The confounding Citadel Bulldogs are several plays away from an undefeated season.
And almost winless.
Don’t get your hopes up with these guys, but never leave early.
So we are gathered here, a jury composed of one judge and The Bill Parcells Theory — “You are what your record says you are,” the Pro Football Hall of Fame coach said — to examine evidence going into Saturday’s game at Elon (formerly the Fighting Christians but now the Somewhat Combative Phoenix).
Subject: The most flexible 3-6 record in college football.
Question: Better than 3-6, worse, or precisely Parcells?
Case for better
Five of the Bulldogs’ losses are by seven points or less and the other was a 21-10 loss to perennial power Wofford, 4-1 in Southern Conference play and in position for another league title.
Yes, without a muffed punt against Charleston Southern, an onside kick recovery at Old Dominion, a failed fourth-down conversion attempt against Furman, and late stops at Georgia Southern and Chattanooga, The Citadel probably is 8-1 going into Saturday’s game at Elon.
At 8-1 or 3-6, the Bulldogs should beat Elon and win at home next week against VMI.
A 10-1 Citadel team would have Clemson very worried in the Bulldogs’ regular-season finale, right?
OK, a stretch. But Bulldogs head coach Kevin Higgins makes the case for at least a little better than 3-6. Something like 3-6 with school spirit intact.
“Here’s what I know about our players and our program: This is the best group of seniors that I’ve been around in many, many years of coaching,” Higgins said. “This is a group of guys that are passionate about the game, they work extremely hard, they worked extremely hard in the off-season and football is really important to them. It’s a close-knit group of guys, and they’ve done the right things in the Corp and the right things academically.
“And it has been so frustrating to watch these guys go hard after this thing every week and come up empty. But the most amazing thing is that they’ve never put their heads down. I really think part of that is the training here at The Citadel. We talk about developing leaders, and what do leaders do in hard times? They lead. They keep giving tremendous effort because if they keep doing that they know they have a chance to win.”
Case for worse
Uh, about those three victories …
By seven points, by three (in overtime), by two.
If not for Tevin Floyd’s fumble return for a touchdown at Western Carolina, Mitchell Jeter’s overtime interception at Appalachian State and Samford’s failed 2-point conversion attempt last week, the Citadel is probably 0-9.
That’s right, zero-for-2013.
Case for Parcells
Southern Conference team statistics indicate the Bulldogs should be right around 3-6.
They are sixth in the nine-team league in total offense, fifth in total defense.
The Citadel has been good at avoiding penalties (first in the SoCon) but has struggled with red zone offense (ninth) and in turnover margin (seventh).
It’s 3-6, no better or worse, too topsy-turvy to twist.
But it’s not too late for the Citadel to make an argument.
The Bulldogs, for a change, can win convincingly at Elon and against VMI before finishing at Clemson in a game exempt of expectations. They can do it for the seniors, for the spin and for something positive to take into 2014.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff