2018 Football, Game 4: The Citadel vs. Towson

The Citadel at Towson, to be played to be played at Johnny Unitas® Stadium in Towson, Maryland, with kickoff at 4:00 pm ET on September 29, 2018.

The game will be streamed on CAA TV. Spiro Morekas will handle play-by-play, while Gordy Combs supplies the analysis.

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

Luke Mauro (in his first season as the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Cal McCombs. The sideline reporter is Jay Harper.

The Citadel Sports Network — 2018 radio affiliates

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

Links of interest:

– Game preview from The Post and Courier 

– Feature on Rod Johnson from The Post and Courier

The Citadel is back on the SoCon map

– Game notes from The Citadel and Towson

– SoCon weekly release

“Game Day Central” at The Citadel’s website

– AFCA Coaches’ poll

– Brent Thompson’s 9/25 press conference, including comments from Rod Johnson and Shawn McCord

– Brent Thompson’s 9/26 radio show (video)

The Bulldog Breakdown

– Rod Johnson is the SoCon special teams player of the week

– Boxscore from Towson-Villanova

Towson will wear special gold jerseys on Saturday

Whoa…basketball season is almost here!

As noted in the SoCon’s weekly release, all four conference games last week were close. The scores: 38-31 (The Citadel-Mercer), 52-50 (Western Carolina-VMI), 29-27 (East Tennessee State-Furman), and 27-20 (Chattanooga-Samford).

The league seems to be venturing into Big XII territory in terms of offensive productivity (and perhaps a corresponding lack of defensive excellence):

The SoCon’s offensive prowess was on full display on Saturday. Three backs ran for more than 100 yards, with The Citadel’s Grant Drakeford (139), Western Carolina’s Tyrie Adams (117) and ETSU’s Quay Holmes (102) all surpassing the century mark. Three quarterbacks surpassed 300 yards passing, including Mercer’s Robert Riddle (school-record 347), Samford’s Devlin Hodges (366) and VMI’s Reece Udinski (school-record 491). Four wide receivers reached at least 100 yards, including VMI’s Javeon Lara (143), Mercer’s Marquise Irvin (132), Samford’s Kelvin McKnight (128) and Chattanooga’s Bryce Nunnelly (108).

Let’s talk about TV (well, streaming video actually)…

The game will be available on CAA TV, which can be found here: Link

If you have a Roku, Apple TV, or Amazon Fire setup, you can watch the game on any of those devices.

I have a Roku. I was able to add the CAA TV channel (for free!), and from there I was able to find the upcoming contest, which is already posted on the platform.

The announcers for The Citadel-Towson on CAA TV will be the Towson radio team, which includes Spiro Morekas (voice of the Tigers for over a quarter-century) and former TU coach Gordy Combs (career record: 91-91).

There will almost certainly be a delay between the live action and the stream. You could always turn down the sound to the stream and just listen to The Citadel’s tandem of Luke Mauro and Cal McCombs call the game on the radio, then watch the action on the field unfold after they’ve called it.

That is what I did last week, and it worked well. I enjoyed the Mauro/McCombs duo. The cool and collected Mauro ably described the action, serenely side-stepping the occasionally excitable McCombs when necessary. The longtime coach, meanwhile, expertly and enthusiastically pointed out line play and other tactical nuances, while making additional sharp observations.

Of course, instead of watching the video stream, you could be at the game, which is taking place at Johnny Unitas® Stadium (yes, Johnny U’s name is a registered trademark).

Why is Towson’s stadium named after the legendary Colts quarterback?

Several weeks prior to his untimely passing [in 2002], “Johnny U” began serving as community liaison for Tiger Athletics. His role was to assist in obtaining a naming rights partner for the University’s new stadium. The legendary Golden Arm died suddenly, less than a week after tossing his last pass to commemorate the opening of Towson’s new stadium at ceremonies on September 5, 2002.

High spirits returned when Sandy Unitas chose to assume her husband’s role with Towson. With Johnny’s two youngest children as Towson students, Sandy sought to memorialize her husband’s legacy on campus by having the stadium named Johnny Unitas® Stadium.

The complex, which also hosts TU’s lacrosse, field hockey, and track teams, seats 11,198 for football. The playing surface is FieldTurf.

Towson has struggled to fill the stadium in recent years, despite occasionally fielding good-to-outstanding teams (including the 2013 squad, which made the FCS title game). TU’s average home attendance has declined in each of the last six campaigns, from 8,949 fans per game in 2011 to 5,377 supporters per contest last season.

