlon does not have an FCS conference preview section. Craig Haley of STATS FCS Football has again written the magazine’s national preview of the division, with a Top 25 ranking list, an All-America team, and projected playoff qualifiers. The entire section takes up only four pages in Athlon‘s 304-page tome.

Haley’s top 5: North Dakota State, James Madison, South Dakota State, Eastern Washington, and UC Davis.

Wofford is 10th in this poll, and Furman is 16th. Those two teams are the only SoCon squads projected to make the FCS playoffs, and their meeting in Spartanburg on November 16 is one of ten “must-see matchups” listed by the magazine.

Also ranked:  Towson (#11) and Elon (#21). Both are also expected to advance to postseason play as at-large picks out of the CAA, with James Madison the pick to win that league. Other conference favorites include Colgate, Duquesne, Eastern Washington, Jacksonville State, Kennesaw State, North Dakota State, Nicholls, San Diego, and North Carolina A&T.

Athlon‘s preseason All-America team features just one SoCon player, with Nasir Player of ETSU again receiving recognition from a major publication. As was the case with Lindy’s, Towson’s Aidan O’Neill is the placekicker.

Georgia Tech fares no better in Athlon than it does in Street & Smith‘s or Lindy’s, as the Yellow Jackets are picked to occupy the cellar of the ACC Coastal Division (with a 4-8 overall record). The preseason national FBS ranking for Georgia Tech by the magazine is #75.

A couple of other notes:

– Phil Steele is not releasing an FCS preview magazine this season. I think the nation will survive.

– Athlon features a list of “The 100 Twitter Accounts to Follow” for college football. Shockingly, @SandlapperSpike did not make the cut. Clearly this an outrage.

While quite a few individuals on Athlon‘s list are represented on my own timeline, there are several people mentioned by the magazine that you couldn’t pay me to follow — in particular, the business/media analysis twitter picks, namely the deadly duo of Darren Rovell and Richard Deitsch. Frankly, life is too short to follow either one of those two killjoys.

Finally, my favorite tweet over the last week or so:

2018 Football, Game 11: The Citadel vs. Charleston Southern

The Citadel vs. Charleston Southern, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 7:00 pm ET on November 29, 2018.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Kendall Lewis will handle play-by-play, while former Bulldogs quarterback Dominique Allen supplies the analysis. Danielle Hensley is the sideline reporter. 

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

Luke Mauro (the new “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Cal McCombs. The sideline reporter will be Jay Harper.

The Citadel Sports Network — 2018 radio affiliates

Charleston: WQNT 1450AM/92.1 FM/102.1 FM (Flagship)
Columbia: WQXL 1470AM/100.7FM
Greenville: WLFJ 92.9FM/660AM
Sumter: WDXY 1240AM/105.9FM

Links of interest:

Preview from The Post and Courier

Bulldogs still getting attention from the Alabama game

– Game notes from The Citadel and Charleston Southern

– Preview on The Citadel’s website

– Preview on Charleston Southern’s website

– Brent Thompson’s 11/27 press conference

– The Bulldog Breakdown

You will notice this is a slightly shorter preview than usual. Apologies for that, but I’ve been rather busy of late.

Also, to be honest, this game sneaked up on me. I have a feeling it may have sneaked up on a lot of people, which probably doesn’t bode well for attendance.

I’ll still be at Johnson Hagood Stadium on Thursday night, though. I’ll be the fan shivering in the sub-50 degree weather. Brrrrrrrrrrr.

Attempt to entice fans, Part 1:

Attempt to entice fans, Part 2:

Since The Citadel is playing Charleston Southern this week, I fully anticipated an obnoxiously loud social media drumbeat of “this is a rivalry”, or “this should be a rivalry”, or “The Citadel should play at CSU every other year; playing all the games at Johnson Hagood Stadium is a crime against humanity”, or “Jamey Chadwell should be the next head coach at Ohio State when Urban Meyer retires”.

