Citadel Brandon Rainey (copy)

Citadel quarterback/fullback Brandon Rainey (16) was a fullback the last time the Bulldogs played a non-Division I foe in football, beating Newberry 31-14 on Sept. 2, 2017. (Michael Wiser/Special to The Post and Courier)

Something's missing from The Citadel's football schedule in 2019.

It was absent last year, and it won't be there in 2020 either.

It's something that is on the schedule of almost every Division I team in the state this year, from No. 1 Clemson and South Carolina all the way to Furman, South Carolina State and Coastal Carolina.

That missing piece: A guarantee game against a lower-division team, popularly known as a "cupcake game."

Clemson plays one almost annually (this year it's FCS Wofford), and South Carolina just polished off its pastry in a 72-10 romp over Charleston Southern. Coastal Carolina of the FBS Sun Belt Conference punched up in weight with a 12-7 win over Power Five member Kansas last week; the Chanticleers will punch down when they face FCS Norfolk State this week.

FCS teams also reach down the food chain, with Furman facing NAIA squad Point this season, and S.C. State putting a 34-0 beatdown on Division II Lane College last week.

Not so The Citadel, which hasn't faced a lower-division foe since the opening game of the 2017 season, a 31-14 win over Division II Newberry.

The Bulldogs played an all Division I slate (FCS and FBS) in 2018 (earning $500,000 with a money game at Alabama), will again this year (with a $400,000 game Saturday at Georgia Tech), and has an all D-I schedule in 2020 (with a $450,000 game at Clemson).

By the end of the 2020 season, The Citadel will have played 44 straight games against D-I teams without a cupcake in sight.

What in the name of Brent Thompson is going on?

"When we planned this year's schedule, it was about four years ago and we were having a pretty good run," said the Bulldogs' coach, whose team is 0-2 against FCS playoff-caliber teams in Towson and Elon this season. "Games were tough to find. And the other thing we thought was, if you want to be able to make a run, you want to make a strong schedule, a playoff schedule.

"But I do think the schedule is challenging. Sometimes you can't control that four or five years out, because teams go up and teams go down."

Future Citadel non-conference schedules include Elon, Clemson and Charleston Southern in 2020; Coastal Carolina and CSU in 2021; and Campbell and Appalachian State in 2022, all Division I squads.

"Do you need a Division II team in there? Every couple of years, I think you do," said Thompson, whose 10-2 SoCon championship team in 2016 won a 38-14 game over D-II North Greenville. "But I don't think you need one every year. I know just about everybody in our league will have one this season.

"But my emphasis is on more in-region games. Elon is a fine game, Gardner-Webb, Charleston Southern, S.C. State. Those games are a lot easier on your travel and your budget, and they mean more to the kids. I would much rather play a non-conference game in-state, or at least in-region."

For Thompson, a guarantee game last season might have made the difference between a 5-6 season and a 6-5 season. And as any coach will tell you, that's a big difference.

Coaches from Dabo Swinney to Nick Saban know that an occasional cupcake tastes good. The Citadel ought to try one.

SoCon So Far

• Citadel safety Sean-Thomas Faulkner earned SoCon special teams player-of-the-week honors after blocking two punts at Elon, both leading to touchdowns. The redshirt sophomore now has four blocked punts in his career.

• Two weeks into the season, the most surprising result has been Wofford's inexplicable performance in a 28-13 loss at S.C. State in the season opener. Wofford, the consensus pick to win the SoCon again, built its success under Mike Ayers by running the ball, option style. The Terriers threw 23 passes against S.C. State, and had four of them intercepted. Coach Josh Conklin had an open date last week to figure things out before facing Samford this week.

• Western Carolina QB Tyrie Adams, the SoCon preseason offensive player of the year, was among four Catamounts suspended for last week's game against N.C. State. WCU (0-2) hosts North Greenville this week.

Each Tuesday during the season, Jeff Hartsell gives his take on Citadel football. Reach Jeff Hartsell at 843-937-5596. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_fromthePC

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