One possible reason for the decline: a pervasive rumor that tailgating had been banned:

The idea that tailgating was banned or suspended stemmed from an incident that took place several years ago.

In September of 2014, a student injury at a tailgate along with several crowded and rowdy tailgates, led to rumors that members of the university administration were considering eliminating tailgating.

After deliberation with student leaders, rather than eradicating tailgating, the President’s Council decided to implement stricter guidelines for the rest of the year…

…Though tailgating never actually went away and some of those new guidelines only lasted for a few months, the damage had already been done. The misconception that tailgating was banned had made its way into the ether of Towson and spread like a wildfire over the following years.

Saturday’s contest is the home opener for the Tigers, and will feature a celebration of 50 years of Towson football (the program began in 1969). The game has been rather heavily promoted by the school in an effort to attract as many students and other supporters as possible. Among the promotions: a season ticket for five games only costs $50, and the first 1,000 students to arrive will each receive a free gold-colored t-shirt.

There may be competition for those t-shirts, as Towson has over 19,000 undergraduates. That is a far cry from the school’s founding in 1866, when it was known as the Maryland State Normal School and was located in downtown Baltimore. The first graduating class included 16 students.

The institution, for much of its history a college for training teachers, relocated to Towson in 1915. There were several name changes, with the school becoming Towson State University in 1976 and then Towson University in 1997. It is now part of the University System of Maryland, and offers over 500 majors in a wide range of disciplines, from accounting to elementary education to nursing. The school also has over 3,000 graduate students.

Towson’s football program began life as a Division III outfit. The Tigers had some success in that classification, including a title game appearance in 1976; Towson narrowly lost the Stagg Bowl that year to St. John’s and its famed coach, John Gagliardi.

The Tigers then spent eight years in Division II before moving up to Division I-AA (now FCS) in 1987. After a stretch as an independent, and a few years in both the Patriot League and the Atlantic 10, Towson became a charter member of the CAA football conference in 2007.

There have been only four head football coaches in the history of the program, and just three since 1972.

Rob Ambrose, who is currently at the helm, has held his position since 2009. Ambrose played quarterback and wide receiver for Towson in the early 1990s.

During Ambrose’s tenure, TU has won two CAA titles and made the aforementioned appearance in the FCS title game following the 2013 season. The playoff run included victories over Fordham, Eastern Illinois, and Eastern Washington. Towson eventually lost in the final to the buzzsaw (and buzzkill) that is North Dakota State.

Towson is the only NCAA school to have made the playoffs in football at the D-3 ,D-2, and D-1 levels.

TU’s two most notable football players are almost inarguably Sean Landeta and Dave Meggett.

Sean Landeta was one of the best punters in NFL history. He had a 22-year career in the league that included stints with five different franchises, including the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, and Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams.

He was named to the NFL all-decade team for both the 1980s and 1990s, and was also named to the squads for the Giants’ all-time team, the Eagles’ 75th-anniversary team, the St. Louis Rams’ 20th-anniversary team, and the 40th-anniversary Super Bowl team.

The native of Baltimore actually began his pro career in the USFL, punting for three years for the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars. Landeta won two championships in the USFL with that franchise, to go along with the two Super Bowl rings he acquired with the Giants.

Landeta also was mentioned in the “Page Six” section of the New York Post more than any other punter.

Dave Meggett grew up in North Charleston. After an outstanding career at Towson (he won the 1988 Walter Payton Award as the top player in I-AA football), Meggett would become one the better punt and kick returners in modern NFL annals.

Meggett won a Super Bowl ring with the Giants (Landeta was also on that team), and later played for the New England Patriots and (near the end of his career) the New York Jets. He followed head coach Bill Parcells to each of those stops.

After his career ended, Meggett started having well-documented legal problems. He is currently in prison.

Towson was picked to finish 10th in the 12-team CAA in that conference’s preseason poll, which was perhaps a reflection of the Tigers’ 2017 campaign, in which they finished 5-6 (3-5 in CAA play).

Early returns suggest that Towson is considerably better than that preseason prognostication. One caveat: the Tigers started last season 2-1 as well, with a win over Morgan State and a road victory in their third game. Unfortunately for TU, the team promptly lost its next four games.

That seems unlikely to happen this year, given the way the Tigers have played thus far.

It probably isn’t worth taking a deep dive into Towson’s season statistics, given the different kinds of opponents the Tigers have faced. TU handled Morgan State with relative ease (36-10) before getting blown out by Wake Forest (51-20).

