College Football 2017, Week 8: the top 15 matchups

An explanation of this post:

On his college hoops ratings website, Ken Pomeroy has an algorithm called ‘FanMatch’, in which “games are rated for competitiveness and level of play with a lean towards higher-scoring games”. It is a way to rate the potential watchability of various basketball contests. There is just a touch of whimsy involved, which makes it even better…

Borrowing this idea, I’ve created a utterly byzantine and truly enigmatic formula to produce game ratings; it is called “Tingle Factor”, or TF. The higher the TF, the better.

To access a Google Document that has a complete schedule of televised/streamed D-1 college football games (including all the announcing teams), see this post: Link

I am excluding the game between The Citadel and Chattanooga this week, as that matchup looms over the rest of the slate to such an enormous degree that comparing it to the other games on the schedule is a wasted exercise.

Outside of that contest, here are the top 15 games for Week 7 that will take place on Saturday:

Road Team Home Team Gametime (ET) TV/Streaming TF
Southern California Notre Dame 7:30 PM NBC 83.6
Oklahoma State Texas 12:00 PM ABC/ESPN3 82.9
Michigan Penn State 7:30 PM ABC/ESPN3 82.8
UCF Navy 3:30 PM CBS Sports Network 79.5
Iowa State Texas Tech 12:00 PM FS1/FS-Go 77.2
Louisville Florida State 12:00 PM ESPN 70.8
North Texas FAU 5:00 PM ESPN3 69.5
Wake Forest Georgia Tech 7:30 PM ESPNU 69.4
LSU Mississippi 7:15 PM ESPN 69.2
Arizona California 8:00 PM Pac-12 Network 68.6
Iowa Northwestern 12:00 PM ESPN2 66.5
USF Tulane 7:00 PM ESPN2 64.9
Eastern Washington Southern Utah 7:00 PM Eleven Sports 64.7
Oregon UCLA 4:00 PM Pac-12 Network 64.6
Oklahoma Kansas State 4:00 PM FOX/FS-Go 64.1

 

Additional notes and observations:

– Southern California-Notre Dame will also be streamed on NBC Live Extra.

– CBS/CBS Sports Network games will also be streamed on CBS Sports Digital.

– The games on the ESPN “Family of Networks” will also be streamed via WatchESPN.

– Arizona-California and Oregon-UCLA will both be streamed on the Pac-12 Digital Network.

– The one FCS game to break into the top 15 this week, Eastern Washington-Southern Utah, will also be streamed on the Big Sky Digital Network.

– Of the fifteen highest-rated “TF” games on the board this week, Iowa State-Texas Tech (over/under of 68) is projected to be the highest-scoring. Other potential scorefests in the top 15 include Oregon-UCLA (over/under of 67.5), Eastern Washington-Southern Utah (66.5) and North Texas-FAU (66).

– The classic intersectional matchup between Southern California and Notre Dame has often been a bit streaky, but the two programs have split the last eight meetings. This is the 40th anniversary of one of the wilder team entrances in series history, the green jerseys/Trojan horse lunacy of 1977.

– Oklahoma State had a yards/play margin of +5.8 against Baylor, the largest such margin in any FBS game last week.

– Iowa State’s 20.5 yard field position margin advantage over Kansas was the biggest differential in that category for any FBS game last week.

– Arizona and California both ranked in the top 5 in “turnover luck” last week (the Golden Bears were #1 in that category). They play each other this week, so something has to give.

– Oregon has won six straight games against UCLA, including the 2011 Pac-12 title game. The Ducks have averaged 41.3 points per game over that stretch. Meanwhile, the average score of UCLA’s games this season is Opponent 40.5, Bruins 39.5.

– Eastern Washington’s last to trips to Cedar City, Utah have been adventurous. In 2014, the Eagles (then ranked 2nd in FCS) had to rally for a 42-30 victory. Two years before, the homestanding Thunderbirds upended a top-ranked EWU squad 30-27.

– USF is 6-0 for only the second time in program history. In 2007 the Bulls were ranked #2 in the country after six games, but USF lost its seventh game that season at Rutgers, 30-27.

– UCF is 5-0 for only the second time in program history, and the first time as an FBS team. The Knights have never started a season 6-0. Saturday’s game at Annapolis, a meeting between two teams with a combined record of 10-1, is the first time UCF has ever faced one of the service academies.

– Louisville and Florida State have met on the gridiron seventeen times, with the Seminoles winning fourteen of those contests. Before the Cardinals’ staggering 63-20 triumph over FSU last year (which catapulted Lamar Jackson to favored status for the Heisman Trophy, which he eventually won), Louisville’s previous largest margin of victory versus Florida State came in the first meeting in the series, a 41-14 decision in 1952.

The next season, Florida State beat Louisville 59-0.

– Wake Forest and Georgia Tech are playing for only the third time in the last ten years. Georgia Tech has won both of the most recent meetings, but the matchup before that came in the 2006 ACC title game, won by the Demon Deacons, 9-6. Sam Swank’s three field goals were all the scoring Wake Forest would need that afternoon.

– The most famous game in the history of the LSU-Mississippi series is, without question, the 1959 meeting. LSU was ranked #1; Mississippi, #3. The two teams had combined to allow only two touchdowns all season prior to the October 31 matchup. The Tigers won 7-3 on a legendary punt return touchdown by Billy Cannon, who subsequently won that year’s Heisman Trophy.

It should be a great day of college football. The primetime block of games looks particularly appetizing. Get all your chores done in the morning, grab your snacks, and spend the rest of the day and night on the couch…

College Football 2017, Week #5: the top 15 matchups

The weekly explanation of this post:

On his college hoops ratings website, Ken Pomeroy has an algorithm called ‘FanMatch’, in which “games are rated for competitiveness and level of play with a lean towards higher-scoring games”. It is a way to rate the potential watchability of various basketball contests. There is just a touch of whimsy involved, which makes it even better…

Mimicking this idea, I’ve concocted an exceedingly complicated and overly mysterious formula to produce game ratings; it is called “Tingle Factor”, or TF. The higher the TF, the better.

To access a Google Document that has a complete schedule of televised/streamed D-1 college football games (including all the announcing teams), see this post: Link

I am excluding the game between The Citadel and Samford this week, because that matchup is so clearly the biggest game on the board it would be worthless to compare it to the rest of the slate.

Outside of that contest, here are the top 15 games for Week 5. One of them is being played late Friday night, while the other fourteen are on Saturday. Three of them are FCS matchups between ranked teams.

Road Team Home Team Gametime (ET) TV/Streaming TF
Clemson Virginia Tech 9/30, 8:00 pm ABC/ESPN3 77.1
Memphis UCF 9/30, 7:00 pm ESPN2 75.7
Southern California Washington State 9/29, 10:30 pm ESPN 74.3
Oklahoma State Texas Tech 9/30, 8:00 pm FOX/FS-Go 72.1
Florida State Wake Forest 9/30, 3:30 pm ABC/ESPN3 69.8
Georgia Tennessee 9/30, 3:30 pm CBS 68.5
Sam Houston State Central Arkansas 9/30, 7:00 pm ESPN3 68
Mississippi State Auburn 9/30, 6:00 pm ESPN 67.1
Colorado UCLA 9/30, 10:30 pm ESPN2 65.7
Navy Tulsa 9/30, 3:30 pm ESPNU 65.1
South Dakota State Youngstown State 9/30, 7:00 pm ESPN3 64.2
North Carolina Georgia Tech 9/30, 12:00 pm ESPN2 63.5
South Carolina Texas A&M 9/30, 7:30 pm SEC Network 62.9
South Dakota Western Illinois 9/30, 4:00 pm ESPN3 62.5
USF East Carolina 9/30, 12:00 pm CBS Sports Network 62.1

 

Additional notes and observations:

– CBS/CBS Sports Network games will also be streamed on CBS Sports Digital.

– The games on the ESPN “Family of Networks” will also be streamed via WatchESPN.

– Per Bill Connelly, Clemson and Virginia Tech ranked 2nd and 5th in the category of success rate margin for last week’s games. In other words, both teams played very well (despite Clemson letting BC hang around for three quarters). This week, those two teams play each other in the top TF game on the board and are presumably in “good form” as our friends in the soccer world would say.

– Georgia crushed a good Mississippi State team last week, while Tennessee struggled to outlast winless Massachusetts. Nevertheless, even Butch Jones couldn’t prevent the UGA-UT game from landing in the top 15. We all remember the crazy ending to last year’s game between these two squads.

– North Carolina-Georgia Tech has been an odd series. UNC has won the last three games, after the Yellow Jackets had won 14 of 16 contests against the Heels. Average score in this game over the past seven years: North Carolina 36.5, Georgia Tech 36.4.

– Games in the top 15 that the oddsmakers think could be particularly high-scoring include Navy-Tulsa (over/under of 71.5), Colorado-UCLA (67), Sam Houston State-Central Arkansas (71), Oklahoma State-Texas Tech (84.5), Memphis-UCF (68), and USF-East Carolina (75.5).

– South Carolina and Texas A&M, historic SEC rivals, have only met three times in football. The only previous time the teams met in College Station, in 2015, the game featured 989 yards of total offense.

The winner gets to keep the James Bonham Trophy. Bonham is more of a hero in Texas (dying at the Alamo), as not a lot of people in the Palmetto State are overly familiar with him. Perhaps they should be, though. According to Wikipedia:

Bonham entered South Carolina College in 1824. In 1827, in his senior year, he led a student protest over harsh attendance regulations and the poor food served at the college boardinghouse. He was expelled, along with the entire senior class. In 1830, Bonham practiced law in Pendleton, but was found in contempt of court after caning an attorney who had insulted one of Bonham’s clients. When ordered to apologize by the sitting judge, he refused and threatened to tweak the judge’s nose. Bonham was sentenced to ninety days for contempt of court.

– South Dakota State and Youngstown State are both ranked in the top 5 of the FCS. SDSU is ranked #4 on the FCS Coaches’ Poll, and is a 3-point favorite over homestanding YSU, which is tied for fifth in that same poll. This is also a matchup between Jackrabbits and Penguins, and ought to have a bonus “Tingle Factor” point or two just for that.

– Texas Tech’s defense allowed 43.5 points per game last season. So far this year, the Red Raiders are giving up just 26.3 points per game. Admittedly, that is just a three-game sample. This week’s opponent, Oklahoma State, is coming off a home loss to TCU and can’t afford to drop two straight Big XII games. Last year’s contest resulted in a 45-44 victory for the Cowboys after Texas Tech scored what would have been the game-tying touchdown, only to miss the extra point.

– Last year, Navy beat Tulsa 42-40 in a game that featured 1077 yards of total offense. No fewer than 597 of those were rushing yards. Also, both quarterbacks had a rating that exceeded 215.

The two QBs from that game are gone, but the clash of styles between the two offenses remains.

– Memphis and UCF were supposed to play on September 8 (a Friday), but that game was postponed thanks to Hurricane Irma. Now the two AAC title contenders will finally meet.

– Florida State is winless. Wake Forest is undefeated. Could those two factoids still be true after Saturday?

It isn’t out of the question, though FSU is a 7.5-point favorite. The Seminoles just lost to a North Carolina school at home, however (NC State), and now have to play another Old North State team on the road.

