Reigning FCS champion James Madison opens their 2017 title-defense season this Saturday at FBS foe East Carolina. It will be the first meeting between the two programs, and promises to be shootout. Our FCS experts preview the game and predict the final score below.
Check back next week for their predictions on James Madison vs. ETSU.[divider]
If JMU was playing that great East Carolina team from 2014, I might feel a bit differently about this game being a no-brainer for JMU. But ECU has had a tough run of things the past two seasons — winning only eight total games. On the flip side, James Madison may be slightly better than the FCS championship team from a year ago. I think this is one FCS over FBS win you can count on this weekend.
FCS teams are supposed to lose to FBS teams. Whether it's the lack of scholarships or the undersized linemen in the trenches, the deck is stacked against the little guys.
Luckily for JMU, the Dukes aren't a typical FCS team, and Bryan Schor isn't your average FCS quarterback. I don't think there's a team on the Dukes' schedule that's better than them, and that includes ECU.
I expect the Pirates to improve in 2017, but they'll walk the plank on Sept. 2.
Riding high off a national championship, plenty of JMU fans know East Carolina was hot garbage last year (three wins) and expect a bloodbath this Saturday.
That seems highly unlikely. ECU has 22 more scholarships to play with than JMU. Coach Mike Houston was right to underscore the difference in resources between the two schools earlier this week. Greenville is a tough place to play, even before you consider JMU's six suspended players and two critical season-ending injuries from this past summer.
Still, I think JMU takes this one in a tightly-contested affair. ECU has some nice pieces, but I think JMU's starting 22 will be better than the Pirates' starting 22. Fatigue will probably play a part down the stretch, but ultimately, I trust Houston and Bryan Schor more than I trust a reconstituted East Carolina team.
Upsetting an FBS program is always a daunting task for an FCS squad, but JMU is one of a few teams in the FCS who has done it before and has done it on multiple occasions (i.e vs SMU ’15, vs. VT ’10).
Though ECU does have better size and depth on their roster (as you might expect from an FCS program), I don’t believe the difference is significant enough to make the Pirates an overwhelming favorite. The Pirates’ front seven has to stop the relentless ground attack of the Dukes if they are going to win.
For JMU, success running the football will open up windows in the passing game for senior quarterback Bryan Schor. I think JMU will win that battle, running the ball effectively and dictating the time of possession, keeping ECU’s high-flying offense off the field. I like JMU in the upset this week as they start their National Championship defense.
There aren't any official betting lines for this JMU-ECU matchup, but many are predicting a Dukes road win. Coach Houston was incredulous at the idea of JMU being favored against East Carolina. I get it. JMU only fields 63 scholarships against ECU’s 85, is playing on the road, and is having to deal with some continuity issues with graduation and coaching changes.
In all reality, the FBS team playing at home should be favored in this game even if that team went 3-9 a year ago. That being said, that same 3-9 ECU team also beat North Carolina State — so it wasn’t without talent.
I very much believe JMU can compete in this game and even win it. They hung with North Carolina far longer than I anticipated in last year’s FBS game and this Pirates team isn’t nearly as good as last season's Tar Heels.
My worries come down to a couple of things. First, I’m a big believer in continuity of the offensive line. JMU had to replace three starters from last year’s team and one candidate to replace some of that depth, Tyree Chavious, is out for the season. The second worry is replacing the production at wide receiver and tight end. Bryan Schor lost Brandon Ravenel, Domo Taylor, and Rashard Davis to graduation, and Terrence Alls and Jonathan Kloosterman to suspension. That’s 186 catches for 2,741 yards and 23 touchdowns from last season’s top five receivers missing this week.
All that being said, I can’t shake the fact that I’m an optimist and a homer. I’m taking the Dukes.