2020 Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. South Florida

The Citadel football squad will be at Marion Square this afternoon for their first practice. Football will be played as usual at The Citadel this fall, provided it does not in any way interfere with the extensive military program. A squad of 35 men is expected to come out this afternoon.

J.C. Crouch is the captain of the 1918 eleven, and Chester Alexander is the manager. Games have been scheduled with Carolina and Clemson, and the various service teams in the city will be played. The first battle of the season will probably be in two weeks when the Blue and White will meet the naval hospital team.

To all appearances the team this year should be strong. Eight of last year’s football squad men are on hand, and the material that the “rat” class affords could not be better. According to the statement of Manager Alexander, there are some wild Texas cowboys in the “rat” class that tip the scales at 175 pounds, and if they can plunge like Texas steers then The Citadel will have “some” line. Whether Coach [Harry] O’Brien will train the squad or not has not been settled yet.

— The Charleston Evening Post, September 23, 1918

 

The influenza has hit football hard and local service teams have suspended practice until the quarantine has lifted…both The Citadel and College [of Charleston] have not had teams on the field on account of the suspension of classes until the “flu” has left Charleston.

— The Charleston Evening Post, October 17, 1918

 

…The first game Carolina has on her schedule is with Clemson, and it will be played on November 2. The Citadel has also decided to continue [its] football program as soon as the flu permits the college to open, but will be handicapped a great deal on account Clemson and Carolina [have] not being disorganized by the flu.

The Charleston Evening Post, October 23, 1918

The Citadel at South Florida, to be played at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, with kickoff at 7:00 pm ET on September 12, 2020.

The game will be televised on ESPNU. Lincoln Rose will handle play-by-play, while Stanford Routt supplies the analysis. Their call will be off-site.

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

Luke Mauro (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze

The Citadel Sports Network — 2020 radio affiliates

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

Links of interest:

– Preview from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and USF

The SoCon isn’t playing football this fall

AAC weekly release (USF is picked to finish last in the league’s preseason poll)

Preview on The Citadel’s website

– A weird season for a weird year

The Citadel’s scramble for a four-game fall schedule

– The Scotts complete a circle

No fans in the stands at Raymond James Stadium this Saturday

Brent Thompson on the ‘JB & Goldwater’ radio show (from 9/1; starts at the 1:31:30 mark)

Brent Thompson on the ‘SportsTalk’ radio show (9/2; starts at the 50:40 mark)

The Citadel’s football program had a “summer of soul-searching”

There will be pods in the stands at Johnson Hagood Stadium on September 26. Yes, pods.

Focused Bulls ramp up preparations for season opener

– Jeff Scott showed his team tape from The Citadel’s game with Alabama

Jeff Scott media availability (9/2)

– USF radio show with Jeff Scott (9/7)

– USF press conference (9/8)

I didn’t write a lot this summer about football, in part because I didn’t really think there would be football in the fall. Hey, call me skeptical.

However, I did delve into a couple of topics:

– Football attendance at The Citadel (and elsewhere); my annual review

When the Bulldogs weren’t the Bulldogs

Nomenclature explanation: per the University of South Florida’s game notes, when it comes to the name of The Citadel’s opponent this week:

First references to the school and its intercollegiate athletics program should always be the University of South Florida. Secondary
reference used should be USF, South Florida or Bulls. Please refrain from using: S. Florida, South Fla. or similar combinations.

I chose to call the school “South Florida” in the title of this post. I’ll alternate between that and “USF” going forward, which shouldn’t be too problematic for a discussion about football. If we were on the west coast and talking hoops, then “USF” could cause a bit of confusion, but as it happens I’m blogging about a football game between two schools located in the southeast, and the University of San Francisco hasn’t fielded a gridiron squad since 1982.

Originally, USF was supposed to play non-conference games this season against Texas, Bethune-Cookman, Nevada, and Florida Atlantic. Following a flurry of COVID-related postponements and cancellations, only the matchup with FAU remains on South Florida’s slate.

The Bulls will now play only three non-league contests, with The Citadel replacing Texas on the schedule and Notre Dame taking the place of Bethune-Cookman.

The University of South Florida has existed since 1956, but didn’t have varsity football until 1997. In its first game, USF (initially a I-AA program) walloped Kentucky Wesleyan 80-3 before a home crowd of 49,212.

The matchup sold out three hours before kickoff, as locals were ready for hometown college football.

The following week USF played its first road game in school history. That contest took place at Johnson Hagood Stadium against The Citadel, before 12,154 spectators.

The game was a defensive struggle. The Citadel only ran 53 offensive plays from scrimmage, averaging just 3.47 yards per play. USF had many more offensive plays (70) but didn’t do much with them, averaging only 3.41 yards per play. Each team committed one turnover and punted seven times.

The Bulldogs scored first, putting together a 70-yard drive in the second quarter punctuated by a one-yard Antonio Smith touchdown run. The key play in the possession was a 16-yard pass from Stanley Myers to Jacob Barley that set up first-and-goal.

The Citadel took a 7-0 lead into the break, but USF would score on its first possession of the second half, after a 16-play, 97-yard drive. Two big pass plays were key, but even more important was a substitution infraction by The Citadel that negated a field-goal attempt and gave South Florida a first down. The Bulls scored two plays later, tying the contest on a 12-yard pass from Chad Barnhardt (who had transferred to South Florida from South Carolina) to Marcus Rivers.

With 5:04 to play in the fourth quarter, The Citadel took over on its own 24 and began what would prove to be the game-winning drive. The first play of the possession was a 20-yard pass completion from Myers to Derek Green. A roughing-the-passer call (one of eight penalties on the night against the Bulls) added 15 yards to the play and put the Bulldogs in USF territory. A few plays later, Justin Skinner booted a 35-yard field goal.

South Florida’s last drive began with just two minutes remaining, and resulted in a quick interception by The Citadel’s Chris Webb. The Bulldogs held on and won, 10-7.

At the time, most Bulls fans were not overly upset by the loss to The Citadel. However, the following week USF lost at home to Drake, 23-22 — much to the displeasure of many. As longtime Bulls radio play-by-play voice Jim Louk explained many years later:

I came home that night in time to catch the 11 o’clock news, and watched a local sports anchor finish his live report from the field by saying “The Bulls have to get better! They have to be better than this!”

Twenty years later and I can remember his inflection perfectly.

We were three games old.

The honeymoon is over, dear. Now go do the dishes.

But he was right, and I knew it even then. The coaches and the players would have said exactly the same thing. The expectations for this program were huge, even those early days. Bulls alumni and fans had waited so long for football and had been through so much that they demanded a great product no matter how young the program was. The players and coaches understood that before a lot of us did.

The Citadel and South Florida played a rematch the following year in Tampa. That game was won by the Bulls, but the Bulldogs were not motivated to play and didn’t really try very hard, as they were looking forward to the end of the season. Also, most of the players were injured, so as everyone knows it didn’t really count — especially given the biased officiating.

USF would spend four years at the I-AA level before moving up to I-A, joining Conference USA in 2003 and then the Big East in 2005. In eight years, the program went from not even existing to membership in a BCS conference.

Alas, conference realignment eventually pushed South Florida out of what is now the P5, and into the more uncertain world of the G5.

Charlie Strong was hired by South Florida after an unsuccessful three-year stint at Texas, which had followed a very good run at Louisville. The folks at South Florida couldn’t be blamed for thinking that Strong was more likely to win like he did with the Cardinals (37-15 in four years) than in his time in Austin (16-21), particularly given that he inherited a strong program in Tampa, one that had won 27 games in the previous three seasons.

