The prospect that James Madison will win back-to-back FCS national titles is quite possible and the talent-laden Dukes can embrace the notion.
But the dreaming in June is a lot different than some of the realities in the fall.
An extra factor will come into play beginning Sept. 2 – pressure. Anything short of a second straight title will be disappointing, and so much can wrong in an opposite way that so much fell into place last season.
Here are five reasons why James Madison just may not reach its goal:
It’s tough enough that JMU plays in powerful CAA Football, but now the conference’s many strong programs really want to beat the Dukes. Game day is circled on all of those calendars. That added pressure can make a defending champion play not to lose instead of playing to win.
Everything’s about January
There’s a winnable season opener at FBS East Carolina, Villanova and New Hampshire are coming to Bridgeforth Stadium in October, and Richmond will provide a huge test in November. And yet the entire Dukes’ season is about what happens in Frisco, Texas, on the first Saturday in January. Of course, they have to get there first. But the big picture will always be front and center, even though the Dukes know it’s best to attack a season in steps.
No Khalid Abdullah
Yes, the Dukes return their No. 2 (Cardon Johnson) and No. 3 (Trai Sharpe) rushers and added Georgia Tech transfer Marcus Marshall to the backfield. But they’re still replacing Abdullah (above, right) and his 1,809 rushing yards and 25 total touchdowns. It’s not a slam dunk they won’t miss Abdullah in pivotal games.
Missouri Valley Conference teams
It wasn’t that long ago most people considered North Dakota State, winner of five straight FCS titles from 2011-15, as the unquestioned team to beat. Well, the Bison did go all the way to the national semifinals before falling to JMU. They haven’t gone away and return the best defense in the nation. Add in South Dakota State bringing back its best Division I team on paper and Youngstown State coming off its national runner-up finish to the Dukes and the Missouri Valley Football Conference remains a big threat.
One bad day
The Dukes can go unbeaten in the regular season, but there’s no margin for error in the playoffs. Injuries… turnovers… weather, so many factors could halt their run to a second consecutive national title.
— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for www.fcs.football. He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.
(Photos by James Madison University Athletics)