It should be another excellent week on the gridiron. Don’t forget about that Friday night game!

College Football 2017, Week #4: the top 15 matchups

The weekly explanation of this post:

On his college hoops ratings website, Ken Pomeroy has an algorithm called ‘FanMatch’, in which “games are rated for competitiveness and level of play with a lean towards higher-scoring games”. It is a way to rate the potential watchability of various basketball contests. There is just a touch of whimsy involved, which makes it even better…

Mimicking this idea, I’ve created a somewhat byzantine and truly murky formula to produce game ratings; it is called “Tingle Factor”, or TF. The higher the TF, the better.

On the surface, this week does not have a great slate of games, but sometimes the craziest weeks are the ones that on first look seem less than stellar.

To access a Google Document that has a complete schedule of televised/streamed D-1 college football games (including all the announcing teams), see this post: Link

Here are the top 15 games for Week 4. All of them are being played on Saturday, as has been the case for the last three weeks. There haven’t really been that many intriguing Thursday and Friday night games so far this season, though the Utah-Arizona game on Friday night could be worth watching.

Road Team Home Team Gametime (ET) TV/Streaming TF
Mississippi State Georgia 9/16, 7:00 pm ESPN 81.2
TCU Oklahoma State 9/16, 3:30 pm ESPN 80.1
UCF Maryland 9/16, 3:00 pm FS1/FS-Go 79.8
Texas Tech Houston 9/16, 12:00 pm ABC or ESPN2 79.6
Washington Colorado 9/16, 10:00 pm FS1/FS-Go 75.0
Wake Forest Appalachian State 9/16, 3:30 pm ESPN3 73.8
Samford Western Carolina 9/16, 3:30 pm ESPN3 73.1
Toledo Miami (FL) 9/16, 3:30 pm ACC Regional Nets 71.8
Notre Dame Michigan State 9/16, 8:00 pm FOX/FS-Go 69.8
Duke North Carolina 9/16, 3:30 pm ESPNU 69.3
N.C. State Florida State 9/16, 12:00 pm ABC or ESPN2 69.1
Michigan Purdue 9/16, 4:00 pm FOX/FS-Go 67.3
Arkansas State SMU 9/16, 7:00 pm ESPN3 66.1
Florida Kentucky 9/16, 7:30 pm SEC Network 64.8
Cincinnati Navy 9/16, 3:30 pm CBS Sports Network 63.1

 

Additional notes and observations:

– CBS/CBS Sports Network games will also be streamed on CBS Sports Digital.

– The games on the ESPN “Family of Networks” will also be streamed via WatchESPN.

– The first five games on the list feature matchups between undefeated teams — including UCF, which has only played one game to this point in the season.

– Miami (FL) has also played only one game this year to date, and will host a Toledo squad that is averaging 46 points per game.

– This week, one FCS game sneaks into the top 15, and it’s a surprising one, a matchup between two offensive-minded teams in Samford and Western Carolina. The over/under is 74 for this Southern Conference clash.

– Other games in the top 15 that the oddsmakers think could be high-scoring include UCF-Maryland (over/under of 67), Texas Tech-Houston (71), Arkansas State-SMU (73), and TCU-Oklahoma State (68.5).

– Against Rice, Houston had a 22.5-yard edge in average field position for the game, the biggest advantage in that category for all of last week’s FBS matchups.

– Even though Georgia and Mississippi State were both charter members of the SEC (founded in 1932), there have only been 23 football games between the two schools. UGA leads the all-time series 17-6.

– After Saturday, there are no more scheduled meetings between Notre Dame and Michigan State until at least 2026. The two programs have met on the gridiron 78 times since 1897.

– This is the first time Duke and North Carolina have ever played each other in football in the month of September. The earliest date the schools had faced each other before this season was October 10 (a game played in 1925).

Other than an October 20 meeting in 2012, 77 of the previous 78 meetings had occurred in November.

– Saturday’s Cincinnati-Navy game is the first gridiron meeting between those two schools since 1956. They will meet more often in the future, now that both are football members of the American Athletic Conference.

In the last ten years, Navy has an overall record of 79-41. Cincinnati has an overall record of 78-41.

– Not part of the TF rating, but definitely part of the story: Kentucky is trying to end a 30-game losing streak against Florida.

It should be another great week. Saturday is just around the corner!

College Football 2017, Week #2: the top 15 matchups

From last week, an explanation of what this topic is all about:

On his college hoops ratings website, Ken Pomeroy has an algorithm called ‘FanMatch’, in which “games are rated for competitiveness and level of play with a lean towards higher-scoring games”. It is a way to rate the potential watchability of various basketball contests. There is just a touch of whimsy involved, which makes it even better…

 

As noted before, I’ve created a very complicated (and secret) formula to produce game ratings; this matrix is called “Tingle Factor”, or TF. The higher the TF, the better.

I’ll list the top 15 TF games of Week 2, excluding The Citadel-Presbyterian, because it wouldn’t be fair to compare that game with less consequential pigskin contests.

Sometimes the best games of the week are the anticipated, high-profile contests, but often under-the-radar matchups are well worth watching.

Usually, those under-the-radar games would include includes FCS contests, but this week the top 15 are all FBS vs. FBS battles. Surprisingly, the North Dakota State-Eastern Washington game, a matchup of traditional and highly-ranked FCS powers, did not make the top 15. Perhaps the algorithm knows something we don’t know.

To access a Google Document that has a complete schedule of televised/streamed D-1 college football games (including all the announcing teams), see this post: Link

Here are the top 15 games for Week 2. All of them are being played on Saturday.