South Florida won 17 of Strong’s first 19 games in charge, which was great. The problem was that the Bulls proceeded to lose 14 of their next 18 contests.

After a 10-2 season in 2017, USF won its first seven games in 2018 — but then dropped its last six. Last year, the Bulls were just 4-8, and Strong was fired.

Jeff Scott is the new head coach at South Florida. His is a familiar name around the Palmetto State, as the son of former South Carolina head coach Brad Scott played at Clemson, coached at Blythewood High School, was an assistant at Presbyterian, and had been on the staff at his alma mater since 2008, including time as the wide receivers coach, recruiting coordinator, and co-offensive coordinator.

According to a (premium) article in The Athletic written by Andy Staples, Scott had wanted the USF job earlier:

Scott wanted to do it sooner than this. Three years ago, when the University of South Florida’s job opened following Willie Taggart’s departure to Oregon, Scott put out feelers. But the Bulls had focused on Charlie Strong, who had just been fired at Texas but who had won big at Louisville before that. Strong had excellent Florida recruiting ties, and when he went 10-2 in 2017, it seemed USF had made the perfect choice. Then, after a 7-0 start in 2018, the program suddenly plunged into freefall. The Bulls lost their final six games of that season and then went 4-8 this past season. With rival UCF enjoying the best stretch in the program’s history and the recruiting gap getting wider, the Bulls needed someone who could breathe life into the program.

This time, instead of USF being on Scott’s list, Scott was on USF’s list.

USF’s director of athletics, Michael Kelly, called Dabo Swinney. Then Dabo called his assistant.

“Whatchu doin’, boy,” Swinney asked.

Scott was getting ready for bed. It was 11:30 p.m.

“You’re not going to believe who just called me,” Swinney said. “Michael Kelly from the University of South Florida.”

Scott, who had passed on several head coaching jobs in the past few years, waited. He wanted to be a head coach, but he wasn’t leaving his alma mater without the Swinney Seal Of Approval.

“This,” Swinney said, “is one of them jobs you want.”

Jeff Scott certainly knows his way around Florida; he was born there, his father’s family is from there, and he successfully recruited a number of Tigers from the state. It seems like a natural fit for a highly regarded assistant ready to make a name for himself as a head coach.

Now he just has to win. And, given the success of rival UCF in recent years, he needs to win big.

USF’s coaching staff is generally on the youthful side. Scott is 39 years old, and the Bulls’ assistant coaches average 36 years of age (the youngest staff in the AAC).

Among the assistants is offensive coordinator Charlie Weis Jr., who is only 27. Weis already has two seasons under his belt as an OC, working for Lane Kiffin at Florida Atlantic.

There are some other familiar names among USF’s assistants. Pat White, the renowned quarterback from West Virginia, coaches running backs. Bamberg-Ehrhardt’s own Da’Quan Bowers (who like White also played in the NFL) is in charge of the defensive line.

Judging from some of their pictures on USF’s website, both White and Bowers have a very strong hat game.

Here are some 2019 stats of consequence for The Citadel (all games).

The Citadel Opponents
Points Per Game 28.8 28.2
Rush Attempts (sacks taken out) 720 392
Yards per rush (sacks taken out) 4.57 5.34
Attempts-Completions-Interceptions 128-65-5 324-173-7
Yards/pass attempt (sacks included) 7.69 6.85
Total Plays 866 742
Yards per play 5.10 6.05
Total punts 46 44
Punting Net Average 40.4 34.8
Penalties-Yards 65-614 75-622
Penalty yards per game 51.2 51.8
Time of Possession per game 35:31 24:29
Seconds per offensive play 29.53 23.76
3rd Down Conversions 80/184 (43.5%) 64/151 (42.4%)
4th Down Conversions 21/34 (61.8%) 10/22 (45.5%)
Fumbles-Lost 19-10 8-5
Sacks by-Yards Lost 26-177 18-72
Red Zone: Touchdowns 34/51 (66.7%) 25/43 (58.1%)
Turnover Margin -3 +3
Run play % (sacks are pass plays) 83.14% 52.83%
  • The Citadel finished 6th in FCS in net punting
  • The Bulldogs’ defense faced just 61.83 plays per game from scrimmage, 8th-fewest in FCS
  • In a related statistic, The Citadel led FCS in time of possession last season (though the NCAA’s official book has the Bulldogs only third overall, due to a transcription error)
  • The Bulldogs were 18th nationally in offensive third-down conversion rate
  • The Citadel’s 34 fourth-down conversion attempts tied for 11th-most in FCS; the 21 successful conversions tied for 6th-most nationally
  • The Bulldogs were 50th among FCS teams in scoring offense, and 66th in scoring defense

USF’s stats (all games) in 2019:

USF Opponents
Points Per Game 20.8 28.9
Rush Attempts (sacks taken out) 400 533
Yards per rush (sacks taken out) 5.46 5.04
Attempts-Completions-Interceptions 328-177-10 305-203-12
Yards/pass attempt (sacks included) 4.80 5.90
Total Plays 773 887
Yards per play 5.14 5.39
Total punts 74 57
Punting Net Average 37.8 38
Penalties-Yards 102-554 73-655
Penalty yards per game 71.2 54.6
Time of Possession per game 27:51 32:09
Seconds per offensive play 25.94 26.10
3rd Down Conversions 69/177 (39.0%) 88/190 (46.3%)
4th Down Conversions 7/16 (43.8%) 10/18 (55.6%)
Fumbles-Lost 19-9 20-12
Sacks by-Yards Lost 29-184 45-246
Red Zone: Touchdowns 24/39 (61.5%) 22/43 (51.1%)
Turnover Margin +5 -5
Run play % (sacks are pass plays) 51.75% 60.09%
  • South Florida’s 45 sacks allowed were 7th-most in FBS
  • USF’s defensive Red Zone TD rate of 51.1% was excellent, ranking 23rd nationally
  • The Bulls averaged 71.2 yards in penalties per game, 5th-most in FBS
  • Not listed above, but USF averaged 8.3 tackles for loss per game, 5th-best nationally
  • USF was the only team in FBS to lose 8 or more games with a +5 or better turnover margin
  • South Florida was 115th among 130 FBS teams in scoring offense, and 75th in scoring defense

Here are advanced stats maven Bill Connelly‘s thoughts (as of April 22) on USF’s 2019 season and its prospects for 2020. Last year, South Florida finished 103rd overall in SP+, including 110th on offense, 62nd on defense, and 129th (next-to-last) for special teams.

His observation on South Florida’s lack of experience last year is interesting.

The Bulls’ returning production for 2020 ranks 36th overall in FBS in Connelly’s system (of course, that ranking includes teams not playing this fall).

USF’s new defensive coordinator is veteran coach Glenn Spencer. When asked about facing a triple option offense, Spencer had this to say:

It’s just different, I guess advantages and disadvantages, right? The disadvantage is, you have to kind of change because it’s such a dramatic change that you have to get into some scout looks earlier, some service-team looks earlier, which kind of takes away from some other practice. But you’ve got to dedicate yourself to it. The advantages I think outweigh that; it forces you to work on it now. If we want to do what we want to do in this conference, we have to do well against a similar opponent (Navy) in conference. So it forces you to work on some base thoughts, some base schemes, playing off low blocks, playing off different football fundamentals that are different preparing for them than anybody else.

