HERO Sports welcomes you to "Two-a-Days", where we will preview every single one of the 125 FCS programs, with two being released each day from June 18 to August 18 (with the final day having three in one day). Today we give you … James Madison.
James Madison (14-1 IN 2017)
Colonial Athletic Association (JMU was 1st in 2017)
COACH: Mike Houston – 3rd year (28-2)
2017 OFFENSE: 34.4 ppg. (15th in FCS)
2017 DEFENSE: 11.1 ppg. (1st in FCS)
SUM IT UP: Since Mike Houston started coaching in Harrisonburg, JMU has won more than 90% of its games, beaten an FBS school by 20, produced a dozen All-Americans and played in two straight national championship games. Now, after the departure of what some believe to be the best class in school history, JMU will need to replace a large portion of its 2017 cast of playmakers — particularly on offense. Fortunately for the Dukes, there's still a metric ton of talent left on the roster.
The strength of the team is its deep stable of runningbacks that includes sixth-year senior Cardon Johnson and former Georgia Tech stud Marcus Marshall. The defensive backfield could prove to be the best unit on the field, with preseason All-Americans Rashad Robinson, Jimmy Moreland and D'Angelo Amos all back. Throwing the ball against the Dukes' 4-2-5 base defense will remain extremely difficult.
Among the Dukes' departures are left tackle Aaron Stinnie, CAA Defensive Player of the Year Andrew Ankrah and quarterback Bryan Schor, just to name a few. The offensive line will need to reshape itself, and either Cole Johnson or Ben DiNucci will have big shoes to fill under center. There are clearly defined wrinkles that Houston will need to iron out in his third year.
Regardless, JMU should remain one of the two premiere programs in FCS football. In the 30 games since the start of the 2016 season, Madison is 17-1 when winning the turnover battle and 17-0 when averaging at least 4.5 yards per carry. There are certainly holes to address in Harrisonburg, but those two key elements should remain as strong as ever.
BEST-CASE SCENARIO: JMU embarks on a successful revenge tour, beating North Dakota State in Frisco and avenging its loss in last season's title game. Madison has likely already established itself as one of the two best brands in FCS Football, at least in the short term. Another championship would be valuable in and of itself, but it would also reinforce the Dukes' legacy as a historical fixture in this era of FCS History. Another title win, particularly against a North Dakota State team that appears to be the clear No. 1 team at the start of the season, would stamp the adolescent Dukes-Bison rivalry as historically significant.
TOP RETURNEE: DB Rashad Robinson (All-American Cornerback, 7 INT's in 2017).
THE NEXT FIVE: WR Riley Stapleton (428 Receiving Yards in 2017 Playoffs); DL Darrious Carter (Third-Team All-CAA, 8.5 sacks in 2017); RB Marcus Marshall (850 Rush Yards, 5.9 ypc); OL Mac Patrick (15 starts at Center in 2017); DB Jimmy Moreland (First-Team All-CAA, 8 INT's in 2017).
TOP NEWCOMER: WR Edward Morgan (JuCo Transfer).
DID YOU KNOW?: JMU's John C. Wells hybrid planetarium is one of the most technologically advanced planetariums on Earth and can show visitors what the night sky looks like at any place on Earth, at any point in the year.
THE QUOTE: "We're excited about the quality of the class. We feel we got really top-end players and top-end people. We try to always field a team that is one of the best in our conference and these players will allow us to stay there. It's very important for us to recruit our home state and the Commonwealth of Virginia is our priority. We put our actions where are words are by signing nine of 16 from Virginia." -Head Coach Mike Houston, on JMU's incoming recruiting class.
SOCIAL MEDIA SPOTLIGHT
THE HASHTAG: #GoDukes
FOOTBALL TWITTER: @JMUFootball
— James Madison Athletics (@JMUSports) July 6, 2018