JMU Football is the King of the Sun Belt East

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin

What a season.

What. A. Season.

JMU football entered the FBS, and there were doubts about the Dukes’ readiness. The doubts weren’t about JMU’s readiness for the jump up to the FBS, but rather JMU’s ability to maintain dominance against an increased level of competition.

So much for those concerns.

JMU defeated No. 23 Coastal Carolina 47-7 on Saturday to finish the season 8-3 and 6-2 in the Sun Belt. The Dukes started 5-0, entered the AP Top 25, and finished the season atop the Sun Belt East standings.

Again, what a season!

Senior class leaves legacy

JMU’s seniors deserve tremendous credit.

Instead of focusing on what they couldn’t accomplish (making a bowl game, playing in the Sun Belt title game), the Dukes were focused on week-by-week performance. The result was one of the most memorable seasons in program history.

JMU rallied back from a 28-3 deficit to win at App State. The Dukes started 5-0 and earned the 25th spot in the AP poll. After dropping three straight games, JMU rallied to end the season with three consecutive wins. The Dukes erased a 20-point deficit against Georgia State, and they smoked Coastal Carolina by 40 points.

The team never quit. The Dukes ended the Coastal Carolina win by downing a punt at the 1-yard line with about 10 seconds left in a 40-point win. Talk about playing the full 60 minutes without worrying about the scoreboard. That’s culture.

Curt Cignetti deserves credit for that culture, as do the seniors.

Quarterback Todd Centeio was a revelation in his one season in Harrisonburg. He deserves Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year thanks to stellar stats, but perhaps most impressively, Centeio battled through injury nearly the whole season. He dealt with injuries to his shoulder, oblique, and ankle and still put up unreal numbers. He was gritty, and he’s a player JMU fans will remember fondly for a long, long time.

Running back Percy Agyei-Obese was an absolute force when healthy, running over Sun Belt competition with speed and power. He led one of the best running back rooms in the entire conference, running with heart throughout the duration of the season.

Isaac Ukwu is among the leaders defensively, and he performed exceptionally all season. He highlighted an amazing defensive line, and he always seemed to be a steady presence on and off the field.

The Dukes had tremendous leadership among its upperclassmen, and those players are phenomenally talented. That’s an elite combination, and it propelled JMU to a special year.

Domination in Year 1

Of JMU’s eight wins, six came by double digits. All six of those wins came by at least 22 points. JMU beat four teams by at least 30 points, including SBC East foes Coastal Carolina and Old Dominion.

JMU didn’t enter the FBS and record a few narrow wins that can be chalked up to luck. The Dukes entered the league and made a statement that they’re not just ready for the competition, but they’re ready to win league championships.

This was a special, special season. Going 8-3 against top-tier Group of Five competition is no joke. Winning six of eight games by 3+ touchdowns is unreal. JMU’s only losses were to Georgia Southern, Marshall, and Louisville. Two of the three defeats were on the road.

JMU was a force at the FCS level, and it’s clear JMU is ready to make its name known at the FBS level in the years ahead.

The future is bright

Jordan McCloud, a quarterback who played at USF and Arizona, announced his verbal commitment to JMU this week. The dual-threat QB could be JMU’s starter next season, and he’s talented. The Dukes are already working to replace Centeio’s production.

The Dukes also added Phoenix Sproles, a wide receiver from North Dakota State with terrific speed. He should help with players like Kris Thornton graduating. JMU is doing well in the portal, and it’s not yet December.

Expect the Dukes to find success on the recruiting trail, including in the transfer portal, this offseason. There’s a path to national relevance within JMU’s program, and it’s a spot many players will want to play.

Curt Cignetti, 61, knows what it takes to win games. While fans (myself included) have the occasional gripe with his clock management and game plans, those are universal fan complaints. Curt Cignetti is a really good coach.

He’s a proven winner at multiple schools, and the Dukes are in great hands under his leadership. As he continues to surround himself with elite assistants, the coaching staff quickly becomes one of the best in the Sun Belt.

The 2022 season will be remembered forever by JMU fans as a special football season. It’s a sign of more to come.

3 comments

  1. What a genuine old fashioned American ass whipping! I know CCU is going to whine about their QB being out, but the last time I looked, he didn’t play defense. Our recievers made their DB’s look like they were running in mud. OC called great game, and DC did what we have done all year, shut down their offense. My son (class of 2001) and I have had season tickets for 23 years. This is the best. Everybody in parking lot P, see you next year.

    Like

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