Inside the Numbers, Part 1: The Citadel’s 2017 run/pass tendencies and yards per play statistics

Some other links related to The Citadel’s upcoming gridiron campaign:

– Preseason rankings and ratings

– Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium: the annual review

– Which teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

A glance at the SoCon non-conference slate

Also of interest from around the internet:

Hero Sports previews The Citadel’s upcoming gridiron campaign

– The Citadel’s 2018 Athletic Hall of Fame inductees include former quarterback Gene Brown

This is Part 1 of a two-part post that focuses on select statistics on the 2017 football season. I broke it down into two parts this year to make it at least slightly easier to digest.

Part 2 can be found here.

I’ve also released three other stats-oriented posts:

A look at advanced stats (the Five Factors!), first down/third down information, and standard/passing down data

Last year’s conference-only statistics for the SoCon (all teams), with some additional league observations

An essay on a pet theory of mine: creating more big plays with an aggressive fourth-down philosophy

In the buildup to recent seasons, I have written about playcalling tendencies by The Citadel’s coaching staff, and I’m going to continue to do that this year. As always, I am comparing statistics over a rolling three-year period.

For this post, I’ll take a look at the 2017 season stats, and compare/contrast them with those from the 2015 and 2016 campaigns. The two most recent campaigns featured Brent Thompson as head coach, with the other (2015) the final season under Mike Houston (with Thompson serving as offensive coordinator that year).

My focus in this post 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” (mostly defined as scoring or preventing touchdowns)
  • plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more (“big plays”)
  • 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)
  • the all-important coin toss
  • attendance and time-of-game information

Some of those items will be in Part 1, and 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 average yards-per-rush against VMI (good), or The Citadel’s Red Zone numbers against the Keydets (not good), or the Bulldogs’ time-of-possession for every quarter of every SoCon game this season, or any number of other things that you never dreamed you really wanted to know until you read this paragraph — well, this is the spreadsheet for you.

If you didn’t want to know about any of those things, you should keep reading anyway. After all, I’m going to keep writing.

Most of the statistics that follow are based on league play, and only league play. It’s easier and fairer to compare numbers in that way. The bottom line for The Citadel is that its on-field success or failure will primarily be judged on how it does in the Southern Conference, not against Charleston Southern, Towson, or Alabama (this year’s non-conference slate).

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

  • The Bulldogs played seven games in 2015 against SoCon teams. The conference schools competing on the gridiron that year were Western Carolina, Wofford, Samford, Furman, Mercer, VMI, and Chattanooga.
  • 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.

One quick note before diving in to the numbers: I am fairly confident in the overall accuracy of the statistics, though I am definitely not infallible. One thing that helped this year was that the SoCon (promptly) put league-only stats on its website. That was very nice to see.

Not so nice, though, were the conference’s play-by-play data summaries for several games. I had a great deal of difficulty compiling information for most of the contests, in particular The Citadel’s games against ETSU, Chattanooga, VMI, and Mercer — especially Mercer.

The biggest problem was a glitch in the system that gave teams a first down on the 20-yard-line after touchbacks on kickoffs, instead of the 25-yard-line. That often led to a lot of down-and-distance errors, and occasionally some team identification issues as well (which led to things like defensive tackles punting for -42 yards, defensive backs rushing for 43-yard losses, and other assorted hiccups).

I could refer back to the team play-by-play summaries for the correct information, and I did. However, those summaries don’t include play breakdown categories, which is what I use for a lot of the data listed on the spreadsheet.

All that said, I think I got everything straightened out. If I didn’t, apologies in advance.

Incidentally, here is last year’s spreadsheet: Link

If someone also wants to look at the 2015 stats, that spreadsheet can be found here: 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 2017. Next to that, in parenthesis, is the run percentage for The Citadel in 2016, and that will be followed by the Bulldogs’ run percentage for that situation in 2015 (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): 81.1% (86.0%) [89.1%]

Thus, The Citadel ran the ball on first down 81.1% of the time last year, while the Bulldogs ran the ball in that situation 86.0% of the time in 2016. The Citadel ran the ball 89.1% of the time on first down during its 2015 campaign.

Overall, the Bulldogs ran the ball 77.9% of the time in 2017, after rushing 85.6% of the time on its 2016 plays from scrimmage, and on 86.5% of all offensive plays in 2015. The lower percentage is almost certainly an indicator of The Citadel trailing in more games in 2017 than it did in the previous two seasons.

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

– 2nd-and-short:  88.9% (94.1%) [89.2%]
– 2nd-and-medium:  87.2% (96.1%) [89.8%]
– 2nd-and-long:  76.9% (83.8%) [89.2%]
– 3rd-and-short:  91.7% (100.0%) [93.1%]
– 3rd-and-medium:  83.9% (88.5%) [82.4%]
– 3rd-and-long:  57.6% (68.1%) [66.0%]

Obviously, there were 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 10 times in league play, for a loss of 64 total yards.

  • After running the ball on every 3rd-and-short play in 2016, the Bulldogs threw the ball twice in that down-and-distance situation last year. One attempt was in a late-game hurry-up situation against Mercer. The other throw resulted in a two-yard TD catch by Keyonte Sessions (from Dominique Allen) versus Western Carolina.
  • On 3rd-and-long, The Citadel was more inclined to run the ball against ETSU, Chattanooga, and Western Carolina, while the Bulldogs threw more often versus Mercer and Furman.
  • The Citadel passed on first down far more often against Mercer (16 times) than any other league opponent. Conversely, the Bulldogs threw on first down 5 or fewer times against six different conference teams (ETSU, Samford, Chattanooga, VMI, and Western Carolina).

In this section, I’m listing what The Citadel’s conference opponents did in down-and-distance situations over the last two seasons (2016 and 2017).

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

Here are the rest of the down-and-distance categories (in terms of rush percentage). The 2016 numbers are in parenthesis:

– 2nd-and-short:  81.8% (75.9%)
– 2nd-and-medium:  61.0% (47.9%)
– 2nd-and-long:  41.5% (44.8%)
– 3rd-and-short:  78.6% (66.7%)
– 3rd-and-medium:  46.7% (36.4%)
– 3rd-and-long:  22.6% (27.3%)

Again, some of these numbers reflect the fact The Citadel was trailing more often than it did in 2016. Thus, opponents were able to run the ball more. It is not a coincidence that the teams which threw the ball more than 50% of the time against the Bulldogs all lost.

  • Chattanooga did not have a rushing attempt on any of its 3rd down plays against The Citadel. The Mocs were also 0 for 7 on third down conversion attempts.
  • Mercer was the only conference opponent that did not attempt a pass versus the Bulldogs on either 2nd-and-short or 2nd-and-medium. The Bears did throw the ball 7 times on 2nd-and-long.
  • On 3rd-and-long, ETSU and VMI combined for 21 pass plays and only one rushing attempt.

In the next few sections of this post, I’m going to alternate offense and defensive numbers. Don’t get dizzy!

  • The Citadel’s offense in 2015 in SoCon action: 70.7 plays per game, 11.9 possessions per game
  • 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

*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 does not attempt to score (such as a kneel-down situation). That’s how I interpret the statistic, regardless of how it may be listed in a game summary.

Last season, The Citadel had a time of possession edge in SoCon play of over six minutes (33:10 – 26:50). It was actually a smaller edge than the Bulldogs had enjoyed in 2016 (33:41 – 26:19), but greater than that from 2015 (32:13 – 27:47).

The Citadel held the ball longer than its opponents on average in three of the four quarters (the fourth quarter was the exception). The Bulldogs won the TOP battle in every game except two (Mercer and Furman).

Nationally (counting all games), the Bulldogs led all of FCS in total time of possession per contest. San Diego, standard-bearer of the Pioneer League, finished second in the category, meaning the two programs flip-flopped their positions from the year before (when the Toreros led the subdivision in TOP).

  • The Citadel’s defense in 2015 SoCon play: 65.7 plays per game, 12.0 possessions per game
  • 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

Against Chattanooga, The Citadel’s defense faced only 47 offensive plays, not counting “running out the half” plays. Last year versus the Mocs, the Bulldogs’ D faced…47 plays. Two different locales, two different UTC head coaches, same number of plays.

Mercer ran 72 offensive plays against The Citadel (again, not counting drives in which no attempt to score was made). VMI ran a total of 68. The two teams had different approaches, however — the Bears threw only 23 passes, while VMI had 41 pass plays (including five would-be attempts that resulted in sacks).

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 2015 in SoCon games: 6.09 yards per play, including 5.57 yards per rush and 9.7 yards per pass attempt
  • 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 rushing yards per play numbers were down again, though not by a lot (as compared to 2016, anyway). The real issue, in my opinion, is the yards per pass attempt. Seven yards per attempt is not good enough.

– 2015 passing for The Citadel in seven conference games: 63 pass attempts for 609 yards (three interceptions)

– 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)

You also should throw in the 10 sacks allowed (after giving up just one sack in league play in 2016). While I mentioned that seven yards per attempt is not acceptable, I have to acknowledge that the league average in 2017 was only 7.05 yards per pass attempt. Admittedly, that number is skewed by VMI only averaging 4.55 yards/pa in SoCon action while attempting the third-most passes in the league.

In this post, I’m also going to 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 throw in some statistics from a few FBS teams as well, concentrating (in that subdivision) on schools that run the triple option, teams of local interest, and a few others worth mentioning.

The Bulldogs’ offense was 55th nationally in yards per play, with a 5.42 average (all games). Alcorn State’s 7.04 yards per play led FCS, closely followed by Sam Houston State (which had topped the subdivision in the category in 2016). SoCon teams in the top 50: Furman ranked 14th, Western Carolina 27th, Samford 41st, and Wofford 48th.

Presbyterian was 59th in FCS, while Charleston Southern was 62nd, South Carolina State 92nd and Towson 100th. VMI finished next-to-last, ahead of only Lafayette.

Oklahoma led FBS in yards per play (shocker, I know), with a staggering 8.29 average. Other FBS rankings in this category of interest: UCF (2nd), Louisville (3rd — Lamar Jackson will be missed), Georgia (12th), Alabama (13th), Navy (42nd), Army (46th), Georgia Tech (54th), Clemson (55th), Air Force (77th), South Carolina (85th), UTEP (129th and last — good luck, Jim Senter).

The Citadel’s overall rate of yards per rush was 18th-best in FCS, second in the SoCon to Western Carolina (which was 11th in yards/rush nationally). Also hitting the top 50: Wofford (21st), Furman (27th), Presbyterian (31st), and Charleston Southern (41st). South Carolina State was 75th, and Towson 90th.