Spencer has been a defensive coordinator at the Division I level since 2011, mostly at Oklahoma State (he was at Charlotte in 2018 and Florida Atlantic last year). I checked the schedules for those teams to determine how often he had faced a triple option offense.

As far as I can tell (and I could be wrong), he did not face any. None of the games were against the service academies, or Georgia Tech (or New Mexico for that matter, which ran a version of the triple option during Bob Davie’s tenure in Albuquerque).

In 2016, Oklahoma State did play Southeastern Louisiana, which was described in some quarters as having a triple option offense (the Cowboys won easily, 61-7). However, the Lions’ offensive coordinator at the time was a Willie Fritz protégé, and Southeastern Louisiana’s offense passed 39% of the time during that season, clearly not what The Citadel does (last year, the Bulldogs threw or attempted to throw the football on only 16.9% of their offensive plays).

While Spencer has not faced the triple option in recent years, many of USF’s players have. The Bulls played Navy in 2016 and 2019, and Paul Johnson’s Georgia Tech outfit in 2018. South Florida won two of those three games, but had some difficulty defensively in all three matchups:

  • 2016: South Florida jumped out to a huge lead and outlasted Navy 52-45, despite allowing 7.6 yards per play
  • 2018: USF overcame a 10-point 4th-quarter deficit to beat Georgia Tech 49-38, but the defense gave up 8.0 yards per play
  • 2019: Navy whipped the Bulls 35-3 in Annapolis, averaging 7.3 yards per play in the process

Those last two teams struggled against the run in general, so giving up 419 rushing yards (7.4 yards per rush) to Georgia Tech in 2018 and 434 rushing yards to Navy last season (also allowing 7.4 yards per rush) wasn’t a huge surprise.

In 2018 and 2019, USF ranked 122nd (247.5 yards per game) and 114th (208.6), respectively, in run defense, allowing 17 individual 100-yard rushing efforts during that 25-game span.

One more tidbit: it is very much worth mentioning that Spencer’s FAU defensive unit led all of FBS last season in forced turnovers, with 33. The Owls had 22 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries.

South Florida has talent on defense, with a solid linebacking corps and a fine secondary. The Bulls may need some guys to step up on the defensive line, but they have players capable of doing just that.

Note: I’m highlighting USF players in these next few sections based mainly on guesswork, and my guessing could be wayyyyy off. After all, this is the first game of the season…under a new coaching staff…for a program that was 4-8 last year…and that, like all teams this season, will have to deal with COVID-19. 

For all I know, none of the players I mention on defense, offense, or special teams will even suit up on Saturday. Just keep that in mind. I’m not exactly a super-scout as it is.

Don’t be surprised if a familiar face starts on USF’s d-line against the Bulldogs. Thad Mangum (6’2″, 285 lbs.) is a graduate transfer from Wofford, one of many grads with remaining eligibility to have fled Spartanburg after last season. He has reportedly recovered from the knee injury that sidelined him for almost all of 2019. Glenn Spencer mentioned Mangum as having practiced well for the Bulls.

Blake Green (6’1″, 280 lbs.) began his collegiate career at Northwest Missouri State. The senior from Bradenton became more of a factor last year as the season progressed, starting the final five games of the campaign.

Rashawn Yates (6’3″, 271 lbs.) may play both defensive tackle and defensive end for the Bulls. A junior from Port St. Lucie, Yates started six games in 2019.

True freshman Le’Vontae Camiel (6’1″, 225 lbs.), a defensive end from Lake City, Florida, may be an impact player right away for the Bulls. Don’t be surprised to see him early and often.

There are a number of quality performers among the linebackers. Dwayne Boyles (6’3″, 227 lbs.), a native of Miami, led the Bulls last year in tackles (75) and tackles for loss (12.5). Fellow junior Antonio Grier (6’1, 222 lbs.) started the last three games of 2019 at middle linebacker; the resident of Atlanta finished the year with four sacks.

Other names to watch in this unit include Demaurez Bellamy (5’10”, 220 lbs.), a sophomore from DeLand, and junior Andrew Mims (6’1″, 220 lbs.). A potential All-Name All-American is redshirt freshman Camp Gobler (6’3″, 217 lbs.).

KJ Sails (5’11”, 180 lbs.) was a second-team all-AAC selection after last season, his first for his hometown Bulls; Sails had previously appeared in 19 games for North Carolina (with 14 starts). The senior cornerback intercepted three passes and recovered two fumbles last year for USF. Sails also served as South Florida’s main punt returner.

USF’s other starting corner will be Mike Hampton (6’1″, 190 lbs.), a fifth-year graduate student from Tampa who was an honorable mention all-AAC pick in 2018. Hampton (who is not related to the former major league pitcher with the same name) had 50 tackles last season.

Other defensive backs who will probably factor into the Bulls’ plans this year include junior free safety Nick Roberts (5’11”, 190 lbs.), a Jacksonville product who started 11 games last season; sophomore Daquan Evans (5’11”, 185 lbs.), an Orlando native who saw action in all 12 contests for the Bulls in 2019; and Mekhi LaPointe (6’2″, 200 lbs.), a junior from Seffner, Florida who had 14 tackles in nine games last year.

As expected, the sophisticated pro-style attack of former offensive coordinator Kerwin Bell has been supplanted by wunderkind Charlie Weis Jr.’s brisk, modernized system…Weis’ FAU offense ranked 14th nationally in scoring (36.4 ppg) and averaged 5.96 yards per play in 2019.

“…I’ll say this (offense) is a mixture between a Clemson-Alabama, Lane Kiffin-type of offense, and Coach Bell was more of a pro-style type of deal,” quarterback Jordan McCloud said.

“This is like, go fast, we’re trying to score every play, tempo, lot of plays throughout the game.”

McCloud (6’0″, 193 lbs.), a redshirt sophomore from Tampa, was South Florida’s starting quarterback last season. This year, however, he’s part of a three-way competition to be the primary signal-caller, and Jeff Scott is in no hurry to name QB1:

Even as USF’s preseason winds down, its three-player quarterback derby is just getting wound up.

Coach Jeff Scott has said more than once his goal is to know his starting quarterback when the Bulls board the plane for their Oct. 3 game at Cincinnati, which kicks off their American Athletic Conference schedule.

That timetable affords Scott and his staff three non-league games in which to evaluate Jordan McCloud, Cade Fortin and Noah Johnson. Scott’s history indicates the staff will utilize all three contests.

Cade Fortin (6’3″, 222 lbs.) played for one season at UNC before transferring. The native of Suwanee, Georgia was rated as a four-star prospect by ESPN in high school.

The other QB contender, Noah Johnson (6’0″, 198 lbs.) is a graduate transfer from Alcorn State. Johnson was the 2018 SWAC Offensive Player of the Year for the Braves, a year in which he passed for over 2,000 yards and rushed for over 1,000.

In 2019, Johnson hurt his shoulder and only played in three games. Nevertheless, he had 23 career starts for Alcorn State, one of the better programs in the SWAC. As a dual-threat option, the Tampa resident is arguably the most intriguing of USF’s three quarterback candidates. He is also wearing jersey number “0”, which could add to his mystique.

USF has several running backs that it can feature. Almost all of them are of the “small but explosive” variety.

Kelley Joiner (5’9″, 179 lbs.) is a sophomore from Clermont, Florida who started the Bulls’ final two games last season. He had 122 yards rushing versus a good Memphis team. Joiner averaged 5.1 yards per carry for the year, and also showed an ability to catch the ball (including a 49-yard reception against Cincinnati).

