Jul 24 / Todd

Do Dukes Fans Need To Check Our Expectations?

Five short weeks from Saturday the Dukes will take the field in Greenville, NC to begin what is far and away the most anticipated season in the football program’s history. There have been years, especially in decade plus since the ’04 title, where us fans had sky-high expectations (’08, ’15 for sure) or reasons for massive excitement (opening of New BFS in ’10). But there has never been a year when predictions from everyone that bleeds purple for a pending campaign almost universally ranged ONLY between a “disappointing” 10-1 or a spotless 11-0 for the regular season with an absolute assumption of a deep playoff run if not a third championship. At today’s CAA Media Day in Baltimore (insert CAA jokes here), any coach or writer that picks – or even mentions – a different conference champ in the official preseason poll or the straw polls will be laughed out of the room.

In very un-JMUSB fashion, we’re here to do some much-needed tempering of those delusions of grandeur. This is equal parts preview, commentary, and horsecrap, but we think it’s much needed at the moment.

Yes, we know the Dukes turned into a ridiculous juggernaut late last year after less than a season of Coach Houston drilling them into his likeness. They won every playoff game by double-digits and could’ve won a couples by triple-digits (we see you Soft Houston St.). And yes, we know JMU is bringing back truckloads of talent including best-in-the-nation-at-their-positions players like QB Bryan Schor, LT Aaron Stinnie, and TE Jonathan Kloosterman, not to mention a defense that while it lost some big-time performers (Reynolds, Steele, etc.) should be even more dialed in during year two of this staff’s system. And they’re adding not only a slew of potentially strong FBS transfers, but also a few beasts from the group that redshirted last year after staying the course from what turned out to be a very strong class during Everett Withers’ single real recruiting cycle. They have the perfect coaching staff, the perfect schemes, a mountain of momentum, great unis, a continuously more watered-down FCS, the best stadium in the country at this level, and a raucous fanbase that remembered (or learned depending on your spot in the JMU fandom evolutionary progression) what it is like to really root fer’ Dukes last year. Our beloved Dukes are ranked in the top three nationally in every major poll, including #1 in Lindy’s. Oh yeah, and Raven Greene got an extra year of eligibility. All those things plus a bunch of things we forgot are understandably contributing to the hysteria.

BUT…this shit is hard. Like, really hard. You think NDSU didn’t think every second until the John Miller TD in December that the Bison weren’t winning their sixth straight or Eastern Washington didn’t think they were going to outscore the Dukes in the title game until the YSU kid made a grab that would make David Tyree blush? Every single Dukes fan in the world thought the ’08 and ’15 teams were championship bound right up to the moments Rodney Landers and Vad Lee went down. The Dukes eeked out a great win over the rival Ticks in Richmond last year, then the SweaterVests suffered a bunch of injuries and their coach dropped a deuce on their administration at playoff time. But Satchmo and company will be in fine shape after stealing Russ Heusman away from Chattanooga as the Dukes did with Houston from El Cid the year before. Just in the CAA there will be more challenges. Always talent-laden Delaware will be coached by former Ticks HC and surprised-face emoji Danny Rocco. They’ll be better immediately. Villanova will be Villanova, and out to support their new regime. Maine had a few stud freshman that made that game annoying last year. UNH will be UNH. Actually, on second thought, UNH might finally suck, or at least we hope so.

Lock the Damn Gates!

Lock the Damn Gates!

And that game at ECU we’re all feeling so great about? Let’s not forget they were in their first year with child-coach Scottie Montgomery during whatever that was they tried to play last season (seriously, good job effort there JMU-grad-AD Jeff Compher in firing pretty much the most respected man in college football Ruffin McNeill to go 2-9 last year). They have 22 more scholarships than JMU and the Pirates absolutely know they might not win a game till Week 5 if they can’t hold serve at home in their FCS opener. It’ll be four thousand degrees down there that night if there isn’t a three-hour lightning delay (don’t say you weren’t warned) and EZU will be ready.

