Kempton Smith |BGP Contributor | App State Alum

Wow, three straight games with national headlines and the amazing week leading up to GameDay.  Can it get any better?  I am ready for a “regular game.”  I’m with Coach.  Let’s win one by more than a touchdown and cut out the late Q4 heroics.

As for us older fans, I am not sure I can buy into the “we win, we swim” plan.  Our last win this season could be the first Saturday in December with a conference title at home.  I do not want to find myself hoping for a loss so I won’t have to take a dunk in the duck pond after the game.

Next up, James Madison University, the JMU Dukes.

With the Sun Belt expansion, the East Division got three teams with great football culture; and JMU may be the most similar to App State.

In addition to becoming a conference-mate, JMU also rises to the FBS level this year.  Last year, the Dukes made the semi-finals of FCS.  During this transition year, the Dukes will not be eligible for a bowl game in 2022, but they expect to be a spoiler.  They are playing to prove they are worthy of the Sunbelt East competition.  They are playing to be better than the transition App completed.

The Dukes are a team with a tradition of winning.  JMU won the National Championship in 2004 and 2016.  2020 and 2021, under current head coach Curt Cignetti, they made the semi-finals but lost.  It is hard to make the semis.  Most of the teammates are back for the FBS transition.  They would like to knock off the high-riding Mountaineers, coming off the TA&M victory and hosting GameDay in their first Sun Belt game.

Looking further back, App has a 12-4 advantage in the series, which began in 1980.  The Dukes’ first win was in 1982, and they repeated in 83, 91 and 07.  The 2007 game, called the Second Miracle on The Mountain by some, occurred in the first-round FCS playoffs in Boone.  The miracle-in-question ended when App State recovered a fumble by JMU at the Mountaineer’s 5 yard line.  It was a close call that would have advanced JMU and stopped App’s last national title run.

JMU’s jump to FBS has the attention of its home state media.  An article in the Richmond Times Dispatch (9/20/22) highlighted App State’s recent successes and hyped the match-up, concluding with:

JMU was 40-3 versus Colonial Athletic Association competition in the last six seasons, dominance that spurred the school’s FBS ambitions.  The Dukes routed Middle Tennessee and Norfolk State to open this year, but neither of those opponents remotely resembles App State.

Football Culture (Parking lot/Stands/Scoreboard)

While the football history in the FCS is impressive, current head coach Curt Cignetti has experienced good programs and is likely to continue to grow the players and fans through his experience.  Cignetti played football and graduated from WVU.  His assistant coaching experience includes NC State (2000-2006 – Phillip Rivers years) and Alabama (2007-2010 Nick Saben teams).  His collegiate head coaching career includes IUP 2011-2016 and Elon 2017-2018.  (Ok, not known as long-term Culture examples.)  It is noteworthy that as a head coach in his twelfth year, his teams have never had a losing record, and since he arrived at JMU in 2019, the high-performing program has continued to improve.

So far, he has met the fans’ high expectations.  But this is a big jump.

JMU facilities and fan engagement on game days at home are substantial.  Tailgating is in the same league as an App State home game.  Game attendance as an FCS program fills 90% of their stadium, about 3,000 seats smaller than KBS.

JMU has a reputation for traveling well.  Expect to see a respectable number of JMU fans in the KBS stands.  From their last visits to KBS, we cleaned up their streamers.  Stories of the JMU streamers are shared in an article by their version of BGP.

I expect the Dukes to visit KBS with the intention of winning and the humility to know they are making a jump and won’t be expected to outperform.  Like App in 2014, they want to be respected and deemed worthy (and maybe ahead of schedule for teams jumping from FCS to FBS).  Their web articles share the expectation that an upper-tier FCS program should be equal to or even better than the typical G5 program.  They do see App as upper-tier G5.

JMU will need more contributions from their version of Yosef Club to sustain the momentum.  James Madison boosters contribute only about one-third of the total raised by App State, but with an alum association base 140k strong, JMU has the potential to check that box.  (FYI App Alumni association is reported at 142k.)