JMU Football Roundtable: Dukes Ready For Season Opener

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin and Jack Fitzpatrick

Game week is here, which means it’s time for our weekly roundtable discussion. We’ll shoot for one of these each game week throughout the season, and we’ll incorporate guests as the season progresses.

This week, it’s just JMU Sports News co-founders Bennett Conlin and Jack Fitzpatrick chatting JMU football.

There’s obviously excitement about a new football season and the Sun Belt era. In your opinion, does the lead up to this season feel dramatically different than previous years?

Bennett: Heck yeah, especially after a recent COVID-19 impacted season with minimal fan attendance. Sellouts are expected this season, and JMU is a member of the FBS! This is the most excited I’ve ever been for the start of a JMU football season. 

Last year on Oct. 23, JMU played at Delaware, in what was a meaningful conference game at the time. This year on Oct. 22, JMU hosts Marshall in a Sun Belt Conference game. The Dukes upgraded from Delaware to Marshall. That’s huge.

Students and alumni in the Sun Belt care about football, which can’t be said for many CAA teams. Moving up is a major move, and it’s added an excitement level that I’ve never experienced entering a JMU football season.

Jack: 100 percent. Never has there been this much national coverage not only for JMU but for the conference they are in. I mean, I was listening to ESPN Daily this morning and there was an entire segment on the Sun Belt! Just insane. 

Normally at this point we are counting the days until the FCS Playoffs. This season we are counting the days until Week 1 against an opponent that should provide a quality game. 

The Sun Belt East is a beast. If JMU loses multiple games this season, how do you see fans reacting?

Bennett: I expect mixed reactions. JMU fans are accustomed to the Dukes beating just about everyone, so it’ll be an adjustment for casual and die-hard fans if the Dukes lose 5-7 games this fall. 

At the same time, the most knowledgeable fans know moving to the Sun Belt will come with a learning curve. I actually think those fans will help others stay calm, emphasizing the growing pains that come with moving to a significantly tougher conference. JMU will be fine in due time.

Jack: I think most fans are expecting JMU to lose multiple games this season and finish with a losing record. However, expecting it and experiencing it are two vastly different things. 

I do think there will be a contingent of JMU fans who understand what this season is and are totally fine with losing 7 games or so. I also think that there will be a group that come November 14 after the Dukes lose four straight and haven’t won in over a month will host ‘Fire Cignetti’ Twitter spaces. 

The reactions will be mixed for sure but I hope for my sanity, and for JMU Football fans’ sanity we don’t expect too much after we start 4-1. 

What do you want to see from JMU in Week 1 against Middle Tennessee?

Bennett: The Dukes play like they have in previous seasons. Honestly, as a JMU fan, I’m fired up by those doubting JMU’s readiness for the FBS level. Whether it’s an MTSU defensive lineman or message board posters, there’s certainly some people casting doubts about the Dukes. 

JMU fans have believed for years that the Dukes are good enough to compete against G5 competition. They have good reason to believe in the Dukes. JMU’s football program is really damn good. It’s time for JMU to show the rest of the country that it’s deserving of a Sun Belt spot, and it’s going to become a major factor at the G5 level in the immediate future.

Jack: Competent play in the secondary. Is that too much to ask? Bennett took the route of being excited and pumped, which, don’t get me wrong, I am too. But man I am really nervous for what this defense is going to be, especially the back five. 

To breathe some happiness into this answer I really want to seem and am excited to watch this offense work. With an average weight of 310+ along the offensive line, paired with a good QB and an elite RB room I am just so excited to watch this FBS caliber offense work against an FBS defense. This offense could put up numbers like they did against SMU or ECU. 

Who wins this week and what’s the final score?

Bennett: JMU wins 31-24. I think the Dukes make a few mistakes on both sides of the ball, but an electric home-field atmosphere helps propel JMU to the victory. I also expect JMU’s offense to play well, and the defensive line should generate a solid pass rush in passing situations. 

Jack: JMU wins 45-42. I don’t think there will be much defense played by either side. Both teams have some questions throughout the secondary but both have offenses that should be fairly good. I expect the offense to really throw down an exclamation mark to start the year and I hope to see flashes of potential on the defensive side of the ball.

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