It’s a year of change for the JMU football program. A new coaching staff, new starting QB, multiple new skill players, and revamped philosophies on both sides of the ball. Apparently that all adds up to low expectations for the voters in the CAA Preseason Poll, who picked the Dukes to finish eight in the league. The results of the poll and the All CAA teams were revealed at CAA Media Day yesterday. Only Rhode Island, Albany, Stony Brook, and the league’s newest entrant, Elon, were picked to finish below the Dukes. New Hampshire was the runaway favorite and preseason pick to win the league with 15 first place votes. Villanova, Richmond, and William & Mary also received first place votes. Senior Safety Dean Marlowe was selected to the CAA Preseason All Conference Team. He was the only Duke honored.
Just two quick comments about this. First of all, we’ve made it pretty clear in the past that this preseason polls and honors are virtually worthless. They’re a total crapshoot and for evidence all you need to do is look back at a number of very mediocre JMU teams that were picked to contend for the conference title. Second of all, it’s the oldest cliche in the book, but the “nobody believes in us” strategy still seems to be pretty effective. Playing with a bit of a chip on your shoulder is never a bad thing. The Dukes will have the opportunity to do just that in 2014.
Two bits of football news today. First, the CAA announced its full TV schedule today, and while JMU will not be hosting any NBCSN national games, we now know they’ll have at least seven games televised. As it stands now, here’s what we know about the schedule:
Sept 6 at Lehigh 12:30pm
Sept 13 St. Francis, likely Madizone
Sept 20 at Villanova 12:30pm CSN
Sept 27 Delaware 4pm CSN
Oct 4 at Albany 6pm
Oct 11 Towson 12:30pm CSN
Oct 25 at Charlotte 12pm
Nov 1 William & Mary 3:30pm American Sports Network
Nov 8 at Stony Brook 1pm
Nov 15 at Richmond 12:30pm NBS Sports Network
Nov 22 Elon 12pm American Sports Network
In other news, I’m delighted (though Rob’s certainly not) to note that former Dukes Tight End Mike Caussin was signed by the Skins today after they cut another player to make room. Caussin was a true stud on the last relevant Dukes teams and has battled injury during his time in Buffalo, but seems to be a solid guy who’s certainly never given up or ceased to work his ass off to get back. He’ll have stiff competition to make the roster in Washington, but as a capable special teamer and basically the fourth TE with the top two firmly entrenched, he should get a great chance to play a ton in the preseason. He’ll also be joining fellow Duke LB Akeem Jordan in Washington and now I’ll have to put some extra thought into my new jersey selection.
Way back when we were in school, our favorite Thursday tradition might have been Dime Drafts at JM’s. Ever the innovator, Coach Withers has introduced a new Thursday tradition for the JMU football program that should be much more impactful that cheap Natty Lite. It’s called Life Lessons Thursdays and it centers around successful JMU alums speaking to the team about life after football. It’s one of those ideas that is so simple, you wonder why nobody has thought of it before.
The video above gives you a brief overview of the program. Essentially, it connects some of JMU’s most successful alums with some of its most visible (and hardest working) students. It’s a complete win-win and an example of how alums and students should be interacting all the time. Well done Coach Withers, well done.
If there is one thing we’ve learned about Coach Withers thus far, it’s that the man is not afraid to make some changes. A second thing is that he really likes to use the word dude (regardless of whether or not a certain former JMU coach finds it appropriate or not). But really it’s the changes that stand out.
Withers has come in and completely shaken up the JMU football program. A more intense academic system, increased competition for starting spots, better student outreach, new locker rooms, etc. There are no sacred cows in Withers eyes. If he thinks there is a change that can help his players, he’s going to make sure it happens. That same philosophy apparently extends to mixing things up and making improvements for fans. Because as the DNR’s Matt Jones explains, Coach Withers is helping revamp the fans’ game day experience ($).
In the article, Jones explains that Withers, Jeff Bourne, and the football operations staff are putting their stamp on JMU game days this fall. More games will be played in the middle of the afternoon, in an attempt to be more student friendly. The hope is that by wrapping things up before Saturday night parties kick off, more students will stay for the entire game. The fact that it also means an earlier drive back home for alums ain’t bad either. Withers and the team will bring back the walk through the tailgate areas prior to kick-off, rebranding the activity the “Dog Walk.” Something tells me, Withers version might be a little more enthusiastic and fan friendly than versions under the previous regime. Prior to entering the locker room, coaches and players might make a pit stop to join Curt Dudley at a sort of JMU version of college game day outside the stadium. The only thing that would make that better would be if Curt invited two JMU bloggers to join him as well. (ed. note: Make that happen people. Please.)
In terms of the stadium experience, the pre game cartoons featuring the Duke Dog fighting the visiting team’s mascots are a thing of the past. They will be replaced by some other form of video, but nobody is sharing details just yet. We can expect the same sort of fireworks and team entrance, but newer music throughout the game. One thing we might not see a lot of is in game replays while the Dukes are on offense. Not because Withers or anyone else has something against them, but because JMU is expected to play at a tempo so fast there won’t be time to show replays or highlights between plays. Mickey ball this is not.
So as most of you know, we’re VERY thankful for Twitter, especially in the summer months, as it helps us stay active without writing a bunch more gimmicky stuff on here during the offseason when we ran out of those gimmicks three years ago. Plus it’s incredible for connecting with other non-power conference dorks like us. And now…
…Duke Dog is on Twitter. Because of course he is, and we’re betting he’ll have exactly the kind of boring, PR-filled, yes-man bullsh*t that everyone already hates on FB and has infiltrated Twitter more and more over the last couple years. But still, it’s @TheJMUDukeDog and of all the JMU athletics accounts, it’s sort of a must.
