Eight Best Twitter Follows for JMU Football Fans

I wrote a piece with a similar concept early last season, but I’m adding a ranking and hoping to make this an annual tradition. This week’s story is a little bit shorter than usual, as massive explanations for why to follow each account seem unnecessary. The concept is simple: if you’re a JMU football fan, you should follow these accounts.

Let’s get to it.

I’m excluding @JMUFootball and @JMUCoachHouston because they seem too obvious. 

No. 8: TJ Eck – With David DeGuzman leaving WHSV (sad face), Eck steps into the role of sports director. Expect Eck to move up this list next season. I’m slotting him into the No. 8 spot since he’s yet to cover a JMU football season, but I expect great coverage from the Harrisonburg newcomer.

No. 7: Not Mike Houston – He’s funny, he retweets tons of JMU football-related content, and he’ll improve your overall JMU football experience. I wanted to rank him higher, but I’d like to see “Coach” get over 1,000 followers before putting him in the top six.

No. 6: Michael Evangelista – Rarely is a die-hard fan a must-follow, but Michael gets the nod. He’s good for his fair share of trash talk, but he’s knowledgeable when roasting Virginia Tech fans. That’s admirable. Engaging with fans and always down for a conversation about the Dukes, Michael is definitely worth following if you love JMU football.

Also, his pinned tweet is adorable.

No. 5: The Breeze Sports – Full disclosure, I like The Breeze. Regardless of my bias, Blake Pace and Catie Harper are tremendous sports editors, and Kevin Haswell is overseeing all social media this year. Oh, and Matt Weyrich oversees everything. What does this mean for fans? It means you’re going to get a ton of great information all season long.

Articles, videos and tweets. The Breeze’s football coverage improves annually, and I expect more fantastic content next season.

No. 4: Dave ThomasLeaving Dave Thomas off last year’s list is a travesty. I’d argue that he conducts the best interviews of any JMU football media member. He’s engaging, conversational and possesses a special voice. He knows how to get the most out of interviews with players, and he’s incredibly experienced in the sports field.

No. 3: Curt Dudley Curt Dudley once got a paper cut in the MadiZONE booth and started bleeding. I saw purple blood and started to question him. He quickly replied, “That’s weird, it’s normally gold.”

This didn’t actually happen, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it had.

As I said in last year’s article he “eats, sleeps and breathes JMU.” After thinking about this statement and realizing the amount of time he spends working for MadiZONE and tweets about JMU sports, I’m not quite sure he sleeps. Follow Curt if you’re a JMU football fan, or if you appreciate someone dedicated to perfecting his craft and helping others.

No. 2: JMU Sports Blog – Run by two JMU alumni, this account is my personal favorite. Rob Abbott and Todd Davis are funny, intelligent and reasonable fans. Their podcast has featured incredible guests. They’ve had Curt Dudley, Christy Morgan, Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe and me on the podcast. Can you think of four more influential JMU sports figures??

In all seriousness, Rob and Todd are good at what they do. They understand that they’re fans, but they get the bigger picture. They feel the emotions of big wins and tough losses and then put those experiences into words. Speaking of emotions, I get emotional thinking about their account because it genuinely helped shape my JMU experience. They helped foster my relationship with JMU athletics, and I’m incredibly appreciative of what they do. They’re a good guys and a great Twitter follow.

No. 1: Greg Madia – Speaking of good people …

Greg is a special talent. Working for The Breeze was an amazing experience, but you receive a certain level of disrespect from media members and some within the athletic department. It’s understandable. We’re students and we make a lot of mistakes. We also create a lot of phenomenal content. Quick to offer advice and listen attentively, Greg always helps members of The Breeze out. He genuinely cares about helping others and being a nice guy.

His personality is excellent, and his writing might be even better. He covers every aspect of the program. From recruiting to longer features to detailed game recaps, Greg covers the program in its entirety.

If you weren’t on the list, please send me angry tweets.


JMU Should Have a Mandatory Sexual Assault Prevention/Awareness Day

Our lives are defined by moments.

That was the defining idea in “The Power of Moments,” a book by Chip and Dan Heath that I read earlier this summer. I highly recommend reading all of the book, but I’ll keep my summary of the story short and sweet.


Basically, the Heath brothers say life is broken down into two categories. Peaks and pits. Peaks are positive moments. Learning to ride a bike, your first kiss and your wedding day would all be examples of peaks. A death of a loved one, getting fired from a job and being diagnosed with a severe illness would all be pits.


Learning to ride a bike

First kiss

Wedding day


Death of a loved one

Getting fired

Diagnosed with illness

All of these moments have a key element in common: they increase your heart rate by putting something on the line. Remember back to the anxiety and excitement of your first kiss. We tend to cherish peak moments and despise pits because we’re engaged in those moments. Your stomach drops when you hear that your loved one has passed. Your grin widens when you realize the bike is going to stay upright. You’re finally doing it, you’re riding a bike. There’s anxiety in the fact that you could fall of and get hurt. The stakes are raised.

The central idea of these moments is that when our lives come to a close, we only really remember peaks and pits. Nobody remembers the mediocre turkey sandwiches they had for lunch at a summer job or times stubbing their toe. These little moments are memorable in the short-term, but it’s the peaks and pits that truly define our lives.

I love this explanation and take on life. The book continues to explain that people, and businesses, should strive to create peaks. This seems simple enough. The more peaks in your life, the more memorable happy moments you’ve achieved. If you can provide peaks to loved ones and co-workers, chances are your relationships and businesses will thrive. Imagine having the thrill of learning to ride a bike for the first time every single day. That’d be an amazing life.

My not-as-short-as-I-had-hoped summary leads me to this statement: JMU should create a mandatory, campus-wide sexual assault awareness and prevention day. Here’s how it works.

Date: The first Wednesday of every semester.

Explanation: Monday-Wednesday-Friday classes will get their first syllabus day in. The same goes for Tuesday-Thursday classes. Students (likely) won’t have much of any homework to worry about. This also ensures each semester starts by joining everyone together to stand up against sexual assault.

Time: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. with an hour lunch break

Explanation: 10 a.m. is enough time for students to sleep in. The 4 p.m. ending leaves plenty of time to still go out Wednesday night. The hour lunch gives a nice break during what will be a deeply emotional day. It’s a mental break.


10-10:30 a.m.: Opening remarks from President Alger, others that helped put the event together.

10:30-11:15 a.m.: Sexual assault survivors/friends of survivors share their stories.

11:15 a.m. – noon: How can we help? This includes talk on how bystanders can help. The discussion includes prevention as well as an explanation on how to support survivors. Consent should be discussed.

Noon-12:15 p.m.: Break into groups in different areas of campus.

12:15-1 p.m.: How should these incidents be reported? Discuss the reporting process,

1-2 p.m.: Lunch at your respective location.

2-3:30 p.m.: Group discussion. Mandatory topics include consent and resources for survivors. The small group setting allows for people to ask questions comfortably.

3:30-4 p.m.: Group debrief. Talk to your group leader about what did and didn’t go well during the day to improve next semester’s event. All students should also be given avenues to discuss sexual assault further over the course of the semester if they’re interested.


By creating an entire school-sponsored day around sexual assault prevention/awareness you’re sending a very clear message to students that James Madison University does not tolerate sexual assault. The school literally cancels a day of classes to address the issue. All students must attend like an assessment day. It’s doable. It’s a logistical challenge, but it’s worth the challenge.

The chance for sexual assault survivors to speak out both in small groups and on a larger scale is huge. Survivors never lose their voice, but going through a traumatic experience and having to remember that moment repeatedly during an appeals process or even counseling can temporarily dampen the voices of some. This event would give them a platform not just to be heard, but to have us truly listen. In some cases, they’d literally be a given a platform (stage) to stand upon and share their stories. They’d get a chance to have 20,000 kids standing around them saying, “We’re with you.”

In essence, a pit is turned into a peak.