The top two FCS teams in yards per rush were Alcorn State (6.42 yds/rush) and North Dakota State. Kennesaw State, like The Citadel a triple option outfit, finished 5th.

I should emphasize that these national numbers include sacks. That is why Mississippi Valley State, which finished last in yards per rush, ended the season with negative rushing yardage. The Delta Devils netted -103 yards rushing for the season, after suffering exactly 400 yards lost due to sacks. MVSU quarterbacks were sacked on almost one-fifth of their pass plays (18.6%).

Arizona, thanks mostly to spectacular quarterback Khalil Tate, led FBS in yards per rush, at 6.56. The top five also included Louisville, Notre Dame, Florida Atlantic, and Army. Other teams of note: Georgia (7th), Alabama (10th), Navy (14th), Georgia Tech (17th), New Mexico (18th), Air Force (36th), Clemson (43rd), Georgia Southern (78th), South Carolina (93rd), Western Kentucky (129th and last).

  • The Citadel’s defense in 2015 in SoCon action: 5.07 yards per play, including 3.69 yards per rush and 6.7 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

In 2016, the Bulldogs were very good against the pass. Last year, not so much. The rushing yards against numbers were similar, but still a dropoff of over a yard per rush from 2015.

The average yards per play in the SoCon was 5.22. As mentioned above, the average yards per pass attempt in conference play was 7.05; the average yards per rush (taking out sacks) was 4.03.

Nationally in FCS (remember, these stats are for all games), The Citadel was 102nd in defensive yards allowed per play (6.02). Jacksonville State (3.84) led FCS, after finishing second in 2016. Also in the top 5: James Madison, North Dakota State, South Carolina State (Buddy Pough’s troops had mostly very strong defensive numbers), and North Carolina A&T.

Charleston Southern was 13th, Wofford 35th, Chattanooga 38th, and East Tennessee State 40th. Towson finished 54th overall, while Presbyterian was 101st.

Lehigh finished last in FCS, allowing 7.35 yards per play. Two things to point out here: 1) Lehigh did not play an FBS school, so there wasn’t an Oklahoma or UCF on its schedule to skew the numbers; 2) despite the porous defense, the Mountain Hawks tied for the Patriot League title and garnered that league’s automatic bid to the FCS playoffs.

Alabama led FBS in defensive yards allowed per play (3.99), the second straight season the Tide topped the charts in that category. Clemson was 2nd, followed by Wisconsin, Washington, and Ohio State.

Georgia was 10th and South Carolina 35th. The last-placed team was East Carolina, and it wasn’t close: the Pirates allowed 7.72 yards per play.

The Citadel was 94th in FCS in the national defensive yards/rush category (at 4.54, better than its league-only stats). The top 5 nationally: McNeese State (1.94 yards allowed per rush), Jacksonville State, Yale, Villanova, and South Carolina State. In the top 50: Charleston Southern (19th), Wofford (33rd), Mercer (38th), Furman (50th). Towson finished 83rd, Presbyterian 116th, and Lehigh 123rd and last.

Alabama was also the best FBS team in terms of yards allowed per rush (2.72). Washington finished 2nd, with Troy, Ohio State, and Northern Illinois rounding out the top 5. Clemson was 8th, South Carolina 38th, and Air Force last (allowing 5.93 yards per rush).

Counting all games, The Citadel allowed 7.86 yards per pass attempt, 103rd nationally in FCS. It could have been worse: Gardner-Webb finished last in this category, allowing 9.57 yards per pass attempt.

The top squad nationally in yards allowed per pass attempt was St. Francis University (5.26 yds/pa). Joining the Red Flash in the top 5 were James Madison, Tennessee State, Jacksonville State, and North Dakota State.

Top 50 teams included Western Carolina (18th), South Carolina State (21st), Towson (27th), Charleston Southern (29th), Wofford (47th), and East Tennessee State (49th). Presbyterian was 75th, just behind Chattanooga and four spots ahead of Furman.

In what should come as a surprise to nobody, Alabama finished first in FBS in yards allowed per pass attempt (5.45 yds/pa). Clemson was right behind the Tide, with Florida State in third. South Carolina was 36th. East Carolina was last, allowing 10.42 yards per pass attempt, which must have been hard to watch for ECU fans over the course of the season.

Okay, that’s enough for Part 1 of Inside The Numbers.

Part 2 will include offensive and 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 both league attendance and game length, and (of course) coin toss strategy.

Link to Part 2

A glance at the 2018 SoCon non-conference football slate

Some other links related to The Citadel’s upcoming gridiron campaign:

– Preseason rankings and ratings

– Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium: the annual review

Which teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

Also of interest from around the internet:

How will new NCAA rules on redshirting and transfers affect The Citadel?

New turf (and stands) to come at Johnson Hagood Stadium

Dates that FCS leagues will release their respective preseason polls (and often, preseason all-conference teams as well)

Cadets (not cats) and bulldogs living together

This year, the SoCon as a whole will have its usual share of games against teams from the FBS ranks, along with quite a few matchups with FCS outfits in other conferences. As was the case last season, there are four games against non-D1 schools, all from Division II.

Playing non-D1 teams out of conference does not help individual schools (or the league, for that matter) when it comes to making the FCS playoffs. It means the SoCon team in question will have one fewer opportunity to post a win against a D-1 team.

Of course, you could make the same argument when it comes to playing teams from the FBS, particularly the P5 conferences. Those matchups also tend to reduce the number of chances a team has to win a game versus a D-1 opponent — unless, that is, the underdog actually beats the team from the FBS.

Every SoCon team will play three non-league games as part of an 11-game regular-season schedule. Each squad has at least one matchup versus an FBS opponent. VMI has two such contests, which seems less than ideal for the Keydets.

However, neither of the FBS teams playing VMI are from P5 leagues. Two other SoCon teams, Mercer and Wofford, also avoid the five major conferences this season. The other six schools each go on the road to play either an ACC or SEC team.

Which SoCon outfit has the toughest non-conference schedule? That’s not as easy to answer this season as it was last year (when Mercer played Auburn and Alabama). After taking the opposition, location, and schedule placement into consideration, I tend to give the nod to Furman. You could also make a case for The Citadel.

Around the league…

Chattanooga:

Last year, UTC’s first three games were against non-conference foes. Chattanooga lost all of them, and never really recovered. This season, the Mocs play two of their three non-league contests in the first three weeks of the campaign.

Chattanooga opens at home (on a Thursday night) versus OVC cellar-dweller Tennessee Tech. That is a matchup UTC needs to win.

After a game at The Citadel, Chattanooga goes on the road again to face UT Martin. The Skyhawks beat UTC 21-7 last season at Finley Stadium and are projected to be a middle-of-the-pack squad in the OVC this year, so that could be a tough game for the Mocs. It may also prove to be a pivotal contest in Chattanooga’s season, particularly with a matchup against Samford on tap for the following week.

Chattanooga finishes its regular season slate by travelling to bucolic Columbia, SC, to play the South Carolina Gamecocks (and pick up a check for $450,000.00). This is the fourth consecutive season South Carolina has played a SoCon school the week before playing Clemson; it has won two of the prior three contests in the “SoCon-SEC challenge”, having outlasted Wofford and Western Carolina the past two years.

East Tennessee State:

ETSU opens with a home game versus Mars Hill, a D-2 school that went 3-7 last season. Mars Hill played one FCS team in 2017, North Carolina A&T, and lost 56-0.

The following week, the opponent is a little tougher, as ETSU travels to Knoxville to play Tennessee, the first FBS team the Buccaneers will have played since re-starting football. It will also be the first time ETSU has ever faced the Vols on the gridiron.

Midway through the year, East Tennessee State hosts Gardner-Webb for its Homecoming game. The Runnin’ Bulldogs were 1-10 last year. This is a contest ETSU could (and probably should) win.

Both in terms of opponent quality and placement, ETSU’s administration did a solid job in putting together its 2018 slate for a still-young program. The only negative is having a bye week just before the final game of the season, but that was probably dictated by the league, and finding a home non-conference game on that date was likely close to impossible.

Furman:

The Paladins get their non-conference slate out of the way early, starting the season with three consecutive out-of-league opponents. Furman opens at Clemson, as difficult a first game as any team has in the country.

Furman then faces Elon for the third time in less than a year. The two teams split their two meetings in 2017, with the Paladins winning at Elon in a playoff matchup.

This season, Elon is expected to be an upper-echelon CAA team again, with 18 returning starters. Lindy’s has the Phoenix ranked #21 in FCS in its preseason poll, while Street & Smith’s and Athlon rank Elon 9th and 10th, respectively.

FU hosts Colgate to round out the OOC schedule. Last year, the Paladins made the trip to upstate New York and came away with a 45-14 victory. That game jump-started a seven-game winning streak for Furman.

While the Raiders are the early favorite to win the Patriot League in 2018, it would be a surprise if Furman were to lose to Colgate, especially on what could be a hot mid-September day in Greenville (with a 1:00 pm ET kickoff). That being said, last year the Raiders did win their season opener on the road, against a then-ranked Cal Poly.

Mercer:

Mercer opens with a game at Memphis, one of the better programs in the Group of 5. The Tigers won 10 games last season, and both Athlon and Street & Smith’s picked Memphis to win the AAC West this year.

One potential advantage for Mercer: the Tigers’ game the following week is at Navy. It would not be a surprise if the primary focus of the Memphis coaching staff leading up to the season was on the Midshipmen’s triple option attack, and not so much on the Bears.

MU plays Jacksonville in the second week of the season, the second year in a row Mercer has played the Dolphins. Last year, the Bears beat JU 48-7.

The Bears’ final non-conference matchup is an interesting one, an October 13 game at Yale. The Elis won the Ivy League in 2017 and are favored to win the title again this year. Yale has a big game at Penn on the Friday after playing MU, which might be yet another potential scheduling boost for Mercer.

The real question, though, is this: just how good are Ivy League teams? Last year, the Ivy League was 17-6 versus FCS opponents, but more than two-thirds of those games came against Patriot League and Pioneer League teams. The Ivies rarely venture out of the northeast, with Yale’s non-conference schedule last year (at Lehigh, at Fordham, Holy Cross) fairly typical.

Samford:

The Birmingham Bulldogs begin their 2018 campaign on a Thursday night. They will presumably enjoy a victory over Shorter University, a D-2 school that has gone 0-11 each of the last two seasons.