While the game against the Demon Deacons may not be of much value in evaluating Towson, it may be worth viewing just to get an idea of how TU likes to play. You can access video of that contest here: Link

Morgan State is 1-3, but the win was a big one — a shocking 16-13 road victory over North Carolina A&T. The win over the Bears may wind up being a quality victory for Towson.

The game at Villanova, however, might be a better guide in determining A) how good Towson is, and B) what the Tigers want to do on offense (besides score a lot of points, obviously).

VU was ranked in the AFCA top 10 prior to its game versus Towson, and had also beaten an FBS squad (Temple). Villanova is clearly a more-than-credible FCS team, and Towson beat the Wildcats 45-35.

Each team in the Towson-Villanova game had 13 possessions. Towson dominated time of possession, holding the ball for 35:01 of game time), and converted 9 of 17 third-down conversion attempts (going 2-2 on fourth down as well). The Tigers ran 88 offensive plays (not counting two kneel-downs). There were 41 pass plays (38 throws, 3 sacks) and 47 rushes, with would-be pass plays that turned into runs included in that total.

Midway through the fourth quarter, nursing a 7- to 10-point lead, Towson began running down the clock. Thirteen of its last fourteen plays from scrimmage (not counting the kneel-downs) were running plays. That means in the first 3 1/2 quarters of the game, Towson threw the ball (or was sacked) on 40 of 74 plays.

My estimate of Towson’s clock usage is that the Tigers averaged just under 23 seconds per offensive play, so most of the time they got to the line in a hurry and snapped the ball as quickly as possible.

After taking out kneel-downs, moving sack yardage into the passing totals, etc., I came up with these yards-per-play numbers:

Towson averaged 6.03 yards per play. The Tigers averaged 7.19 yards per pass attempt, and 4.96 yards per rush. Towson had three passing touchdowns and two rushing TDs. The Tigers also scored a defensive touchdown off a fumble recovery.

Towson quarterback Tom Flacco (6’1″, 208 lbs.) is the younger brother of questionably elite Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. The younger Flacco began his college career at Western Michigan before transferring to Rutgers last season. He then moved to TU, presumably for the chance at more playing time, and possibly because he wanted to win a few games.

For the season, Flacco is completing 69.0% of his passes, with eight touchdowns against three interceptions. Taking sacks into account, he is averaging 6.62 yards per pass attempt.

Flacco is also a capable runner, averaging about 11 non-sack rushes per game, and 5.6 yards per carry.

Tailback Shane Simpson (5’9″, 200 lbs.) is from Easton, Pennsylvania. The redshirt junior is leading the Tigers in rushing, averaging 46.3 yards per game (4.1 yards per rush). Simpson also serves as Towson’s primary kick and punt returner.

Twelve different Tigers have caught passes this season. The top-two pass-catchers are redshirt junior Shane Leatherbury (5’10”, 165 lbs.) and redshirt senior Sam Gallahan (6’1″, 193 lbs.). Leatherbury leads the team in receptions with 18, averaging 16.3 yards per catch. He has 3 touchdown receptions, including a 76-yarder against Villanova.

Gallahan has 15 catches, averaging 12.1 yards per reception. He caught a 24-yard TD pass in the Wake Forest game.

Towson’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’4″, 292 lbs. The largest of the group is 6’5″, 299 lb. right tackle Matt Kauffman, a redshirt senior from York, Pennsylvania. Kauffman has started 32 games for the Tigers during his career.

Incidentally, TU’s offensive coordinator is Jared Ambrose, younger brother of head coach Rob Ambrose.

On defense, Towson usually operates out of a 4-3. There is no telling how the Tigers will line up on Saturday, though.

Brent Thompson spoke at his press conference on the difficulties encountered in trying to figure out how Towson will defend the triple option:

“It’s been very difficult….they haven’t faced Navy in quite [some time]…we’ve done as much research as we possibly can to find out what may have been [Towson defensive coordinator Lyndon Johnson’s] background in it…who would he consider his go-to guy if he had a go-to guy on the defensive side, maybe it was coach [Randy] Edsall, who he worked for when he was at UConn and at Maryland.”

This is Lyndon Johnson‘s first year as Towson’s defensive coordinator. His previous seventeen years in coaching have come at Maryland (the past five seasons) and Connecticut. In case anyone was wondering, Robert Caro has never written a book about him and has no plans to do so.

Keon Paye (6’0″, 217 lbs.) leads Towson in tackles, with 24. The redshirt junior from Columbia, Maryland intercepted a pass versus Villanova.

