#12 James Madison FCS Football 2016 Preview

James Madison Dukes
Overall Rank: #12
#3 CAA
James Madison looked like they were the team to beat in the FCS last season until an injury to quarterback Vad Lee derailed their season. The Dukes still finished 9-3, but fell in their playoff opener to Colgate 44-38. Now Lee is gone and is so head coach Everett Withers, who is off to try his luck in the FBS at Texas State. James Madison went out and picked up one of the hottest coaches in the FCS in Mike Houston. Houston spent the last couple of years turning The Citadel into serious contenders in the SoCon.
2015 Record: 9-3, 6-2
2015 Postseason: FCS Playoffs
Coach: Mike Houston (0-0 at James Madison, 43-19 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Donnie Kirkpatrick
Defensive Coordinator: Bob Trott
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Cardon Johnson, RB, 1,037 yards
Passing: Bryan Schor, QB, 847 yards
Receiving: Brandon Ravenel, WR, 683 yards
Tackles: Kyre Hawkins, LB, 95
Sacks: Andrew Ankrah, DE, 10.5
Interceptions: Taylor Reynolds, CB, 3
Other Key Returnees: RB Khalid Abdullah, WR Rashard Davis, WR Domo Taylor, WR Ishmael Hyman, OL Mitch Kirsch,  LB Gage Steele, S Raven Greene, S Jordan Brown, S Marcell Johnson, P Gunnar Kane
Key Losses: QB Vad Lee, TE Deane Cheatham, DL Alex Mosley
The spread offense will still be going strong at JMU. Bryan Schor will take over the quarterback duties after replacing Lee when he was hurt. In eight games last season, four of which were starts, Schor threw for 847 yards and seven touchdowns with just one interception. He also ran for 276 yards and four scores. Schor may not be as efficient or prolific as Lee, but he is a good quarterback. Brandon Ravenel, Rashard Davis, Domo Taylor and Ishmael Hyman lead a deep, talented and experienced group of receivers. But it is the running game where James Madison usually excels and they will again in 2016. Running back Cardon Johnson rushed for 1,037 yards and ten touchdowns, while Khalid Abdullah added 975 yards and 13 scores. Those two will get a ton of carries as it is, but they could do even more if Schor has any trouble passing the ball.
The Dukes defense was a mess at times last season. In their three losses, the James Madison offense scored 49 points, 41 points and 38 points. That is a lot of points to score and still lose. Most opponents had an easy time running through the JMU defense and that is something that must be fixed. The numbers should improve as Coach Houston likely slows down the offense a little, but that alone does not solve the run defense problems. Still, there is a lot of talent in the front seven. Andrew Ankrah totaled 10.5 sacks last season and is ready for a big year. Kyre Hawkins and Gage Steele were the team’s top two tacklers a year ago and will lead the linebacker corps. The secondary was solid in 2015 and cornerback Taylor Reynolds is poised for a big senior season. With Raven Green, Jordan Brown and Marcell Johnson also returning, the secondary should be in great shape.
The Bottom Line:
If the run defense does not improve and Schor has trouble running the offense for a full season, James Madison could be in trouble. However, Schor has enough experience now and we have seen that he can get the job done. The schedule is pretty tough though. Starting on October 8th, James Madison plays William & Mary, New Hampshire, Richmond and Villanova in a five game stretch and William & Mary is the only game among those at Bridgeforth Stadium. That will be the stretch of games where it will not only make or break the team’s CAA title hopes, but also make or break James Madison’s playoff hopes.
Projected Postseason: FCS Playoffs
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 273.8 (7th in nation, 1st in conference)
Passing Offense: 255.0 (32, 2)
Total Offense: 528.8 (2, 1)
Scoring Offense: 44.3 (2, 1)
Rushing Defense: 197.6 (87, 10)
Pass Defense: 205.9 (50, 8)
Total Defense: 403.5 (77, 10)
Scoring Defense: 28.7 (77, 11)
Turnover Margin: 0.42 (30, 4)
Sacks: 2.25 (42, 4)
Sacks Allowed: 1.50 (38, 2)
Madness 2016 Recruit Rankings:
#53 Cole Johnson
#59 Logan Blake
#94 Ronde Knowles-Tener
#156 Zaire Bethea
#171 D.J. Daniels