That largely hasn’t happened. Heck, nobody even asked Brent Thompson at his press conference about coaching “the bigger school” in the game, and no media member attempted to fish for a bulletin board comment from a player (though there were no players at the presser, which was perhaps just as well).

As to why things have been relatively muted, there are several reasons:

  • Chadwell, a huge media favorite (there was practically a cult of personality surrounding him when he was at CSU) is no longer in the area; thus, the Lowcountry press corps is not as engaged
  • Charleston Southern is on probation for playing ineligible athletes, possibly including a lot of football players during the time period Chadwell coached the team (that information will likely become public soon)
  • There just aren’t many CSU fans, even though almost all of the ones who exist seem to be on Twitter

That last point is worth a further look.

Charleston Southern’s home attendance from 2012 through 2018 (this season):

  • 2012:  2,295 (117th out of 122 FCS teams)
  • 2013:  4,509 (91st out of 124 FCS teams)
  • 2014:  4,329 (94th out of 123 FCS teams)
  • 2015:  4,487 (96th out of 125 FCS teams)
  • 2016:  2,712 (112th out of 124 FCS teams)
  • 2017:  2,345 (110th out of 123 FCS teams)
  • 2018:  1,764 (120th out of 125 FCS teams)

Obviously, the 2018 season isn’t over yet, but CSU’s position in the attendance table is essentially set.

Jamey Chadwell was the coach of the Buccaneers from 2013 through 2016, and in three of those seasons, Charleston Southern had markedly better home attendance. However, there was a catch.

Season attendance averages at Buccaneer Field were massively affected by games against Coastal Carolina and The Citadel, contests in which the visiting fans made up the overwhelming majority of those spectators at the games (and in the case of the 2014 contest versus the Bulldogs, the official attendance figures were wildly inflated as well).

If you take out those games, here is the average home attendance for CSU in 2013, 2014, and 2015:

  • 2013:  4,102
  • 2014:  3,422
  • 2015:  3,290

To be fair, Charleston Southern got a significant bump in attendance by (presumably) its own fans in Chadwell’s first season, 2013. After that, though, attendance among the Buc faithful began to decline, and has done so for five consecutive years (Chadwell’s last three seasons at the school, and Mark Tucker’s two campaigns in charge of the program).

The Citadel has had its own attendance issues in recent years (a subject I have written about on more than one occasion, including this past April), but the Bulldogs are still in another galaxy from the Buccaneers when it comes to fan and alumni interest.

An argument could be made that the difference is due to longstanding tradition, etc., and that is a legitimate point — but it still doesn’t fully explain the enormous gap in support. There is only so much to be said about averaging 1,764 fans per home game, as CSU did this year.

I also remember the program getting an incredible amount of local media attention in the buildup to its season-opening game at North Dakota State in 2016, which included at least one Charleston-area TV affiliate sending a sports anchor and a cameraman to Fargo. The Post and Courier sent its sports columnist, Gene Sapakoff, to watch the game as well.

All that publicity led to this a week later: a home opener at Buccaneer Field with an announced attendance of 1,780.

It makes for an interesting discussion of Jamey Chadwell’s legacy at Charleston Southern, especially given that one (if not both) of his Big South titles at CSU will probably be stripped from the program. What did he provide the school in terms of long-term success and stability?

In five years, will his on-field results matter? Do they matter now?

At least he didn’t cheat CSU out of millions of dollars in order to buy a bunch of Red Skelton paintings…

Oh, there was one Twitter kerfuffle this week. The Citadel’s athletic media relations department initially released game notes listing the Bulldogs’ opponent as “Ladson Southern”. This was changed a day later, perhaps after someone in authority politely opined that it was a touch sophomoric.

I had two takeaways from the affair; A) certain people seemed okay with Jamey Chadwell’s infantile “broom” incident but were nonetheless outraged by the “Ladson Southern” description; B) hey, people actually read the game notes!