Darrian Felix (5’11”, 184 lbs.) transferred to USF from Oregon. The Ft. Myers resident played in seven games for the Ducks in 2019.

Another back who could run for the Bulls is Johnny Ford (5’5″, 172 lbs.). Ford redshirted last season after starting three games at slot receiver.

As a freshman in 2018, however, [Howard Cosell voice] the diminutive one [/Cosell] rushed for 787 yards, averaging 6.8 yards per carry (and had nine total TDs).

Although a walk-on (albeit one who had FBS offers from other schools), freshman Yasias Young (5’9″, 178 lbs.), a speedster from Ft. Myers, could also see time in the backfield. He has apparently had a good camp for the Bulls.

USF has a lot of options at the wide receiver position, including two freshmen from South Carolina. Omarion Dollison (5’9″, 180 lbs.) went to Gray Collegiate Academy in Columbia, while Sincere Brown (6’5″, 175 lbs.) attended First Baptist in Charleston.

Randall St. Felix (6’2″, 206 lbs.) finished second on the team in receptions last year, with 22. The junior from Miami had four 100-yard receiving games in 2018.

Other pass-catchers in the mix include junior slot receiver Bryce Miller (5’10”, 180 lbs.), who started seven games in 2019; Xavier Weaver (6’1″, 170 lbs.), a sophomore from Orlando who appeared in all 12 games for the Bulls last season; Latrell Williams (5’11”, 181 lbs.), a junior transfer from Tennessee.; and Terrence Horne (5’7″, 178 lbs.), who caught two TD passes last year (and who returned two kickoffs for touchdowns against Georgia Tech in 2018).

Tight end Mitchell Brinkman (6’4″, 250 lbs.) is a graduate transfer from Northern Illinois. Brinkman had 34 receptions and 3 TDs last year for NIU.

Another tight end for the Bulls, Jacob Mathis (6’4″, 244 lbs.), caught 13 passes for two touchdowns in 2019. Mathis is a senior from Tampa.

The projected starters on USF’s offensive line average 6’4″, 318 lbs.

I am not completely sure the projected starters will actually all start, though. While South Florida returns several experienced linemen, the unit struggled mightily in 2018, and a new coaching staff could make major changes.

Given there are 19 offensive linemen on the roster, the Bulls could employ many different combinations along the o-line.

USF had two players start all twelve games on the offensive line last season. Brad Cecil (6’4″, 300 lbs.) has started 19 consecutive games at center. Demetris Harris (6’3″, 324 lbs.), has 23 career starts at left guard. Both of them are juniors from Jacksonville.

South Florida’s special teams were not special last season, despite having a very good punter. That is because USF was deficient in punt and kickoff coverage, and not strong (Strong?) in returning kicks and punts, either. The placekicking was also subpar (7 for 14 on field goals, with a long of 37 yards).

As mentioned earlier, SP+ ranked the Bulls’ special teams units next-to-last in FBS. That had been a theme during the Charlie Strong regime. USF’s special teams ranked 92nd in SP+ in 2018, and 73rd in 2017.

What is really puzzling is that arguably South Florida’s team strength, at least last season, was its depth in the offensive and defensive backfield, and at linebacker — in other words, the units most likely to provide players for special teams. There should have been plenty of potential kick return and coverage stalwarts on the roster.

This year should mostly be a reset for the special teams, with the exception of punter Trent Schneider (6’0″, 192 lbs.).

Schneider is 30 years old, a former construction worker from Down Under and one of the 923 Australians currently punting in Division I. He is on this year’s Ray Guy Watch List and already holds multiple USF punting records.

There has been a three-way battle for placekicker. I would have bet that Jared Sackett (6’1″, 180 lbs.) got the nod. The two-time Lou Groza award semifinalist is 33 for 41 in his career on FG attempts (with a long of 51 yards). Sackett began his college days at UTEP, switched to Arkansas last season (but sat out as a transfer), and is now at USF.

However, I would have lost that bet, as the job was apparently won by Spencer Shrader (6’2″, 183 lbs.), a sophomore who was 4 for 9 last year on field goal attempts for South Florida (with a long of 34 yards).

Ian Deneen (5’10”, 226 lbs.) has been the Bulls’ long snapper for the past two seasons. As anyone watching Austin Peay’s travails on opening night of the college football season can attest, though, each team better have at least three or four guys who can do the job (especially given the potential for COVID-related problems).

Odds and ends:

– Related to the three newspaper blurbs at the top of this post…

Total number of football games for The Citadel, by year, from 1915 through 1920:

  • 1915: 8
  • 1916: 8
  • 1917: 6
  • 1918: 3
  • 1919: 9
  • 1920: 8

Assuming that there are no changes and that all the games are played, this season will feature the fewest football games played by The Citadel in any fall slate since 1918 (excepting the war years of 1943-45, when the school did not field a team). Indeed, every season since 1957 has included at least 10 contests.

The only other year in which fewer than five games were played occurred in 1906, which of course is one of the two seasons in which The Citadel’s football team has won the national championship (as determined by the TSA Matrix Ratings System, one of the more respected of all national title selectors). A photo of that magnificent squad, which did not allow a single point during the entire gridiron campaign, can be seen here: Link

– According to that first article reprinted above about the 1918 season, the team captain was J.C. [John] Crouch. However, The Citadel’s record book and all other available sources list Alvin Heinsohn as the captain. Heinsohn was an outstanding lineman who was named all-state three times during his career; he is in the school’s athletic Hall of Fame.

Crouch is listed in the record book as having captained the 1919 squad, though. Heinsohn then captained the team again in 1920.

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Tampa, per the National Weather Service: showers and thunderstorms likely (70% chance of precipitation during the day, 60% at night), with a high of 92 degrees.

Let’s hope there aren’t any lightning delays.

Per one source that deals in such matters, South Florida is a 20-point favorite over The Citadel, with an over/under of 55 1/2.

Other lines of note this week: Clemson is a 32 1/2 point favorite at Wake Forest; Army is a 19-point favorite over ULM; West Virginia is a 39 1/2 point favorite over Eastern Kentucky; Georgia Southern is a 34 1/2 point favorite over Campbell; Pittsburgh is a 27 1/2 point favorite over Austin Peay; Oklahoma is a 40 1/2 point favorite over Missouri State; Texas Tech is a 37 1/2 point favorite over Houston Baptist; Florida State is a 12 1/2 point favorite over Georgia Tech; Appalachian State is a 17-point favorite over Charlotte; North Carolina is a 22-point favorite over Syracuse; and Kansas is a 6-point favorite over Coastal Carolina.

– Massey Ratings

Massey projects the Cadets to have a 13% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of South Florida 36, The Citadel 17. USF only has two games this season in which it is currently favored by Massey; the other is its contest versus East Carolina (helmed by former Bulldogs coach Mike Houston).

Of the 127 schools in FCS, fifteen will play at least one game in the fall. Massey’s rankings (in FCS) for each of them, as of September 7:

North Dakota State (1st), Central Arkansas (23rd), Missouri State (34th), Austin Peay (45th), The Citadel (46th), Chattanooga (52nd), Jacksonville State (53rd), Abilene Christian (56th), Mercer (65th), Eastern Kentucky, (66th), Stephen F. Austin (70th), Western Carolina (76th), Houston Baptist (81st), North Alabama (89th), Campbell (104th).

– Among FCS teams, Central Arkansas plays the most games in the fall, with nine contests, including 3 FBS games, a road game at North Dakota State, and home-and-home matchups with both Eastern Kentucky and Missouri State.