Road Team Home Team Gametime (ET) TV/Streaming TF
Auburn Clemson 9/9, 7:00 pm ESPN 88.1
Stanford Southern California 9/9, 8:30 pm FOX/FS-Go 87.9
Georgia Notre Dame 9/9, 7:30 pm NBC 87.5
Oklahoma Ohio State 9/9, 7:30 pm ABC/ESPN3 87.1
South Carolina Missouri 9/9, 7:00 pm ESPN2 81.8
Boise State Washington State 9/9, 10:30 pm ESPN 80.5
Northwestern Duke 9/9, 12:00 pm ESPNU 76.0
TCU Arkansas 9/9, 3:30 pm CBS 75.3
Iowa Iowa State 9/9, 12:00 pm ESPN2 72.1
Wake Forest Boston College 9/9, 1:00 pm ACC Digital Network 70.3
Mississippi State Louisiana Tech 9/9, 7:30 pm CBS Sports Network 68.1
Pittsburgh Penn State 9/9, 3:30 pm ABC/ESPN3 67.2
Nebraska Oregon 9,9, 4:30 pm FOX/FS-Go 65.9
Tulane Navy 9/9, 3:30 pm CBS Sports Network 65.0
Utah BYU 9/9, 10:15 pm ESPN2 63.8

 

Additional notes and observations:

– The three CBS/CBS Sports Network games will also be streamed on CBS Sports Digital.

– The Georgia-Notre Dame game will also be streamed on NBC Live Extra.

– The games on the ESPN “Family of Networks” will also be streamed via WatchESPN.

– Because none of the top 15 matchups are on the Pac-12 Network, most college football fans will be able to watch all of these games.

– As you can see, the top four games are all very closely rated by the system. All four have a higher rating than any game played last week.

– Perhaps the biggest surprise in the top 15 is the Wake Forest-Boston College game. When those two teams played two years ago, the Demon Deacons eked out a 3-0 victory.

Last season, the score was 17-14. For some reason, however, the algorithm really likes that matchup this week.

– This is the second week in a row games involving South Carolina and Navy have cracked the top 15.

This should be a great slate of college football games, especially in the late afternoon and evening. It should be filled with compelling matchups.

Can’t wait.

Secret memo to Mike Houston, The Citadel’s new football coach

NOTE: TOP SECRET. DISTRIBUTE MEMO ON NEED-TO-KNOW BASIS ONLY.

To: Mike Houston

From: A concerned alum

Re: Football at The Citadel

Hello there, coach. Congratulations on being named head football coach at The Citadel. I trust you and your family will enjoy Charleston.

Now, there are some important things you need to know in order to succeed in your new position. That’s why this memo is a big secret. We want to make sure our enemies don’t have a firm grasp on your plan of attack, which is going to be aggressive, with a lot of energy.

Let’s get right to the discussion.

– Some of our alums were impressed with your youthful enthusiasm at the Thursday press conference. There were multiple queries asking if you were, in fact, the youngest coach in program history.

Of course, Coach Houston, you’re not. Most of The Citadel’s coaches were actually younger than you when they were hired, even though you’re only 42. All but five, in fact.

However, four of those five older coaches are the most recent hires at The Citadel (Powers/Johnson/Zernhelt/Higgins). Given that recent trend, it’s not surprising that people think you’re really young for the job.

As an aside, you might be interested to know that The Citadel’s first two head football coaches were both only 22 years old when they got the job. One of them, Syd Smith, later played major league baseball.

I don’t think you’re a candidate for MLB when your coaching career is over, but perhaps you can emulate The Citadel’s second coach, Ralph Foster, in wearing a snazzy hat. If not, perhaps your offensive coordinator could wear it. He definitely needs an upgrade in the headgear department.

– Speaking of that offensive coordinator, I was glad to see you’re bringing Brent Thompson on board. It would have been tough for The Citadel to announce it wanted to hire a coach who ran the option, then hire a defensive-oriented coach whose option-running OC didn’t come along with him.

I’ve heard good things about Thompson (and your offensive line coach, Ron Boyd). Thompson’s explanation of the origination of his triple option offense was interesting:

I’ve probably taken the most from Navy and Georgia Southern. And I’ve worked with  coaches at Army and with Ashley Ingram at Navy, so I steal some things from there. And I try to gather as much film on Georgia Southern as [I] can.

Ingram, of course, was one of the three finalists for the job that you eventually got.

Having said that, you should know that a few alums are a little worried about your staff. Not only have you never coached at the D-1 level, the same is true for all of the assistants you’re bringing along from Lenoir-Rhyne (with the notable exception of Thompson).

Of course, you haven’t finalized your staff yet, and there are some positive rumors about potential assistants still to be added. Fans will be waiting on those hires with considerable interest (you may have noticed, they’re interested in just about everything related to the football program).

– There is a little bit of angst that surrounds the football program. You will probably pick up on this sooner rather than later. As to why it exists, it’s simple: The Citadel has not had consecutive winning seasons on the gridiron since the 1991-92 campaigns, the longest such stretch in school history.

There are a lot of alums who are ready to win again. Some of them can be a bit melodramatic about this. “I want one more SoCon title before I die,” they’ll proclaim.

– I was glad to hear you talk about the importance of retention. Among other things, you told the assembled media on Thursday that you want to field “older teams…guys who have been with us for three or four years.”

The reference to “older teams” (and the redshirting subtext) made me think of Jim Grobe and how he approached his recruiting/scholarship management at Wake Forest. Grobe won an ACC title at Wake Forest with that philosophy.

Your response to a question about transfers was excellent. “The institution does not lend itself to a lot of transfers,” you said. Indeed, it doesn’t.

– I can appreciate your comments that recruiting at Lenoir-Rhyne is not completely dissimilar to recruiting at The Citadel. However, a word of warning. Making comparisons to The Citadel can be tricky. Very tricky.

