It took a lot to get to where we are for the James Madison Dukes. No matter where you stood on the NCAA eligibility status of the Dukes this season, there was simply no denying the fact that JMU was easily one of the best teams in the entire country. It was a travesty that the Dukes were deemed ineligible to play in the postseason by the NCAA.
But, by the grace of their fellow FBS teams, the historic 2023 is now set to continue for JMU as they’re bowl-eligible for the first time in school history.
JMU Becomes Bowl Eligible for First Time in History
Thanks to the copious amount of bowl games and a loophole in bowl-eligibility standards, the Dukes are now headed to a postseason bowl game for the first time.
Of the 133 college football teams, 82 of them are a part of bowl season. Teams must win six games to reach bowl eligibility, which seems simple enough.
However, following the final week of the regular season, only 79 teams had won the required six games to reach bowl eligibility, or 81 if you counted JMU and Jacksonville State, who also were deemed ineligible for postseason play because of FCS to FBS transition rules.
The antiquated rules are no longer a concern for JMU as the loophole states that “ineligible” teams can be called upon if not enough teams qualify for postseason play. JMU, Jacksonville State, and the 5-7 Minnesota Golden Gophers are the first to be called up, so to speak, for a bowl game.
Currently, the College Football Network Bowl Projections have JMU playing the Miami Hurricanes in the Gasparilla Bowl.
But, let’s face it, the Dukes shouldn’t have had to wait this long.
JMU’s Historic Season Continues
The Dukes put forth one of the most impressive college football seasons in recent memory. Not only did they win 11 games, but they finished with an equally impressive 7-1 record in the highly competitive Sun Belt and should be playing for the title game during conference championship weekend.
The Dukes should have also been considered for the New Year’s Six Bowls, but the College Football Playoff Selection Committee left them unranked due to their ineligibility.
It should be stated: JMU is easily the best team next to the Liberty Flames and the Tulane Green Wave from the Group of Five.
The Dukes lead the country in a bevy of statistics (run defense, tackles for loss, yards allowed per rush) and are among the nation’s leaders in even more. The offense scored at will and the defense limited opponents in cohesive and dominant weekly outings.
Jordan McCloud finished with 3,413 passing yards to rank second in the conference and 13th nationally. The Dukes bolstered a pair of running backs that ran for over 500 yards and, for the first time in school history, had two receivers go over 1,000 yards in the air.
Reggie Brown (1,010) and Elijah Sarratt (1,076) paired to become the first time since JMU joined the FBS that the Dukes had two receivers with over 1,000 receiving yards in the same season. Brown and Sarratt were one of just two pairs of teammates to accomplish that feat in 2023, joining only LSU’s duo of Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas Jr.
JMU’s defense was led by the QB-terror himself, Jalen Green, and before his injury, he was leading the country in sacks and tackles for loss. Despite an injury, Green still finished the regular season with the nation’s most sacks at 15.5.
Freshman CB D’Angelo Ponds was a revelation on the outside for the Dukes, while the rest of the veteran secondary continually propelled the JMU defense all the same.
It was a historic season by every measure for JMU, and they got the end result they all wanted: postseason play. Sure, it’s not the conference championship, but you better believe this Dukes’ team will put forth the best effort in all facets to improve to 12-1 on the season.