I’ve never been the superstitious type. If I get the chance, I'll walk under a ladder just to screw with a particularly worrisome friend.
But hey, I get that I’m different. Many fans need to feel personally connected to what’s happening on the field, so I don’t bat an eye when Gina from Accounting blinks three times and spits on the ground every time her favorite team lines up for a field goal.
Here’s the thing — I don’t want to be the one that gets blamed for jinxing JMU because I talked up how good the Dukes are on the Internet.
I mean, James Madison looks like it could be pretty good again. The roster? The coaching staff? The pedigree? For the fourth-straight year, the potential for the Dukes is awfully high.
But that’s reality. In this piece, we’re talking about superstition.
With that in mind, I’m signing on for the 2017 season as a fatalist. I'm going to reverse-jinx JMU to a 15-0 record. From now until Frisco, keep those expectations low, because the Dukes might not win a single game. I give you my Week 1 masterpiece:
Doomed Dukes: Why JMU will totally lose at East Carolina
East Carolina is in a wildly better position to beat JMU this Saturday. That’s not my opinion. That’s a fact.
Madison has six players suspended and two more important players (right tackle Tyree Chavious and reserve cornerback/special team stud Charles Tutt) lost to injury for the season.
One of those suspended players? All-American Jonathan Kloosterman.
That’s all before you factor in ECU’s 22 additional scholarships, their underrated home-field advantage in Greenville and a roster full of FBS-quality players who are tired of hearing how they’re now a four-point underdog to a freaking FCS school.
But hey. Don’t take it from me.
“I don’t know how in the world we’re favored in this game,” said JMU coach Mike Houston on the CAA media teleconference on Monday. “They have a budget that dwarfs ours, so with the resources they have, there’s no comparison. I just don’t understand how exactly someone would say we’re favored.”
Houston reiterated this idea the following day at a press luncheon in Harrisonburg.
“I think the resources they have at their disposal, just the scholarships alone, 85 versus 63. That gives them a full extra [player] on the depth chart across the board. I saw something the other day about how they have 14 d-linemen ready to play on Saturday; I don’t have 14 d-linemen on the roster, let alone 14 that can play. I think that could, maybe in the second half, be a factor…. You hope it doesn’t end up being a factor, but it could be.”
Plenty of football analysis is opinion, but this much is inarguable: ECU has more resources at its disposal for this game, while JMU is down to a roster that’s around the size of an NFL team.
There’s another point to consider as well. East Carolina doesn’t just have more resources — they have more to play for.
Should JMU lose this game, players and fans will be disappointed but the Dukes will still be a top-5 team in the FCS polls. They’ll still have the entire CAA slate in front of them, and they’ll still be National Championship contenders.
East Carolina? After friends and family are done looking at crestfallen photos of players taken right after the game, all neatly collated under #FeartheFCS on Twitter and Instagram, the Pirates get to pack up and head to Morgantown for a date with a ranked West Virginia team.
After that? Ranked Virginia Tech.
After that? Ranked South Florida.
For the Dukes, this game is for bonus points, bragging rights, and a lot of Chipotle bowls.
For the Pirates? This game is for the soul of the entire team. You think any of those ECU players want to finish September 0-4 with a loss to an FCS team, staring down the barrel of nine or ten more weeks of football?
Then there's the small matter of actual X’s and O’s. Last season, JMU blew past a series of mostly one-dimensional teams with a dominant run game and an explosive pass game. The defense played lights out the last six games, too.
This weekend? Don’t expect JMU to smother ECU receiver Jimmy Williams, who’s on the watch list for the Biletnikoff Award. Bracket coverage won’t stop this kid. I doubt JMU will have any sort of special defensive plans for him. He’ll probably go for 400 yards.
When the Dukes are on offense, East Carolina’s new additions along the defensive line could overwhelm JMU’s offensive line, which is still a bit of a mystery at this point. Madison might have a talented, elusive quarterback and an All-American left tackle, but there’s really no reason to think they’ll be able to handle a pass rush on the road.
At the end of the day, East Carolina has more to play with, and they have more to play for. JMU may very well have a better starting 22, but East Carolina has big advantages in nearly every other category. With concerns over depth and ECU’s dangerous passing game, it feels pretty safe to say it…
It’s Week 1 at ECU, and the Dukes are doomed.