That’s why it’s important you get up to speed as quickly as possible about the institution that is now your employer. Learn as much about The Citadel as you possibly can. It’s not quite the same as the service academies, or small private schools, or anything else for that matter.

This statement you made was a good start:

You’ve got to understand exactly what The Citadel is. I’m excited about embracing the core values of The Citadel and recruiting student-athletes [who] fit the institution.

At The Citadel, you have to recruit prospective cadets who can play football. That’s the only way you can go about it. Recruiting from a football-first perspective is problematic, if not impossible.

– To be honest, coach, there is no way you are ever going to understand everything about the military college — and that’s okay. I don’t have a full grasp on the place myself, and I’m an old goat who graduated from the school.

You mentioned that a good friend of yours played football at The Citadel when Charlie Taaffe was the coach. People like that can help you start figuring things out. Talk to them early and often.

Also try to make a point of reaching out to younger alums, including former football players. I suspect you were going to do that anyway, but it’s critical to build some bridges in that area.

– The military component of the school is kind of important. It is, after all, a military college.

The key thing for you to remember is this: work with the system, not against it. Coaches who learn this, and who emphasize to their players the importance of conforming and being part of the system, tend to be successful. Coaches who fight the system every step of the way are never successful.

– It’s important to develop a positive relationship with the corps of cadets. An active and engaged corps can be a tremendous weapon for you on football Saturdays. Be sure to make a “stump speech” at the mess hall on a regular basis.

However, ultimately you aren’t responsible for the activities of the general student body. For the most part, when it comes to corps issues, let others sweat the details, at least in your first year.

– Coach Houston, we need to talk about the uniforms…

The Citadel has a contract with adidas which began last season. You might be surprised to know that before a home game against Furman, the team had to change jerseys because the SoCon officiating crew deemed them illegal.

That’s the kind of thing that might drive a coach crazy. Instead of concentrating on game preparation, the team got mired in Unigate.

Then there is the constantly revolving door of helmet logos. After a rare bout of consistency in this department, for unexplained reasons The Citadel changed its helmet design yet again for the season finale at Clemson.

Coach, I’m sure you would be puzzled at the team debuting a new design at the end of the year — and in a road game to boot. It made no sense.

However, it was just the latest in The Citadel’s tortured football uniform history. More than four years after I first wrote about it, there has been no effort to develop a standard. For a school as beholden to tradition as The Citadel, this is amazing (and infuriating).

Now, you may not be able to stop the latest helmet tweak, but you can probably make sure the jerseys feature the appropriate colors of light blue and white. Navy blue should not be a predominant color. Neither should red, or silver, or gray.

There is one other very important thing you need to fix.

Make sure the correct name of the school is on the jersey. Tell the administration you won’t lead the team out on to the field unless “THE CITADEL” is on the front of the jerseys (not “Citadel”). I can’t emphasize how critical this is to your future success.

Imagine if, during your playing career at Mars Hill, you had to wear jerseys that only read “Mars” across the front. You would be disappointed, because it wouldn’t be the name of your school (though the association with Otis Sistrunk’s alma mater might have amused a few people).

If you put the “The” back on the jerseys, coach, you will go a long way to satisfying the alumni sports blogger demographic. I know you want to keep that faction happy.

Congrats again on your appointment, Coach Houston. In your remarks to the press, it became apparent the job at The Citadel was one that had been of interest to you even before this year.

You clearly wanted the position, and think you can be successful in this role. I enjoyed watching the press conference (and subsequent interviews) and seeing your intensity, passion, and confidence.

The Citadel is a very unusual place, often difficult, occasionally intimidating, and at times frustrating. It’s also a very special place, one that engenders uncommon loyalty.

Embrace the challenge. We’re with you all the way.

A brief review of The Citadel’s 2013 football season

Edit: less than 24 hours after I posted this, Kevin Higgins resigned as head coach of The Citadel to take an assistant coaching position at Wake Forest. Obviously that makes part of the review a bit dated, but I’m leaving the post unchanged from when it went up. 

In my preview of The Citadel’s 2013 football campaign, I wrote the following:

…this could be a season of what-ifs rather than the big-win campaign that is the hope for Bulldog supporters. As always when it comes to the gridiron, the margin for error at The Citadel is small. To illustrate this, think of the task the team faces this year from what might be called the most negative point of view:

– The Citadel will play four opponents that are either FBS or transitioning to FBS (and thus will have more scholarship players). Three of those games will be on the road.

– The Citadel will play two other opponents that defeated the Bulldogs last season by a combined score of 66-17. Both of those teams return most of their key players.

– One opponent hasn’t lost to the Bulldogs during Kevin Higgins’ tenure as head coach of The Citadel, while another has beaten The Citadel four times in the last five meetings.

– Of the remaining four opponents, last season The Citadel trailed one of them midway through the third quarter; was in a one-point game late in the third quarter to another; barely held off a late rally from a third; and was tied at halftime with the fourth.

I guess I could say I told you so, except I really can’t. I thought the Bulldogs would be a little better than they were, despite the seemingly difficult schedule. I was hoping that The Citadel would contend for the league title and/or a playoff berth.

That didn’t happen. It didn’t come close to happening, either.

The Bulldogs’ disappointing season was all the more frustrating by the way the season played out in the Southern Conference. The league wasn’t nearly as good as expected.

Appalachian State proved to be eminently beatable, and Georgia Southern was certainly no well-oiled machine. Wofford finished 5-6.

It was all there for The Citadel, ready for the taking…and the Bulldogs finished with a losing record.

Entering 2013 there were concerns about the defense, particularly the D’s ability to stop the run. How did the defense fare?

