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Staring Down the Musket at the James Madison Dukes

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The Neal Brown era begins in Morgantown and his first test is against one of the FCS level's traditional powers. Todd from JMU Sports Blog helps break down the Dukes.

NCAA Football: Big 12 Media Days Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Neal Brown era is finally set to begin in earnest and as tradition requires, the Q&A is back. We’re joined this week by Todd Davis of JMUSportsBlog.com. Let's get down to business.

JMU, like West Virginia, is breaking in a new head coach. What’s been the early reaction to Curt Cignetti from the JMU faithful?

Dukes fans are pretty much optimistic and just waiting to see what a new guy can’t do with a great returning group this year. We’ve lost our last two coaches to FBS jobs in quick succession, and we’ve learned that that only happens when you’re winning so most fans accept this as our lot in life at the moment.

When you think of FCS powers, JMU is probably the second team that comes to mind after North Dakota State. What does the program do to keep itself on top of this level of CFB?

JMU is fortunate to have some built-in advantages over many FCS programs. The facilites investments (big stadium, sweet locker room, established donor groups, indoor practice facility) and support from fans (one of the top attendance schools every year in FCS) are pretty different from most FCS programs and a huge advantage in recruiting. I also think a lot of players and their families/advisors are learning that maybe having a passionate fanbase and a fun place to go to school where you also get to have playoff games, maybe host Gameday if you’re really good, and probably have an equal shot at the next level might be a little better than playing at a G5 school where the facilites and next-level chances are the same, but you go the only rewards are a third-tier exhibtion bowl game and less support. If the FBS playoff ever expands to a point where a G5 team actually has a chance, that calculation will change, but for now in terms of what’s more attractive to a recruit, unless you’re P5 like y’all with a chance at the whole thing, all things start to look real equal.

This game is sort of a transitive Backyard Brawl with Pitt transfer Ben DiNucci starting for JMU. How has he looked in camp and what are your expectations for him running the offense?

Our expectation is that DiNucci will be more consistent this year. He was outstanding at times last year, and athletically there’s a reason he went to a P5 school (even if it was Pitt). But two or three games he just buried the Dukes under an avalanche of turnovers and that can’t happen. We think the new regime might be a great chance for him to have a fresh start too. He’s a sneaky-good runner getting upfield, but scrambling behind the line against Big 12 players is ill-advised and hopefully this week the decisions will be quick.

JMU definitely has some NFL caliber players, especially on defense. Who should WVU fans be looking for on that side of the ball?

Three guys to really keep an eye are Safety Adam Smith, and both DE’s Ron’dell Carter and John Daka. Carter is the anchor/leader of this team and will play both inside and outside at times. Smith is a vet that will be around the ball a ton and will take advantage of any mistakes deep down the middle. The matchup of the lightning-quick Daka and WVU’s Colton McKivitz will be fascinating as this is a real opportunity for Daka to prove himeslf on film against the real thing. I do wonder though if JMU’s coaches will try to get Daka chances away from McKivitz. Another interesting player to monitor is CB Rashad Robinson. He’s likely JMU’s best player and a preseason candidate for national FCS defensive player of the year but missed all of last year injured - hope he looks fully healthy!

How do you think this one shakes out? It’s been a long time since there’s been this level of intrigue over a West Virginia FCS opener, so I’m interested to see your perspective.

Honestly, no idea. But that’s really based on not knowing what to expect of the Mountaineers or either of the new coaching staffs. These first games of the year are always odd too with the potential for players to be too hyped. We fully expect JMU, with 20 starters back, to not be intimidated at all and to absolutely believe they can win. If they can avoid any type of disastrous play, we expect the Dukes to be well-coached and this thing to be tight headed into the fourth quarter. I will say this, we’ve been impressed watching from afar what Coach Brown and co. are doing and we expect WVU to be ready to execute immediately, but any new-player, new-staff, first-game mistakes and JMU is a really dangerous group. Just to rile up your folks, we’ll go with Dukes 30, Mountaineers 27. But Eat Shit Pitt!

Thanks again for Todd from JMU Sports Blog for being such a great asset this week both here and on our pod.