Speaking in front of 20,000 people raises the stakes. There’s nervousness, there’s anxiety, but those emotions allow for the speaker to create a peak by sharing their story and getting supported by every single Duke.

By cancelling class, the stakes are raised for everyone there. This signals that the day matters. It’s not an event on the weekend or an evening discussion at UREC, this is every teacher and student and employee coming together to build a healthier community. When you raise the stakes and show that you care, you’re setting the stage to create a peak.

Imagine a student graduates JMU and they’re asked to share their favorite memory from college. They won’t remember every late night library session or all the Starbucks runs. They’ll remember peaks. JMU football winning the national championship. A memorable snowball fight on the Quad.

Why shouldn’t JMU’s twice annual sexual assault awareness and prevention day also fall on that list?

Life is defined by moments. If I’m JMU, I’d want to create peaks for my students. Right now, many Dukes are in the middle of pits.

JMU, be the change. Create a peak.

Sign my petition to support this idea. 



The 9 Best Things About Attending a Game at Bridgeforth Stadium

Image: Screenshot from visitjmu.com. 

Today marks nine weeks until JMU football starts its 2018 season. As the season approaches, I continue with my weekly countdown until the year kicks off on Sept. 1 with an exciting matchup against North Carolina State. This week’s countdown article shares the nine “best things” about Bridgeforth Stadium.

Disclaimer: This is subjective. If you hate my list, please send me (@BennettConlin) a strongly-worded tweet and we can discuss why you’re actually very, very wrong.

Let’s get to it.

9. Food Race Promotion

Yes, the glorious food race. On Saturdays we all root for lobster, and the poor crustacean almost always falls short. He was able to pull out a victory last year against Maine in a day that will go down as arguably the most important in-game JMU football promotion involving food in the history of the 2017 season.

For those that don’t know what the food races are, a bunch of people dressed up in culinary costumes race across the field. The winning food is then discounted in the fourth quarter. JMU doesn’t normally sell lobster at games (That’s UVA, which sells lobster, caviar and a collection of Vineyard Vines button-down shirts to all seven fans in attendance), so the race is normally rigged against lobster.  If you haven’t seen the race, go to a game and witness the ninth-best part of a JMU football game.

8. The Press Box

This isn’t relatable at all, and I’m spoiled. I feel the need to bring it up regardless. Bridgeforth Stadium’s press box is among the best I’ve ever been to in my time at The Breeze. In a few other press boxes, I feared for my life. The wooden structure at Delaware appeared to be constructed by children in the 1920s. Walking into the press box requires you to get on all fours, get blasted by a shrink ray and then crawl into the wobbly building. The bathroom is a supply closet. How much did I dislike the press box? I would’ve rather stared into Danny Rocco’s horrifyingly bright blue eyes for two hours than go back.

OK, OK, I’m overreacting. Delaware’s press box isn’t that bad, and anyone complaining about covering a national championship-winning football team as a 20-year-old needs a reality check. The point of my overblown rant is that JMU’s press box is top notch. I’d argue it’s better, albeit smaller, than North Carolina’s. Every part of the press box is amazing. From the MadiZONE broadcast booth, to press row to the post-game press conference area, the press box is incredible. It’s an FBS caliber location. As a journalist covering CAA football, I felt incredibly lucky to be at Bridgeforth Stadium so frequently.

7. Duke Dog

Both the real dog and the mascot help add to the special atmosphere. The fun-loving mascot that got robbed out of winning the 2004 Capital One Mascot Challenge makes every JMU moment better. Grab a selfie with him before the end of your college career.

6. JMU Marching Royal Dukes

The Dukes boast a ridiculously talented band to add to the excitement of a fall Saturday in Bridgeforth. Nothing makes a game day better than an MRD rendition of “Start Wearing Purple.”

5. So. Many. Wins. 

Under Mike Houston, JMU has yet to lose at home. Seventeen games. Seventeen wins. 17-0. Fun fact: That’s more home wins than Texas State has total wins (14) in the last four seasons.

4. “First Down, J-M-U Duuuuukes!”