Comparing 2012 and 2013 (league contests only, per game average):

2012 points allowed: 26.75
2013 points allowed: 23.25

2012 total yards allowed: 395
2013 total yards allowed: 362.38

2012 rush yards allowed: 237.13
2013 rush yards allowed: 178.75

2012 pass yards allowed: 157.88
2013 pass yards allowed: 183.63

These numbers show some improvement from 2012 to 2013, which might surprise a few people. On a per-play basis, the defense improved from 5.75 yards per play (2012) to 5.47 (2013), though the yards allowed per pass attempt increased (from 6.5 in 2012 to 7.2 in 2013).

The Citadel forced twelve turnovers in league play this season, similar to 2012 (eleven). The Bulldogs recovered five fumbles in 2013, which matched 2012’s total.

The defense was credited with 28 passes defensed in eight conference games in 2013. Exactly 25% of those (seven) resulted in interceptions. That is slightly above the national average for defensed passes; basically, the Bulldogs intercepted one more pass in league play than would have been expected. That isn’t insignificant, especially if you think of the “extra” pick as, say, Mitchell Jeter’s grab in the Appalachian State game.

In all, The Citadel had breakups/interceptions on 13.7% of opponents’ passes in 2013 SoCon action. That was a slight improvement on 2012 (12.4%).

Ideally, the Bulldogs would have a higher percentage of passes defensed than 13.7%, though to be honest I suspect the benchmark for excellence in this area varies depending on defensive concepts. For example, Tulane tied for the national lead in FBS this past season in passes defended, with 84 in 12 games. The Green Wave had a breakup/pick rate of 20.7%.

However, Michigan State’s defense was arguably the most highly regarded in the entire country this year, and the Spartans’ PD rate was 14.4%. That didn’t stop MSU’s Darqueze Dennard from winning the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s best defensive back.

– Incidentally, Dennard was a “two-star” recruit from Dry Branch, Georgia.

The comparative per-game statistics in league play for The Citadel’s offense aren’t as positive.

2012 points: 29.75
2013 points: 24.25

2012 total yards: 382.5
2013 total yards: 350.25

2012 rush yards: 299.5
2013 rush yards: 256.63

2012 pass yards: 83.0
2013 pass yards: 93.63

The Bulldogs averaged just over six yards per play in 2012, but that number fell to 5.4 y/p in 2013. Rushing yards per play declined from 5.8 to 5.1.

While The Citadel’s passing yardage increased by over ten yards per SoCon game, that was due to an increased number of attempts (more than three per contest). The Bulldogs’ yards per pass attempt actually declined, from 7.2 (2012) to 6.4 (2013).

The Citadel threw the ball on 18.3% of its 2012 plays. That percentage increased to 22.6% in 2013.

It won’t surprise anyone reading this that in terms of total offense, The Citadel’s numbers were worse at the start of the conference season than at the end. The Bulldogs struggled out of the gate, averaging 314 yards per contest in their first three SoCon games, but by the end of the campaign seemed to have mostly put things together (404 yards per contest in the three final conference matchups).

The spring practice/preseason concentration on diversifying the offense backfired. It’s as simple as that.

The Citadel’s offense suffered a dropoff in “red zone” efficiency in 2013. When The Bulldogs advanced inside the opponents’ 20-yard line in 2012, they scored a touchdown 69% of the time. This past season, The Citadel scored TDs on only 60% of its trips inside the 20.

(Note: red zone numbers are for all games, not just Southern Conference matchups. All the other statistics I’ve mentioned above are for league games only.)

I think if the offense had performed at its 2012 levels in 2013, the Bulldogs would have finished no worse than 6-6 and probably should have been 7-5 (and maybe even 8-4). However, instead of finishing 5-3 in SoCon play (as it did in 2012), The Citadel was 4-4. That doesn’t even account for the embarrassing loss to Charleston Southern in the season opener.

The game against the Buccaneers probably didn’t help the Bulldogs’ confidence for the start of the league campaign, and so after five games The Citadel was 1-4 and the hopes and aspirations for 2013 were just about kaput. Breaking down the remaining seven games, the Bulldogs essentially performed up to preseason expectations (2-2 against App/GSU/UTC/Sam, wins over Elon and VMI, a loss to Clemson).

It was that early-season boondoggle that did in the Bulldogs. Furman played very well over the second half of 2013, but wasn’t nearly as good when the season began. The Citadel should have won that game, particularly given the Paladins’ QB issues at the time.

Against Wofford, the Bulldogs didn’t score an offensive touchdown. We all know what happened against Charleston Southern.

When Phil Kornblut asked Kevin Higgins to describe the season (prior to the game against Clemson), the coach was candid:

It was disappointing, for sure. We had much higher expectations than that. We played a lot of close football games throughout the season, [but] that’s not an excuse. We were hoping to finish a couple of those games off, but didn’t…the one positive was our guys kept fighting [and] never gave up.

Higgins is expected to still be the coach next season, and I’m okay with that. However, there are some Bulldog supporters who think a change should have been made, and I don’t think it’s ridiculous to feel that way.

There is a lot of frustration in the fan base with the struggles of the football program over the last two decades, and Kevin Higgins has now been the coach for nine seasons. He took over a program that could be reasonably described as unstable. That should be kept in mind when evaluating his time at the school. However, some aspects of his record are, well, not so good:

– He has only had a winning record twice in nine campaigns
– He has not defeated Wofford in nine seasons
– His record against Furman is 3-6
– His two losses to Charleston Southern rank among the worst in school history

That said, there are some things Higgins can’t control.

It’s not his fault the band isn’t allowed to play more often. Higgins isn’t responsible for the maddening videoboard/loudspeaker/music choices. He’s not the reason The Citadel’s video streaming setup never seems to work. He didn’t make the ludicrous (and potentially damaging) decision to play a road game at Charleston Southern next year.