Eastern Kentucky and Abilene Christian both have eight games. Each will face three FBS opponents.

Stephen F. Austin will play six times, including a matchup with Abilene Christian at the new Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, home of baseball’s Texas Rangers.

Campbell plays four games, all against FBS squads. The Camels will have road games at Georgia Southern, Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, and Wake Forest.

Seven other FCS schools are playing 3 FBS teams. Earlier I mentioned Central Arkansas, Abilene Christian, and Eastern Kentucky. The Citadel, Houston Baptist, North Alabama, and Stephen F. Austin will join them in the 3-FBS club.

Western Carolina is scheduled to play two games, but won’t begin its season until November 14 at Liberty. Chattanooga joins North Dakota State as the only two FCS schools scheduled to play one single game this fall (the Mocs are at Western Kentucky on October 24).

Army is the FBS school playing the most FCS opponents, with three (Abilene Christian, The Citadel, and Mercer). The Black Knights’ game versus Abilene Christian on October 3 will be the first time the Wildcats have traveled to the east coast for a football game since 1995. There won’t be nearly as long a wait for ACU’s next trip east, as the Wildcats are playing at Virginia on November 21.

Back in 1995, Abilene Christian was a D-2 school, and as it happens, ACU will play two D-2 schools this fall — Angelo State and West Texas A&M (the latter is facing Stephen F. Austin this season, too).

So, to summarize, Abilene Christian is playing three FBS teams, two D-2 squads, one FCS road contest (at Mercer), one NAIA school (Arizona Christian), and a matchup at the Texas Rangers’ new ballpark against a conference opponent.

Tangent: despite its D-2 status, West Texas A&M is another program that appears willing to play just about anybody, as the Buffaloes are also playing an NAIA school (Oklahoma Panhandle State), plus a home-and-home versus another D-2 squad (Angelo State), and a school that I had never heard of before (North American University, which doesn’t appear to be affiliated with the NCAA, NAIA, or anything else). West Texas A&M isn’t done yet, either, as it is still seeking more opponents for its fall slate.

There is no doubt that West Texas A&M alums Mercury Morris, Duane Thomas, Ted “The Million Dollar Man” DiBiase, Tully Blanchard, Terry Funk, and Tito Santana are all very proud of this schedule. The late great Dusty Rhodes surely would be, too, as (like all of the others mentioned) he played college football for the Buffs.

– Massey’s FBS rankings (as of September 7) for some of the teams actually playing this fall: LSU (1st), Alabama (3rd), Clemson (4th), Georgia (5th), Auburn (6th), Oklahoma (8th), Florida (10th), Notre Dame (12th), Texas (14th), Texas A&M (16th), Mississippi State (19th), Kentucky (25th), South Carolina (30th), Tennessee (33rd), UCF (34th), Navy (38th), Memphis (40th), North Carolina (44th), Cincinnati (47th), Virginia (48th), Wake Forest (49th), Air Force (52nd), Virginia Tech (53rd), Miami [FL] (54th), Florida State (56th), Boston College (61st), Army (67th), Florida Atlantic (68th), Georgia Tech (70th), North Carolina State (73rd), Appalachian State (76th), BYU (78th), Tulsa (81st), Houston (82nd), Marshall (84th), Temple (85th), South Florida (89th), Georgia Southern (96th), East Carolina (106th), FIU (111th), UAB (113rd), Coastal Carolina (119th), UTEP (128th).

There are 130 FBS teams.

– On USF’s radio show, Jeff Scott mentioned that he attended his first college football game at age 2, and that it was at Johnson Hagood Stadium (his father was a graduate assistant at The Citadel at the time). I think he may have been a little younger than that, as the year would have been 1981, when he would have been less than one year old. I’m guessing Jeff Scott’s first game as a spectator (admittedly, a very young one) was the Bulldogs’ 12-3 victory over Western Carolina on September 19 of that year.

– South Florida’s notable alumni include actress/model Lauren Hutton, Hall of Fame baseball manager Tony La Russa, and alleged comedian Gallagher.

– USF’s roster of 112 players (as of September 4) includes 94 players from Florida. Other states represented:  Georgia (5 players), South Carolina (3), Virginia (3), Texas (2), and one each from Iowa, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Tennessee. As noted earlier, punter Trent Schneider is from Australia.

No member of South Florida’s team is an alumnus of South Carolina’s most fabled pigskin powerhouse, Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. The absence of players who have worn the famed maroon and orange will undoubtedly come back to haunt Jeff Scott, who certainly should know better. It really makes you question his long-term prospects in Tampa if he is unable to successfully recruit from the most heralded gridiron factory in the nation.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (59 players), Georgia (19), Florida (10), North Carolina (7), Virginia (4), Texas (3), Alabama (2), Oklahoma (2), Tennessee (2), Pennsylvania (2), and one each from Kentucky, Ohio, Nebraska, and New York.

Defensive lineman Hayden Williamson played his high school football in Okinawa, Japan.

– In the Bulldogs’ 1997 victory over South Florida, cornerback Chris Webb (who had the game-clinching interception) was named the SoCon Defensive Player of the Week for his performance. Defensive tackle Mario Richardson, who had two tackles for loss during the contest, was selected as the league’s Freshman of the Week.

– Here are the guarantees The Citadel will be receiving from FBS schools over the next few years:

  • 2020: South Florida — $275,000
  • 2020: Clemson — $450,000
  • 2020: Army — $225,000
  • 2021: Coastal Carolina — $315,000
  • 2023: Georgia Southern — $320,000
  • 2024: Clemson — $300,000
  • 2025: Mississippi — $500,000

The guarantee amounts listed above for this season’s games are from a Jeff Hartsell article in The Post and Courier: Link

Matt Campbell, The Citadel’s outstanding punter, was named to the FCS Punter of the Year watchlist put out by the Augusta Sports Council. It should be pointed out that while 22 players are on this watchlist, only three of them are on teams actually competing this fall. The other two are North Alabama’s Joe Gurley and North Dakota State’s Garret Wegner (and NDSU is just playing one game).

I suspect that the Augusta Sports Council may wait until the spring to select the winner of the award.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 3-3 for games played on September 12. The Bulldogs are 1-3 in road contests held on that date. Among the highlights:

  • 1992: The Citadel defeated Wofford, 30-13. The game was the Bulldogs’ home opener, played one week after the team had shocked Arkansas, 10-3. An energized crowd of 20,710 watched as the Bulldogs’ defense forced four turnovers — three interceptions of Shawn Graves (two of which were picked off by Torrence Forney, the third by Lester Smith) and a fumble (recovered by Rob Briggs). On offense, Everette Sands rushed for 117 yards and two TDs, and Cedric Sims and Jack Douglas also found the end zone. Jeff Trinh kicked a 36-yard field goal. One of the louder ovations of the night came when it was announced over the public address system that Arkansas had beaten South Carolina 45-7.
  • 1998: Before a night-time crowd of 10,271 spectators in Spartanburg (including a large gathering of fans wearing light blue and white), Jacob Barley’s nine-yard TD reception from Stanley Myers lifted The Citadel to a 20-14 victory over Wofford. Barley’s touchdown catch came with four seconds to play in the game. Myers also rushed for two scores, while Antonio Smith added 95 yards rushing on 22 carries. Britt Gardner had 14 tackles for the Bulldogs, while Deedrick Reese had 11 stops and Lance Gray 9 (including a sack). Marcus Johnson intercepted a pass for The Citadel.
  • 2015: Dominique Allen rushed for two touchdowns and Evan McField added another as The Citadel whipped Western Carolina, 28-10. Jorian Jordan also scored for The Citadel when he pounced on an Allen fumble in the end zone. Defensively, Dee Delaney had two interceptions, while Mark Thomas recovered a fumble. Mitchell Jeter and Jonathan King both picked up sacks. Malik Diggs led the Bulldogs with nine tackles. On an overcast evening, only 8,048 fans were in attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium to watch the Bulldogs move to 2-0 on the campaign.

