Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
It’s the best time of the year. The holidays are approaching, and JMU football secured a bye week heading into the FCS playoffs.
The Dukes made quick work of Rhode Island in a 55-21 win over the Rams to lock up the No. 2 seed heading into the postseason. The Dukes have national title aspirations, and we now know their road to Frisco.
Overall, the committee did a nice job with seeding and filling out the 24 teams in the field. Teams like Towson may complain, but losing to Elon in the season finale makes it hard to complain too much.
Instead of looking at the entire bracket, we’re going to focus on JMU’s side. After all, we are JMU Sports News.
The Dukes should cruise to the quarters
JMU faces the winner of Monmouth and Holy Cross in the second round of the tournament.
While Monmouth performed well in the Big South, it’s the Big South. Holy Cross won the Patriot League, but the Dukes rarely struggle with Patriot League schools not named Colgate.
For comparison, JMU ranks 57th in the Sagaran Ratings. Monmouth ranks 139th, and Holy Cross ranks 173rd. Monmouth compares to New Hampshire, which ranks 140th, while Holy Cross compares to Delaware, which ranks 171st and missed the playoffs out of the CAA.
With an extra week to rest and prepare for a home game, the Dukes should easily march into the quarterfinals. A loss to Monmouth or Holy Cross would be shocking, especially given how the Dukes have performed in the past few weeks.
Both Monmouth and Holy Cross have also faced easy schedules, which makes it even more challenging to go to JMU in December.
Making it to Frisco won’t be easy
The Dukes’ bracket is challenging. South Dakota State, Montana and Weber State are the other seeded teams on JMU’s side.
Villanova, which led JMU after three quarters in Bridgeforth, also lurks. The Wildcats didn’t earn a seed, but they’ll have a chance to make a deep run and play JMU in the semifinals.
Weber State and Montana are both quality programs with decent history and strong teams this season. The Big Sky drew four seeds, so Montana and Weber State are used to playing challenging games. Unlike Monmouth or Holy Cross, Montana and Weber State won’t be scared of a trip to Bridgeforth.
Montana and Weber State rank 95th and 96th, respectively, in the Sagarin Ratings.
Led by Jay Hill, Weber State nearly upset the Dukes in the 2017 quarterfinals, falling 31-28 in Bridgeforth. This year’s team plays fantastic defense, ranking 21st nationally in scoring defense despite playing in a league filled with talented quarterbacks.
Montana ranks 14th nationally in scoring offense, and the Grizzlies dropped 35 points on Weber State in a 35-16 win over Hill’s group. Montana did fall 48-14 to Montana State in the regular-season finale, though.
South Dakota State is a proud program, and the Jackrabbits are a good team. They can face JMU in the quarterfinals with a win over the winner of UNI and San Diego. Injuries have hurt the Jacks, who finished the year just 2-3 after starting the year 6-1 with a seven-point loss to Minnesota.
Regardless of which teams JMU faces, the Dukes will have to earn their spot in Frisco.
Bridgeforth should be packed
With teams like South Dakota State, Weber State/Montana potentially coming to Harrisonburg, Bridgeforth should be packed during the playoff run.
While the first game won’t be near capacity, there’s no reason potential quarterfinal and semifinal games shouldn’t draw 20,000 people to Bridgeforth. The Dukes are loaded, and fans couldn’t have asked for a better group of visiting teams. While upsets may occur, fans should come out in droves for these playoff games.
JMU deserves solid home support, and the potential matchups against elite FCS programs are abundant. It’s a good time to be a JMU football fan.