I mention those things (among other issues) only because sometimes the team’s performance gets lumped in with all the other stuff that people complain about when it comes to the football program and the department of athletics in general. There is a fair amount of unease among The Citadel’s faithful fans, but a lot of it is not related to actual gridiron activity.

I am not certain what Higgins’ contract status is; there seems to be some confusion on that subject. Normally I am not a fan of retaining a coach who has just one remaining year on his contract, but I am willing to make an exception in this case (and again, I’m not sure he’s got only one year left anyway).

One reason I am amenable to giving Higgins a little more rope is that next year will be transitory in many respects, particularly with regards to the Southern Conference itself. I’m more than a little curious to see how things “play out” with the change in league membership.

Another factor is something Higgins mentioned to Phil Kornblut. This year’s team really did keep fighting. It certainly didn’t quit. I’ve said this before, but that is to the players’ credit, and it’s also a positive when discussing the coaching staff. Higgins didn’t “lose” the team in circumstances which were possibly conducive to doing just that. That’s a mark in his favor.

Next year’s slate is going to be a difficult one. It will probably be tougher than this year’s was supposed to be.

I’ll be ready for spring football, though. I may be already…

Football, Game 8: The Citadel vs. Georgia Southern

The Bulldogs return to Johnson Hagood Stadium for a 1:00 pm ET game against the Eagles.  First, though, a few thoughts on the Appalachian State game, since I didn’t post a review of that contest.

First, I heard the final score — 39-10.  I later read that during the game, The Citadel:

Did not complete a pass (the first time the Bulldogs had failed to do that in 15 years)

— Committed two turnovers, one fumble and one interception

— Botched two punt snaps, the second of which led to punter Cass Couey leaving the game with an injury

— Lost the battle of time of possession, despite 53 rush attempts (in 59 total plays)

— Only averaged 18.2 yards per kickoff return

— Missed out on a defensive turnover thanks to a pass interference penalty

— Allowed TD receptions of 65 and 73 yards

Lost one of its experienced playmakers, running back Van Dyke Jones, with what was later determined to be an ACL injury; Jones’ career highlight, of course, was a 69-yard run against the Mountaineers in last year’s meeting

All of that came on the road, against the #1 ranked team in FCS football.  So how exactly did The Citadel only lose by 29 points?

Well, App State dialed it down some in the fourth quarter, but there were some positives for the Bulldogs, looking at the stat sheet:

— First, full credit to backup punter Alexander Wall for doing a nice job on short notice; he averaged 42.2 yards per punt and only allowed 10 total return yards

— While Matt Thompson started, Sam Martin did play and saw significant time, so his injury from last week apparently wasn’t serious

— The aforementioned PI aside, the Bulldogs only committed five penalties

— The Bulldog D did force two turnovers that counted, including a fumble that was returned 40 yards by Eric Clanton, setting up the game’s first score; a later interception by Brandon McCladdie was the first pick by an App State opponent this season

— The defense, despite giving up two big pass plays, allowed less than 400 yards of total offense, which against App State (and considering it was on the field longer than normal) wasn’t too bad

— App State was only 5-14 on third down conversions

— The Citadel blocked not one but two PATs

Okay, so maybe I had to stretch to come up with some of those positives, but I guess my final analysis of the game would go something like this:  it could have been worse. Hey, the Mountaineers are ranked #1; the Bulldogs are not.  It was never going to be a game for The Citadel to use in measuring its progress this season.

On the other hand, Saturday’s game against Georgia Southern is such a game.

Prior to this season, Jeff Monken had spent the past 13 years as an assistant for Paul Johnson at three different schools — Georgia Southern, Navy, and Georgia Tech. (Monken was also a grad assistant at Hawai’i when Johnson was the offensive coordinator there.)  He was hired by GSU to restore the triple option, and with it the glory days of Eagle football.

Perhaps the difference in expectations for the football programs at Georgia Southern and The Citadel can be summed up by this Monken quote:

“Who cares about transition years?  Nobody cares about that.  We want to win. I want to win, our fans want to win, our kids want to win. Nobody wants to hear about transition, or we’re young, or we’re learning. That’s a bunch of talk.

When you play a football game, you play to win. My expectation is the same for this season as it is for every season, and that’s to try and win every game. That’s what I expect.”

Contrast that with The Citadel, where most (although by no means all) fans are content to allow Kevin Higgins a “transition year” in the sixth season of his tenure at the military college.  Of course, Monken knows that he has a little more leeway than what he expressed in the above quote.  Georgia Southern fans aren’t expecting him to compete for the national title this year.

Next year, though, is a different story…

There are also those GSU supporters who aren’t that interested in the FCS national crown, because they would rather see the program move up to FBS land.  I think that would be a mistake, at least as things are currently constituted in the two sub-divisions.  I wrote about this last year, when GSU released its study on the issue.

Of course, now Appalachian State has decided it’s also going to study the pros and cons of making the move.  It’s prudent to assess the landscape of college football, and I don’t blame either school for investigating their options.  It’s my opinion, though, that unless there are major alterations in the world of FCS (or FBS), staying put is the way to go for the folks in Boone and Statesboro.

Georgia Southern is 3-3, 1-2 in the SoCon.  It looked for a while like Monken was ahead of schedule, for going into the game against Wofford the Eagles were 3-1 and ranked in the FCS Coaches Poll.  However, a home loss to the Terriers was followed by last week’s setback at Chattanooga, and it’s clear that it’s not yet smooth sailing for GSU in conference play.

The biggest advantage Georgia Southern has had over The Citadel in re-instituting the triple option has been at quarterback, where the Eagles can rely on Georgia Tech transfer Jaybo Shaw, who not only ran the offense at Tech, but also ran it in high school.  He’s not an explosive runner, but he can make all the reads and can also throw the ball fairly well (10.3 yards per pass attempt; 4 TDs, no INTs).