[Whispers] One of the “Ladson Southern” references was accidentally left in the game notes after they were reworked.[/shhhh]

Charleston Southern is 5-5 this season under head coach Mark Tucker, a former assistant coach at The Citadel for six seasons in the 1990s. Tucker piloted the Bucs to a 6-5 record last year in his first season at the helm. He has a reputation as a good offensive coach, particularly with regards to quarterback play.

In general, this year the Buccaneers have beaten the teams they should beat (Presbyterian, Campbell, Gardner-Webb, Virginia-Lynchburg) and lost to the better teams on their schedule (Florida, Kennesaw State, Elon, Monmouth).

The one outlier was a bizarre 23-3 loss at Savannah State on October 6, a result so odd I’m inclined to discount it. Two items of interest from that contest: Savannah State controlled the ball for over 21 minutes in the second half, and limited the Bucs to one first down over the game’s final two quarters; and CSU was held to 33 yards rushing, well under its season average (185.4 yards/game).

Normally I would highlight multiple players from The Citadel’s opponent in this space. As for why I am not providing an extensive breakdown of CSU’s two-deep for this matchup, the reader has the choice of one of three reasons:

A) Pure, unadulterated laziness on my part

B) The fact that I am hurriedly writing this section less than 24 hours before the game kicks off while fielding telephone calls and trying to eat a turkey sandwich at the same time

C) The gnawing suspicion that with two weeks to prepare, and the new redshirt rule in effect, Charleston Southern is going to field a lot of players on Thursday night who have not seen a lot of action this season, making the typical review of key players almost pointless

However, here are six CSU players to watch:

  • Solomon Brown (6’1″, 235 lbs.): The defensive lineman has played for Charleston Southern since 2003, and has been a standout in all 16 of those seasons
  • Johnny Robinson (6’4″, 230 lbs.): Another senior DL who is tough to move, Robinson is a native of Apopka, Florida
  • J.D. Sosebee (6’1″, 215 lbs.): A redshirt junior linebacker, Sosebee was a first-team All-Big South performer this season (as were Brown and Robinson)
  • Joe Gold (6’3″, 270 lbs.): The center was a second-team all-conference selection; he began his college career at Florida Atlantic
  • Kyle Reighard (6’2″, 197 lbs.): CSU’s punter was a first-team all-league pick last year, and a second-team choice this season
  • Terrence Wilson (5’8″, 200 lbs.): A sophomore from Leesville, Wilson leads the Bucs in rushing, averaging 6.2 yards per carry

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Thursday night in Charleston, per the National Weather Service:  mostly clear, with a low of 44 degrees. That is about 25 to 30 degrees colder than I would prefer, but so be it.

– The source I normally use for odds and lines does not have Thursday night’s contest listed, which is probably because it is a postponed regular-season FCS game.

In case you were wondering, Kennesaw State is a 7 1/2 point favorite over Wofford in the FCS playoff matchup between those two teams.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 50th in FCS. Charleston Southern is 81st.

Massey projects the Cadets to have a 87% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of The Citadel 28, Charleston Southern 13.

– Among Charleston Southern’s notable alumni:  U.S. senator Tim Scott, medical researcher Sam Gandy, and major league pitcher Tyler Thornburg.

– Charleston Southern’s roster includes 48 players from South Carolina. Other states represented: Georgia (23 players), Florida (16), North Carolina (11), and Virginia (1). There are three players on the squad who have no listed hometown. A quick search on the internet did not shed any light on their geographical backgrounds. Perhaps, like Otis Sistrunk, they are transfers from the University of Mars.

No player on CSU’s team is as well-educated as offensive lineman D’Andra Thompson; the sophomore is an alumnus of Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. It is somewhat surprising that Thompson is not on the Buccaneers’ two-deep, given the traditional athletic superiority of those who have worn the famed maroon and orange.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47), Georgia (28), Florida (9), North Carolina (5), Texas (5), Tennessee (4), Pennsylvania (3), Alabama (2), New York (2), and one each from Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.

– This week’s two-deep changes:  Jay Howard and Joshua Bowers are listed as the starting cornerbacks for the Bulldogs against Charleston Southern.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 2-2 in games played on November 29, 1-1 at home. The Bulldogs have not played on that date since 1958. A quick look at a couple of the games, courtesy of the TSA Wayback Machine:

  • 1930:  The Citadel edged Wofford, 7-6, in a game played in Spartanburg. The big play was an 80-yard touchdown pass from Julius “Runt” Gray to Larkin Jennings, after Gray faked a punt — on first down. Gray added the PAT that proved the winning margin. The Terriers scored in the fourth quarter but missed the extra point that would have tied the game.
  • 1941:  The Citadel walloped Sewanee, 28-0, in a game played at Johnson Hagood Stadium before 5,000 spectators (this game is incorrectly listed in the record book as having been played in Tennessee). The stars for the Bulldogs that day were running backs Andy Victor and Martin Gold, who combined to rush for 253 yards. Victor also threw a TD pass to Zeke Campbell. The Bulldogs’ defense held the Golden Tigers to just two first downs.

Not played on November 29: the Bulldogs’ 1924 game versus Presbyterian, which is listed in the record book as taking place on that date, but was actually played on November 27, which was also Thanksgiving Day that year. The Citadel won the contest 13-0.

I was at the last game at Johnson Hagood Stadium played on a Thursday night. The year was 2004, the date was October 7, and the opponent was Benedict College.

It was the first home contest held after the razing of the West stands. Public address announcer Sam Evans opened the festivities by intoning, “Welcome to what’s left of historic Johnson Hagood Stadium.”

The Citadel won, 29-0. The attendance was 5,127, the lowest for any game played at Johnson Hagood Stadium since at least 1964.

That year also featured a season-ending contest at home, but without the Corps of Cadets in attendance because the game was played during the Thanksgiving furlough. The Bulldogs defeated Western Carolina 17-0 before a crowd of 3,874.

The atmosphere at the latter matchup did not sit well with many people at The Citadel, including one Harvey M. Dick. That same day there was a meeting of the Board of Visitors:

Colonel Dick expressed concern that the Corps of Cadets will be absent from today’s football game with Western Carolina, due to the Thanksgiving break.  He made the following motion, which was seconded by Colonel Saleeby.

“THAT the Corps of Cadets be in uniform and be present at all scheduled home football games.”

Discussion on the motion included whether the matter is one that the Board should set policy or one that the Board should provide guidance.  The President stated that he sensed the feeling of the Board and he favored a motion to ensure the Board’s direction is in the record.  The motion was unanimously carried.

Yes, General Grinalds “sensed the feeling of the Board”. I can hear Col. Dick’s raised voice now.

That is why The Citadel will no longer play a home game during the Thanksgiving furlough (the break was extended by several days in the mid-1990s). This policy has had various repercussions, including the Bulldogs almost always playing their regular season finale on the road. It also means The Citadel can’t play yearly rivalry games to conclude the season (i.e. playing Furman every year in the final game, or VMI every year in the last contest).

Nevertheless, the policy is an excellent one. Harvey Dick was absolutely right. The Citadel should never play at Johnson Hagood Stadium without the Corps of Cadets in attendance.

The corps will be at the stadium in force on Thursday night, as will a hardy bunch of Bulldog fans, and maybe a few Buccaneer supporters too. I am not sure how many people will make it to the game, oyster roast or no oyster roast. I’m guessing that attendance will be higher than 3,874, but that 5,127 number may be tough to reach.

That said, I expect the Bulldogs to come out with a point to prove, namely that they are the team everyone saw in their last three games. If that kind of performance is repeated on Thursday night, The Citadel will have a positive end to its 2018 campaign, with a lot to look forward to next year.

I’m hopeful. Go Dogs!