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2019 West Virginia Football Preview: Gettin’ To Know The James Madison Dukes

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West Virginia will open the season against one of the best FCS programs in the country.

GET TO KNOW THE ENEMY

Where are they from?: Harrisonburg, VA

James Madison University

#BRAND Slogan: #GoDukes (A very original marketing strategy in 2019)

Recommended Blog: JMU Sports Blog

Famous Alumni: PFT Commenter and CNN’s Jim Acosta, two of today’s top capital-J journalists

Conference: Colonial Athletic Association (Division I FCS)

THE HEAD COACH

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 31 Elon at Toledo Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Dukes are led by first-year head coach Curt Cignetti, former nth string quarterback for the Mountaineers and son of former West Virginia head coach Frank Cignetti. Curt began his coaching career in 1983 when he crossed into enemy territory and joined the Pitt Panthers as a graduate assistant. He moved up the ranks between schools until he got his first chance as a head coach at his father’s old stomping grounds — Indiana University of Pennsylvania — in 2011. Curt coached the Crimson Hawks for six seasons, compiling 53 wins, before moving up to the Division I FCS ranks at Elon in 2017. Cignetti led the Phoenix to first back-to-back NCAA playoff appearances in school history, and was a Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year finalist in 2017. Curt made the jump to the cross-conference Dukes, after East Carolina hired Mike Houston.

SCOUTIN’ THE DUKES

2018 Synopsis

James Madison started the 2018 campaign off with a visit to Raleigh, North Carolina, where they lost to the N.C. State Wolfpack, 24-13. The Dukes rebounded by beating their next four opponents by a combined score of 204-17, before losing to Cignetti’s No. 10 ranked Elon Phoenix in Harrisonburg. The Dukes would go on to finish their regular season with just one additional loss, and earned their fifth consecutive NCAA playoff berth. The Dukes beat the No. 21 Delaware Blue Hens in the first round, before falling to No. 9 Colgate in the second round.

Who did they lose?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 02 James Madison at East Carolina Photo by Greg Thompson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Head coach Mike Houston, first and foremost. Houston led the Dukes to a National Championship in 2016, and three straight CAA Conference Championships (2015, 2016, 2017). On the field, the Dukes lose Jimmy Moreland, a first-team All-American cornerback that was drafted by the Washington Redskins in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft.

Who do they return?

James Madison v North Carolina State Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

James Madison returns nine players from last year’s 9-4 squad including: 13-game starting quarterback and former Pitt Panther Ben DiNucci, most of his starting offensive line, and a solid wide receiver corp — including former Mountaineer receiver Dillon Spalding and Penn State transfer Brandon Polk. The Dukes also have former UCF Golden Knights starting running back Jawon Hamilton to lean on. Hamilton served as the primary kick-returner in 2018, finishing 11th nationally in kick-return average.

If the returning offense has you startled, the Dukes’ returning defense isn’t going to make things any better, returning 10 of 11 starters. Jimmy Moreland is replaced by Rashad Robinson, who has been named a first-team preseason All-American.

Why should West Virginia be worried?

If you’re James Madison, you’re chomping at the bit to start your season against a FBS Power 5 opponent that is breaking in a new head coach, has no clear starter at quarterback and has a serious lack of depth in the secondary. It’s the makings of a classic opening weekend upset, and you have the entire offseason to prepare. There’s plenty of reason to be worried.

Why should West Virginia not be worried?

Even with all the question marks surrounding the program heading into the season, this is still a Power 5 matching up with an FCS opponent at home. This game may not be a #BeatEmDown like most would hope and we may not get all the answers we want, but the Mountaineers should be able to kick the Neal Brown era off with a win.