We've said it before, and we'll say it again: Maryland has to beat James Madison, and should beat James Madison. If not, there will, deservedly, be turmoil in College Park.
But that's not to say James Madison is a bad team. The Dukes are traditionally one of the strongest teams in the FCS, and went 12-2 last year. Right now, they're #6 in the entire FCS, which is quite a statement after losing a bunch of their best players, including all-star do-everything QB Rodney Landers (we'll get to him later). Mickey Matthews, the Dukes' head coach, is generally seen as one of the better coaches in the FCS, too. So James Madison is no cupcake.
That said, Maryland should still expect a win, and a relatively large one. Rodney Landers, the Dukes' starting QB last year, was nothing less than ridiculously important to the offense, and could've been described as the heart of the team. Landers' stat line from last year is ridiculous - 1884 yards rushing, 1531 yards passing, 21 passing TDs, and 16 rushing TDs. That's a good majority of their offense no longer part of the team, and the effect is amplified simply due to the fact that it's their QB.
Landers is looking to be replaced by either junior Drew Dudzik, who's only played one half of college football, or freshman Justin Thorpe. Both are good runners, like Landers, but whether either of them have Landers' talent or the ability to reproduce Landers' stat line is unknown. Making the situation worse is Matthews' intent to play both of them Saturday. You know the old adage: "If you have two QBs, you have none." This could be especially true, as the two have similar playing styles and can't be substituted for certain situations.
There have been losses elsewhere on the offensive end. Eugene Holloman, the Dukes' starting running back last year, is a graduation casualty. Griff Yancey, the second-string RB, switched over to FS at the end of spring camp. The new guy isn't completely new - Scott Noble is a redshirt sophomore who played his true freshman year, though his stat line wasn't all that impressive. For whatever reason, he sat out last season as a redshirt year.
They're also replacing three starters on the offensive line, which, as we know all too well, can lead to disastrous results.
There's an overarching theme here - new people. New people lead to cohesion issues and lots of mistakes. Exacerbating the problem is the fact that this is James Madison's first game - unlike Maryland and most other teams, they haven't had a shot to warm up against real competition.
There is good news, however - the defensive line looks to be experienced and very good, which is very bad for a Bruce Campbell-less offensive line. The line is led by defensive end Arthur Moats, who had 11.5 sacks last year, and defensive tackle Sam Daniels, who played an Albert Haynesworth role and drew blockers, but still managed to rack up 6 sacks and 12 tackles for loss. If Maryland's line doesn't bring their A game, there could be a Cal-redux performance.
But there's also good news for Maryland elsewhere on JMU's defense - the linebackers and safeties are inexperienced and how good they are is completely unknown. The entire secondary is new - there is not one regular starter from last year in Dukes' back four. The only guy who would've returned, strong safety Pat Williams, switched positions. For a team with a capable, if not outstanding, QB and a ton of weapons at WR, you have to think the Maryland will be able to exploit the Dukes through the air.
As for the linebackers, they aren't much better. They do return talented sophomore Jamie Veney, who started last year, but he's the most experienced guy at the position. They also have the aforementioned Pat Williams, who was a solid SS last year, but is in a completely new spot. The third spot seems to be up for grabs, and if a winner has been announced, I don't know who it is (and I looked).
If the Maryland offensive line can hold the defensive line at least a little bit, the Terps have a chance to be pretty explosive on offense. Runs should be able to get through the linebackers and secondary, provided they can get there. Likewise, if Turner has a little bit of protection, he should be able to find open receivers in a young secondary.
JMU does have an X-factor - All-American kick returner Scotty McGee. He's fully capable of breaking one, so watch out for that.
Did this post seem to really play down JMU? Probably. I didn't mean for it to come off that way, and JMU deserves respect as an opponent. But I call them as I see them, and I see a bunch of lost starters being replaced by unexperienced players in their first game of the season. I'm not saying Maryland should expect a blowout, but that's not out of the question. Of course, as we've already learned, neither is an upset loss.