When the Dukes earn a first down, which they frequently do, the sweet, sweet sounds of Curt Dudley echo across the stadium. “First down, J-M-U,” he says as JMU nation responds with a massive “Duuuuuukes!” It’s a great feeling, and one of the little parts of a JMU game that get taken for granted. My advice? Never take Curt Dudley’s voice for granted.

3. Intimate Stadium Atmosphere

Bridgeforth seats about 25,000 people, but sellout crowds feel like more. The student section on a crowded Saturday creates an atmosphere that few FCS venues can replicate. Now, the crowd when the Dukes play Morehead State isn’t quite as intimate, but when big games roll around, Bridgeforth is among the best in the FCS.

2. Staying Past Halftime

Yes, people do this. The wonders of staying past halftime include seeing the end of the game, knowing who wins and not quitting on your fellow students. Contrary to popular belief, alcohol still exists outside the stadium after the conclusion of games. Staying past halftime to see JMU trash teams by 50 is great. Oh, and sometimes this happens.

The second half of JMU football games is worth the wait. Stick around for the whole game.

1. Streamers

This is an easy choice — unless you work for the NCAA. There’s no better tradition than throwing streamers at games. Whether you’re into football or not, there’s something satisfying about throwing a streamer across the sky. It’s fun for people of all ages, and it means the Dukes just did something well. Throwing streamers is peak JMU. It’s an incredible experience and very few people across the country are aware of it. Much like the school itself, streamers are a hidden gem.

JMU football’s 10 best players entering the 2018 season

With just under 10 weeks until the start of JMU football’s 2018 campaign, I’ll begin my weekly countdown until the start of the season. This week, I’ll look at the 10 best players on the Dukes’ roster.

10. Wayne Davis – The Ohio State transfer and former Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year hasn’t played a snap as a Duke, but his talent is undeniable. When the end of the season rolls around, I expect Davis to be one of JMU’s 10 best and I think he begins the year at No. 10.

9. Trai Sharp – Nobody is going to confuse Trai Sharp for Adrian Peterson, but the senior running back is as tough as they come. His toughness as a runner combined with his agility in close corners makes him one of JMU’s 10 best players.

8. Marcus Marshall – While his 2017 campaign wasn’t perfect, Marshall showed flashes of big play ability. He tallied 850 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2017. The only issue headed into 2018 comes in the form of an extremely crowded backfield. With offensive coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick able to ride the hot hand, Marshall’s production may suffer, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t one of JMU’s 10 best players.

7. John Daka – The speedy and athletic defensive end has one sack through two seasons as a Duke. I think Daka has the physical tools, experience in Bob Trott’s system and finally space on the roster to be an impact player off the edge. While it might seem like a lofty goal, I believe 10 sacks are firmly within Daka’s reach in 2018.

6. Riley Stapleton – Despite an unbelievable 2017 postseason, Stapleton is still relatively unproven. If he put together a consistent regular season last year, he’d make a serious case for being No. 1 on this list. Regardless, he has the physical tools to be JMU’s best receivver and the best receiver in the FCS. He may very well end the year as JMU’s best player.

5. Ron’Dell Carter – Redshirt junior Ron’Dell Carter tallied eight tackles for loss last season, including four sacks. He’s an elite physical talent at 270 lbs and has the experience to back it up. Carter anchors the defensive line and possesses the quickness to play multiple positions on the line if needed. He’s one of the best Dukes coming into 2018.

4. Jimmy Moreland – He’s skinny, he’s cocky, he’s Jimmy “Effin” Moreland. Despite being relatively small, Moreland’s competitive nature and speed make him one of the most impactful players in the FCS both offensively and defensively.

3. Cardon Johnson – “The Shining,” a girl telling you “we need to talk” and Cardon Johnson barreling toward you at full speed. These are the three scariest things in the world. If he’s healthy, which at times can be a big if, Johnson is the most impactful player on the roster. With the injury risk playing a factor, I have Johnson at No. 3.