Shorter lost its one game versus a D-1 opponent last year, to Gardner-Webb, by a 42-14 score. That was G-W’s only win of the season. In 2016, Chattanooga beat Shorter 66-0.

After that, though, Samford’s non-league slate is very tough. SU’s game the following week is at Florida State. Samford gets a little bit of a break in that FSU opens with a Monday night game against Virginia Tech.

On September 29, Kennesaw State hosts Samford. The two teams played twice last season, with SU winning the opener at home and then losing in the playoffs at KSU.

Kennesaw State is the consensus pick to win the Big South again this season, and is rated very highly by several national outlets (including a preseason FCS ranking of #3 by Hero Sports). The Owls may be the most difficult FCS non-league opponent faced by any SoCon team in 2018.

I think Samford’s non-conference schedule is problematic for a playoff contender. If SU loses at Kennesaw State, it is likely Chris Hatcher’s crew will finish with no D-1 wins outside of league play. It might not be easy for Samford to get a postseason berth if it doesn’t garner the SoCon’s automatic bid.

The Citadel:

The Citadel opens its season with two conference games, unlike 2017, when the Bulldogs began play on the gridiron with Newberry and Presbyterian. In 2016, though, The Citadel also started its campaign with two league contests. That was a very good year for the program, so fans of the Bulldogs will be hoping a similar beginning will lead to similar results.

After games against Wofford (on the road) and Chattanooga (at home), The Citadel will host Charleston Southern. The Buccaneers should be a top-3 team in the Big South this season, albeit not on the same level with prohibitive conference favorite Kennesaw State.

On September 29, the Bulldogs will journey north to Johnny Unitas Stadium to play Towson, the first football game between the two schools. Towson struggled last season after its starting quarterback and running back both suffered injuries in the season opener, finishing 5-6.

This year, opinions on the Tigers appear to be mixed. Towson returns 20 starters (including the aforementioned running back, Shane Simpson).

There are three candidates to start at QB, including incoming transfer Tommy Flacco, younger brother of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. There is no early word on whether or not the younger Flacco is elite.

The Citadel’s final non-conference game of the season is a November 17 matchup against Alabama. As has been well documented, Alabama has never beaten The Citadel in football.

VMI:

The Keydets travel to Toledo to begin the 2018 season. Last year, the Rockets won 11 games and the MAC crown. This season, Toledo should be one of the three best teams in its league, though VMI may benefit from the fact the Rockets have to replace last year’s starting quarterback and running back. VMI could use a little beneficence.

While a fair number of teams play two or three non-conference games in September, the Keydets actually play two of their three OOC games in November.

On November 3, VMI plays Tusculum, a D-2 team. Tusculum was 5-5 last season, 3-4 in the South Atlantic Conference.

The Pioneers haven’t played a D-1 squad since losing 62-21 to Georgia Southern in 2011. The game versus Tusculum will probably be the only 2018 matchup in which VMI is favored. It should be noted, however, that last season Catawba, like Tusculum a member of the South Atlantic Conference, beat the Keydets 27-20.

VMI’s final regular-season game will be at Old Dominion, now in its fifth season as an FBS school. The Monarchs finished 5-7 last season but return 18 starters from that team, including sophomore quarterback Steven Williams. The left-hander started the final seven games of 2017 despite not turning 18 years old until November.

Western Carolina:

WCU opens with a home game versus D-2 Newberry, which finished 5-6 last season, just one year removed from making the Division II playoffs. Last year, the Wolves also played their first game of the season versus a SoCon opponent, losing 31-14 to The Citadel.

After the Newberry game, Western Carolina has a poorly-timed bye week, and then goes on the road to play Gardner-Webb (which faces three SoCon teams in 2018, with two of those contests in Boiling Springs). Western Carolina also played at G-W in 2017, winning 42-27, the third consecutive victory for the Catamounts over the Runnin’ Bulldogs.

WCU then plays all eight of its SoCon opponents over an eight-week stretch. After the last of those matchups (a home contest versus Wofford), the Catamounts conclude regular season play with a game at North Carolina. It will be only the second time WCU has ever faced the Tar Heels (but the second straight year they will have met).

Western Carolina has playoff aspirations, and thus is another team that might have been better served by scheduling a second FCS opponent out of conference instead of playing a D-2 team. The main difference between WCU and Samford in this respect is that the Catamounts’ non-league FCS game is (at least on paper) an easier matchup than Samford’s.

A better idea for WCU’s schedule would have been to replace Newberry with, say, Davidson (one of the Catamounts’ opponents last season). Davidson’s football team is almost certainly not as good as Newberry’s, but the Wildcats are a Division I school. Every D-1 win helps, even those against non-scholarship programs.

Wofford:

The Terriers start their 2018 season with two league battles, playing The Citadel and VMI, both at home. Last season, Wofford also opened with two conference games, playing Furman in Spartanburg and then travelling to Mercer.

After the two contests against the military colleges, Wofford travels to Wyoming. At first glance, it seems to be one of the more unlikely FBS vs. FCS matchups of the season. The two schools can’t have much in common, other than both having names beginning with the letter “W”.

However, Wyoming does have a brief history of playing SoCon schools, dating back to the 1951 Gator Bowl, when the Cowboys played Washington and Lee. Other Wyoming-SoCon matchups include games against Furman (2001), The Citadel (2002), and Appalachian State (2004).

Wyoming could go bowling (or maybe that’s “Bohling”) for a third straight season, despite losing star quarterback Josh Allen. However, Wofford does have an 11% win probability in this matchup, according to projected S&P+, which isn’t bad for an FCS team playing at an FBS squad, and a couple of time zones away from home to boot.

Wofford has another non-conference road game the week after making the trip to Laramie. This matchup is much closer to home, however, as the Terriers play at Gardner-Webb.

G-W played Wofford last year, too, and the Terriers had to hang on to win 27-24 in Gibbs Stadium. The Runnin’ Bulldogs missed a long field goal try late in the game that would have tied the contest.

Incidentally, Gardner-Webb (which at this rate is closing in on honorary SoCon member status) played none other than Wyoming in 2017, losing 27-0.

Wofford’s final non-league game of the year is also the final regular season game on its slate. The Terriers host Presbyterian on November 17, the 85th meeting on the gridiron between the two schools.

PC was 4-7 last season. In November, Presbyterian announced that its football program would move to non-scholarship status by 2020. Some of the Blue Hose’s players left the team following that announcement, including running back Torrance Marable, arguably PC’s best player (he wound up transferring to Coastal Carolina).

A brief overview of the FCS as a whole…

This season, 21 FCS schools have scheduled two games against FBS opposition. Only one, Southern Utah, will face two P5 teams (the Thunderbirds play Oregon State and Arizona).

In all, FCS teams will play FBS schools 111 times, with 48 of those being P5 opponents.

The Big Sky and MVFC probably have the most aggressive slate of non-conference matchups. Eight of the Big Sky’s FBS games are versus P5 teams. The MVFC also has eight P5 games being played by its ten member schools.

The Big Sky has 14 FBS games in all, a number matched by the SWAC and MEAC. In addition, the Big Sky (with 13 schools this season) will be featured in several prominent non-league FCS vs. FCS matchups, including Northern Iowa-Montana and South Dakota-Weber State, not to mention Eastern Washington-Northern Arizona (which is a non-conference game despite both being Big Sky schools).

The Southland has 13 FBS games (six* versus P5 schools), the CAA has 12 (six P5 matchups), and the OVC and SoCon each have 10 (five against P5 teams for the OVC, six for the SoCon).

*counting BYU as a Power 5 opponent, which is open to debate

No team from the Ivy League or the Pioneer League will play an FBS squad in 2018.

Also not facing an FBS opponent: traditional FCS powers North Dakota State and Jacksonville State. NDSU will instead enjoy seven regular-season home games this season (including a Homecoming game against Delaware). It isn’t easy these days for the Bison to hook up with an FBS team.

JSU has quality non-conference FCS bookends to its schedule, facing North Carolina A&T in its opener (which is also the FCS Kickoff) and concluding the regular season with a game versus Kennesaw State at SunTrust Park.

There are just a couple of months left before the season kicks off. Be patient, everyone…

During the 2018 season, which teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

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

Preseason rankings and ratings

Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium: the annual review

For the sixth consecutive season, it’s time to examine this momentous topic. Below, I’ll list which teams The Citadel’s opponents face before and after playing the Bulldogs, along with various other items of interest (other schedule-related information, a little history, some trivia, etc.).

Naturally, the review begins with the opener. This year, the Bulldogs will begin their gridiron campaign in the upstate of South Carolina.

September 1: The Citadel opens on the road, and in conference play. The Bulldogs (and their fans) will be in Spartanburg, where they will face Wofford.

Two years ago, The Citadel also opened its season on September 1 with a conference road game (against Mercer). The Bulldogs emerged victorious, and kept winning until they had captured the league title.

Wofford begins its 2018 season under new coach Josh Conklin with consecutive home matchups with military colleges, as VMI comes to Gibbs Stadium on September 8. The following week, Wofford travels to Wyoming.

In fact, after playing the Keydets, the Terriers don’t have another home game until October 20, when ETSU is the opponent (for Wofford’s Homecoming).

This will be the earliest meeting of the season on the gridiron between The Citadel and Wofford. Previously, the earliest battle came on September 3, 1977, at Johnson Hagood Stadium, a game won by the Bulldogs 7-0. Lonnie Ford scored the contest’s only touchdown. Tyrone Roper helped preserve the shutout with a big stop on a late fourth-and-goal play; he also had an interception and a fumble recovery.

Incidentally, there were 35 policemen on hand for crowd control that night. This was a reaction to violence the week before at the Sertoma Classic (also held at JHS), which had led to 18 injuries among attendees.

However, there were no reported incidents for the matchup between the Terriers and Bulldogs. Indeed, police Major W.J. Tindal stated that “you could hold a church service out here”, perhaps not a scintillating advertisement for the game atmosphere. I suppose that was better than having another bloody skirmish in the stands, though.

September 8: The Citadel’s opener at Johnson Hagood Stadium is a matchup with Chattanooga. The Mocs begin their 2018 campaign with a Thursday night home game against Tennessee Tech, so Chattanooga will have a couple of extra days to prepare for the Bulldogs.

After playing The Citadel, the Mocs travel to UT Martin (which defeated UTC in Chattanooga last season). After that, UTC plays host to Samford.