An opening game always has a lot of unknowns associated with it. This week, though, there are unknowns on top of unknowns because of the pandemic.

This matchup wasn’t made until August 20. The teams have had 3 1/2 weeks to prepare.

There are no certainties about the rosters. The depth charts, often of questionable veracity in the best of circumstances, may be a complete waste of time.

Heck, even the original start time was changed on the Monday before the game — and I wouldn’t be all that surprised if 7pm Saturday rolls around and the opening kickoff has been delayed.

With all that as a backdrop, it is hard to say how The Citadel will fare against the Bulls. I do like the Bulldogs’ chances. The Citadel has a lot of experience, and those players are certainly not afraid to compete on the field with an FBS team. If anything, they relish it all the more.

I also believe an ability to adapt will be absolutely critical this season. Just by the nature of the inherent challenges faced by a military school, The Citadel may have an advantage on that front.

However, South Florida is a team that, despite its record in the last two years, has a lot of talented players. There is also obvious excitement in the program with a new coaching staff on hand. That has to help USF. It is a fresh start in many ways.

In recent years, USF has been quite solid against FCS opposition, too, including convincing wins over teams like South Carolina State (55-16 last season), Elon, Towson, Stony Brook, and Florida A&M.

You have to go back to 2014 to find a game in which the Bulls had serious trouble with an FCS squad, a 36-31 win over Western Carolina. In 2013, USF lost badly to McNeese State, possibly the nadir for the program over the last decade.

That was Willie Taggart’s first year at South Florida, and came on the heels of a 3-9 campaign the year before. This year, Jeff Scott takes over at USF, following a 4-8 season in 2019. Hmm…

However, sometimes history is just that — history. The Bulldogs and Bulls won’t be thinking about what happened seven years ago when kickoff finally arrives this Saturday.

I’m just glad that there will actually be a kickoff.

Aren’t we all?

2016 Football, Game 3: The Citadel vs. Gardner-Webb

The Citadel at Gardner-Webb, to be played at Ernest W. Spangler Stadium in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 17.

The game will not be televised. It will be streamed on the Big South Network, with Fabian Fuentes providing play-by-play and Alex Guest supplying 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, is the flagship station. 

Mike Legg (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze.

It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

Game preview from The Shelby Star

– Game notes from The Citadel and Gardner-Webb

SoCon weekly release

Big South weekly release

Brent Thompson’s 9/13 press conference, including comments from Malik Diggs and DeAndre Schoultz (video)

Brent Thompson 9/14 radio show (video)

– The Citadel’s “steal” curtain defense

– Offense has yet to get going (but hey, the Bulldogs are still 2-0)

– For Dee Delaney, ascension is fueled by competition

Delaney wants to be the best

Delaney is the SoCon Defensive Player of the Week

– Radio broadcast open for Saturday’s game (audio)

FCS Coaches’ Poll

As mentioned in the post introduction, the contest will be on the radio, and also on the Big South Network. If you have a Roku player, you can stream the game on your TV, as the Big South Network now has a Roku channel.

(No, the SoCon Digital Network doesn’t have a Roku channel yet. I’ve asked the league about it. More than once.)

A quick review of Gardner-Webb’s history, some of which I originally wrote when the Runnin’ Bulldogs faced the shako-wearing Bulldogs back in 2014:

Gardner-Webb’s roots can be traced back to 1905, when it was established as Boiling Springs High School. It became a junior college in 1928, and began offering four-year degrees in 1969. It has been known as Gardner-Webb University since 1993.

The school is named for former North Carolina governor O. Max Gardner and his wife, Fay Webb Gardner, along with their families. O. Max Gardner is the only person to have ever been captain of both football teams at North Carolina and North Carolina State.

Gardner-Webb is affiliated with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. The 225-acre campus is located in Boiling Springs, North Carolina (as opposed to Boiling Springs, South Carolina; the two towns are about 30 miles apart).

There are around 4,900 undergraduate and graduate students at Gardner-Webb; 63% of them are women. They hail from 37 states and 21 countries.

According to the school website:

Historically the University has played significant roles in teacher education and ministerial preparation for church-related vocations. Programs of instruction and experiences designed to prepare teachers and ministers continue to be major objectives of the University.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs play their home football games in Ernest W. Spangler Stadium, a multi-purpose facility with a capacity of 8,500 for football, and an artificial turf field.

Stadium Journey positively reviewed the setup in 2012. Apparently fried Oreos are a thing at Gardner-Webb.

The previous meeting between the two schools resulted in a 37-14 victory for The Citadel at Johnson Hagood Stadium, though it should be pointed out that Gardner-Webb led 14-13 midway through the third quarter. Twenty-four unanswered points later, however, Mike Houston had his first win as The Citadel’s head coach.

The matchup on Saturday is the return game of a home-and-home series set up a few years ago by Larry Leckonby, the former AD at The Citadel. Leckonby needed a home game for the 2014 season after Appalachian State and Georgia Southern announced they were moving to FBS. Thus, the agreement with Gardner-Webb was made.

That is the main reason why The Citadel only has five home games this season. Next year, Johnson Hagood Stadium will host six games, including non-conference matchups against Newberry and Presbyterian.

The Citadel’s other non-conference game in 2017 is at Clemson, one of five in-state teams the Bulldogs will face next season.

It is decidedly an “old school” schedule. Newberry was a regular foe for The Citadel from the end of World War II until 1960, while from 1915 until the late 1980s Presbyterian was an almost annual opponent on the Bulldogs’ home slate (the two schools having met on the gridiron 62 times in all).

Carroll McCray is the head coach of Gardner-Webb, and he also played there. McCray was an offensive lineman for Tom Moore.

McCray’s coaching career has included stops at Samford, Furman, and Mercer (working under Bobby Lamb at the latter two schools), along with Appalachian State and South Carolina (he was a staffer for Sparky Woods in Boone and Columbia).

He was the head coach at Austin Peay for four seasons before leaving to take an assistant’s position at Furman. McCray later was the head coach at North Greenville for one year before taking the Gardner-Webb job; his replacement at NGU was current Charleston Southern head coach Jamey Chadwell. McCray’s record in four years at his alma mater is 16-21 (4-12 in the Big South).

Last year, Gardner-Webb was 4-7, 2-4 in the Big South. The highlight of the campaign was a 34-20 victory over Liberty, which was ranked #15 at the time.

Incidentally, G-W also beat a team ranked #15 in 2013, when Richmond came to Boiling Springs and left with a 12-10 defeat. The Citadel is currently ranked…#15.

(Dum dum dum dummmm.)

Gardner-Webb’s biggest problem last season was scoring points. The Runnin’ Bulldogs only averaged 12.8 points per game. That was fifth-worst in all of FCS. G-W’s defense was solid (only allowing 20.6 points per contest), but couldn’t overcome the lack of productivity on the offensive side of the ball.

