Week 10: Homecoming in H’burg and Big Games Nationwide

Two months down, one to go.  That means there is no room for error from here on out and it’s also time for JMU to stop giving me heart attacks every week.  I don’t need to say anything, in fact, here’s the video proof:

What a rush.  Combine that with Scotty McGee’s punt return for a touchdown against Richmond two weeks prior to that and I feel like I’ve aged 20 years.  Needless to say, it has been a magical season so far.  I won’t go into “Team of Destiny” like a lot of others have because it has become somewhat cliche.  I’d rather talk about the fact that we are a really good football team that has been able to overcome adversity and injuries to sit atop the toughest conference in I-AA with three games left to play and sit atop the rankings as well.

Coach Matthews and company celebrate the Hail Mary touchdown that beat Villanova

Coach Matthews and company celebrate the Hail Mary touchdown that beat Villanova

JMU did a lot of things right in the game to start off.  They did not seem phased at all by the weather and quickly got up 14-0 on two, yes TWO Rodney Landers touchdown passes including one to Rockheed McCarter in which it didn’t appear Villanova knew he was on the field.

Then it seemed like the Dukes got too conservative on both sides and allowed the Cats to get back in the game.  A major liability was our run defense that constantly allowed their QB Chris Whitney to scramble up the middle for big yardage and continue drives.  It seemed like the complete opposite of the Appalachian State game where JMU came out strong but finished flat and needed the miracle at the end to win.  But a good team is able to get the job done when it needs to and JMU had one last drive left in them.

It actually has gotten to the point that when Villanova had to punt the ball away with just over a minute remaining, I was pretty confident we were going to at least get a field goal.  I also join the clamours on the message boards saying Scotty McGee should have won the special teams player of the week even though he never touched the ball.  He really has become the Devin Hester of I-AA in that teams are sacrificing field position just so he can’t get a return.  We need to cherish these next two years that he is on our team because it has been special (no pun intended) to watch.

In more news, ESPN2 is televising the titanic matchup in Boone this evening between App State and Wofford.  This game will most likely decide the Southern conference champion and who has the inside track to at least the #2 seed in the playoffs.  Both teams come in undefeated in conference play and off convincing wins last week versus rival foes.  Wofford obliterated then #3 Elon in Burlington, 55-20 which means it will probably still get a playoff spot if it loses tonight.  The Terriers aren’t thinking that way though after they knocked off the Mountaineers in Spartanburg last year which, a lot of people forget, paved the way to their conference championship.

App State meanwhile is fresh off a 26-14 victory over the always tough Furman Paladins.  State has had a similar season to the Dukes in that there have been one or two convincing wins and then a Great Escape which for them was Georgia Southern two weeks ago.  The Eagles, down one, were driving in App State territory when they fumbled the ball away (sound familiar JMU fans?).  Nevertheless, App is one of the toughest teams in the country especially at home where they’ve only lost once in the last 37 games.  It should be a fantastic game so tune in.

As far as the playoff situation goes, once again some changes are in the air.  Northern Arizona’s playoff hopes are all but gone after losing to Weber State 42-14.  The Wildcats meanwhile will be in if they win out.  Southern Illinois almost went out until they pulled a JMU and beat Missouri State with a 51 yard hail mary on the final play of the game.  McNeese State was almost in the playoffs until last Saturday’s clunker at home to Nicholls State, losing 38-25 which puts the Cowboys out.

Hampton is also now looking in with the rest of them after getting spanked at South Carolina State, 35-13.  The Bulldogs are now the only undefeated MEAC team and can be placed in the bracket.

The OVC has been shaken up too with Tennessee State being upset and Tennessee Martin knocking off previously #21 Jacksonville State.  The Skyhawks now have a half game lead in the conference and will be placed in the mix while TSU is gone for now.

In the CAA, we can still keep JMU, Villanova, Richmond and New Hampshire but keep an eye out for William and Mary who have skyrocketed to #16 in the nation and are making a case for a bid.  We’ll have to see how it pans out before they get a place though.

For the Southern Conference, App and Wofford are secure and nothing may change if the game is close tonight.  Elon however has issues.  While the Phoenix will keep a spot for now, their drubbing at home by Wofford will have the committee wondering if they’re for real.  They still have to play Furman and App so things are not looking to good.  They stay in the bracket but are right on the bubble.

Potential Bracket as of this week:

1 JAMES MADISON v. Elon

RICHMOND v. Central Arkansas

NORTHERN IOWA v. New Hampshire

4 CAL POLY v. Weber State

3 WOFFORD v. South Carolina State

MONTANA v. Southern Illinois

VILLANOVA v. Lafayette

2 APPALACHIAN STATE v. Tennessee-Martin

Week 9: JMU in Game of the Week and Updated Playoff Predictions

The beauty of college football is that one week can make or break a season.  That especially holds true for I-AA where one bad game could cost you a shot at the national title because of the limited amount of spots available in the playoff.  This means that even a #1 ranked team in the nation is not immune to falling victim if they are not careful.

Griff Yancey helped JMU rout Villanova, 35-7 in Harrisonburg last year.  The going won't be as easy this year.

Griff Yancey helped JMU rout Villanova, 35-7 in Harrisonburg last year. The going won't be as easy this year.

James Madison has so far played the best football since its national championship year in 2004 and they are going to need to be on the top of their game this Saturday as they face a very game Villanova team that should be ranked higher than 7.  The Wildcats have absolutely manhandled every team they have played including Richmond at least according to Coach Matthews who stated that ‘Nova should have beaten them by more than they did.

It should be noted that JMU is about to face its fourth top 10 team this year.  This is incredible and will go down as the one of the toughest schedules in the history of I-AA.  What will be more incredible is if the Dukes get past Villanova because that would make them 4-0 against top 10 teams.  Hopefully JMU will be prepared to go against arguably their toughest test yet.  GO DUKES!

Onto the new playoff predictions!

We first start with notable updates from the Big Eight conferences.  Southern Illinois routed Youngstown State, 33-0 to help keep its inside track in the Mizzou Valley.  In the Ohio Valley, Tennessee State eeked out a win over Austin Peay, 37-34 to stay undefeated and atop the conference.  While we won’t know much about the Patriot league for awhile, we’ll keep Lafayette atop after their convincing win over Liberty last weekend.  There’s no change for now in the Southern conference but crucial games await this weekend when #4 Wofford travels to Elon to take on the 3rd ranked Phoenix while #2 App State hosts 18th ranked Furman.  By the end of Saturday, we will know who the power teams are there.  Finally, the MEAC title may be on the line this weekend as the Hampton Pirates travel to South Carolina State in a battle of the only two undefeated teams.  Hampton stays for now.

Liberty is now gone thanks to their lackluster performance.  We can also eliminate UMass after the Minutemen were routed at home by Richmond.  Those two eliminations open the door for Northern Iowa and New Hampshire to slide in.   Here’s how the new matchups could look:

1 JAMES MADISON v. Hampton

NORTHERN IOWA v. Central Arkansas

VILLANOVA v. Lafayette

4 WOFFORD v. Richmond

3 ELON v. Northern Arizona

MONTANA v. Cal Poly

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS v. New Hampshire

2 APPALACHIAN STATE v. Tennessee State

Week 8 Means One Thing: First Playoff Predicitions

Well that and JMU is off this week so there isn’t much to talk about.  Just to update those of you who have been living in a sealed room for the last seven weeks, JMU’s football team is having the best season in its history up to this point.  The Dukes have disposed of three teams who were in the top five when they played them and have a potential top five matchup looming again should Villanova move up between now and next Saturday.

Scotty McGee celebrates his Game-winning punt return TD against Richmond, 10/09/08

Scotty McGee celebrates his game-winning punt return TD against Richmond as James Madison remained undefeated in conference play.