The last time Chattanooga faced The Citadel in Charleston, in 2016, the Bulldogs held off the Mocs 22-14. In the game, Dominique Allen gained 15 yards on The Citadel’s first offensive play.

That would prove to be the most yardage gained on any single play from scrimmage all afternoon for The Citadel, but the Bulldogs won anyway.

The Citadel has triumphed in its last three games played on September 8, including a 76-0 rout of Webber International in 2007 and a 23-21 victory over Georgia Southern in 2012. While scoring 76 points in a football game is always pleasant, it was actually the latter contest that was more memorable (including Jeff Monken’s fire-breathing “they whipped our fannies” postgame comments).

September 15: The Bulldogs host Charleston Southern on Military Appreciation Day. It will also be Hall of Fame weekend.

The Buccaneers open their season at Florida on September 1, then have a bye the next week. Thus, CSU will have two weeks to get ready for its game versus The Citadel.

If you were asking yourself “does CSU usually have extra days to prepare before playing the Bulldogs?”, the answer to the question is, well, yes (at least in recent years). In the previous two regular-season meetings, Charleston Southern played Thursday night games the week before facing The Citadel.

Most of the other regular-season games between the two programs were season openers, with the 2002 meeting (delayed by a hurricane) the exception.

After the game against the Bulldogs, Charleston Southern hosts Elon in North Charleston.

September 22: The Citadel’s second road game of the season is against Mercer. The Bears play at Memphis to start the year, then host Jacksonville.

The first conference game for Mercer is at Samford on September 15, the week before MU hosts the Bulldogs. Mercer has a bye the week after playing The Citadel, then travels to VMI.

In fact, Mercer’s next home contest after facing the Bulldogs won’t be until October 20 (against Western Carolina).

The Citadel is only 3-5-1 alltime on September 22, but one of the wins was particularly noteworthy — a 27-14 victory at Vanderbilt in 1979. Stump Mitchell and Danny Miller combined for 229 yards rushing that day, with three touchdowns. The other TD came on a pass from Tim Russell to Byron Walker.

September 29: The Citadel travels north to play Towson at Johnny Unitas Stadium. It will be the Tigers’ home opener after three road games (which are against, in order, Morgan State, Wake Forest, and Villanova). Towson has a bye the week prior to its matchup with the Bulldogs.

It will also be the designated celebration game for Towson’s “50 Years of Football”, a season-long commemoration of the school’s gridiron history. Part of the hoopla: a $50 season ticket promotion.

I bet Sean Landeta is excited about that.

Following its game versus The Citadel, Towson next plays host to Stony Brook, followed by another home contest in CAA play, against William and Mary.

October 6: The Citadel is off this week. In related news, I will be on vacation.

October 13: On Parents’ Day, The Citadel will host East Tennessee State. The Bucs have a three-game homestand prior to making the trip to Charleston, with games against Furman, Chattanooga, and (for ETSU’s Homecoming) Gardner-Webb.

After playing The Citadel, the Bucs travel to Spartanburg to face Wofford, completing a three-game stretch of games versus teams with canine mascots.

Where were you on October 13, 2007? Well, if you were at Johnson Hagood Stadium, you saw one of the crazier games ever played there.

The Citadel trailed Furman by 20 points in the second quarter, 17 points in the third quarter, and 10 points in the fourth quarter…but wound up winning in overtime, 54-51. Duran Lawson! Andre Roberts! Tory Cooper! Ta’Mar Jernigan! Joshua Haney! Mike Adams!

Also worth mentioning: on October 13, 1962, The Citadel upset Vanderbilt, 21-6. It was the first time the program had defeated an SEC team (but not the last). Vandy was a 28-point favorite at home, but the Bulldogs came to play. Mike Lane! Sid Mitchell! Charlie Brendle! Gene “Buzzy” Dice! Nick DiLoreto! Eddie Taylor!

October 20: The coveted Silver Shako will be on the line, as The Citadel journeys to Lexington, VA, to play VMI. It will be Parents’ Weekend for the Keydets.

The week before facing the Bulldogs, VMI is at Samford, the longest trip in the SoCon. That game is preceded (for the Keydets) by a week off.

After the Military Classic of the South, VMI travels to Chattanooga.

As for previous contests played on this day — well, there was a game played on October 20, 1990, that is fondly remembered by fans of the Bulldogs. All the opponent had to do to win, according to a local newspaper, was just show up. It didn’t quite work out that way.

The afternoon also included a pregame speech of note:

“He never said anything, but in the locker room he silenced all of us and said, ‘Don’t tell me if we took off our gear and met them at the 50-yard line, we wouldn’t win.’ The place just went crazy.”

I wonder whatever happened to the guy who made that speech…

October 27: The Citadel hosts Furman, the 98th meeting in the series. It will be the 53rd time the two schools have played in October; they have met 40 times in November, and five times in September.

After a September 22 contest versus East Tennessee State in Johnson City, the Paladins won’t play another road game until they meet the Bulldogs.

Following the ETSU matchup, Furman hosts Western Carolina, has a week off, then plays Wofford and Samford in back-to-back games in Greenville (with the second of those two contests on FU’s Homecoming). That is a key stretch for Furman as it attempts to return to the FCS playoffs.

After facing The Citadel the week after the Samford game, the Paladins return home and play Chattanooga before finishing the regular season with road games at VMI and Mercer.

November 3: The Citadel will be Western Carolina’s opponent for Homecoming in Cullowhee, the fifth time the Bulldogs will have filled that role for WCU since 2007.

The Catamounts, a “sleeper” pick to to win the SoCon this year in some quarters, have two road games before facing The Citadel. WCU travels to Mercer on October 20, and then plays at East Tennessee State on October 27.

Western Carolina has an early bye week in 2018 (September 8), so the meeting with The Citadel will be the Catamounts’ eighth consecutive football Saturday. WCU will stay at home the following week to play Wofford before completing its regular season schedule at North Carolina.

The Citadel’s last road win on November 3 came in 2001, a 20-17 double overtime victory at Chattanooga — on UTC’s Homecoming.

November 10: There will be a battle of Bulldogs at Johnson Hagood Stadium on November 10, as The Citadel hosts Samford.

As mentioned earlier, Samford will be at Furman on October 20. SU has a bye before hosting Wofford on November 3. It will be Homecoming for Samford, which will then face The Citadel on the military college’s Homecoming.

SU finishes its regular season slate with a contest at East Tennessee State. Johnson City proved to be a tricky spot for the Birmingham Bulldogs two seasons ago, as they were upset by the Bucs in a game which was also the season-ender that year.

The Citadel beat Mercer 10-0 on November 10, 1906. However, that would be the last time the Bulldogs were victorious on that date until 1973 (a win over Furman). In between, The Citadel went 0-6-2 on November 10.

The good news, though, is the Bulldogs have won their last five gridiron contests on the tenth day of November.

November 11: The Bulldogs finishes their regular season schedule with a trip to Tuscaloosa. The opponent is Alabama, a school that has never beaten The Citadel in football.

The Crimson Tide closes out the regular season with three straight home games. The Citadel is the second of the three opponents, and the second straight group of Bulldogs, as Mississippi State plays Alabama on November 4.

Nick Saban’s squad faces Auburn on November 18. Last year, the Crimson Tide lost at Auburn, which means The Citadel currently has a longer road winning streak against SEC opponents than does Alabama.

A quick summary:

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

I can see something in the distance that looks like it might be a pigskin. We’re getting closer…

2018 preseason rankings and ratings, featuring The Citadel (and the rest of the SoCon)

Yes, it’s that time of year. The preview magazines are out, and the Massey Ratings have been updated for preseason 2018. Let’s get right to the nitty-gritty!

Lindy’s ranks North Dakota State #1 in its FCS preseason poll. The rest of its top 5: James Madison, Sam Houston State, Jacksonville State, and South Dakota State. Incidentally, the top four teams were also the top four squads in Lindy’s 2017 preseason poll (with NDSU and JMU flip-flopped).

Wofford is ranked #10 (as was also the case in the magazine’s 2017 preseason poll), Samford #13, and Furman #17. Other teams of note include Kennesaw State (#7), North Carolina A&T (#19), and Elon (#21).

The Lindy’s preseason first team All-America squad for the FCS includes two players from Samford, quarterback Devlin Hodges and defensive lineman Ahmad Gooden. Not only that, but both are the magazine’s preseason national MVPs (on offense and defense, respectively).

Lindy’s first team also includes Wofford offensive lineman Ross Demmel. That is a bit problematic, as Demmel (who was an academic senior last season) is not on the Terriers’ 2018 roster.

The magazine’s preseason second team does feature a Wofford player who is expected to be on the field this year, however, in defensive lineman Miles Brown.

The preseason SoCon rankings, per Lindy’s:

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

Charleston Southern is the preseason #2 team in the Big South, while Towson is projected to finish 11th in the 12-team CAA.

South Carolina State is picked 5th in the MEAC.

Street & Smith’s FCS top 25 is similar to Lindy’s at the top, with North Dakota State and James Madison 1-2 in the rankings. South Dakota State is 3rd, followed by Kennesaw State and Jacksonville State.

Samford is ranked #10, Furman #17, and Wofford #21. Others of interest: Elon (9th), North Carolina A&T (15th), and Richmond (24th).

The magazine’s preseason All-America squad includes Samford’s Hodges and Gooden. No other SoCon players are named (and Street & Smith’s does not have a preseason second team).

As was the case last year, the SoCon preview was written by S&S assistant editor Will Long, who is based in Charlotte (and is a graduate of Clemson). The rankings:

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

Charleston Southern is projected to finish third in the Big South (behind Kennesaw State and Monmouth). Towson is picked 8th in the CAA.

S&S is not bullish on South Carolina State, with Buddy Pough’s charges ranked 9th in the 10-team MEAC.

Disappointingly, Athlon does not have an FCS conference preview section. The magazine does have a Top 25 preview written by Craig Haley of STATS FCS Football. The top 5, per Haley: North Dakota State, James Madison, New Hampshire, South Dakota State, and Kennesaw State.

Samford is 12th in this poll, with Wofford 16th. Those two teams are the only SoCon teams projected to make the FCS playoffs.

(It should be noted that the Terriers are not listed as a potential qualifier in the Athlon magazine currently on the shelf of your local bookstore. Wofford and Youngstown State were left off the page by mistake, but subsequently included in an online summary).

Also ranked: Elon (#10) and North Carolina A&T (#20). Monmouth, everyone’s favorite traditional Big South school, is included in an “others to watch” category.