G-W was shut out three times, all on the road (by Wofford, Coastal Carolina, and Charleston Southern) and failed to break double digits in two other games (against Kennesaw State and Monmouth). Gardner-Webb actually won two low-scoring affairs (14-10 over Presbyterian and 13-9 over Virginia Union).

Gardner-Webb struggled on the ground (averaging just 3.6 yards per rush). However, there was a reason G-W ran 66% of the time anyway. When the Runnin’ Bulldogs tried to become Passin’ Bulldogs, things didn’t always go well. Just to give you an idea:

  • 46.0% completion percentage (ranked 117th out of 123 FCS teams)
  • 98.7 yards per game passing (118th)
  • 9.44 passing yards per completion (117th) [and only 4.3 yards per pass attempt]
  • 82.93 offensive team passing efficiency (118th)

The team also finished 113th in total offense, 109th in Red Zone offense, 107th in total first downs, and 118th in 3rd-down conversion rate (25.1%).

Defensively, Gardner-Webb’s only major negative was probably not forcing enough turnovers (14 in 11 games). However, in general the numbers looked good on that side of the ball, particularly the defensive third-down conversion rate (25.9%, which was third-best nationally).

Those anemic 3rd-down conversion rates for both G-W and its opponents meant that there was a lot of punting in Gardner-Webb games, an average of 13.5 boots per contest. In contrast, The Citadel and its opponents combined for 8.3 punts per game in 2015.

One other observation: Gardner-Webb held its own in 2015 when it came to scoring in the 2nd and 4th quarters, but was outscored by a combined 121-41 in the 1st and 3rd periods.

This season, Gardner-Webb is 1-1. It opened the campaign by travelling to Elon and extinguishing the Phoenix, 31-6. Last week, the Runnin’ Bulldogs ran aground at Western Carolina, losing 44-14. The game against The Citadel will be G-W’s home opener.

Against Elon, the score was 3-3 at halftime, but the Runnin’ Bulldogs came out of the locker room on fire. As part of a 327-yard rushing day, Gardner-Webb scored on four of its first five possessions of the second half, with the shortest of those scoring drives being 65 yards.

Quarterback Tyrell Maxwell rushed for 154 yards, while running back Khalil Lewis also hit triple figures on the ground and scored three touchdowns. Gardner-Webb was 8 of 13 on third down conversion attempts, a vast improvement in that category from what it managed throughout the 2015 season.

What made the outburst even more impressive was that offensive coordinator Brett Nichols missed the game to be present at the birth of his son.

Gardner-Webb’s second game was a complete reversal of its first, at least in the second half. Western Carolina held a slim 17-14 lead as the third quarter began, but the Catamounts dominated the game from that point forward, scoring 27 unanswered points on four long scoring drives.

WCU finished with 690 yards of total offense (averaging 8.0 yards per play), including 427 passing yards. Catamounts running back Detrez Newsome rushed for 148 yards on 19 carries.

Gardner-Webb punted six times in seven second-half possessions, turning the ball over on downs the only time it didn’t punt. G-W also fumbled a kickoff.

Gardner-Webb runs a spread offense, one that features several natives of South Carolina.

Tyrell Maxwell (6’2″, 220 lbs.) is a junior from Cordova who went to Edisto High School. Maxwell was a standout quarterback and safety in high school (appearing in the Shrine Bowl), but he has strictly been a dual-threat QB at Gardner-Webb.

Maxwell is 23-46 passing for 188 yards so far this season for the Runnin’ Bulldogs, with one interception. He has 225 rushing yards (5.9 yards per carry), with two touchdowns. Maxwell is the alltime rushing leader at the quarterback position for G-W.

Khalil Lewis (5’10”, 210 lbs.) is a redshirt sophomore running back from Hilton Head Island. He rushed for over 100 yards against Elon and Western Carolina, the first Gardner-Webb running back to have back-to-back 100+yard rushing games in five years.

Redshirt senior tight end Mike Estes (6’4″, 230 lbs.)  is the primary receiving threat for the Runnin’ Bulldogs. Estes was a first-team All-Big South performer last year after catching 29 passes (five of which went for TDs). He caught four passes in each of the first two games this season.

Estes had four receptions against The Citadel two years ago, including a 17-yarder.

Average size of the projected starters along the offensive line for Gardner-Webb: 6’3″, 303 lbs.

Left guard Caleb Smith (6’3″, 330 lbs.) is the biggest member of a very large o-line. He is also a preseason first-team All-Big South selection. The redshirt senior is from Woodruff.

Defensively, Gardner-Webb normally lines up in a 3-4, although against the triple option there may be some adjustments.

Bookend outside linebackers lead the way for the defense. Chad Geter (6’2″, 253 lbs.) is a redshirt senior from Irmo who went to Dutch Fork High School. A two-time All-Big South pick, Geter had 92 tackles last season.

Aaron Cook (6’1″, 235 lbs.) is an Edgefield resident. Cook was a second-team All-Big South choice last season. Two years ago versus The Citadel, he led the Runnin’ Bulldogs with nine tackles.

Free safety Spencer Havird (6’2″, 202 lbs.) is a three-year starter. The redshirt junior, a native of San Diego, led the Big South last season in passes defended.

Gardner-Webb will rotate as many as eight players along the three down lineman spots. There is a lot of bulk in that mix, too. The projected starters average 282 lbs.; the three listed players at nosetackle weigh 293 lbs., 309 lbs., and 295 lbs.

Placekicker Paul Schumacher (5’10”, 172 lbs.) was 7-12 on field goal attempts last season, with a long of 41. The junior also handles kickoffs and PATs. Schumacher competes as a long jumper on the school’s track team.

Andrew Komornik (6’5″, 263 lbs.) is a redshirt junior and one of the larger punters around. The resident of Ft. Mill was busy last season, with 70 punts (averaging 38.1 yards per boot).

Sophomore Brody Rollins (5’11”, 176 lbs.) is a speedster, and maybe the top breakaway threat on the Gardner-Webb roster. He is averaging 29.7 yards per kick return, and is also the backup quarterback for the Runnin’ Bulldogs.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Boiling Springs, per the National Weather Service: a chance of rain before 2:00 pm, then a chance of showers and thunderstorms between 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm, then a chance of showers after 4:00 pm. It is expected to be partly sunny, with a high near 82 degrees. On Saturday night, there is a 30% chance of showers. It will be mostly cloudy, with a low around 67 degrees.

Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 15.5-point favorite over Gardner-Webb (the Bulldogs were also a 15.5-point favorite over Furman last week). The over/under is 37.5, one of the lower totals on the entire Division I slate.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Chattanooga is a 13-point favorite at Furman; Wofford is a 42-point favorite over Johnson C. Smith; Mercer is a 14.5-point favorite over Tennessee Tech; and Western Carolina is a 29.5-point favorite over East Tennessee State.

The game between Western Carolina and ETSU will be played at Bristol Motor Speedway, the site for last Saturday’s Virginia Tech-Tennessee matchup. There may not be as many fans in Bristol for this week’s game.

Samford and VMI are both off this week.

Last week in non-conference action, SoCon teams were 5-1 against the spread, with only VMI failing to cover.

North Carolina, which The Citadel will play in its regular-season finale, is a 26-point favorite against James Madison.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is 14th among FCS teams, down two spots from last week. Gardner-Webb is ranked 72nd, dropping 16 spots after its loss to Western Carolina.

Massey projects The Citadel to have an 88% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of 24-7.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Chattanooga (6th), Samford (17th), Western Carolina (21st), Wofford (26th), Furman (43rd), Mercer (46th), VMI (60th), East Tennessee State (110th).

