JMU football earned the No. 3 seed in this spring’s playoffs as the Dukes were selected to host SoCon champion VMI, who makes its first ever postseason appearance. South Dakota State and Sam Houston State were picked as the No. 1 and 2 seeds, respectively, with Jacksonville State at No. 4.
The Dukes were one of two teams from the CAA that found themselves in the 16-team field. Delaware is the other playoff participant, as the Blue Hens were named the CAA champion and recipient of the automatic qualifier.
"I'd like to thank the committee for providing us with extra inspiration," head coach Curt Cignetti said on the selection show.
JMU was revealed as the No. 1 team by the Division I Football Championship committee April 1 but still found itself as the third seed in the playoffs. This means the Dukes’ potential run to Frisco, Texas, will have to go through higher seeds like Sam Houston State and North Dakota State.
Before JMU worries about either of those teams, it’ll focus on the Keydets. VMI went 6-1 (6-1 SoCon) with quality wins over Mercer, Samford and Wofford.
“It’s a great moment, you know — it’s a tremendous reward for a team that’s fought through adversity,” VMI head coach Scott Wachenheim said on the ESPNU broadcast. “We look forward to playing James Madison University.”
VMI has had to face adversity in the form of a season-ending injury to its starting quarterback and SoCon Preseason Player of the Year. Senior Reece Udinski suffered a torn ACL in the fourth quarter against Samford — at the time, Udinski had 1,082 passing yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions.
But the Keydets’ backup and redshirt freshman quarterback Seth Morgan picked up right where Udinski left off. Morgan boasts 1,088 yards through the air, eight touchdowns and one interception. The Pittsburgh native also averages 4.4 yards per rushing attempt.
“We never say die, we’ve always believed,” Wachenheim said. “They love each other and play hard for each other.”
VMI junior running back Korey Bridy leads the team in rushing with 325 yards and four touchdowns. Junior wide receiver Jakob Herres is the primary aerial target for the Keydets, as he’s garnered 807 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 12 yards per catch.
The Keydets’ defense gives up 147.9 rushing yards and 197 passing yards per game. Its spread offense runs efficiently and averages 431.4 total yards and 30 points per outing, providing another test for JMU’s proven defense.
Top-seeded South Dakota State went 5-1 (5-1 MVFC) and earned the Missouri Valley title with a 27-17 win over defending national champion NDSU. It’s the first time in program history that SDSU is the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
Throughout most of the season, JMU was the No. 1 team in the Stats Perform FCS poll and was the top team in the committee’s midseason top 10. Kyle Moats, FCS Playoff Committee Chairman and Missouri State Athletic Director, said on the selection show broadcast the Dukes sliding to third came down to comparing resumes:
“They’re a really, really good football team. The committee respected and likes JMU a lot … We looked at the whole body of work throughout the entire season. We felt like some of those teams that were ahead of JMU had a better overall resume in terms of who they played.”
No. 2 Sam Houston State won the Southland Conference title for the first time since 2016, which also was the last time the Dukes and Bearkats faced each other. JMU prevailed in that game 62-7 and later won the FCS National Championship.
“It always goes back to strength of schedule,” Moats said. “When you try to compare the teams, you look for the better wins and sometimes you have not-so-good losses.”
Contact Noah Ziegler at email@example.com. For more coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.