Meanwhile, we are well into the heart of the football season.  It is hard to believe that it is more than halfway done but that only makes the excitement build as the playoff picture starts to take shape.  That being said, it is time to start looking where teams stand and what their chances are of getting into the FCS dance.

Once again the CAA has shown that it is, top to bottom, the best conference in the country.  As proof I offer just some results from last weekend: William & Mary, considered on the lower end of the conference, upsets #4 New Hampshire in Durham; Delaware, a finalist in the championship just last year, gets beaten at home by once lowly Maine who has shown they can hang with anyone.  How about Northeastern who is lighting up scoreboards on any foe they face?  They could easily knock out UNH this weekend.  Towson has a fantastic offense behind QB Sean Schaefer. Even though they don’t have the wins to prove it, I’d bet on them against most teams from the other conferences.

These are all arguments in what has become an annual rant for me saying that no less than five teams from the CAA should be in the 16 team bracket.  Sure I’ll give credit to the Southern or Missouri Valley Conferences when their teams start playing some decent competition and they prove they should be in the talk.

Now, let’s first understand a few things about the playoffs.  The Ivy League and the Southwestern Athletic Conference abstain from postseason play for their own reasons but that does not really affect anything as no team for either of those conferences are in the top 25.

Next we look at the conferences that get automatic berths for winning the overall title.  The following are the eight conferences with the teams that right now look like they are in the best position to win the overall title:

Big Sky – Northern Arizona Lumberjacks

Colonial – James Madison Dukes

Missouri Valley (formerly Gateway) – Southern Illinois Salukis

Mid-Eastern Athletic – Hampton Pirates

Ohio Valley – Tennessee State Tigers

Patriot – Lafayette Leopards

Southern – Appalachian State Mountaineers

Southland – Central Arkansas Bears

That leaves us with eight spots to fill with each of the previous conferences eligible for at-large births along with four other conferences: Great West, Big South, Northeast, and Pioneer.  This does not mean that a team from any of those four conferences will get in.  It all depends on how they measure up against the teams from the Big Eight.

In fact, there are really only two teams who look like they could come out from the other four: Cal Poly and Liberty.  So if we take those two, that leaves six spots from the Big Eight which means that there will be some very good teams missing out.

So let’s say we look first at the CAA:  Richmond and Villanova have to get in.  UMass and New Hampshire are on the bubble but have very strong resumes.  But let’s go ahead and give two spots to the CAA here.

Southern is next:  Elon and Wofford look good to get in. Other than that, it’s tough to make arguments. So give them two as well.

That leaves two more spots up for grabs.  Montana will grab one if they stay on course due to their preceding reputation and the committee will have to decide on the last one.  I think there is no argument that we give it to either UMass or New Hampshire.  Four CAA teams is a must and right now let’s just say UMass gets it based on being ranked higher and looking like the more consistent team.

So here are the 16 playoff teams:  Northern Arizona, James Madison, Southern Illinois, Hampton, Tennessee State, Lafayette, Appalachian State, Central Arkansas, Richmond, Villanova, UMass, Elon, Wofford, Montana, Cal Poly, Liberty.

Now for the matchups, the committee tries to pair teams in terms of location so that first round trips aren’t too burdensome on the away team.  There are positives and negatives to this but generally there hasn’t been much opposition to it.  Based on rankings, relative location and making sure to have inter-conference matchups, here are possible matchups (home team in caps):

1 JAMES MADISON vs. Liberty

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS vs. Central Arkansas

UMASS vs. Lafayette

4 WOFFORD vs. Richmond

3 ELON vs. Hampton

MONTANA vs. Cal Poly

VILLANOVA vs. Northern Arizona

2 APPALACHIAN STATE vs. Tennessee State

The only problem location-wise seems to be N. Arizona having to come across the country to play Villanova but those are the breaks sometimes (just ask Wofford who had to go to Montana in the first round last year).  This will definitely change as the weeks progress but its nice that we’re back in this part of the year.