Athlon‘s preseason All-America team includes Ahmad Gooden, but not his teammate Devlin Hodges; the squad’s quarterback is Eastern Washington’s Gage Gubrud.

Wofford’s Miles Brown is on the team, as is Western Carolina punter Ian Berryman. The magazine does not have a preseason All-America second team.

Okay, let’s talk about the Massey Ratings…

For the last few years, 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.

Massey rates every single college football team — not just FBS and FCS squads, but D-2, D-3, NAIA, junior colleges, even Canadian and Mexican schools. This season, there are preseason ratings for 957 colleges and universities, from Alabama (#1) to Minnesota State Community & Technical College (#957).

This year, The Citadel is #218 overall in the preseason ratings. As a comparison, the Bulldogs were the preseason #130 team last year, #113 in the 2016 preseason, and #174 in the 2015 preseason.

The teams on The Citadel’s 2018 schedule are rated as follows (with the chances of a Bulldogs victory in parenthesis):

  • at Wofford – #162 (21%)
  • Chattanooga – #217 (56%)
  • Charleston Southern – #214 (56%)
  • at Mercer – #174 (29%)
  • at Towson – #178 (28%)
  • East Tennessee State – #264 (72%)
  • at VMI – #403 (92%)
  • Furman – #158 (28%)
  • at Western Carolina – #185 (35%)
  • Samford – #148 (27%)
  • Alabama – #1 (0%)

On the site, The Citadel’s matchups with ETSU and WCU are not listed for some reason. I used the Massey simulator to derive projected win percentages for those two games.

There are simulations for any possible matchup. Feel free to waste a few hours playing with them.

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

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

Massey’s FCS-only ratings for select schools:

  • North Dakota State – 1
  • James Madison – 2
  • South Dakota State – 3
  • Weber State – 4
  • Western Illinois – 5
  • Northern Iowa – 6
  • Youngstown State – 7
  • Southern Utah – 8
  • South Dakota – 9
  • Eastern Washington – 10
  • Richmond – 13
  • Delaware – 15
  • Kennesaw State – 19
  • Samford – 25
  • Yale – 27
  • Furman – 30
  • Wofford – 32
  • Elon – 34
  • Mercer – 37
  • Colgate – 38
  • North Carolina A&T – 39
  • Towson – 41
  • Western Carolina – 44
  • William and Mary – 50
  • Charleston Southern – 57
  • Chattanooga – 60
  • The Citadel – 61
  • Harvard – 64
  • Lehigh – 65
  • East Tennessee State – 81
  • Gardner-Webb – 86
  • Presbyterian – 93
  • South Carolina State – 95
  • Campbell – 110
  • VMI – 113
  • Georgetown – 115
  • Davidson – 124
  • Mississippi Valley State – 125

Massey is clearly a big fan of the Missouri Valley Football Conference (six teams in the top 10). Mississippi Valley State is the lowest-rated FCS squad.

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

  • Alabama – 1
  • Georgia – 2
  • Clemson – 3
  • Oklahoma – 4
  • Ohio State – 5
  • Penn State – 6
  • Wisconsin – 7
  • Auburn – 8
  • Notre Dame – 9
  • Oklahoma State – 10
  • TCU – 11
  • UCF – 12
  • North Carolina State – 16
  • Miami (FL) – 17
  • Michigan – 19
  • Mississippi State – 20
  • Virginia Tech – 21
  • Florida State – 25
  • Southern California – 27
  • Wake Forest – 28
  • Georgia Tech – 32
  • South Carolina – 33
  • North Dakota State – 34 (highest-rated FCS team)
  • Duke – 35
  • Texas A&M – 39
  • James Madison – 45
  • Missouri – 49
  • Florida – 50
  • Navy – 53
  • Florida Atlantic – 57
  • North Carolina – 59
  • Maryland – 60
  • Army – 67
  • Appalachian State – 68
  • UCLA – 69
  • Tennessee – 75
  • Weber State – 80
  • Western Illinois – 81
  • Rutgers – 87
  • Air Force – 96
  • BYU – 97
  • Western Ontario – 111 (highest-rated Canadian team)
  • Southern Mississippi – 112
  • Connecticut – 118
  • Northwest Missouri State – 131 (highest-rated D-2 team)
  • Fullerton College – 150 (highest-rated junior college team)
  • Coastal Carolina – 156
  • Georgia Southern – 159
  • San Jose State – 173
  • Texas State – 180
  • Mt. Union – 200 (highest-rated D-3 team)
  • St. Francis (IN) – 245 (highest-rated NAIA team)
  • North Greenville – 297
  • UDLA Puebla – 359 (highest-rated Mexican team)
  • Newberry – 360
  • Lenoir-Rhyne – 416
  • Limestone – 445

Football season is getting closer. Trust me, it is…

Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium, 1964-2017: an annual review

This post will cover home attendance at The Citadel, which is a subject I’ve written about several times before. I’m also going to discuss NCAA football attendance in general (including FCS and SoCon-specific numbers), because I think it is important to consider the program’s attendance issues in context with the rest of the sport.

Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium, 1964-2017

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 2017 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.

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 1992 (69.44%, the highest percentage for that category since 1964) is made up of the 1990, 1991, and 1992 seasons. Incidentally, the second-highest percentage in this category since 1964 happens to be the overall record for The Citadel’s most recent three campaigns.

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

In past years, I’ve noted that walk-up sales appear to have had an impact on yearly totals; in other words, if the team is good, it is reflected in that season’s attendance. This is certainly not a spectacular revelation, but the numbers for The Citadel appear to be higher than expected when compared to attendance for the following year (when you might naturally expect an increase in attendance as a result of the previous season’s on-field success).

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. Of course, there are plenty of opportunities for discrepancies when making such a comparison (weather, opponent fan base, etc.), but it strikes me as something worth following. I’ve added the 2017 numbers, so there is now a seven-year period to check:

  • 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)

Since 1964, the Bulldogs’ record at Johnson Hagood Stadium is 187-114 (62.1%). The average home attendance over that time period is 14,055. However, there has not been a season in which home attendance averaged more than 14,055 since 2006.

As the current stadium capacity is less than 12,000 due to the demolition of the East stands in the spring of 2017, it will be a while before The Citadel can expect to enjoy a season with average game attendance in excess of 14,055. Whether or not surpassing that benchmark is even realistic going forward, regardless of the size of the facility, is an open question.

Last season’s average home attendance of 8,994 was the lowest for any year since attendance figures at Johnson Hagood Stadium can be accurately determined (in other words, the lowest in the last 54 seasons).

Note: that cutoff for accuracy in attendance numbers means that years like 1959 (eight wins), 1960 (bowl victory), and 1961 (SoCon championship) 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. “Official” attendance figures prior to 1948 are (for the most part) even more dubious.

Now let’s look at FCS attendance as a whole.

2017 NCAA football attendance (all divisions)

Montana easily led the division in average home attendance again, with 25,535 (six games). That was higher than 45 FBS programs, and higher than the average home attendance for three FBS conferences (Sun Belt, MAC, C-USA).

James Madison was second overall, averaging 21,724. That included nine games, three of which were playoff contests (all of these numbers include playoff games).

Without the postseason matchups (and their generally lackluster attendance numbers), JMU would have averaged 24,841 fans per home game.

Seven FCS schools averaged more than 18,000 fans per game. Last season, five FCS schools hit that mark (after eight had done so in 2015).

The Citadel ranked 34th out of 123 FCS schools, but only fourth in the Southern Conference (behind Western Carolina, Mercer, and Chattanooga). Last year, the Bulldogs ranked 1st in attendance among fellow league teams. It was the first time in the last 12 years that The Citadel did not finish in the top 30 in FCS attendance.

Here is a table that includes various FCS squads and their respective attendance totals:

Team G Total Average FCS Rank
Montana 6 141,212 23,535 1
James Madison 9 195,514 21,724 2
Florida A&M 4 76,190 19,048 3
Yale 5 94,699 18,940 4
Montana State 6 111,702 18,617 5
Jacksonville State 6 110,328 18,388 6
North Dakota State 9 164,996 18,333 7
Prairie View A&M 5 89,016 17,803 8
Delaware 6 99,890 16,648 9
North Carolina A&T 5 78,486 15,697 10
South Carolina State 5 59,414 11,883 19
Western Carolina 5 52,735 10,547 23
Mercer 5 52,725 10,545 24
Harvard 5 52,055 10,411 27
Eastern Washington 5 50,617 10,123 28
South Dakota 5 46,736 9,347 32
Chattanooga 5 45,848 9,170 33
The Citadel 5 44,972 8,994 34
Texas Southern 5 43,994 8,799 35
Austin Peay 5 41,708 8,342 39
Norfolk State 6 49,908 8,318 40
Sacramento State 6 49,891 8,315 41
William and Mary 5 41,182 8,236 44
Richmond 5 40,925 8,185 45
East Tennessee State 6 48,050 8,008 46
Nicholls 6 47,295 7,883 47
Furman 5 38,875 7,775 48
Princeton 5 36,831 7,366 51
Lehigh 6 42,827 7,138 56
Elon 6 42,118 7,020 58
Kennesaw State 7 46,874 6,696 63
Wofford 6 38,831 6,472 68
Villanova 5 28,244 5,649 74
Campbell 6 33,276 5,546 77
Towson 5 26,884 5,377 80
Samford 6 32,024 5,337 81
Penn 5 26,374 5,275 82
Gardner-Webb 5 23,017 4,603 90
VMI 5 21,623 4,325 94
Savannah State 4 17,046 4,262 95
Davidson 6 20,119 3,353 100
Charleston Southern 5 11,727 2,345 110
Presbyterian 8 18,558 2,320 111
Georgetown 5 10,829 2,166 116
Delaware State 4 8,432 2,108 119
Jacksonville 6 12,536 2,089 120
Robert Morris 5 10,099 2,020 121
Stetson 6 11,647 1,941 122
Saint Francis (PA) 5 8,065 1,613 123

Apologies if that table is a bit too long, but I was trying to include a varied cross-section of FCS teams. I didn’t want to list all 123, but I wound up including 49 of them anyway…

Observations:

