#2 James Madison 2018 FCS Football Preview

James Madison Dukes
Overall Rank: #2
#1 CAA
 James Madison Logo
James Madison has elevated its program to the point where its right there with North Dakota State as one of the elite programs in all of FCS football. The Dukes fell just short of repeating as national champions in 2017 as they lost 17-13 to the Bison in Frisco, Texas. Head Coach Mike Houston and his staff have established a culture of excellence that should thrive in 2018 despite having to reload with some new talent on defense.
2017 Record: 14-1, 8-0
2017 Postseason: National Championship Game vs. North Dakota State (L 13-17)
Coach: Mike Houston (28-2 at James Madison, 71-21 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Donnie Kirkpatrick
Defensive Coordinator: Bob Trott
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Marcus Marshall, RB, 850 yards
Passing: Cole Johnson, QB, 141 yards
Receiving: Riley Stapleton, WR, 615 yards
Tackles: Jimmy Moreland, DB, 68
Sacks: Darrious Carter, DL, 8.5
Interceptions: Jimmy Moreland, DB, 8
Other Key Returnees: OL Jahee Jackson, RB Trai Sharp, RB Cardon Johnson, WR David Eldridge, P Harry O’Kelly, DB Rashad Robinson, K Ethan Ratke, TE Clayton Cheatham
Key Losses: QB Bryan Schor, WR Terrance Alls, LB Kyre Hawkins, S Raven Greene, S Jordan Brown, LB Brandon Hereford, OL Aaron Stinnie
Running the football is going to be crucial for James Madison as Marcus Marshall and Trai Sharp are the best 1-2 combination at running back in the CAA. Marshall rushed for 850 yards on 5.9 yards per carry and eleven touchdowns. Sharp rushed for 759 yards while averaging 4.7 yards per carry with four touchdowns. Quarterback must be addressed with the loss of Bryan Schor to graduation. Ben DiNucci is a transfer from Pittsburgh and he will compete with Cole Johnson and Hunter Etheridge for the starting job. Riley Stapleton and David Eldridge are rock solid wide receivers that combined for 84 receptions, 1,148 yards and nine touchdowns in 2017. Clayton Cheatham made a strong first impression as a freshman at tight end last season. Cheatham caught four touchdown passes out of his eight receptions in 2017. The offensive line will be led by Jahee Jackson, who started 13 games at right tackle and should take an even bigger step forward in his junior season.
The Dukes were outstanding defensively in 2017 as they limited teams to just 11.1 points per game and 90.5 rushing yards per game. Forcing turnovers was another strength for James Madison in 2017. They had 31 interceptions and 44 total forced turnovers last season. Rashad Robinson is a top candidate for the Buck Buchanan Award this season as the FCS Defensive Player of the Year. Robinson had 51 tackles, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble, seven interceptions, and nine pass breakups. Jimmy Moreland is another ballhawk at the other cornerback position and will be looking to build off an eight-interception season in 2017. Darrious Carter will be the primary pass rusher for the Dukes this season as Carter picked up 54 tackles in 2017, including 8.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. Ethan Ratke is back at kicker and Ratke made 14 of 18 field goals and will be pushed by Jon Gray for the starting job. Harry O’Kelly returns as the starting punter in 2018. O’Kelly averaged 41.3 yards per punt as freshman last season and did a great job of flipping field position by landing 25 punts inside the 20-yard line.
The Bottom Line:
A trip to Raleigh to play NC State will kickoff the 2018 season for the Dukes. The Wolfpack return quarterback Ryan Finley on offense so this opener will be a great stress test for James Madison’s defense. The next major test for the Dukes will happen on September 29th as a road trip to Richmond will be a key one in deciding the CAA championship race. Stony Brook comes to Bridgeforth Stadium on October 27th to start off a two-game stretch that will most likely dictate whether James Madison finishes with a top four seed in the FCS playoffs. The other game in this stretch is a trip to New Hampshire that could be the place where the Dukes see their conference win streak end. It could end against the Wildcats because it’s a game on the road in early November with the potential for horrendous weather in New Hampshire. Bottom line, James Madison should win ten regular season games and have a top three seed in the FCS Playoffs this season.
Projected Postseason: FCS Playoffs
2017 Team Stats
Rushing Offense: 194.3 (25th in nation, 1st in conference)
Passing Offense: 224.7 (41, 4)
Total Offense: 419.0 (30, 2)
Scoring Offense: 34.4 (15, 1)
Rushing Defense: 90.5 (7, 2)
Pass Defense: 161.5 (10, 1)
Total Defense: 252.0 (3, 1)
Scoring Defense: 11.1 (1, 1)
Turnover Margin: 1.47 (3, 1)
Sacks: 3.40 (5, 1)
Sacks Allowed: 2.40 (77, 7)
HERO Sports 2018 Recruit Rankings:
#25 Reggie Brown
#55 Willie Drew
#73 Amelio Moran
#87 Devin Ravenel
#117 Que Reid
#148 Henry Schroeder
#219 Mateo Jackson