GSU is averaging 4.9 yards per rush.  J.J. Wilcox is a solid slotback who can also catch the ball (his eleven receptions leads the team).  Robert Brown is a freshman fullback who actually leads the Eagles in rushing, but he’s been hurt.  There is no Adrian Peterson (GSU version, not Oklahoma version) suiting up this year for GSU.

Wilcox is the only GSU player with more than 95 receiving yards (he has 302).  No other Eagle has more than six grabs, but when one does make a catch, it’s usually for a good gain.  GSU receivers are averaging 19.1 yards per reception.

Georgia Southern has a young-ish offensive line (three juniors, a sophomore, and a freshman), and it’s been a little inconsistent.  While the Eagles are fourth nationally in rushing offense, they have suffered eleven sacks, which is a lot for a team that doesn’t throw the ball too often.

On defense, the Eagles are led by Brent Russell, an interior lineman with 4.5 sacks, three other tackles for loss, and two pass breakups.  He’s a very good player.  Other than Russell, though, GSU is not particularly sack-happy, with 12 total sacks on the year.  Georgia Southern has a solid, if not dynamic, group of linebackers and an improved secondary, although one with a tendency to give up the big play (five TD passes allowed of greater than 25 yards).  Does that sound familiar?

Georgia Southern’s special teams have been outstanding. Placekicker Adrian Mora has not missed a field goal or extra point this season.  He hasn’t been asked to kick long FGs (his longest this year is 41 yards) but he has made all that he has tried. Punter Charlie Edwards is the key factor behind the Eagles’ excellent net punting average of 39 yards, fourth in the country.

Georgia Southern’s 3-1 start included a game at Navy.  GSU lost that game, but only by a 13-7 margin.  Considering it was a battle of triple option teams, both with Paul Johnson connections, I thought it was interesting that the game was low scoring.

The Citadel is also running a similar triple option system, of course.  Will the Eagles defend the same way against the Bulldogs?  And how exactly did they defend, anyway?

Well, a good person to ask would be The Birddog, chronicler of Naval Academy athletics and the unquestioned Tolstoy of the Triple Option.  I’ve mentioned his blog before; for something of an introductory primer on the offense, here are a few posts from it:

Reading Is Fundamental

The Science and the Art

The Midline Option

Other People’s Rivalries And The Futility Of Defending Against the Wishbone

I asked him a few questions about the Georgia Southern-Navy game.  Some of the Q-and-A is below:

Question:  I read that GSU defended the option in part by using its corners more aggressively (“firing the corners”) than is the norm.  Is that correct?

Answer:  The best way to defend firing corners is just to block.  It’s not an uncommon move; Air Force, Wake Forest, and SMU did it too. The difference between the wins and the losses was personnel, specifically the slotbacks. One of our junior slotbacks who was injured to start the year came back against Wake Forest, and all of a sudden it was no longer a problem.

Question:  Would the passing game be one way to combat that?  Specifically, throwing the ball to a slotback, or maybe even the fullback (on a screen pass)?

Answer:  There are ways to beat it in the passing game too.  The simplest way is to just throw to the uncovered receiver.  I think there’s a video of that in the Air Force writeup.

[Note from SS…that post can be found here:  Link ]

The cornerback blitz is as vulnerable to screen passes as any other blitz, and Navy runs a screen to the fullback in the direction of the blitz on occasion. The wheel-post works really well against blitzing corners too.

The safety has to roll over to cover the wide receiver, which leaves a linebacker to cover a slotback, which is usually a pretty favorable matchup for the offense.  I have an example toward the end of this post:  Link

Georgia Southern’s staff knew the Navy staff’s hand signals, so Navy had to stop going no-huddle early on.  Brent Russell also played a very good game.


Question:  Any thoughts on their splits?

Answer:  GSU’s splits are wider than Navy’s. There was a rule enacted last year that prohibited anyone lined up outside the tackles from blocking below the waist back inside the tackle box. That’s why Navy’s slots line up with their inside foot inside the outside foot of the tackle.  GSU doesn’t bother having their slots cut block inside anymore, preferring to keep the formation more spread.

Thanks again to The Birddog for answering my (probably simpleminded) questions.

The passing game has been a sore spot for The Citadel this year, of course, so the notion that being able to successfully throw the ball against GSU’s defense might be a key to the game probably makes Bulldog fans a little queasy.  The Bulldog slotbacks also must block well; perimeter blocking has been an issue for The Citadel all season.

Earlier in the post I linked Jeff Hartsell’s story about The Citadel’s anemic passing game.  Here is an excerpt from that piece that is worth noting:

…the Bulldogs have to get some semblance of a throwing game in shape before Georgia Southern brings its version of the double-slot option to Johnson Hagood Stadium on Saturday.

Coach Kevin Higgins said Monday that offensive coaches will simplify their passing schemes this week in order to do just that.

“One thing we talked about as a staff (Monday) morning is simplifying what we are doing,” Higgins said at his weekly news conference. “Last week, we carried in 30 to 36 passing plays that you practice on a routine basis, based on what you might see in a game. At this point, I think we have a good idea of what our opponents will be running. Now, in my mind, we’ve got to get that 36 down to 10 or 15 plays.

“We need to run those plays well in practice every day, so that the quarterback is more confident, and receivers and everybody else are on the same page. So I think we’ve got to simplify and practice those specific plays more throughout the week.”

Hartsell also pointed out later in the story that the better you are at running the ball in the TO, the easier it is to pass it.
It should be a nice day for a game on Saturday in Charleston, with sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-70s.  Let’s hope that the sun finally shines on The Citadel in conference play.