Seven of the nine SoCon teams moved up in the rankings this week.

– According to the roster included in its game notes, Gardner-Webb has 39 players from North Carolina on its roster, the most from any state. Other states represented: South Carolina (20), Georgia (12), Florida (7), Alabama (3), Virginia (2), Tennessee (2), Illinois (2), and one each from California, Colorado, and Pennsylvania. In addition, offensive tackle Jordan Stalker is a native of Australia, and starting defensive end P.J. Fuimaono is from American Samoa.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47 players), Georgia (23), Florida (9), North Carolina (7), Alabama (4), Pennsylvania (4), Texas (4), and one each from Louisiana, Maryland, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nevada, and West Virginia.

– Gardner-Webb will play Miami (OH) later in the season. Future FBS opponents for the Runnin’ Bulldogs include Wyoming (2017), Appalachian State (2018), and Charlotte (2019). Last season, Gardner-Webb opened the season against South Alabama.

G-W has played some power-five conference schools in recent years, including Wake Forest, Pittsburgh, North Carolina State, Georgia Tech, and Mississippi State.

– Tom Moore has the distinction of having been the head football coach at both Gardner-Webb (1979-82) and The Citadel (1983-86). His records at the two schools were similar — 17-24 at Gardner-Webb, and 18-25-1 at The Citadel.

– This week in the FCS national statistical rankings: The Citadel’s national lead in the “fewest penalties” category did not last long.

Other observations: The Citadel is tied for sixth nationally in turnover margin (+5). While the rushing numbers are modest compared to the previous two seasons (currently 21st), the offensive passing statistics have been good — sixteenth in completion percentage, fourth in yards per completion (18.6), and eighth in passing efficiency.

Among individuals, Dee Delaney is third nationally in passes defensed and interceptions, while Tyler Renew is 13th nationally in rush yards per game.

– Brent Thompson is the fourth head coach in school history to begin his career with two victories. If The Citadel wins on Saturday, he will be one of two to begin his career with three wins.

Ralph Foster started his career 4-0, including a 3-0 mark in 1906. That season is notable because the TSA Matrix Ratings System recently awarded the national championship to The Citadel for that year.

It hasn’t been widely publicized as of yet, unlike The Citadel’s 1871 national title. One other difference is that the 1871 championship is undisputed (both Yale and Princeton claim the 1906 title as well).

I’ll probably write more about the 1906 championship campaign early next year.

– Triple option oddity, the sequel: through two games this season, more Bulldogs have caught passes (seven) than had rushing attempts (five).

– Saturday’s game is one of three that The Citadel will play in the state of North Carolina this season. As it happens, the Bulldogs’ three Old North State opponents compete in three different leagues — the Big South  (Gardner-Webb), the SoCon (Western Carolina), and the ACC (North Carolina).

The Citadel is favored on Saturday, and justifiably so. However, Gardner-Webb has proven to be a tough out at home in recent years, and has a history of giving good teams a hard time (as its victories over ranked opposition attest).

If the Cadets play a solid game on both sides of the ball, limiting turnovers and penalties, they should come back to Charleston with their third win of the season. It would be a great way to go into a bye week.

That said, nothing is easy at The Citadel, and that includes road football games. Any win away from home is a good win.

We’ll see if the team can get the job done on Saturday.

A few quick thoughts about college football titles, including The Citadel’s national championship in 1871

Recently, Auburn made some waves in the world of college football by announcing that it was considering the recognition of seven more national championships for its football program:

“If other schools are using these same polls to declare a national championship, we should at least consider it,” Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs said. “I don’t think there’s a better time for the Auburn family to consider it than right here at the end of the BCS era.

“As we transition into another playoff format for the national champion, I just think we need to look hard at it.”

The 1910, 1913, 1914, 1958, 1983, 1993 and 2004 teams are all under consideration. Each finished undefeated or won the conference championship, or both. All were recognized as national champions by at least one national selector, which are used by other schools to recognize National Championships.

Now, Auburn wouldn’t be the first school to claim additional titles from the distant past. Far from it.

The leader in retroactive championships is Princeton, which has claimed 28 football titles, including the first in 1869. Many of those retro-crowns were awarded to Princeton by Parke Davis, a prominent college football researcher in the early part of the 20th century.

As it happens, Davis was a former player at Princeton. He was a member of the 1889 squad that he would later anoint as national champions (Davis did that in 1932).

Davis was also at one time the head football coach at Lafayette. In 1896, he led the Leopards to an undefeated season, with one tie. That tie came against Princeton. Both teams finished without a loss, and Davis awarded each a share of the 1896 crown, thirty-six years after the fact.

This kerfuffle about championships reminded me again how The Citadel has always been low-key about its own national football championship, which came in 1871. What is unusual about The Citadel’s national crown is that it is essentially undisputed.

While up to five schools have claimed championships for certain seasons, no other school to my knowledge has attempted to claim the 1871 title.

This is probably due to the painstaking research and mathematical calculations that were made by the determining selector for that season (for the uninitiated, “selector” refers to the pollsters/analysts determining the champion). The Citadel was awarded the 1871 national championship by the TSA Matrix Ratings System.

It is hard to argue that the military college doesn’t deserve at least a share of the title. No points were scored against The Citadel on the gridiron during the entire 1871 season, a rare accomplishment in college football. The fact no other school has even tried to shoehorn its way into the 1871 championship discussion speaks volumes about the validity of The Citadel’s claim.

The TSA Matrix Ratings System, showing an admirable attention to detail, actually determined a top 5 for the 1871 campaign. The Citadel was followed in the algorithm by 2nd-ranked Princeton; 3rd-ranked Rutgers; 4th-ranked Columbia; and 5th-ranked Stevens Tech.

(For those not familiar with Stevens Tech, it is a school located in Hoboken, New Jersey that currently competes at the NCAA Division III level in athletics, though it no longer fields a varsity football squad. It is thus no longer near the forefront of national championship discussion, as it was throughout most of the 1870s. The school’s teams are known as the Ducks, and its mascot is Attila the Duck.)

The Citadel is the only southern school to have established a claim for a national football crown in the 19th century. The next earliest title claim for a school south of the Mason-Dixon line is that of LSU, for the 1908 championship. The Citadel also has the earliest claim for a national title by a military college. Army did not enter the championship picture until 1914, while Navy’s sole claim to a crown came in 1926.

It is a little disappointing that The Citadel’s on-campus bookstore doesn’t sell national championship memorabilia for the 1871 season. I would love to have a ’71 championship mug, for example.

I think a handsome profit could be made for going “retro” with some offerings, not just for the 1871 title, but for things like The Citadel’s trip to the College World Series in 1990. You can’t tell me people wouldn’t buy t-shirts commemorating the Bulldogs’ run to Omaha.

It’s not like the folks running the bookstore haven’t been willing to experiment. After all, they sold this holiday sweatshirt last year: Link

Here are a couple of mock-ups of potential t-shirts or sweatshirts that could be sold on campus or online. These are simplistic, but they certainly deliver the message: Link and Link

Circling back to titles that are actually controversial in nature:

With college football moving to a playoff at the FBS level, there will be a dramatic reduction in disputes surrounding the “true” major-college national champion. For those who believe in decisiveness and closure, this is a good thing. However, there is surely something lost in the transition.

The unknown provides a certain romance. There is something charming about the notion that almost any school with an argument, no matter how dubious or whimsical, can make a claim to being the best in a given year.

Besides, a few extra banners never hurt anybody…