The 2016-17 JMU football team is the only team in program history to record 14 victories in a season. It’s only the second time the Dukes (14-1, 8-0 Colonial Athletic Association) have won a national championship. With the historic season now finished, one has to wonder whether this Dukes team is the best to ever don the purple and gold.
“They went undefeated in CAA play,” head coach Mike Houston said following the 28-14 victory over Youngstown State University in the national championship. “They beat North Dakota State at North Dakota State and won a national championship on a big stage. I think they go down as the best team in JMU history, hands down.”
While Houston is confident in his team, the Dukes saw some stiff competition from prior seasons.
We’ll start our journey through JMU football history with the 1975 team. In the program’s fourth year in existence, the Dukes went 9-0-1 and won their final nine contests. Due to the absence of MadiZONE and social media at this time, not many people are familiar with the 1975 team, but the group put together the only undefeated season in school history.
In the 2016 season, the Dukes scored an astounding 700 total points and 46.7 points per game. In the 1975 season, the Dukes scored a measly 12.5 points per game and won just one game by double digits. For fans of a high-powered offense and flashy touchdowns, the 1975 season wasn’t for you.
While the 2016 team lit up scoreboards, the team cared more about winning a championship than achieving individual accolades. Senior running back Khalid Abdullah broke single-season JMU records with over 1,800 yards and 22 rushing touchdowns. Despite the impressive records, Abdullah wasn’t overly excited about them after the championship game.
“You know, that’s cool,” Abdullah said. “But at the end of the day it’s definitely about the team. Outside of statistics, it’s more so about hoisting that big trophy.”
Statistics might not mean everything, but having an eye-popping offense is always nice for fans.
In the 2004 season, the Dukes and head coach Mickey Matthews had dynamic playmakers, but once again they were on the defensive side of the ball. JMU finished this season 13-2 and ended the season with a national title behind a defense that allowed just 16.7 points per game.
Even more impressive than the defense was the team’s road to the national championship. All four postseason victories came away from home, including a 48-34 semifinal win over the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. The Dukes capped their historic season with a 31-21 victory over the University of Montana in the national title game.
Fast forward to 2008 and the Dukes have a significantly more explosive offense. They average over 38 points per game behind quarterback Rodney Landers, who scored an impressive 37 total touchdowns. He also records more than 3,000 total yards on the season as JMU earns the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
Despite the impressive regular season, the year came to a close in disappointing fashion when the Dukes lost to Montana 35-27 in the semifinals at Bridgeforth Stadium.
The 2008 team will go down as one of the best teams in school history, but with no national championship on its resume, it’s tough to name it the best football team JMU has seen.
Now, back to today’s team. The 2016 Dukes came into the season following a 2015 team that scored 44.3 points per game behind quarterback Vad Lee, who won the CAA Offensive Player of the Year. Lee and the Dukes had ESPN’s College GameDay come to town in mid-October for a battle with the University of Richmond, but they fell short and Lee was injured.
Schor took over for Lee, but the season was derailed when their redshirt senior leader went down and the Dukes, who started the season 7-0, had their chances of being the best team in program history evaporate before their eyes.
After backing up Lee and stepping in for the final four games of the 2015 year, Schor was ready to take over. He stepped in seamlessly and matched Lee by winning the CAA Offensive Player of the Year award this season. The Dukes’ 46.7 points per game this year tops last season’s mark and gives JMU one of the best offenses in program history.
In the national championship postgame press conference, a reporter asked Schor about being the best quarterback in the country. Schor responded by complimenting the best offense in JMU history.
“I’m lucky to have the arsenal that we have at JMU,” Schor said. “To call me the best, I don’t know if that’s accurate, but I think we have the best team. I’m lucky to have those guys because they make me look good each week.”
With a program-record 14 victories, a national championship and the most explosive offense to ever come through Harrisonburg, it’s hard to argue that there’s a better team in JMU football history.
Contact Bennett Conlin at email@example.com