2. Darrious Carter – Pairing Carter and Daka at defensive end is a potentially lethal combination on third-and-long. It’s easy to argue that Carter is JMU’s best returning player. With 14 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks last season, Carter combines elite athleticism with a tremendous understanding of Trott’s scheme. He’s a beast and could be the most talented player on one of the best defensive lines in the country. I have him a close second on my list.

1. Rashad Robinson – He’s as consistent as they come. An interception machine, Robinson also possesses the size to be impactful in press coverage and make tackles in the running game. He’s a lockdown FCS corner. With his consistency and playmaking ability, I’ve got Robinson as JMU’s best player.

Honorable Mentions: Mac Patrick, Dimitri Holloway, Bryce Maginley, Jawon Hamilton and Harry O’Kelly.



SATIRE: New York man jailed for being friendly on public transportation

After lending someone his seat on the MTA, a man was arrested in New York City. The NYPD explained that the man’s offense was particularly reprehensible.

“He willingly gave up his seat to an able-bodied citizen with over 30 minutes left on his commute,” NYPD representatives said. “It’s irresponsible.”

Among those appalled at the man’s actions was New York’s director of public transportation.

“We have strict rules when it comes to riding the MTA,” the director explained. “It’s very clear that you need to manspread across three seats whenever possible. If you have empty seats next to you, it’s best to not look up. Wearing headphones or pretending to sleep in the seat closest to the aisle is recommended.”

While everyone occasionally slips up and shares a smile on their commute, the NYPD had been tracking the defendant’s actions for months. He was a repeated offender.

“At first we thought maybe he was from out of town,” NYPD reps said. “We’ve seen a number of tourists act friendly toward others, but we’ve never seen this from locals and we’ve observed his welcoming tendencies for months. It makes New Yorkers look bad. He once paid for someone’s ticket. What’s next, asking someone how their day is going?”

A NYC woman sat next to the man on multiple occasions and witnessed his repeated good deeds against humanity.

“He said, “Bless you,” when I sneezed,” the woman remembered. “Minutes later he had the nerve to compliment me in a non-sexual way. There was clearly something wrong with him.”

Despite the defendant heading to jail, a number of transportation staffers were distraught upon hearing about the incidents. An MTA conductor explained his disappointment in between train departures.

“It’s just not right,” the conductor said while inhaling deeply to savor the smell of feces and trash filling Grand Central Terminal. “There’s a reason I mumble the name of every stop, and it’s not to help people on the train, I can tell you that much.”

The man’s attorney hopes to use an insanity plea to get his client off the hook.

“A New Yorker being nice?” his attorney scoffed. “We’ve got this in the bag.”



State of the Program: JMU football

If someone told JMU Director of Athletics Jeff Bourne when he hired Mike Houston before the 2016 season that the Dukes would be 28-2 with a national title after two seasons with Houston, Bourne would’ve borrowed President Alger’s cowboy hat and had himself the celebration of a lifetime. Houston has taken JMU football to new heights in his two seasons at the helm. He’s been a breath of fresh air in a storied program that needed a spark.


With all that being said, repeated greatness carries with it massive expectations. JMU fans are coming, if they haven’t already, to expect the Dukes to contend with North Dakota State for a national title every season. At times last year, fans voiced concerns about the 14-1 Dukes and their offense, which wasn’t the same juggernaut as it was in 2016. Never mind the fact that the team finished 15th nationally in scoring at 34.4 points per game. JMU Nation has come to expect success at the highest level.

Despite the occasional complaints, JMU’s football program is at the height of its existence heading into its 47th season thanks to Houston. The Dukes’ defense, which was the team’s glaring weakness under Everett Withers, has thrived under Houston and is one of the nation’s most fearsome units. Offensively, JMU continues to produce and the special teams unit proves dynamic on a weekly basis.

There aren’t any clear holes in JMU’s 2018 team, but the biggest question mark heading into the fall is the team’s passing game following the graduation of quarterback Bryan Schor, wide receivers John Miller, Jonathan Kloosterman, Ishmael Hyman, Terrence Alls and standout offensive linemen like Aaron Stinnie.

