This past college football season, James Madison ended the greatest dynasty we had seen at the FCS level, defeating North Dakota State in the national semifinals. The Dukes ran roughshod over their opponents in the postseason, beating every team by at least 10 points en route to their first FCS title since 2004.
It was a dream debut campaign for head coach Mike Houston, but now the Dukes have a major target on their collective back. Can they survive every school’s best effort and defend their title in 2017?
2016 James Madison Football Season Recap
The Dukes went through the 2016 season undefeated against FCS competition. Outside of a lopsided loss to FBS foe North Carolina, James Madison went unscathed. Only three opponents stayed within a score of the Dukes all season long as the offense was firing on all cylinders.
JMU plays in the Colonial Athletic, which is one of the toughest conferences in the FCS. The Dukes were involved in tough games against New Hampshire, William & Mary, Richmond and Villanova, but they managed to defeat them all. The difficulty of their slate likely prepared them for their postseason success.
Knocking off the team that had won five straight championships certainly turned the heads of the national media. North Dakota State had been historically unbeatable at the Fargodome and had held a 22-game playoff win streak prior to facing James Madison, but the Dukes weren’t scared. They had great success on the ground, and quarterback Bryan Schor was able to find open receivers off of play action.
Perhaps the team’s best performance, though, came in the FCS quarterfinals. The Dukes were facing the best passing attack at the FCS level and completely shut it down. Sam Houston State had torched secondaries all season long but completed just 14 of 51 passes. Meanwhile, JMU’s run game shredded the Bearkats’ defense, laying waste to the front seven to the tune of 356 yards and six touchdowns on the ground.
The pass defense was one of the best in the nation last season. Opposing quarterbacks averaged just 6.13 yards per attempt against the Dukes and threw more interceptions (21) than touchdowns (17).
2017 James Madison Football Season Preview
The Dukes are going to be one of the most well-balanced offenses in the country this upcoming season. Schor is back for his senior year and will be one of the favorites for the Walter Payton Award. He isn’t going to throw a ton, but he is very precise when he does put it in the air. He completed over 73 percent of his passes last year and averaged over 10 yards per attempt.
James Madison has one of the deepest running back corps in the FCS. The Dukes already were going to have a good combination in Cardon Johnson and Trai Sharp, but adding Marcus Marshall makes this unit spectacular. He was one of Georgia Tech’s best running backs in 2015 and 2016, but he wanted to get more playing time and transferred into the school this past December. He has been on campus since January and should be the primary option.
The defense has lost some talent, but it will still be strong in the secondary. All but one of last year’s major contributors will be back for 2017. The unit received a huge boost when it was announced that Raven Greene was given an extra year of eligibility and will be back for one more season. He will pair with Jordan Brown to give opposing quarterbacks nightmares.
2017 James Madison Football Schedule
September 2: James Madison at East Carolina
September 9: James Madison vs. East Tennessee State
September 16: James Madison vs. Norfolk State
September 23: James Madison vs. Maine
September 30: James Madison at Delaware
October 14: James Madison vs. Villanova
October 21: James Madison at William and Mary
October 28: James Madison vs. New Hampshire
November 4: James Madison at Rhode Island
November 11: James Madison vs. Richmond
November 18: James Madison at Elon
FCS Pick ‘Em Games To Watch
Don’t be surprised if James Madison becomes the latest FCS school to take a scalp from an FBS opponent. The Dukes open the season against an East Carolina team that went 3-9 last season and lost 12 starters from that squad. James Madison has far more experience and may even be the favorite to open the year. Take the Dukes in your FCS Pick ‘Em Contests.
Although William & Mary struggled last season, it was the one team that gave James Madison a legitimate fight at home. It was unsurprising considering this rivalry game has typically been close, with the home team winning a nailbiter in each of the last five meetings. The game will be at William & Mary this season and will be the Dukes’ toughest road game against a conference opponent. Fade James Madison in your FCS Pick ‘Em Contests here.