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FCS First Round Prediction and Preview: VMI vs. James Madison

FCS First Round Prediction and Preview: VMI vs. James Madison

FCS First Round Prediction and Preview: VMI vs. James Madison

After 15 long months, the FCS playoffs have finally returned, and the previous runner-up, James Madison, is ready to mount another title quest.

The Dukes, ranked No. 1 in the latest Athlon Sports FCS Power Poll and the No. 3 overall seed in the bracket, will face off against SoCon champion VMI in what should make for a classic battle of offense versus defense. The Keydets are making their first-ever FCS playoff appearance while James Madison has played in three of the past four national championship games, winning it all in 2016.

Due to the pandemic-shortened spring season, JMU will not get a bye despite receiving a top-eight seed, but the path to their second title in five seasons remains the same: Win four straight games, at least two of which will come at home.

The winner of this game will take on the winner of Missouri Valley Football Conference co-champions Missouri State and North Dakota, making this one of the hardest quarters of the brackets. So, which of these Virginia schools, separated by less than an hour, will come out on top?

FCS Playoffs First Round: VMI at James Madison

Kickoff: Saturday, April 24 at 2 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN3

Spread: James Madison -14

When VMI Has the Ball

The Keydets are averaging 30 points and more than 430 yards per game, aided by the subdivision's ninth-ranked passing attack (312.7 ypg). Quarterback Reece Udinski was the pilot to VMI's version of the Air Raid, but the offense has not slowed down even after he tore his ACL in late March.

Redshirt freshman Seth Morgan actually improved on Udinski's performance with a 76.0 percent completion rate and 171.7 passer efficiency rating. His yards per attempt (9.0) are up compared to Udinski (6.3), and he has a sparkling 8:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Having a pair of dangerous weapons in Jakob Herres and Michael Jackson doesn't hurt either.

But James Madison will provide Morgan and the rest of the Keydets' offense with their toughest test to date. The Dukes are second in FCS at just 9.8 points allowed per game and are nearly as stingy through the air, allowing 130.2 passing yards per game (6th nationally). Building an early lead and avoiding preseason All-American and CAA Co-Defensive Player of the Year Mike Greene (2.5 sacks, 8.0 TFLs) are musts for VMI.