Biggest on-field question

Replacing one of the most decorated passers in school history is the task staring offensive coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick in the face. Schor provided the Dukes with an accurate arm and playmaking ability with his legs that was critical to the team’s 2016 defeat of NDSU that led to JMU’s eventual national title victory over Youngstown State.

Now, the Dukes will turn to either Pittsburgh transfer Ben DiNucci or Cole Johnson, who’s been sitting behind Schor the past two seasons. DiNucci provided a spark with his legs during the spring game, but the QB battle is long from over.

The question with the passing game just doesn’t rest on the arm of the quarterback. JMU also lost tremendous talent at WR and TE. Wide receiver Riley Stapleton is expected to pair with David Eldridge to provide solid options at WR. Clayton Cheatham, Nick Carlton and Mack Cullen give the Dukes a surplus of talent at TE, but it’s relatively unproven. Cheatham had an impressive 2017 campaign, but only totaled eight catches (four went for touchdowns).

JMU’s offensive line tells a similar story. The Dukes are loaded with talent, but could use more experience. Gerren Butler, Jahee Jackson, Tyree Chavious and Liam Fornadel are four names that especially come to mind. They’ve all seen their fair share of snaps, but additional experience will serve them all well. The offensive line concern comes in the form of chemistry and the QB under center. Over the past two seasons, Schor bailed out his offensive line by scrambling away from a number of near sacks. DiNucci might be able to provide similar abilities, but Johnson’s mobility pales in comparison to Schor’s. Should Johnson win the starting job, the offensive line will need to consistently create a strong pocket for Johnson or they Dukes might see their quarterback taking sacks left and right. This could prove difficult early in the season (see N.C. State on Sept. 1) given a talent, yet inexperienced offensive line.

Depth Chart Analysis

Quarterbacks: As mentioned before, the race is down to Cole Johnson and Ben DiNucci. Johnson is the better pure pocket passer and throws a marvelous deep ball, which is something the Dukes lacked for much of the season last year. DiNucci, on the other hand, adds value with his legs and is more similar to Schor, which could allow Kirkpatrick to make fewer tweaks to his scheme and play calling from the past two seasons.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Gage Moloney appears to be the future star QB, but DiNucci and Johnson, both juniors, will keep him sidelined from a starting gig for at least two more seasons.

Running backs: Jeez. The Dukes are OK at running back. Actually, they’re more than OK. JMU might need to invest in a second running back room with the number of capable backs currently on the roster. UCF transfer Jawon Hamilton joins the team with three years of eligibility remaining and will pair nicely with Percy Agyei-Obese following the departure of Marcus Marshall, Trai Sharp and Cardon Johnson after this season. For this year, the three seniors should carry the majority of the load, with Hamilton possessing the talent to press for carries.

Cardon Johnson’s health is always a question mark and Hamilton helps add depth in case Johnson goes down. Marcus Marshall showed flashes of greatness last season, but was largely inconsistent. Trai Sharp was a bulldog throughout the season as he runs with an unmatched tenacity despite lacking true breakout speed. Agyei-Obese has tremendous potential, but will likely have to wait his turn before shouldering a meaningful load. Eric Kirlew, a redshirt sophomore walk-on, provides additional depth, but will likely be battling for a roster spot in the coming years.

The graph below shows the percentage of returning yards on JMU’s offense. (4.4 percent of the Dukes’ 2017-18 passing yards (Cole Johnson and Hunter Etheridge) return. 79.9 percent of the Dukes’ 2017-18 rushing yards return. 48.6 percent of the Dukes’ 2017-18 receiving yards return.) 

Untitled design (1)

Wide receivers/tight ends: Riley Stapleton hopes to build off of a remarkably productive 2017 postseason. After a lackluster regular season, the big bodied Stapleton, he’s listed at 6-feet-5-inches tall, finally lived up to his potential. Stapleton failed to eclipse 64 yards receiving in the regular season before surpassing 100 yards twice in the postseason, including an eight-catch, 189-yard performance against Weber State. He also added seven catches for 107 yards in the national title game loss to NDSU. David Eldridge, 42 catches for 533 yards last year, is the clear cut No. 2 wide receiver.

After those two, a bounty of young guns need to fill roles. Ezrah Archie showed flashes last season out of the slot, but suffered an injury in spring ball and is sidelined for an extended period of time. Josh Sims and Kyndel Dean are both redshirt freshmen with slender frames that could slip into a slot receiver role with the loss of Archie and the graduation of John Miller. The Dukes also brought in Rakeem Davis, the younger brother of Rashard. He’s certainly got the bloodline to fill the slot receiver role, but might struggle breaking past a few of the redshirt freshmen in his first year. Devin Ravenel, the younger brother of Brandon, is another fresh face with JMU receiving pedigree in his blood.

Don’t sleep on Daniel Adu, Noah Beckley and Jake Brown as other redshirt freshmen more than capable of making an early impact. If you couldn’t tell, I’ve listed basically every young wide receiver on this list as fall camp and the early season will really determine which receivers have what it takes to make an impact this season. There’s a lot of uncertainty within the position after Eldridge and Stapleton.

At the tight end spot, Cheatham, Carlton and Cullen give the Dukes three legitimate threats at the position. Expect Cheatham to get the most action at tight end, but don’t be surprised at all to see Carlton help fill the slot receiver role as he has the body type and speed to be effective as a receiver over the middle of the field. Using Carlton, Cheatham and Stapleton at the same time would give the Dukes sizable receiving options that could make life much easier on a quarterback who would only need to throw a 50-50 ball for one of his three guys to have a shot.

Offensive line: I’ll keep things short and sweet. The Dukes are talented along the offensive line, but need continued development and experience. I love the young core of Gerren Butler, Jahee Jackson, Mac Patrick, Tyree Chavious and Liam Fornadel. J.T. Timming and Zaire Bethea are two others with tremendous upside. A number of others like Raymond Gillespie have great talent and give this group a chance to be the nation’s best offensive line.

Defensive line: How can a defensive line lose Simeyon Robinson, Andrew Ankrah, Cornell Urquhart and still get better? Reload with guys like Ron’Dell and Darrious Carter, John Daka and Wake Forest transfer Paris Black. The defensive line is going to be nasty. Expect great things from Daka, who is going to be a handful in passing situations. Despite losing key pieces, the defensive line won’t take a step back.

Linebackers: Dimitri Holloway, Bryce Maginley and Landon Word will play the biggest roles for JMU after the graduation of Brandon Hereford and the exit of Gus Little, who was expected to be a key contributor this season. JMU’s linebacking core isn’t necessarily an unknown, but the depth at the position is questionable. Diamonte Tucker-Dorsey is a head-hunting monster, but he’s only a redshirt freshman. Robert Carter Jr. owns a great special teams resume, but he’s listed at just 186 lbs. Time will tell which other linebackers can step up for the Dukes.

Defensive backs: Rashad Robinson and Jimmy Moreland give JMU a pair of star corners to go with Ohio State transfer Wayne Davis Jr. at safety. Despite losing Raven Greene and Jordan Brown, JMU’s starting secondary is still frightening thanks to the addition of Davis Jr. Curtis Oliver and Charles Tutt give JMU added depth at corner. Look for D’Angelo Amos and Mike Cobbs to find their way onto the field at safety.

Special teams: Harry O’Kelly, a JMU folk hero, is the Dukes’ punter/running back. Tyler Gray and Ethan Ratke will compete for the starting kicker position. Expect Amos to return punts and Marcus Marshall to serve as a kick returner. The Dukes’ special teams unit is strong.

Schedule Analysis

JMU schedule

Realistically, every game is winnable. The N.C. State matchup favors the Wolfpack, but the Dukes have the firepower to remain competitive. JMU hasn’t lost a CAA game under Houston, but you’ve got to think the Dukes will drop a conference contest at some point. It’s nearly impossible to expect them to lose, though.