Fellow linebacker Diondre Wallace (6’0″, 233 lbs.) has 23 tackles and, like Paye, an interception (against Morgan State; he also had a 14-yard sack in that game). The senior from Baltimore forced a fumble against Wake Forest.

Defensive lineman Bryce Carter (6’3″, 262 lbs.) leads the team in tackles for loss, with four. Carter is a redshirt sophomore from Steelton, Pennsylvania. Given that hometown, there is a decent chance that wearing black and gold comes naturally to him.

Troy Vincent Jr. (5’10”, 200 lbs.), a senior transfer from North Carolina State who plays defensive back, returned a fumble for a touchdown against Villanova. Vincent’s father Troy Sr. was an outstanding NFL player (five Pro Bowls), and is currently the league’s executive vice president of football operations.

Aidan O’Neill (6’1″, 199 lbs.), a junior from New Paltz, New York, is Towson’s placekicker. An excellent specialist, he is 5 for 6 on field goal tries this season, and has made all ten of his PAT attempts. O’Neill’s career long with the Tigers is 55 yards.

Towson’s punter is Pat Toomey (6’2″, 196 lbs.), who also handles kickoffs for the Tigers and holds on placements. The redshirt senior from Brick, New Jersey is in his second season as TU’s punter. Last year, he had a net punting average of 37.6 yards.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Towson, per the National Weather Service: mostly sunny, with a high of 72 degrees. The projected low on Saturday night is about 56 degrees.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Towson is a 7-point favorite over The Citadel, with an over/under of 57.

The over has hit in all three of The Citadel’s games this season.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams:  Furman is a 5-point favorite versus Western Carolina; Mercer is a 15 1/2 point favorite at VMI; Samford is a 5 1/2 point underdog at Kennesaw State; Wofford is a 26-point favorite at Gardner-Webb; and Chattanooga is a 14 1/2 point favorite at East Tennessee State.

– Also of note:  Charleston Southern is an 8-point favorite at Hampton, and Alabama is a 48-point favorite over Louisiana-Lafayette.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 45th in FCS, a 22-spot jump from last week. Towson is ranked 15th.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have an 27% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of Towson 31, The Citadel 24. Last week, the Bulldogs were projected to have a 24% chance of victory.

Other FCS rankings of note in Massey:  Elon (18th), Wofford (21st), Chattanooga (22nd), Colgate (24th), Kennesaw State (34th), Yale (38th), Mercer (42nd), Samford (48th), UT Martin (52nd), Furman (53rd), Western Carolina (54th), East Tennessee State (68th), Charleston Southern (71st), Tennessee Tech (96th), Gardner-Webb (99th), Presbyterian (103rd), VMI (104th), South Carolina State (109th), Davidson (122nd), Mississippi Valley State (125th and last).

Massey’s top 5 FCS squads: North Dakota State, James Madison, South Dakota State, Weber State, and Illinois State.

Massey’s top ten FBS teams (in order): Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Clemson, Penn State, LSU, Auburn, Notre Dame, and Washington. UCF is 12th, North Carolina State 15th, South Carolina 16th, Duke 19th, Kentucky 20th, Mississippi State 27th, Florida 38th, Maryland 40th, Wake Forest 46th, Virginia Tech 48th (a drop of 34 spots), Memphis 52nd, Appalachian State 54th, Virginia 55th, Army 58th, Florida State 64th, Georgia Tech 68th, North Texas 72nd, Toledo 75th, Navy 76th, North Carolina 80th, Wyoming 81st, Tennessee 85th, Air Force 86th, UCLA 92nd, Arkansas 101st, Coastal Carolina 102nd, Georgia Southern 104th, Old Dominion 120th, Charlotte 126th, Liberty 127th, and UTEP 130th and last.

– Among Towson’s notable alumni:  actor Dwight Schultz (“Murdock” from The A-Team), WWE personality Stacy Keibler, and broadcaster Joe Miller.

– Varsity teams at Towson were generally known as the Golden Knights until the early 1960s, when the tiger mascot began to gain more currency among students and alumni. One of the leading advocates for the mascot change was none other than John Schuerholz, the Hall of Fame baseball executive. Schuerholz, who graduated from Towson in 1962, has been a frequent benefactor to the school. Towson’s baseball stadium is named for him (and his father).

– Towson’s roster includes 29 players from Maryland. Other states represented on its squad:  Virginia (16 players), New Jersey (12), Pennsylvania (12), New York (6), Delaware (4), North Carolina (4), Florida (2), California (2), and one each from Connecticut, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Georgia, and Texas. Three players are from the District of Columbia, and two Tigers are from other countries — linebacker Malik Tyne (from Canada), and defensive lineman Tibo Debaille (a native of Belgium).

