Hello, dear reader. Every Saturday this fall, I’m going to take a break from my usual college football betting analysis and provide some quick thoughts following that week’s JMU football game.
Unfortunately, no Dukes will be Doomed during the making of this article.
Let’s start the season off right. Here were my six major observations after JMU’s win over Middle Tennessee.
Meet the new Non-Conference Win; Same as the Old Non-Conference Win
Well, so much for an increased level of competition. In its first official game of FBS competition, JMU throttled Middle Tennessee as a 2022 season appetizer.
The Dukes romped to a 37-point win while holding the Blue Raiders to 119 yards of total offense.
As was pointed out throughout the game, it was the sort of win you kind of expect from the Dukes during a typical FCS opener from the last 10-15 years. To see JMU grind an upper subdivision team into a fine powder was a departure from the status quo; it also immediately raised questions about what this team might be capable of with a full Sun Belt schedule in front of it.
Having said that…
Don’t Overreact to a Blowout Win
One of the major themes of JMU’s offseason was that no one really knew what to expect from JMU in its first season of FBS football.
And when I say no one, I really do mean no one. I had Phil Steele on my podcast for BetMGM last week, and even he and his computer models were a little fuzzy on what to expect from JMU. His magazine called for “anywhere from 2 to 10 wins.”
A Middle Tennessee massacre like we saw in Harrisonburg on Saturday night would suggest that JMU might play to the higher side of those projections, but let’s not let our imaginations run wild just yet.
Let’s revisit our old friend, the Sagarin Rankings, which many a JMU fan might recommend to that obnoxious Virginia Tech office colleague in the FCS days of yore.
Jeff Sagarin has MTSU slotted below six of the seven teams in the new Sun Belt East, with No. 124 Old Dominion the only team ranking lower right now. And given the results of the last 48 hours, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sagarin’s Week 1 update moves even the Monarchs ahead of the Blue Raiders.
Here’s the bottom line: let’s leave pronouncements for JMU’s sustained greatness for the Sept. 24 game at Appalachian State. If the Dukes win that one, then you can absolutely go nuts.
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Todd Centeio Looks Like an Absolute Baller
The spectrum of mobile JMU quarterbacks runs from Cole Johnson to Rodney Landers, and recent history has definitely trended toward the Eli Manning side of the spectrum. Schor and Johnson were occasionally effective as striders, but there weren’t exactly a lot of designed runs for either guy. Even Ben DiNucci was more elusive than electric.
Centeio looks like a true dual threat. He looks willing, durable and quick for his size; he understands his running lanes and where his blockers are.
He also looks like a fairly crisp downfield passer, as evidenced by his six touchdown passes.
A Quiet Run Game
It’s tempting to remember JMU’s win as one full of beautiful highlights from Centeio’s passing game, but the Dukes quietly ran the ball 52 times.
There were some nice second-level runs for JMU running backs – particularly in the second half, as Middle Tennessee’s defensive front really started to wear down – but they didn’t really mount any of the typical touchdown explosions.
On the whole, JMU running backs averaged 3.97 yards per carry.
Some credit goes to Middle Tennessee’s defensive front, which did a nice job standing up the JMU offensive line. It seemed like the MTSU game plan was to clog the box and make Centeio pass to win, which he was clearly capable of.
Still, this is one of the biggest differences JMU is likely to see at the FBS level. The talent at the line of scrimmage will be a much stiffer week-to-week challenge.
There’s not much to nitpick after a win like this, but the offensive line will be a group to monitor going forward.
Slightly Less Special Teams
Former placekicker Ethan Ratke and former punter Harry O’Kelly have graduated after long, immortal careers in purple. Replacing them: Camden Wise and Sam Clark, respectively. The latter transferred over from Sacramento State.
Adjusting to the departure of Ratke and O’Kelly is going to take some time. Field goal scenarios are no longer automatic offense, as we saw with a tipped field goal attempt (the only one of the game) at the end of the first drive.
On the plus side: Josh Sarratt, who transferred in from VMI prior to 2021, has moved into the punt return role and looks shifty and dangerous.
JMU Has a Beloved Place in College Football
Social media loved this JMU win, with national pundits jumping on the bandwagon and riffing off the Dukes’ dominance.
Earlier today, College GameDay referenced JMU multiple times, carrying its love affair with the former site into a new season and referring to Madison as a “darling” program.
Whatever else happens, this year and in future years – let’s remember to take in how much fun this has all been. Because trust me: This level of relevance and name ID is not normal for G5 schools. Especially G5 schools that have played a whopping total of 60 minutes at the G5 level.
JMU has its entire FBS career ahead of it. It can be anything it wants to be. One of the best things it can be, though, is an absolute blast for all parties involved.
Not everyone is going to love JMU as an alumnus might, but a whole lot of people find it awfully fun. Let’s make sure it stays that way.