James Madison hasn't had a losing season since 2002 when the Dukes went 5-7. This program is accustomed to winning.
There have been I-AA/FCS national championships, deep playoff runs, wins over big-time programs (Virginia Tech anyone?), and general excellence in front of good-sized home crowds. Last year the Dukes would have been in a bowl game at 8-3 if they'd been allowed to (NCAA transitional rule for teams moving from the FCS to FBS), and that will continue for one final year. But JMU fits comfortably into the top conference at this level and will figure prominently into the final standings.
JAMES MADISON 2023 PREVIEW
THE CONF.: Sun Belt Conference (East Division)
2022 RECORD: 8-3 (not eligible in 2022 or 2023 for a bowl game due to FCS to FBS transition rules, unless there aren't enough eligible teams in the FBS to fill all spots)
CONF. FINISH: 6-2 in East Division (Co-Division Champion with Coastal Carolina)
HEAD COACH: Curt Cignetti (41-8 in 4 yrs at school; 108-34 career in 12 years, including FCS Elon and D-II Indiana University-Pennsylvania)
ALL-STAR CANDIDATES: Nick Kidwell, Sr./OL (48 career games at JMU); James Carpenter, Jr./DT (19 career TFLs, 88 tackles); LB Taurus Jones, Soph./LB (82 tackles, 10.5 TFLs); Tanner Morris, Jr./C (21 career games at JMU); Jailin Walker, Soph./LB (63 tackles); Zach Horton, Soph./TE (13 catches, 2 TDs).
THE NEWCOMER: Elijah Sarratt, Soph./WR (700 yards receiving, 13 TDs at FCS Saint Francis).
It is a travesty that transitioning clubs aren't automatically allowed to participate in the postseason, but that's the rule. JMU is clearly good enough to do it. Names like Latrele Palmer and Solomon Vanhorse are well-known in the offensive backfield, as is junior Nick Kidwell on the O-line. On defense, LB Taurus Jones, NG James Carpenter, and DB/LB hybrid Chris Chuckwuneke will be key returnees after being cornerstone starters last year. These guys know how to win.
As usual, JMU abides by the template adage in sports of reloading, not rebuilding. That will be the case this year. While the Dukes very likely can't be in a bowl game, they'd love nothing less than to screw up the seasons of the teams who are penciled in to be there.
THE KEY GAME AND WHY
Playing at Virginia in Charlottesville on Sept. 9 is a no-brainer, as James Madison can clearly play with the ACC's Cavaliers. But when it comes to league games? Playing host to potential non-autonomy/G5 South Alabama on Sept. 30 will really tell us where the Dukes are in 2023, with the game at Troy on Sept. 16 being a close second. Both are key measuring sticks for the program.
THE TOUGHEST GAME AND WHY
I'll go with that road trip game to Troy on Sept. 16. Both of these programs have fringe AP Top 25 hopes, and this could be that type of game that helps decide if either is worthy.
THE CHANCES OF MAKING CONF. TITLE GAME
Slim to none. JMU isn't allowed to play in the postseason this year (unless there aren't enough bowl-eligible teams) based on transition rules put out by the NCAA.
James Madison is well-coached and seems primed to repeat its 8-3 season of a year ago, and realistically it could be better than that. The Dukes will continue to attract recruits and will be a serious factor in the Sun Belt Conference in the coming years when the postseason ban isn't in place.
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