  • Yale ranked 3rd overall in FCS attendance in 2015, 35th in 2016, and 4th in 2017. Why the yo-yo effect? It’s all about the location of the Harvard-Yale game, which was played at the Yale Bowl in both of the odd-numbered years. Last season, that matchup drew 51,426 fans.
  • The lowest average home attendance for a team that made the 2017 playoffs: San Diego (2,142, which ranked 117th). Lowest average home attendance for a team that actually hosted a playoff game last season: Wofford.
  • Furman’s home attendance jumped over 2,000 fans per game in 2017, from 5,771 to 7,775. For the first time in four seasons, Furman outdrew Wofford.
  • Montana and Montana State combined to average 21,076 per home contest. No other western school packed in more than 10,123 fans per game (Eastern Washington). Keep in mind that neither Montana nor Montana State made the FCS playoffs last year; the two Treasure State institutions had a combined record of 12-10.
  • North Alabama, which is transitioning from Division II to D-1 and will be in the Big South for football, averaged 7,498 fans per home game last season.
  • Other D-2 home attendance averages of interest: Benedict (5,180); Newberry (3,212); North Greenville (3,147); Lenoir-Rhyne (4,330); Chowan (2,904); Catawba (2,472); Carson-Newman (3,109).
  • Hampton, which is also moving to the Big South (assuming its nasty fight with the MEAC is finally over), averaged 7,088 fans per home contest in 2017.
  • Campbell is adding football scholarships and moving its football program from the Pioneer League to the Big South (you will need a scorecard to keep up with the Big South for the next few years). Average home attendance for Campbell last season: 5,546.
  • Moving the other direction, Presbyterian is going to be playing football in the Pioneer League, leaving the Big South in that sport. PC averaged only 2,320 fans per game last season. On the bright side, that isn’t out of line with its soon-to-be colleagues in the Pioneer League, four of which averaged less than that total in 2017. The highest-ranked Pioneer League school in terms of attendance was Morehead State (72nd overall).
  • The football additions for the Big South will greatly help that league in terms of fan support. Last season, four of the five schools in the conference (not counting Liberty) ranked 90th or below nationally in FCS attendance.
  • South Carolina State got a nice bump in attendance (an increase of 1,702 fans per home contest) thanks in part to games in Orangeburg against North Carolina A&T and Howard (the latter was Homecoming).

The average home attendance for SoCon teams was 7,827, a decline on average of 559 fans per game from 2016. League averages for the last four years:

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

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 8,008 fans per game.

Average attendance across FCS last season was 7,798, though the median attendance was 6,762. Thus, the SoCon was just slightly above the national average in terms of attendance, despite ranking only 9th out of 13 FCS conferences in average attendance.

I decided to break down 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 for those games (a total of 36) was 7,937. The median attendance in this category was 7,783.

The most attended conference game last season was Wofford’s game at Mercer on September 9, with an announced attendance of 12,727. On October 7, Samford played at VMI, a game that drew just 3,310 spectators, the smallest crowd to watch a league contest in 2017.

Major-college football experienced its largest per-game attendance drop in 34 years and second-largest ever, according to recently released NCAA figures.

Attendance among the 129 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams in 2017 was down an average of 1,409 fans per game from 2016. That marked the largest drop since 1983 when average attendance declined 1,527 fans per game from 1982.

The 2017 FBS average of 42,203 fans per game is the lowest since 1997.

That average attendance drop marked the second-sharpest decline since the NCAA began keeping track of college football attendance in 1948. For the first time in history, average attendance declined nationally for four consecutive seasons…

…Since establishing an all-time high average attendance in 2008 (46,971), FBS attendance has slipped a record 10.1 percent over the last nine years.

That quoted section is from a story on college football attendance written by Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports. Dodd also noted that the decline had even affected the ever-popular SEC. The reasons for the falloff in attendance are varied, but a former Southern Conference commissioner had some thoughts on the issue:

“It’s a technology issue,” said Wright Waters…”The public is ahead of us every day in what they can get from technology. We have not been able to keep up.”

A former TV executive quoted in the article put most of the “blame” on the lack of attendance on students not showing up to games, but a very good article in The Athletic strongly suggested that notion was a bit faulty. I’m not going to quote a lot from that particular piece, which is behind a paywall, but as the author (Michael Weinreb) wrote:

Let’s dispel with one stereotype up front: This decrease is not taking place merely because of the inherent laziness of millennials…

…It also is not about the lack of consistent Wi-Fi coverage at stadiums. Nels Popp, an assistant professor of sport administration at the University of North Carolina, says that despite colleges’ obsession with improving Wi-Fi, connectivity is the “lowest reliable variable” when it comes to attendance. In other words: People don’t stay home because of lousy Wi-Fi, even if they consider good Wi-Fi to be a bonus when they do show up.

“Our response when we see students aren’t coming tends to be, ‘Let’s throw more #### at them,'” says Robert Malekoff, Popp’s colleague in UNC’s Department of Exercise and Sport Science.

In a way, that might be true, but it’s not about literally hurling T-shirts or network passwords in their general direction (it may not be about social media blasts, either, if Popp’s research on the lack of impact of social media on attendance bears out with further study). It’s a more subtle, experiential thing.

That research article by UNC professor Nels Popp on the impact of social media on attendance is quite interesting. One of its conclusions: “Twitter ‘Followers’ and Facebook ‘Likes’ had no statistically relevant impact on either attendance or ticket revenue”. Rather, historical and current on-field (and on-court) success were the decisive factors, along with “belonging to a Bowl Championship Series (BCS) Conference”.

The Citadel is probably not going to be joining a power-five conference anytime soon, so let’s just win a lot of games…

Circling back to the subject of attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium, I have to mention the beer sales, or lack thereof:

The Citadel lost money selling beer at home football games in 2017, and it’s unclear whether beer sales will continue at Johnson Hagood Stadium for the 2018 season.

The school sold $21,718.24 worth of beer at five home games last season, The Citadel’s first effort to sell beer in public areas of the stadium.

But expenses to sell the beer, including $5,000 per game in rental costs to set up a beer garden, amounted to $32,858.62, leaving a net loss of $11,140.38.

The Citadel’s athletic department split the loss with corporate partner Sticky Fingers, leaving each party with a loss of $5,570.19 for the season.

Interim athletic director Rob Acunto told a committee of The Citadel’s Board of Visitors on Wednesday that the school’s beer vendor would not partner with The Citadel next season if the beer garden setup remains the same.

However, Acunto said, the beer vendor is interested in an expanded concept “because profitability would be virtually guaranteed if rental costs were eliminated.”

Without rental costs, he said, net revenue for beer sales would have been $13,859.62.

To be honest, I think $5,000 per game to set up a tent is a bit absurd, but maybe I’m missing something. Putting that aside for a moment:

  • The beer garden was located on the visitors’ side of the field, when most of the would-be customers were on the other side of the stadium
  • It was located next to a children’s play area
  • From what I understand, you couldn’t really watch the game from the tent; oddly enough, some people do like watching the game

I don’t know if selling beer is going to do much for attendance, and truthfully I’m somewhat ambivalent on the concept of selling beer at a small-college sporting event as it is. However, if you’re going to sell beer, my suggestion is to go ahead and make it part of the regular concessions package. Let the people sitting in the stands buy beer if they are of age (cadets excepted).

Also, if we’re determined to put food/beverage options on the visitors’ side (and why not?), add food carts to the mix.

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.

The first game of the season is less than five months away. Are you ready?

McAlister Musings: are the Bulldogs turning the corner?

Links of interest:

Zane Najdawi is the reigning SoCon player of the week for the second time this season

Bulldogs make huge comeback, beat Furman

On January 21, The Citadel was 6-13 overall, 1-6 in the league, and coming off of a very poor game at VMI. Things were not exactly looking up.

Two weeks later, the Bulldogs are 9-14, 4-7 in the league, with four straight encouraging performances, three of which resulted in victories. Birds are singing, and happy days are here again.

What happened? Well, for one thing, Duggar Baucom challenged his squad after the VMI loss, telling them they were “better than that”.

However, there has also been a tactical shift — at least, according to Furman coach Bob Richey:

It’s a totally different team. They are playing totally different.

…At our place, The Citadel played more zone defense, zone pressure back to a a zone. They were trying to out-score you. This team now is taking more pride in their defense, and they are guarding people now.

They change up their defenses, try to keep people on their heels. They’ve shrunk their rotation down, and are playing harder with a lot more belief. Najdawi is as good as any post in the league, and we couldn’t do anything with him. Frierson’s shooting the ball, Harris is shooting it, Frankie (Johnson) is driving it.

Look, they are good. If you ask any of the four coaches they’ve played in the last four games, they’d agree.

 —
Let’s break down the stats to see what Richey is talking about.

Possessions* PPP – TC PPP – Opp FTA/FGA – TC FT% – TC
WCU 86 0.92 0.94 0.46 0.55
@Furman 83 0.81 1.29 0.29 0.50
@Wofford 90 1.02 1.21 0.44 0.58
Samford 87 1.05 1.23 0.26 0.59
UTC 69 1.39 1.28 0.43 0.81
@UNCG 68 0.85 1.06 0.28 0.60
@VMI 81 1.00 1.09 0.38 0.80
@Mercer 68 1.12 1.09 0.26 0.86
ETSU 77 0.92 0.95 0.50 0.85
Wofford 75 1.07 1.04 0.34 0.82
Furman 69 1.28 1.18 0.49 0.73
First 7 80.57 1.01 1.16 0.37 0.63
Last 4 72.25 1.10 1.07 0.40 0.82

* Overtime possessions not counted (this applies to the home games versus UTC and Furman)

  • TC = The Citadel, obviously
  • PPP = Points per possession
  • FTA/FGA = Free throws attempted/field goals attempted
  • FT% = Free throw percentage

I broke down the numbers by totaling the first seven games (WCU through VMI) and the last four (Mercer through Furman).

Clearly the number of possessions have declined as the league campaign has progressed. It is possible that a trend in that direction began when the Bulldogs played Chattanooga, though A) I think the UTC game may have been an outlier due to the Mocs’ depth issues, and B) The Citadel reverted to an 81-possession contest versus VMI two games later.

The slight dialing down of the pace has benefited the Bulldogs on both sides of the court, at least statistically, but I believe The Citadel’s offense has been helped the most. The Bulldogs were not really scoring at a rate that would give them a chance to win most games, but of late that has markedly improved.

Of course, there is a symbiotic relationship between offense and defense in basketball, so it can be hard to say that one element is clearly the beneficiary of a switch in tempo.

One other major positive development, which I have included in the table above, has been the Bulldogs’ vastly improved free throw shooting. If The Citadel had shot from the foul line in its last four games as it did in its first four contests, the Bulldogs would have gone 0-4 in that stretch instead of 3-1.