So let’s all just slow our roll a tiny bit and, in the boring words of literally every coach ever, just enjoy “the process.” JMU needs all the talent to gel and not get complacent after a trophy or be irked by having to share playing time and the spotlight. It needs Cole Johnson or one of the other QB2’s to make us feel like the entire season isn’t dependent on Schor’s collarbone. The Dukes need special teams to be as special as they were last year. And maybe most importantly, they need to realize that the first three games (ECU and then two cupcakes at home) may not be indicative of how good – or not – the squad is and they better be ready to play when the Black Bears come to town in late September.

So let’s all pace ourselves as we get ready for the 2017 season. After all, it’s still six months till Frisco! Go Dukes!

13 Comments

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  1. OBXDuke1983 / Jul 25 2017

    How are you feeling about the Duke’s offensive line? I don’t know anything about the guys who are going to have to fill some very big shoes very quickly.

  2. Drake / Jul 25 2017

    In all honesty, I thought things were done when Schor went down. It’s a great luxury to have a good backup (and hopefully future star). What I notice is the depth of the team and there’s no real diva or star that wants the spotlight and Schor spreads the ball around so much. There are so many weapons, it’s hard to slow down. I don’t think the offense will slow down. I’m just hoping the defense can play to the level that they did at the end of last season. I’m just looking forward to more t-shirt material from Houston.

  3. Sunchase / Jul 25 2017

    Obligatory JMU/Times-Dispatch story link: http://www.richmond.com/sports/if-jmu-isn-t-caa-football-favorite-tuesday-on-media/article_fd29abc5-ade5-576b-a445-9d1268ed29d4.html

    I actually want to play devil’s advocate against your devil’s advocate. Looking up and down the schedule, I have no idea what team can match JMU at any one position group, let alone the entire team as a whole. I’ve never been “we’ll go undefeated” guy, but man, shy of crippling injuries, it’s hard to see who could beat this Dukes team. We lost multiple receivers, one of the greatest RBs in program history, a beast LB in the middle of the defense, some really talented O-linemen, and an NFL-bound DB… and got better?

    I know this post is insurance against our own emotional investment, and I’m good with all of that, but it’s awfully hard not to look at that regular season schedule, and then look at the two-deep, and not think JMU is going undefeated. This one time, it might not be that crazy.

    Damn. I’m usually Mr. Tempered Expectations. I feel like we’ve completely switched roles.

  4. M@ / Jul 25 2017

    Depleting a WR core that was talented and selfess (and blocked). Half the o-line graduating. A still tough CAA. And last season we didn’t draw the devastating (pass interference or unnecessary roughness) penalties. I’m not sure we win the CAA this season. Will be perfectly happy to be proven wrong.

  5. Sunchase / Jul 25 2017

    Totally with you on the O-line. Yet to be determined what happens on that right side. Not buying the CAA field, though, in the context of how manageable JMU’s overall conference schedule is.

  6. zac / Jul 25 2017

    NEH DUKES 100-0 EVERY GAME

  7. Devon Watts / Jul 25 2017

    Funny. I was talking with my dad about this yesterday. My expectations for this season are sky high, and losing a game WOULD feel like a disappointment. Stark contrast from past seasons. I came to JMU in 09, so last year I remember saying last year that JMU would go 7-4, sneak into the playoffs and get eliminated in the first round…thats what I was used to, and we had just lost Vad Lee and had a new head coach. I was glad to be proven wrong but with the way we dominated last year, but man it is hard to not expect a trip to Frisco with the talent we are returning. Can’t wait to see what this year has in store for us!

  8. M@ / Jul 26 2017

    @OBXDuke1983 – I’ve been concerned about the o-line because we graduated three starters.

    That being said, the presumed starter at RT started the entire playoff run (the starter was injured) against the best set of DEs in the country at the FCS level (YSU was an NFL draftee; not sure about the NDSU guy…he may have been a JR) and did ok (he was a r-Fr and needed help; but he was a r-Fr and won’t have to face the like of those monsters until October – excepting possibly ECU).

    The backup C last season played significantly in the Fargo Dome (playing Center there is a heck of a trial by fire). Not sure if he played in the NC or not, but again, he held his own against NDSU and presumably could start at one of the newly vacated positions (I don’t recall exactly which positions we are losing as my memory sucks).

    If we count those two as at least decent replacements then the only concern is losing Matt Frank who was both talented and a leader on the o-line and the new o-line coach. I can’t speak to either replacement. But losing the coach is huge.

