While JMU’s battle for bowl eligibility may head to court, the Dukes will put their undefeated season on the line Saturday against rival Appalachian State. The 6-4 Mountaineers, winners of three in a row, are a stern test for the 10-0 Dukes.
The Sun Belt clash will receive a national spotlight, with ESPN’s College GameDay in Harrisonburg. JMU’s bowl eligibility will be a talking point during the three-hour pregame broadcast, as the off-the-field legal fight is drawing headlines.
As for the on-field matchup, it’s one with major Sun Belt East implications.
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App State, East Champ?
If JMU isn’t granted bowl eligibility, the Dukes won’t play in the Sun Belt Championship. That means if App State wins out and Coastal Carolina loses to JMU in its season finale, the Mountaineers will represent the Sun Belt East in the league title game.
Despite being just 6-4 on the season – App State fans expect more from the program, especially coming off a 6-6 season in 2022 – the Mountaineers have a chance for a special finish to the season. The recipe for upsetting JMU will come down to the passing game.
Quarterback Joey Aguilar ranks in the top 15 nationally in passing efficiency, having thrown for more than 2,500 yards to go with 26 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. JMU’s defense is stout, but the Dukes’ strength is stopping the run.
Utah State and Virginia, the two teams to score more than 30 points against JMU this season, did so with the passing attack. UVA threw for 377 yards, while Utah State racked up 402 yards through the air.
If there’s a way to move the ball against JMU, it’s through the air. Aguilar will present a notable test for JMU’s secondary, and there’s a path for App State to score enough to win Saturday.
JMU’s passing offense has also been one of the best in the Sun Belt, and quarterback Jordan McCloud threw for 457 yards and four touchdowns last week against UConn. App State’s passing defense is its strength. If the Mountaineers can limit McCloud, they’ll have a chance Saturday.
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Dukes Eye 12-0 Record
The Dukes have arguably the most complete team in the Sun Belt. The offense is stacked with all-conference caliber players like McCloud and wide receivers Reggie Brown and Elijah Sarratt. The defense, even without injured sacks leader Jalen Green, is impressive up front and linebackers Jailin Walker and Aiden Fisher are playing well. The secondary, while sometimes a weakness, has improved notably since September.
Even JMU’s special teams unit, with kicker Camden Wise and punter Ryan Hanson, is one of the best in the conference.
JMU is capable of taking down App State at home, but the Dukes’ success Saturday may come down to blocking out distractions. With potential legal action surrounding bowl eligibility and College GameDay’s visit being the talk of the town, it’ll be a challenge for college players to block out the noise and focus on a quality opponent.
If JMU can successfully avoid outside distractions, the Dukes have the team to finish the season 12-0.