The world rotated around the sun like usual yesterday, but inside Bridgeforth Stadium, something felt out of the norm.

Inside that stadium Saturday, JMU obliterated No. 23 Coastal Carolina, 47-7. The teams are the top two in the Sun Belt Conference East Division and, after the result, finished the season with the same conference record: 6-2. 

But even with the loss, the Chanticleers will still represent the east in the conference title game Dec. 3 versus the west’s Troy. 

Coastal Carolina actually locked itself into the title game before it faced the Dukes. Because JMU played in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) up until last year, and now that the university is playing a higher division of football, the Dukes aren’t allowed to compete for a bowl game right away because of NCAA rules. And because the Sun Belt doesn’t want its conference champion to be bowl-ineligible, JMU wouldn’t be allowed to play past Saturday’s game, even if it won by 100 points.

Many people on Twitter think that’s unfair. 

As for the Dukes, they don’t — at least not outwardly. 

“This is the perfect ending,” graduate running back Percy Agyei-Obese said following the win versus Coastal Carolina. “I'm just happy to be a part of it.”

JMU knew this season had a finite Nov. 26 end before it began. Only once did JMU head coach Curt Cignetti speak critically of the FBS transition rule, when Oct. 3 he called it “antiquated” and that “the people that suffer are the student-athletes.” On Oct. 10 after JMU’s 5-0 start, Director of Athletics Jeff Bourne said he was “fighting for” football’s student-athletes to get a postseason opportunity. 

Postgame Saturday, redshirt senior wide receiver Kris Thornton said JMU should be going to a bowl game, but other than that, players mostly reminisced on this year’s historic season — for good reason. JMU exceeded pretty much all outside expectations this year, finishing 8-3 (6-2 Sun Belt) as the first transitioning team to ever face a full FBS schedule in its first FBS season. 

“The way they were making it seem as, like, you're gonna come into this level and just be outmanned and pushed around,” JMU redshirt senior defensive end Isaac Ukwu said, “we weren't going for that.” 

The Breeze conducted a survey with 428 respondents in early August; 85.2% of them said JMU would win 4-7 games, and 65.2% predicted JMU would finish either fourth or fifth in the east. Just 19 respondents correctly predicted JMU would win eight games, and seven said the Dukes would finish first in the Sun Belt east.

Back in late July, Sun Belt coaches picked JMU to finish sixth of seven teams in the east division. Four months later, the Dukes declared themselves “Kings of the East.” 

“They disrespected us in the beginning but I mean, obviously they didn't know what JMU was capable of coming from the FCS. They thought it was gonna be sweet,” Ukwu said. “We knew it, like, I knew JMU would be good moving up, but it's definitely coming on way faster than a lot of people thought.”

While the survey respondents had low expectations, people in the college football world weren’t too taken aback by JMU’s record this season, with some citing the Dukes’ success in the FCS. Appalachian State and Coastal Carolina head coaches Shawn Clark and Jamey Chadwell, respectively, said Nov. 14 they weren’t surprised to see JMU hit six wins in its first FBS season. Agyei-Obese said before the Coastal Caroliina game that this season hasn’t been as difficult as he thought it’d be. And Cignetti, armed with 28 years of Power 5 assistant coaching experience, said he’s “not a bit surprised” about JMU’s output this season.

Yes, postseason ineligibility keeps the graduating seniors from punctuating this inaugural FBS season. It affects the younger players, too — bowl game preparation in December would give them about 20 extra days of practice that they won’t get without a bowl game. 

JMU could’ve played with lackluster effort Saturday and pouted postgame about the season’s end. Instead, the Dukes treated Saturday like their bowl game, Cignetti said, and beat down on the team that’ll go to the title game next week. 

The Dukes ended 2022 in the best way they could, given the circumstances, while controlling what they could Saturday: Playing dominant football. 

“Everybody knows who JMU is now,” Thornton said, “and they can’t deny it.” 

Contact Grant Johnson at breezesports@gmail.com. For more football coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.