But more interesting, and considerably more substantive, to take take you through the home stretch of the college offseason (46 days to Maryland!), is the fairly cool idea from the new-look, and apparently newly-imagined, JMU Sports official site to have a student-athlete (NCAA-endorsed term!) blog from Senior Volleyball standout Meghan Niski as she’s competing this summer in the European Global Challenge tournament in Croatia and Montenegro as a member of some kind of Midwest All-Star U22 squad. Congrats and good luck to Meghan and please write frequently.
We’re both doing the family vacation bit this weekend so we’re not going to write at length. But thankfully Brian Ewart over at his outstanding Villanova site, VUHoops.com, gave the college sports world this fantastic think-piece on some huge issues on the horizon for college athletics, especially college athletics in a no-man’s land of the non-power conferences. This piece is in-depth and it’s not for everyone, but we think our diehards will appreciate it as much as the level of research, craft and structure only drives the home the difference between a pro like Brian and fans like us. By the way, Brian obviously covers a lot of ‘Nova hoops stuff, but his twitter over @Brian_Ewart is all college sports all the time, he does care about CAA football unlike most Wildcat writers and he doesn’t often stray into Nats/Mets/Title IX/Beer/WorldCup/bullshit the way that we do if you’re interested.
Now go find yourself a great beach beer (Harrisonburg’s own 3Brothers’ Drift comes to mind) and a lawn chair and enjoy the heavenly sound of cooler rustlin’, truly life’s most exquisite aural pleasure.
Though we still have no idea how we’re going to get through the next seven weeks, it’s great to know there are only 52 days left till the football Dukes kickoff the Withers era in College Park against one of the nation’s best players, Stefon Diggs, and the rest of the underwhelming new B1G member Terps! And even less than that (38 days in fact) till the Women’s Soccer team gets the entire JMU Athletics year started against Bucknell on August 16.
And in case you hadn’t noticed, and judging by JMU’s non-athletics headlines lately you understandably have not, JMU Sports got itself a newfangled and it has to be said, slick and modern website on July 1. You can check it out here. The site, produced by a company called Sidearm Sports and hopefully signaling a break from the tech-debacle that has often been NeuLion, has a cleaner, simpler look and we’re both pleased so far and hopeful about the future but…
…where the hell is Duke Dog? Seriously, why does JMU insist on trying to marginalize Duke Dog, the real Duke Dog we all know and love, seemingly every year. First they tried to sex him up with a more aggressive look for the mascot costume and a shinier gray, but three-year olds all over Bridgeforth were terrified and quickly called out the imposter. Now JMU seems to have removed Duke Dog from all of our logos on the new website. Unfortunately, all the rebranding in the world isn’t going to change the fact we’re still in the CAA.
Now please, #FreeDukeDog!
As we mentioned last week, Coach Wither’s and his staff have brought a ton of new ideas and enthusiasm to the JMU football program. One of those new ideas was a players Strongman Competition, which took place in June. This video captures the highlights. It’s rather intense and features a bunch of strenuous looking activities, any one of which would send a much weaker man (like me for instance) to the showers crying. Thankfully the Dukes are far tougher than most of us and actually appear to be enjoying themselves, even while inexplicably wearing tie-dyed t-shirts for a tug-of-war. Football season can’t get here soon enough.
The brand new and improved JMUsports.com website officially launched today. We’re not going to offer a fully detailed review, but we will say it gets two enthusiastic thumbs up from us. It features a simple and clean design and it includes some great new information. We particularly like the football results going back 42 years. While we were checking it out today, we came across an article on the current state of football season ticket sales. And it turns out those who forecast gloomy times for fan support appear to have misread the tea leaves. Football season ticket sales are ahead of last year’s pace.
There was a great deal of handwringing over JMU’s failure to make a move to an FBS league this year. While we have no interest in rehashing the “should we stay or should we go debate”, it’s obvious that there were some very vocal members of the pro-FBS segment. Some of whom might have even predicted that the the majority (or at least significant portion) of the fans would voice its displeasure by abandoning the football program, leaving Bridgeforth with scores of empty seats this Fall. Well, as of the May 15 season ticket renewal deadline, 500 more season tickets had been sold than at last year’s deadline. And more tickets have been sold since then, bringing the total season tickets sold to 6,100. That’s on pace to surpass last year’s total of 7,002.
We’re not pointing this out in order to convince you that everything is perfect in the world of JMU sports or JMU football. The football program is headed by a new regime, desperate to break free from the mediocre plateau the former coaches had settled on. And the FBS question will continue to loom over us for at least another year. But this uptick in football season ticket sales might indicate that the excitement about what Coach Withers is doing with the program, trumps any sort of disappointment lingering over the lack of a conference move. Which would be awesome.
Withers and his staff haven’t even coached their first game, but they’ve already put their stamp on the program. From a completely revamped academic program, to improved student outreach, to a player strong man competition, to on overall injection of enthusiasm. They’re breathing life into a program that really needed it. And they’re pulling in talented players and recruiting like it’s their job (side note: it is their job). The enthusiasm, or “juice” as Withers puts it, is contagious. And these latest season ticket numbers are evidence of that.