TU has no players who hail from South Carolina, and that of course means there are no Tigers from internationally celebrated pigskin powerhouse Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. It is hard to imagine Towson staying competitive in any FCS conference in the long term, much less a solid league like the CAA, if it continues to ignore the incredible talent that wears the Maroon and Orange.

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

– This week’s two-deep is similar to the one released for the Mercer game. Sean-Thomas Faulkner (who actually started against the Bears) is now listed on the depth chart. Khafari Buffalo is also on the two-deep, though it seems highly unlikely that he will play on Saturday, as he continues to recover from the injury he suffered versus Mercer.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 7-6 for games played on September 29. The Bulldogs are 1-3 away from home on that date. A brief review of three of those contests, as we go into the Bulldogs’ Wayback Machine:

  • 1956:  The Citadel stunned favored Davidson, 34-7, before 12,700 startled but happy fans at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Paul Maguire caught a 45-yard TD pass from Dick Guerreri, and Joe Chefalo added two TDs — one on a pass from Guerreri, and the other on one of the longer (and more unusual) touchdowns in school history. Bobby Schwarze intercepted a Davidson pass at the Bulldogs’ 5-yard line, and then evaded several Wildcats until he reached midfield. When he was about to be tackled, Schwarze lateraled the ball to Chefalo, who took it the rest of the way for what turned out to be a 95-yard TD. Other point-scorers for John Sauer’s troops included Ray Woodworth, Connie Tuza, and Leon McLemore (the latter two kicking PATs).
  • 1962:  The Bulldogs had no trouble with Presbyterian, winning 28-9. Sid Mitchell and Wade St. John both threw TD passes (to LeRoy Brinson and Vince Petno, respectively), with Mitchell adding a rushing score as well. The Citadel’s first touchdown of the game came on a Charlie Brendle pick-6. Nick DiLoreto had a fine game on defense for the Bulldogs (as did Petno and Ed Gould).
  • 1979:  The Citadel slipped past Appalachian State, 24-23, when Kelly Curry broke up a pass on a 2-point conversion attempt with 5:13 to play in the game; later, a Mountaineers desperation pass as the game wound to its conclusion was batted away by Paul Gillis. Tim Russell ran for a TD and threw for another, with Orion Rust catching the pass that gave the Bulldogs a 24-17 lead (after some good work by Mark Slawson). Danny Miller also scored for The Citadel, after Hillery Douglas recovered a fumbled punt. Attendance: 17,150.

– Per The Citadel’s game notes, the team’s 567-mile trip to Towson is the longest made by the program since 2010, when the Bulldogs traveled to Arizona (the longest trip in school history).

I think it’s good that The Citadel plays occasional games outside the region, and Brent Thompson agrees. As he said on his radio show:

“It will be a good little trip up there…but it’ll be fun. The weather’s different up there, the environment’s different, the climate’s different up there…it’s an opportunity to get out of your conference, play somebody other than a Big South team, and get up there and hopefully come away with a win…sometimes the unknown is a lot of fun for both sides. For us, we play so many teams that have faced the triple option, [so] maybe it’s a different defense you’re going to see.”

When asked about the impact on recruiting, though, Thompson seemed to indicate it wasn’t a major factor. He did note the high interest level of the local alumni in the area, who have the relatively rare opportunity to see the Bulldogs play in their part of the country.

Thompson also said that there are no games like this on future schedules (other than Towson’s return trip next season). That is too bad, really, but somewhat understandable.

As for what will happen on the field this Saturday at Johnny Unitas® Stadium, your guess is as good (and probably better) than mine. I honestly have no idea.

I think Towson is a good, solid team, but the Bulldogs have improved every week and present a challenge that Towson has not faced. I remember when The Citadel played at Old Dominion back in 2013. Despite being a solid favorite, the Monarchs barely escaped with a 59-58 victory, mainly because they seemed to have no idea how to defend the triple option.

Of course, it is quite possible Towson knows exactly how to play defense versus the triple option — and the extra week of preparation the Tigers got with the bye week won’t hurt, either. There is also the issue of the Bulldogs’ D trying to stop TU’s offense, which will be a difficult task.

All in all, there are a lot of unknowns, which might make for a very fun game.

After last week’s win against Mercer, the Bulldogs have some much-needed momentum. We’ll see if that momentum carries over to Saturday.

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…