    I’m on record stating that, while talented, a lot of Khalid’s success was because of those beasts in front of him pushing people around. What I failed to also mention was what I noticed in watching the NDSU game and the NC on YouTube (I was having withdraw symptoms and needed a fix). The WRs were big, strong, selfless (nobody complained about not getting the ball as far as we know) and blocked down field with authority. We graduated three of the starters. That could hurt our running game as well as our passing game.

    That’s a lot of writing and I don’t expect anyone has actually read down this far. I am a pessimist, but Coach Houston has impressed me with how well he keeps the guys focused and how well he built his staff (Trott turned the Defensive unit around pretty good). While I wouldn’t be surprised to be passed by Richmond or Villanova or even Delaware, I will be dissappointed if Houston doesn’t keep this teem focused and give us a great shot to go to the playoffs and make another deep run. Would love for the Bison to have to come to BFS and see what it’s like when the shoe is on the other foot.

  9. M@ / Jul 26 2017

    @Sunchase – Richmond has 19 seniors returning including their QB who was injured in the playoffs. They have a new HC from a successful program (it worked for us, but we’ll see). Also the away team is on quite the streak in the UR vs JMU rivalry. Delaware just hired the Richmond coach and Delaware is simply a bigger school with more alumni and more money (granted it may take some time for that to work out). Villanova is Villanova. And I’m really worried about Bill and Mary partially because nobody seems to be talking about them. They had an off year last year, but played us tough and we have to go there this season. Again, I don’t think its impossible and I trust Houston, but it won’t be a cake walk (the cake is a lie anyway).

    http://herosports.com/fcs-football/richmond-football-2017-season-bzbz

  10. Cory / Jul 26 2017

    Losing two coaches is hard for sure and the good news is they are being replaced with two other coaches Houston is familiar with. The OL really only lost the RG and Center. IF they have suitable replacements then there won’t be much drop off there.

    Losing Abdullah hurts but people forget that his carries only really went up after an injury to the backup. Both backups are back as well as Marshall coming in from GT so I expect we are good there.

    My real concern for JMU is the receivers..Schor was bailed out a few times by great catches (after he ran around for awhile creating the time for them to get more open). People assume the best WRs are the ones that can catch and run a 4.3 40. The truth is the ones that run great routes and stay on blocks are the best players. Hopefully they will get to that point this year and if they do we will be find on offense…as always barring injuries.

    I think Bob Trott got the defense really humming and I think part of the reason our DBs didn’t get as many penalties is because of better coaching. Play aggressive and the refs will give you more room (see NFL Seahawks).

    DL and safeties will be the heart of the unit.

    Plenty of returners at CB and LB along with some transfers should really help even with the loss of Gage Steele (still 1 of the top 3 football names ever at JMU).

    My breakdown of the schedule is this. Anything other than a 3-1 start will be disappointing based on who we have coming back. Yes Maine is a CAA team but coming to JMU really limits my excitement about their chances.

    The next four games will make or break the season. 4-0 is possible but so is 0-4. In years past I would say we need to come out of those 4 at 2-2 to have a chance at making the playoffs. In reality I expect to win both games at home and we need to figure out a way to win at either Delaware or William/Mary. Beat cupcake Elon and URI and that makes the game vs. the Ticks the difference between a CAA championship or not (again barring injuries that derail everything).

    Last year I predicted Houston would do what most new coaches do at JMU (win 8 games and make the playoffs). Glad to say I was very very wrong. This year I want to be right and say we will beat ECU somehow, then drop a game to UD or WM on the road and the UR game becomes YUGE. Somehow we get a seed for home playoff games are NDSU has to come to Bridgeforth for once!

  11. jmu08 / Jul 31 2017

    Just going to say, ECU, with all their extra ships, is not as good as NDSU and other top level FCS teams. If we can’t beat ECU, we be better do like last time and get better as the season goes on if we want a chance to repeat.

  12. 2004 Duke / Aug 3 2017

    I’ll admit it…I expect to be in the final 4 every single year at WORST. We have the best facilities in the entire country, and almost every season we’re better than everyone we play but we find a way to drop the ball.

  13. M@ / Aug 8 2017

    Turns out that “the presumed starter at RT started the entire playoff run” is out for the year with an injury. That hurts.

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