The three-week build between the FCS semifinals and title game can drag on for fans, but for James Madison and North Dakota State, they're going to squeeze every hour out of it to their advantage. In our article earlier this week, we pointed out the long list of key injuries for both teams.
[divider]COMPARE: FCS Players | FCS Teams[divider]
That list looks to be getting smaller as the championship nears Jan. 6.
Perhaps the biggest news from the Dec. 28 teleconference between the two head coaches was Chris Klieman saying NDSU starting cornerbacks Jalen Allison and Jaylaan Wimbush have a chance to return after sustaining knee injuries in the semifinals. Now, whether that means they are doubtful, questionable or probable is going to kept within the NDSU locker room. But the fear of ACL tears and/or surgery was put to rest.
MORE FROM THE COACHES:
JMU COACH HOUSTON: Respect, Confidence Carry Over from NDSU Win in 2016
NDSU COACH KLIEMAN: 'Never Forget Why You Play the Game'
As of right now, the Bison will start Marquise Bridges, a converted wide receiver, and true freshman Josh Hayes on the outside.
"The next guy has to be ready to play," Klieman said. "Marquise Bridges had two picks in the semifinal game. We think he's a tremendous player that's starting to finally come into his own. We're excited about Josh Hayes, a young player that's done a really nice job. We think we'll get (backup corner) Dom Davis back, and we'll get an outside chance of getting both Jalens back."
The next-man-up mentality is something both head coaches are getting used to expressing when talking to media. Klieman pointed out their emphasis on building depth during the offseason. And JMU head coach Mike Houston said both programs have been able to sustain success even with the amount of injuries because of the way they recruit.
"I think it probably speaks to two things," he said. "Number one, it speaks to the really solid job in recruiting that both coaching staffs have done to build the depth on our rosters to be able to handle the significant injuries that both of us have had. I think that says a lot about the two institutions as well because we are able to recruit enough high-caliber players to be able to withstand that."
"I think the second thing, and maybe more importantly, is I think it speaks to the culture within both programs," Houston continued. "I think both programs probably have a similar mindset as it's a team-oriented, unified group where everybody understands that the success of the team is the most important thing. Everybody's going to be ready for the day when their number is called. Everybody's important, everybody has value, everybody's a contributor."
Klieman also used a vague "outside chance" when talking about the availability of running back Ty Brooks, who suffered a shoulder injury in the semifinals. Houston offered even less details after he said the Dukes will get a few players back.
When asked to be specific, he said "No, there's no chance."
The injury report will most likely be tight-lipped until next Saturday morning. But there's no doubt each team will be feeling their most fresh since August.