The other thing to watch when it comes to the charity stripe is the number of opportunities The Citadel gets over the course of a game. This is generally reflected in FTA/FGA numbers (as opposed to raw totals).

The Bulldogs have done a much better job in this area in league play (the non-conference D-1 slate was not kind to them in that respect). They currently lead the SoCon in the category in league-only games.

Conversely, The Citadel is seventh in the conference in defensive FTA/FGA. The Bulldogs need to keep the opponents off the foul line as much as possible.

A few other stats of note (SoCon games only):

  • If you want to see a blocked shot, go watch a game involving The Citadel. Opponents are blocking 13.2% of the Bulldogs’ field goal attempts, most in the league. That isn’t good, but on the bright side The Citadel is blocking 10.1% of its opponents’ shots (third-best in the conference).
  • 53.9% of The Citadel’s field goal attempts in league play have come from three-point land, most in the conference — and that is really saying something, because teams in the SoCon love to hoist up shots from beyond the arc. No league in the country shoots a higher percentage of three-pointers as a whole.
  • The Citadel leads the conference in assist-to-made field goal rate (61.0%). Again, this is another area in which the league in general excels (second-best rate among all conferences).

What should The Citadel’s goal(s) be for the rest of the season?

I think the Bulldogs should aim for a top-6 seed in the league tournament. If a team finishes in the top six in the conference standings, it avoids having to play a first-round game on the first day of the SoCon tournament (which this year is Friday, March 2, in Asheville).

That would be ideal for The Citadel as far as the dream scenario is concerned (shocking the world by winning the tourney). Winning three games in three days is clearly easier than having to win four games in four days. It would also be good from a long-term perspective, as it would be tangible proof that the program is on the rise and will be a factor in the SoCon for the next few years to come.

It won’t be easy, although if the tourney were held on February 7, The Citadel would in fact be the sixth seed. Alas, the tournament doesn’t begin on February 7, and the schedule is not going to be particularly favorable for the Bulldogs down the stretch (only three of the remaining seven conference matchups are at McAlister Field House).

According to kenpom, The Citadel is projected to finish seventh in the SoCon with a 6-12 league record, a full three games behind the projected sixth-place finisher (Mercer). That is a reflection of the schedule, and also what the numbers say about the Bulldogs – namely, that The Citadel is still a bottom 50 team nationally according to the website.

The Bulldogs haven’t played like a bottom 50 team over the last two weeks, however. If they continue to improve (or even just maintain their current level of play), I think there is a solid chance The Citadel could indeed wind up as a top-6 seed.

The Citadel is currently only favored in one of its last seven games (the home game against VMI, which incidentally is going to be the day to Pack the Mac). At a minimum, the Bulldogs need to win three of the seven contests to have a shot at the top six. I suspect the Bulldogs will have to win two of their three home games, and at least one road matchup (if not two), to pull it off.

Winning at Chattanooga on Thursday would be a great way to start the stretch run…

I’ll finish off this post with some random statistics, many of them courtesy of Synergy Sports. Do I really understand all the numbers put out by Synergy Sports? No, I do not. Do I look at them anyway? Yes, I do.

These stats include all games — conference games, non-conference games, even the non-D1 matchups. Most are based on points per possessions (PPP).

  • The Citadel ranks 14th nationally in offensive PPP after timeouts (1.036). Boise State leads the nation in this category (1.09). Other teams in the top 10 include Campbell (2nd), Xavier, Kansas, Villanova, and Purdue.
  • The Bulldogs are not very good at making catch-and-shoot jump shots when guarded (bottom 20 nationally). However, opponents that don’t guard in that situation pay for it. The Citadel is 5th in the country in points per possession when shooting unguarded catch/shoot jumpers, just ahead of Kansas. Leading the world in this category: St. Mary’s.
  • The Citadel remains the shortest team in D-1 (per kenpom), with an “average height” of 74.0 inches.
  • Individuals who rank in the 85th percentile or better nationally in various offensive categories: Matt Frierson (overall PPP, transition scoring, shots off screens, and spot-up shooting), Zane Najdawi (post-up play), Alex Reed (spot-up shooting), Tariq Simmons (isolation), Quayson Williams (shots off screens), and Kaelon Harris (offensive rebound put-backs). Harris also ranks in the 92nd percentile in a category called “Miscellaneous”, which sounds like a we-don’t-know-what-he-did-but-he-somehow-scored kind of thing.
  • The Citadel actually ranks 5th in the nation in half court man-to-man defense, which seems more than a little odd. I’m going to guess that most of the Bulldogs’ man-to-man defending has come against its non-D1 opponents (notable exception: The Citadel extensively employed man-to-man against Wofford in the game at McAlister Field House). For the season, the Bulldogs have played man-to-man in the half-court only 28.6% of the time; as a comparison, Virginia has played half-court man-to-man 99.9% of the time. The two teams that have been truly dominant defensively this season, Cincinnati and UVA, rank 1-2 in this category.
  • The Bulldogs are poor defending plays in out-of-bounds situations along the endlines (1.055 PPP), but are very good defending out-of-bounds plays that originate from the sidelines (0.7 PPP). I don’t really understand why that would be the case.

Okay, that’s enough for now.

Go Dogs!

McAlister Musings: 2017-18 SoCon play begins for the Bulldogs

Link of interest:

The Citadel plunges into “scary” SoCon play

The Citadel is 5-7 so far this season, though only two of the Bulldogs’ victories have come against D-1 opposition. The big news in the early part of the schedule was negative, as 2017 SoCon Freshman of the Year Preston Parks was dismissed from the team and will transfer.

This post will cover the first three games of the SoCon campaign — December 30 versus Western Carolina, January 4 at Furman, and January 6 at Wofford.

First, some statistics. I decided to look at the numbers from the six games The Citadel played against “similar” opposition — in other words, none of the games played against non-D1 teams, and none of the contests against power-conference schools.

The games I selected:

The Citadel’s stats in those six contests (I’ve included national averages in some categories for comparison):

Poss Pts %2pt %3pt %FT 2M 2Att 2FG% 3M 3Att 3FG% eFG%
N.C. A&T 89 73 60.3% 20.5% 19.2% 22 46 47.8% 5 33 15.2% 37.3%
HPU 77 79 43.0% 38.0% 19.0% 17 39 43.6% 10 25 40.0% 50.0%
Marist 90 91 37.4% 49.5% 13.2% 17 37 45.9% 15 42 35.7% 50.0%
UMBC 78 72 50.0% 25.0% 25.0% 18 40 45.0% 6 29 20.7% 39.1%
JMU 80 84 52.4% 39.3% 8.3% 22 35 62.9% 11 24 45.8% 65.3%
Campbell 74 77 57.1% 27.3% 15.6% 22 48 45.8% 7 26 26.9% 43.9%
Avg 81.33 79.3 49.6% 34.0% 16.4% 19.7 40.8 48.2% 9.0 29.8 30.2% 41.2%
Natl. Avg. 69.9 49.5% 31.4% 19.1% 49.9% 35.0% 50.9%

 

FT FTatt FTA/FGA FT% OR DR TR OR% A A/FGM
N.C. A&T 14 21 26.6% 66.7% 17 25 42 40.5% 8 29.6%
HPU 15 23 35.9% 65.2% 15 21 36 41.7% 13 48.1%
Marist 12 17 21.5% 70.6% 10 25 35 28.6% 18 56.3%
UMBC 18 29 42.0% 62.1% 15 23 38 39.5% 15 62.5%
JMU 7 11 18.6% 63.6% 3 27 30 10.0% 18 54.5%
Campbell 12 16 21.6% 75.0% 12 24 36 33.3% 12 41.4%
Avg 13.0 19.5 27.6% 66.7% 12.0 24.2 36.2 33.2% 14.0 48.8%
Natl. Avg. 33.9% 70.7% 29.2% 53.0%

TO TO% A/TO Blk Blk% Stl Stl% PF
N.C. A&T 18 20.2% 0.44 1 2.2% 9 10.1% 20
HPU 17 22.1% 0.76 5 12.8% 11 14.3% 14
Marist 12 13.3% 1.5 1 2.7% 9 10.0% 19
UMBC 10 12.8% 1.5 1 2.5% 9 11.5% 18
JMU 18 22.5% 1 4 11.4% 12 15.0% 20
Campbell 6 8.1% 2 3 6.3% 6 8.1% 19
Avg 13.5 16.6% 1.04 2.5 6.1% 9.3 11.5% 18.3
Natl Avg. 19.2% 9.4% 10.8%

 

The Citadel’s opponents’ statistics in those six games:

Poss Pts %2pt %3pt %FT 2M 2Att 2FG% 3M 3Att 3FG% eFG%
N.C. A&T 89 92 65.2% 22.8% 12.0% 30 43 69.8% 7 22 31.8% 62.3%
HPU 77 77 64.9% 19.5% 15.6% 25 53 47.2% 5 12 41.7% 50.0%
Marist 90 100 34.0% 54.0% 12.0% 17 23 73.9% 18 40 45.0% 69.8%
UMBC 78 98 40.8% 49.0% 10.2% 20 34 58.8% 16 42 38.1% 57.9%
JMU 80 82 48.8% 29.3% 22.0% 20 43 46.5% 8 25 32.0% 47.1%
Campbell 74 87 57.5% 27.6% 14.9% 25 48 52.1% 8 21 38.1% 53.6%
Avg 81.33 89.3 51.1% 34.7% 14.2% 22.8 40.7 56.1% 10.3 27 38.3% 49.8%
Natl. Avg. 69.9 49.5% 31.4% 19.1% 35.0% 50.9%

 

FT Ftatt FTA/FGA FT% OR DR TR OR% A A/FGM
N.C. A&T 11 15 23.1% 73.3% 6 41 47 12.8% 25 67.6%
HPU 12 12 18.5% 100.0% 14 27 41 34.1% 15 50.0%
Marist 12 17 27.0% 70.6% 6 37 43 14.0% 24 68.6%
UMBC 10 16 21.1% 62.5% 21 36 57 36.8% 24 66.7%
JMU 18 22 32.4% 81.8% 15 27 42 35.7% 18 64.3%
Campbell 13 20 29.0% 65.0% 16 35 51 31.4% 20 60.6%
Avg 12.7 17 25.1% 74.5% 13 33.8 46.8 27.8% 21 63.3%
Natl. Avg. 33.9% 70.7% 29.2% 53.0%

