JMU Football Roundtable: Dukes Host Bucknell

By Bennett Conlin and Jack Fitzpatrick

The weekly JMU football roundtable discussions have returned!

For those new here, Jack and I will “sit down” each week and hash out a few key topics related to JMU football before the Dukes’ next game. 

We review last week’s games and preview upcoming games. We also may touch on other topics (conference realignment, game-day atmospheres, etc.). It’s a casual discussion about the Dukes, and it’s one of my favorites to write.

We don’t have a guest this week, but hopefully we’ll bring in a guest or two periodically throughout the fall. Let’s get to it. 

What are you most looking forward to this JMU football season?

Jack: I’m excited to see how JMU is able to build off of last year. Maybe I’m biased, maybe I see the world with purple and gold glasses on, but JMU’s first year in the FBS was the best first year in the FBS ever. It gave the Dukes a perfect foundation to build the premier football school in Virginia. Now, with games against UVA and VT coming up, JMU can catapult itself to that premier level very quickly. 

This year though is pivotal in whether or not JMU capitalizes. If JMU blunders early (I’m looking at that September schedule) things could get dicey quickly. On the flip side, JMU could be ranked come October again. 

I am really looking forward to seeing how JMU comes out this season and how the Dukes build on the success from a year ago. 

Bennett: I’ll add that the schedule gets me amped. 

JMU played really good football at the FCS level, but it couldn’t become the best team in Virginia because nobody is going to consider a team beating Delaware, Stony Brook, and Rhode Island an elite football team. Now, JMU gets games against UVA, Troy, South Alabama, Marshall, App State, and Coastal Carolina, among others. 

The Dukes can realistically stake a claim to being the top team in Virginia – and a top-50 program nationally – with good results in 2023 and beyond. 

Editor’s note: Huge thanks to Three Notch’d for their advertising support this season. If you’re in Virginia, be sure to check out one of many Three Notch’d locations across the Commonwealth.

What’s your reaction to Alonza Barnett being JMU’s QB1?

Jack: My first reaction is wow. Alonza Barnett must be special. He must’ve been so good he forced Cignetti to keep him as the QB1 the second he started taking first-team reps. Which, in fairness, Barnett’s high school coach said was possible. 

My second reaction is how wrong I was. My offseason take that Jordan McCloud is going to be the starter and the Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year is now in Connor Mitch territory. 

Barnett as the QB1 means one thing to me. He is special. He has the opportunity to go out and not only wow JMU fans, but he could make an impression nationally. 

If a redshirt freshman takes down a P5 opponent on the road, then beats the defending Sun Belt champ on the road and a South Alabama team at home, that would get national recognition. Not to mention if the Dukes and Barnett do that, then this team will be ranked. If this team is ranked, it is likely he is the only freshman/redshirt freshman starting for a nationally ranked team!  

I don’t think it has been contextualized enough. What Barnett has done to this point, and what he could potentially do, is special. Really special. 

Bennett: I’m surprised by the news, honestly. During the spring and early summer, I fully expected Jordan McCloud to win the job. He holds valuable playing experience from his time at USF and Arizona, and he’s a shifty runner with high upside as a passer.

For Barnett (who has never started a college game) to win the job, he must be special. Jack is right.

Clearly, Barnett is an elite talent who thrived once JMU gave him significant practice time with the starting unit. It’s an impressive accomplishment to become JMU’s starting quarterback at such a young age, especially given the early season schedule.

I still really like McCloud’s game, too. I came away impressed watching some of his tape from South Florida and Arizona, and I wouldn’t completely rule out the possibility that McCloud plays meaningful snaps at some point this season. Injuries can happen — Centeio missed time last fall — and if McCloud is indeed JMU’s QB2 for the full season, he’s a top-tier Group of Five backup. That makes him an important depth piece this year.

What do you want to see from JMU in Saturday’s game against Bucknell?

Jack: I want to see JMU dominate. Get out to a five-touchdown lead in the first half and then never see the starters in the second half. This is a glorified third scrimmage. 

Bennett: I want to see the passing game unleashed a little bit. Let’s see Barnett (and McCloud or Brett Griffis late) sling the ball around the field to the new receivers. Reggie Brown’s talent is a known commodity, but who will step up alongside Brown?

JMU would benefit from getting ECU transfer Taji Hudson a few catches – he only has one in his career – while also tossing the ball to Charlotte transfer tight end Taylor Thompson a couple times. I’m hopeful each of those transfers will get their feet wet Saturday, giving JMU’s passing attack confidence before visiting Charlottesville on Sept. 9.

What’s your score prediction for Saturday’s game?

Jack: 72-10, JMU wins it. 

Bennett: Wow. Jack is calling for the Dukes to score 70+ points for the first time in the Curt Cignetti era! The Dukes’ highest scoring output under Cignetti is a 68-point showing against Morehead State in 2021. JMU went 12-2 that season, losing to NDSU in the FCS semifinals. 

I’ll stick with my preseason pick of JMU winning 59-7. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *