James Madison Dukes
2021-22 Season Record 12-2 (7-1 CAA) - 0-0-0 ATS - 0-0-0 O/U
Offense - 9
Defense - 8
The lone entrant into the FBS pool in 2022 are the James Madison Dukes who come over from a very successful run in the FCS ranks following a 12-2 record last season including a 7-1 record in the CAA to win their third straight conference championship. No. 3 seed James Madison rolled over SE Louisiana and Montana in the first two rounds of the FCS playoffs before succumbing to No. 2 seed North Dakota St., the eventual National Champion by six points. The Dukes enter the Sun Belt Conference and while this is their first season, they would likely be at the top half of the favorites board to win it but they are ineligible for a title and a bowl game because of a ludicrous NCAA probationary rule. This team is loaded with 17 returning starters and should give some of the big boys headaches but a jump to a bigger and stronger field could cause some growing pains.
While nine starters are back on offense, one of those is not quarterback Cole Johnson who was the Offensive Player of the Year in the CAA and he will be missed. The likely player to take over is Todd Centeio who is a transfer from Colorado St. and he was solid yet unspectacular with the Rams last season as he threw for 2,958 yards on a 60.3 percent completion clip with 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Going to a lesser conference helps as does the fact he is behind a great offensive line that returns four starters that will be better in pass protection and keep the holes open for a strong running attack. Leader rusher Latrele Palmer returns after running for 947 yards and there is good depth behind him. Leading receiver Antwane Wells and his 1,250 yards and 15 touchdowns is gone but second leading receiver Kris Thornton and his 1,097 yards and 13 touchdowns is back.
Defensively, the Dukes were also the best in the conference where they allowed just 275.2 ypg and 15.4 ppg but they will likely take a fall despite a solid core coming back. Losing the top two tacklers is hard to replace, especially at the linebacker position where James Madison goes from veteran leadership to very young plugins. This will be the weakest unit on the field so the front and back ends will have to make it up as much as they can. The defensive line also lost its best player but there was good rotation last season and three other starters are back to stop the run and get pressure on the quarterback. The Dukes were No. 13 in the FCS in sacks with nearly three per game while the rushing defense was No. 8, allowing a mere 89.0 ypg. The secondary is loaded as well with three starters back as well as solid incoming talent from both recruiting and transfers.
2022 Season Outlook
Head coach Curt Cignetti has built a powerhouse in Harrisonburg and he looks to continue that at the higher level and while it could take some time, he is not starting from the ground floor up. This is not the SEC they are playing in so the Dukes will be competitive and win their share of games in a schedule that includes only 11 games with six of those taking place on the road. He could be in line for another Sun Belt coach to find work at a major program down the line. James Madison opens with home games against Middle Tennessee St. and Norfolk St. and then gets christened into the conference slate with a game at favorite Appalachian St. Five of the final eight games are against teams with losing records from last season so who knows. The O/U win total is 6.5 and that is a tough number to predict for a team making the jump into bigger waters so this has to be a pass.