 

TO TO% A/TO Blk Blk% Stl Stl% PF
N.C. A&T 22 24.7% 1.14 3 7.0% 8 9.0% 18
HPU 20 26.0% 0.75 10 18.9% 12 15.6% 22
Marist 25 27.8% 0.96 6 26.1% 3 3.3% 17
UMBC 15 19.2% 1.60 4 11.8% 5 6.4% 23
JMU 17 21.3% 1.06 4 9.3% 10 12.5% 16
Campbell 9 12.2% 2.22 5 10.4% 3 4.1% 10
Avg 18 22.1% 1.17 5.3 13.1% 6.8 8.4% 17.7
Natl Avg. 19.2% 9.4% 10.8%

 

Observations based on those numbers (keeping in mind, it is just these six games, so sample size must be considered):

  • In these contests, The Citadel got more points as a percentage of its offense from 3-point shooting (34.0%) than does the average D-1 squad (31.4%). Free throws have not been a major part of the offense, at least compared to the rest of the country. Somewhat curiously, that has also been true for The Citadel’s opponents in this survey; in all games, however, that definitely isn’t the case.
  • The Bulldogs need to improve from the charity stripe, not just in quantity but in quality. The Citadel’s 66.7% rate isn’t good enough (and that number doesn’t significantly change when all games are included).  Conversely, Bulldog opponents are making their free throws at a solid rate.
  • Besides not shooting free throws all that well, The Citadel isn’t making a high enough percentage of three-point shots; the Bulldogs have been erratic at best from beyond the arc. That is why The Citadel has a below-average effective field goal percentage.
  • The Citadel’s offensive rebounding rate isn’t half-bad. Also, while the defensive rebounding rate for all games is terrible, when just these six games are surveyed, the Bulldogs look much better in that category. In other words, The Citadel is more or less holding its own on the boards against “like” opposition. The Bulldogs’ opponents have more rebounds mainly because The Citadel has missed more shots.
  • On offense, the Bulldogs’ turnover rate is acceptable. The defense is forcing its fair share of turnovers but needs to create even more, particularly of the “live-ball” variety.
  • The Citadel’s assist-to-made basket rate is slightly below average. Opponents are doing better than the Bulldogs in this area.
  • The steal rate for the Bulldogs is good, but is not nearly as impressive when the games against non-D1 teams aren’t counted.
  • According to kenpom, The Citadel’s average height (that is, the average height of the players on the court at any given time) is shorter than all but one D-1 team. (In case you were wondering, Southern Mississippi is 351st.) Therefore it is not much of a surprise that the Bulldogs do not block a lot of shots, and that their opponents will have an advantage on the other side of the court as well (the stat only takes 2-point shooting into account).

A few other points worth mentioning:

  • The Citadel’s bench minutes (all games) is second in all of D-1, behind only Northwestern State. This is reflected in the average minutes played by each player on the roster, with eleven Bulldogs averaging 10 or more minutes per game.
  • In terms of experience, the Bulldogs — well, they don’t have a lot. Per kenpom, The Citadel is 344th out of 351 teams in that category. That said, the Bulldogs do have a reasonable amount of returning experience, as their “minutes continuity” (the percentage of a team’s minutes played by the same players from last season to the current campaign) is basically average.

I’m still trying to decipher the myriad statistics provided via subscription by Synergy Sports, so I’m not going to do any serious breakdowns based on those numbers. (Synergy’s definition of a possession appears to be different from the one used by kenpom and most other analysts, which has complicated things.) That said, here are a few pieces of information to digest (all 12 games are included for these stats):

  • The Citadel is average to below average in most situational categories, but the Bulldogs are better than average at scoring when there is less than 4 seconds remaining on the shot clock. The Citadel is also better than most teams on the defensive side of the ball when the shot clock is about to expire. I’m not sure why that would be the case; perhaps routinely playing a chaotic style of basketball lends itself to keeping one’s head when the shot clock hits 5. Also, there is a sample size issue, since the shot clock is rarely a factor when the Bulldogs are playing.
  • The Bulldogs are good at running offense on out-of-bounds plays from under the basket, but are not nearly as good when in-bounding from the sidelines.
  • The Citadel’s most successful offense in the half-court is finding players coming off screens. Isolation plays and cuts to the basket have also been profitable.
  • The Bulldogs are below average on put-backs directly coming from offensive rebounds, and are not good at all running the pick and roll (the “roll man” only gets the ball 22.9% of the time on that play, if I’m reading the numbers correctly).
  • Defensively, The Citadel has struggled coming out of timeouts. Also, the Bulldogs have been poor defending out-of-bounds plays under the basket.
  • The Bulldogs have done a good job against the pick and roll. Conversely, spot-up shooters have fared well against The Citadel.

According to Synergy Sports’ statistical breakdown, the two most efficient offensive performers for the Bulldogs have been Matt Frierson and Alex Reed. In related news:

Freshman Alex Reed has earned a starting spot with his recent play, scoring 11 points in a Dec. 19 loss at Ohio State.

“Alex has turned into a really good player for us,” [Duggar] Baucom said. “He’s shooting well from 3-point range, gets to loose balls and is in the right place at the right time on defense.”

I’ll discuss more of the Synergy stuff when I more fully understand all the information, assuming I will actually manage to get to that point…

Below is a table of full-season D-1 only statistics of note for The Citadel (I’ll be using this same format when discussing the Bulldogs’ opponents). Keep in mind that A) this doesn’t include stats from the games against Oglethorpe, Trinity Baptist, and Point; and B) there are 351 teams in Division I.

– The Citadel’s adjusted tempo: 81.5 (second nationally; Savannah State is first)

The Citadel Offense Rank Defense Rank Natl Avg
Efficiency 99.3 257 113.2 334 103.5
Effective FG% 46.2 307 59.8 343 50.8
Turnover % 17.5 81 20.6 107 19.2
Off. Reb. % 26.9 239 37.3 345 29.2
FTA/FGA 25.5 325 26.8 44 33.9

Okay, let’s take a very quick look at the next three upcoming opponents:

Western Carolina — December 30, 1:00 pm ET, McAlister Field House

Western Carolina is 4-8, with two non-D1 wins. Seven of its eight losses are to kenpom top-150 opponents; the exception is a home loss to High Point.

WCU also has victories over Appalachian State and UNC-Asheville. Those are both decent wins (UNCA has beaten both Wofford and UNC-Greensboro).

– WCU’s average adjusted tempo: 70.5 (138th nationally)

WCU Offense Rank Defense Rank Natl Avg
Efficiency 98.1 275 108.3 271 103.5
Effective FG% 46.7 292 56.6 322 50.8
Turnover % 21.9 300 20.9 89 19.2
Off. Reb. % 26.0 263 35.5 331 29.2
FTA/FGA 28.9 281 42.2 303 33.9

Western Carolina doesn’t get to the foul line too often, but its opponents do. The Catamounts also struggle keeping opponents off the offensive glass.

WCU does force a lot of turnovers on defense, but it also commits way too many on offense.

Per one source that deals in such matters, Western Carolina is a one-point favorite over The Citadel. The over/under is 170.5.

The prediction from kenpom: The Citadel 88, Western Carolina 87

Furman — January 4, 7:30 pm ET, Timmons Arena

  • Streaming: SoCon Digital Network

Furman is 9-4 so far this year. The Paladins have some solid wins (UNC-Asheville, Elon, Northeastern). Three of FU’s four losses are to kenpom top-50 opponents, all on the road — Butler, Duke, and Tennessee. The game against the Volunteers wasn’t decided until the final seconds.

The Paladins also lost at home to Winthrop by 19 points. That seems to be an outlier.

Furman is led by reigning SoCon player of the year Devin Sibley, who averaged 17.7 points per game last season. So far in 2017-18, the senior from Knoxville is averaging 16.2 points per contest. If he can improve his free throw shooting, he has a chance to be a 50-40-80 player (FG%, 3FG%, FT%).

Before playing The Citadel, Furman will travel to VMI on December 30.

– Furman’s adjusted tempo: 70.1 (156th nationally)

Furman Offense Rank Defense Rank Natl Avg
Efficiency 105.5 123 101.8 136 103.5
Effective FG% 51.7 142 51.9 209 50.8
Turnover % 18.2 119 21.5 65 19.2
Off. Reb. % 29.7 164 33.4 302 29.2
FTA/FGA 28.0 300 29.9 99 33.9

Free throws seem to be an irregular occurrence in Furman games. Other than the lack of charity tosses, the Paladins’ offensive numbers are good across the board.

Furman’s opponents have had an edge on the offensive boards, but FU makes up for that by forcing plenty of turnovers.

The prediction from kenpom: Furman 96, The Citadel 78

Wofford — January 6, 7:00 pm ET, Richardson Indoor Arena

  • Streaming: ESPN3

Wofford is 8-4 this year, with the eighth of those wins a monster victory over North Carolina in Chapel Hill. The Terriers are 2-0 in the ACC this year, having also beaten Georgia Tech in Spartanburg.

WC’s losses are to South Carolina (in the game that opened Wofford’s new hoops facility), Texas Tech, California, and UNC-Asheville. All four of those defeats were by at least 14 points, which makes the success against the Tar Heels and Yellow Jackets all the more unexpected (well, at least the UNC game — Georgia Tech has also lost to Grambling State).

– Wofford’s adjusted tempo: 65.9 (330th nationally; the Terriers and Bulldogs will be an interesting contrast)

Wofford Offense Rank Defense Rank Natl Avg
Efficiency 106.5 112 107.3 259 103.5
Effective FG% 53.1 98 56.4 316 50.8
Turnover % 19.2 182 20.8 93 19.2
Off. Reb. % 22 326 30 208 29.2
FTA/FGA 28.3 295 40.5 281 33.9

Wofford’s blowout losses tend to skew the Terriers’ numbers to a certain extent. Wofford shoots the ball very well, but has also allowed some high-efficiency scoring games from its opponents (teams have taken advantage of the three-ball to an unusual degree against WC).

The Terriers are led offensively by Fletcher Magee, who is averaging 24.9 points per game. He is shooting an outrageous 55% from three-land, and that’s with a fairly high volume of shots (102 in 12 games). Magee is a junior from Orlando.

Wofford has two upcoming games before playing The Citadel. The Terriers travel to UNC-Greensboro on December 30, and host VMI on January 4.

The prediction from kenpom: Wofford 92, The Citadel 78

Happy hooping!