Nothing like top FCS teams giving upper-echelon FBS programs on notice. It happened not long ago for James Madison, knocking off 13th-ranked Virginia Tech in 2010, 21-16.
The Dukes have been one of the most consistently well-performing teams in FCS overshadowed by its midwestern competitors. Now, JMU has a chance to put itself back on the map with a trip to face West Virginia on Saturday afternoon.
The matchup pits a pair of first-year coaches against each other — Curt Cignetti for the Dukes and Neal Brown for the Mountaineers.
James Madison at West Virginia
Saturday, August 31, 2 p.m. EST
Milan Puskar Stadium, Morgantown, West Virginia
*All odds and betting info courtesy of OddsShark and originally posted by Bookmaker
Spread: West Virginia (-7.5 at -120)
Although the Will Grier era at West Virginia is over, there’s a fair amount of excitement about Austin Kendall. The Oklahoma transfer has been named the starter and is set to show he is among college football’s best.
To get his feet wet he can hand the ball to his top running back, senior Kennedy McKoy. Racking up 802 yards last season (5.5 per carry) and eight scores, he is ready to embrace a fuller workload if he needs to.
West Virginia had one of the top offenses in the nation last year and will look to replicate that success with a larger emphasis on variety between passing and rushing.
The Dukes face an FBS opponent that is 19-0 against the FCS all-time. That includes two wins over JMU by the Mountaineers.
But James Madison is much improved, boasting a strong offensive line that could factor as one of the top units in the country. Their offense was far from electric last year but wasn’t bad, averaging a shade over 400 yards per game. That included 365 yards in a tough game with NC State.
Defensively, however, the Dukes were sixth-best in FCS allowing under 300 yards of total offense per game. All of their top contributors are back, including leading tackler Dimitri Holloway and top sack man John Daka both setting the edge. The two combined for 29 tackles for a loss.
Both these teams have been trending with the over in their recent games. JMU has gone over five of their last six games and five of their last six on the road. The same goes for West Virginia, going over five of their last six games.
James Madison and West Virginia both boasted strong offenses last year, but with the Mountaineers moving on to Austin Kendall at quarterback, it’s still uncertain whether we’ll see Will Grier-level efficiency in the passing game.
The Dukes counter with Ben DiNucci under center. The former Pitt Panther is looking to revive his career as a redshirt senior and has already impressed opposing coaches.
It could be a quarterback coming-out party for both sides with tons of passing, so go with the over. And in all honesty, an upset here wouldn’t be such a surprise and is actually expected by some pundits.
Pick: The spread suggests West Virginia, but it may be closer than the spread indicates. Either way, take James Madison (+7.5) against the spread where they are 8-3 in their last 11 games.