By Bennett Conlin
Stony Brook comes to Harrisonburg hoping to be the second team to beat a Mike Houston-led squad in Bridgeforth Stadium. The Seawolves bring with them the CAA’s top rushing attack, a physical defense with elite linebackers and a quarterback that rarely makes mistakes — yes, I’m aware of what happened against JMU last season.
JMU comes into this game fresh off a bye week, which usually means good things for the Dukes.
This marks JMU’s first home contest since a 27-24 loss to Elon. With a full week of preparation this week and a solid performance on defense and special teams two weeks ago against JMU, fans should feel confident in where the Dukes stand. Offensively, red-zone woes have defined the Dukes’ two losses, and Stony Brook’s defense ranks first in the CAA in red-zone defense. The Dukes will be favored Saturday, but Stony Brook poses plenty of challenges.
I won’t get into too much more of a game preview, as you can read a couple of those here and here. I do want to discuss the importance of this late-October CAA clash, though. Both teams have a lot riding on this game in terms of the playoff picture and the race for a CAA title.
What’s at stake for Stony Brook?
Stony Brook is quietly putting together a case for not only a playoff berth, but potentially a top-8 seed. The Seawolves are 6-2 overall with a 4-1 record in conference action. If, and it’s a pretty big if, Stony Brook wins out, the Seawolves will be hard pressed not to earn a seed.
Chuck Priore’s group finishes the season at JMU, home against Delaware and at Albany after a bye week. Right now, Stony Brook ranks 15th in both the STATS FCS Top 25 and the Coaches Poll. With JMU sitting at No. 3 in both polls and Delaware at No. 21 across the board, Stony Brook finishes the season with potential resume-building wins. Should the Seawolves win their final three contests, they’ll likely earn a top-8 seed. Their resume would include wins over JMU, Delaware, Rhode Island and Villanova and losses to only Air Force and Towson. To me, that’s a strong case for a first-round bye.
On the flipside, if Stony Brook loses to JMU AND Delaware, they’ll need to beat Albany on Nov. 17 to have a chance at a playoff berth. A 6-5 record with three straight losses, including one to Albany, wouldn’t be enough to make the field. Depending on how the Seawolves look against JMU and Delaware, two losses could place them squarely on the playoff bubble even with a win at Albany. A 7-4 record with their best wins coming at home against Rhode Island and Villanova doesn’t make the Seawolves a lock for the playoffs, especially if they get blown out by JMU and Delaware. Stony Brook already suffered a 52-28 defeat at the hands of Towson.
In short, Stony Brook has a chance to lock down a playoff berth and make its case for a seed this weekend with a conference win over the No. 3 team in the country. If they lose, however, they’re back to battling for a playoff berth. After losing 26-7 in Harrisonburg last season, the Seawolves want revenge. It’s Stony Brook’s biggest game of the season.
What’s at stake for JMU?
The No. 2 seed in the FCS playoffs. If JMU wins out, it’s hard to see the Dukes not earning a top-2 seed in the playoffs. Their resume would include wins over Stony Brook, Rhode Island, Towson and Villanova. They’d have at least a share of the CAA title and a handful of blowout wins against respectable competition. That’s likely enough to jump Kennesaw State at No. 2.
If JMU loses Saturday, however, the Dukes will sit at 5-3 and 3-2 in the CAA. They’ll have losses to NC State, Elon and Stony Brook. None of their wins will jump off the page, unless you’re focused on the margin of victory. Another home upset could prove disastrous for the Dukes’ national title hopes, as a top-8 seed would begin to seem unlikely. Towson, Stony Brook and maybe even Delaware or Elon would be better positioned to earn a seed from the CAA.
While a loss could derail JMU’s title aspirations, I’ve seen the Dukes listed as about a 20-point betting favorite on most sites. This is a game JMU is expected to win. We do want to briefly consider what a loss could mean, but it’s much more likely that the Dukes pick up their best win of the season and start finding a groove heading into the postseason.
In short, JMU has a chance to boost its resume and solidify its spot atop the CAA standings tomorrow. While a loss completely changes the perception around this team, it’s incredibly premature to think the Dukes will lose.
It’s a meaningful conference game in October. This is what college football is all about.