#5 James Madison FCS Football 2012 Preview

George Hammond

James Madison Dukes

Overall Rank: #5
#1 Colonial

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James Madison Team Page

JMU averaged 25,002 fans per home game in 2011 and the Dukes figure to pack Bridgeforth Stadium again this season as expectations are running high in Harrisonburg, VA. The Dukes return 17 starters, including four preseason All-CAA selections. JMU is coming off eight straight winning seasons and a berth in the second round of the 2011 FCS playoffs. The Dukes toppled Eastern Kentucky 20-17 in the first round before losing to eventual national champion North Dakota State 26-14 in Fargo, ND. JMU was selected third, getting one first-place vote, in the CAA preseason coaches’ poll. Towson and Old Dominion were picked ahead of the Dukes. JMU has an interesting neutral-site contest with Big 12 Conference power West Virginia scheduled for September 15. The contest will be played at FedEx Field in Washington, D.C.

2011 Record: (8-5, 5-3)
2011 Postseason: FCS Playoffs
Coach: Mickey Matthews (96-61 at JMU, 96-61 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Jeff Durden
Defensive Coordinator: Kyle Gillenwater
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Dae’Quan Scott, RB, 1,304 yards
Passing: Justin Thorpe, QB, 872 yards
Receiving: Brian Barlow, WR, 316 yards
Tackles: Stephon Robertson, LB, 113 tackles
Sacks: Tyler Snow, LB, 4
Interceptions: Dean Marlowe, CB, 4

Other Key Returnees: OG Earl Watford, S Jakarie Jackson, DL Tyler Snow, P David Skahn, DE Adrian Cavanaugh, LB Chase Williams, DE Aaron Harper, C Chris Beaver, RB Jordan Anderson

Key Losses: DE D.J. Bryant, DT Lamar Middleton, WR Kerby Long, CB Taveion Cuffee, SS Vidal Nelson, CB Mike Allen, C Roane Babington

Strengths: Although it lost a couple of key pieces of its defense, JMU should be solid again on that side of the football. Gone are defensive linemen D.J. Bryant and Lamar Middleton, but the Dukes return standout middle linebacker Stephon Robertson and safety Dean Marlowe among others. Last year, the defense was among the best in the nation as it ranked 11th in total defense and 13th in rushing defense. Robertson was a first-team all-CAA selection last year. Offensively, the running game should be in good shape with the return of Dae’Quan Scott. His 1,304 rushing yards in 2011 ranks third in school history, while his 237 rushing attempts are third and 12 rushing touchdowns are fourth. Quarterback Justin Thorpe also returns after a bumpy 2011 season in which he was suspended for five games for violation of the school’s athletics policy. Thorpe’s presence is crucial to JMU’s success as the Dukes are 11-1 against FCS competition in Thorpe’s last 12 starts.

Weaknesses: Mickey Matthews made no secret that getting consistent play out of his quarterback was a priority in the spring and preseason. From all indications, it sounds like he’s getting that from Justin Thorpe, which is bad news for JMU opponents. Although JMU thinks run first, the Dukes would be happy to see better numbers from their passing game – they were 114th in the nation last year and as a result, their scoring average was 84th in the nation. Perhaps the most balanced team in the CAA, there’s not too much to complain about here.

The Bottom Line: Seventeen starters from both sides of the ball and a returning quarterback without issues — health or otherwise — have ramped up interest in Harrisonburg this fall. The Dukes played well at the end of last season, and quite simply, are due for an outstanding 2013. Many of the tougher CAA teams — Towson and Old Dominion — have to visit Bridgeforth Stadium, and that’s never an easy assignment. Plus, there’s no Delaware or New Hampshire on the slate. JMU does have that contest with West Virginia (Septenber 15 at FedEx Field in Landover, MD), but the final regular-season game against ODU could be the one to circle.  Matthews needs just four victories to reach the 100-win milestone. That should come early in the year as this team appears headed to the playoffs and could make a lengthy run.

Projected Postseason: FCS Playoffs

2011 Team Stats
Rushing Offense: 224.54 (12th in nation, 2nd in conference)
Passing Offense: 126.15 (114, 11)
Total Offense: 348.69 (67, 6)
Scoring Offense: 22.83 (84, 8)
Rushing Defense: 106.77 (13, 1)
Pass Defense: 193.00 (32, 2)
Total Defense: 299.77 (11, 1)
Scoring Defense: 19.62 (16, 1)
Turnover Margin: .31 (40, 5)
Sacks: 3.00 (9, 1)
Sacks Allowed: 2.46 (79, 8T)

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