After a tough opener, the Dukes get easy contests against Norfolk State and Robert Morris. The Dukes don’t play at Bridgeforth Stadium until Sept. 15 as they have just five regular season home games. JMU should hold a winning record 2-1 or 3-0 heading into the CAA opener against William & Mary. The Dukes hold the edge there and then get a five-week stretch, six weeks including the Oct. 20 bye week, against formidable CAA foes in Richmond, Elon, Villanova, Stony Brook and New Hampshire. JMU avoids an up and coming Delaware team, but should be worried about the road tilt at New Hampshire on Nov. 3. It’s never easy to travel that far north, the weather should be on the colder side and UNH is almost always a playoff lock. The Wildcats return key talent and are expected to contend for the CAA title in 2018.

Final Assessment

If JMU can get solid quarterback play, the Dukes should rank in the top five nationally in scoring. If JMU’s linebackers play well, the Dukes should rank in the top five nationally in scoring defense. JMU has a number of questions (QB play, linebacker depth, young offensive linemen), but no shortage of talent. Expect the Dukes to easily answer their questions and earn home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. While there are plenty of talented teams in the FCS, it’s clear JMU and NDSU are the two top teams headed into 2018. For the Dukes, it’s national title or bust.

Questions, comments, concerns? Email me at conlinbf@dukes.jmu.edu or tweet me @BennettConlin





What does JMU lacrosse’s national title mean for JMU?

As the clock ticked down, fans dressed in purple and gold rejoiced. Five, four, three, two, one … the Dukes rushed the field as JMU lacrosse earned the school’s fourth national title (I’m excluding archery because looking through old archery records and championships is making my mind spin) by beating Boston College 16-15 in a national championship bout that lived up to its billing. While JMU nation certainly embraced the team’s victory, how big a deal is it nationally that JMU lacrosse won it all?

It’s huge. Women’s lacrosse might not be the most popular sport in the country or among JMU’s fanbase, but that doesn’t diminish the importance of the victory. The win marks the first time since 2004 that a team other than Northwestern, North Carolina or Maryland won the national title. In short, winning a national title puts JMU in an elite class of lacrosse programs.

There’s a difference between winning a national title once and being a consistently dominant national program like the three mentioned above, but JMU is in a position to be a national contender. The Dukes are led by Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe, who’s taken the Dukes to four consecutive NCAA Tournaments. Klaes-Bawcombe is the winningest coach in JMU lacrosse history (151-75) and now has a national title to her name. While the program loses a bevy of talented seniors, Klaes-Bawcombe has enough pieces and the recruiting chops to add another year to JMU’s NCAA Tournament streak in 2019. Five consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and a national championship in that stretch put JMU in elite company. There’s no reason to believe Klaes-Bawcombe can’t keep JMU in a nationally-ranked position in the coming seasons.

JMU lacrosse’s victory also represents a rise in JMU’s athletic programs. Across the board, things are looking bright for the Dukes. Mike Houston has the football team as an FCS power with arguably his most talented roster in three years at the helm. Loren LaPorte finished an adversity filled first season by leading JMU softball to an NCAA Regional and a CAA regular season title. Christy Morgan has JMU field hockey on the brink of a national breakthrough. Lauren Steinbrecher’s volleyball Dukes are fresh off consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. Sean O’Regan’s women’s basketball team carries an excess of talented rising juniors that are sure to keep the team in the CAA title conversation and NCAA Tournament picture for the next two years.

Not everything is perfect in the world of JMU sports (see men’s basketball and baseball)  but nearly every program is trending in the right direction and has reason(s) for optimism. The Union Bank & Trust Center puts both basketball programs in a better position in terms of recruiting and should help bolster two of the school’s more prominent athletic teams.

JMU lacrosse winning the national championship doesn’t mean the university is now an SEC caliber athletic department. But the days of JMU being a mid-major might be numbered. The Dukes have phenomenal coaches, an athletic director in Jeff Bourne that boasts a strong track record of hiring coaches and one of the more passionate “mid-major” fanbases in the country.

Sunday’s national championship was a special day for JMU sports. Expect many more special days in the years to come.