College Football Free Picks: Weekly Mid-Major Report and Predictions for James Madison Week 1
After months of transfers and speculation, the college football season is upon us. Fresh off the heels of an incredibly successful debut campaign that saw them go 8-3 in their first season at the FBS level, excitement is sky-high on the campus of James Madison in support of their Dukes' football team. Living a short 20 minutes north on I-81, I'll be covering them each week and giving you the inside scoop that you won't find anywhere else. We will be using Doc’s Sports Unit System for every pick we give out weekly and tracking the results over the course of the season.
Unfortunately, the inside scoop this week is that because they're playing Bucknell, who currently resides in the FCS level, there are no lines for this week's contest. But I'll break down the game anyway and give you an idea of the kind of content you can come to expect every week.
Doc’s Sports offers college football expert picks for every game on our college football predictions page.
Bucknell (FCS) at James Madison University Sat. Sept 2, 6 P.M.
Hailing from the Patriot League, the Bucknell Bison had a rough 2022 season, going 3-8 and losing all but one of those games by double-digits or more. They only averaged 12.8 ppg last season and have brought a new offensive coordinator in to spice up the lethargic offense. What should help, along with a new offensive philosophy of a high-tempo attack, is that the Bison return all 11 of their starters on offense.
The QB position was a little unsteady for Bucknell last year, as they saw no fewer than four different signal callers start under center. Three of them return, as well as QB Ralph Rucker, a transfer from Oklahoma.
Whoever gets the nod at QB (it currently looks to be the transfer Rucker), they'll be handing it off to the returning RB Rushawn Baker, who gained 646 yards on 154 carries (4.2 ypc) and 7 TDs. He also caught 14 balls out of the backfield for 66 yards and 2 TDs.
The receiving corps saw seven players log double-digit receptions, but only four of them hauled in TD catches (only one other player, Christian Spugnardi, had two touchdowns besides RB Baker).
The Bison defense returns seven starters from a squad that gave up an average of 370 yards per game and 28.4 ppg. Their secondary wasn't horrible, allowing a 59.2 completion percentage and an average of 199 yards per game.
James Madison Offense
Everything on offense starts in the trenches, and JMU's offense line is among the best in the Sun Belt. They bring back all five of their starters from a line that helped to power an offense that averaged 452 ypg and 37.0 ppg. Redshirt freshman Alonza Barnett appears to have beaten out Arizona transfer Jordan McCloud in a hotly-contested QB battle. He will be throwing to a receiving corps that gained a significant upgrade through the transfer portal, bringing in four veteran receivers to help the youngster QB.
Last year's rushing attack gained 187 ypg but saw them lose the No. 8 all-time JMU running back Percy Agyei-Obese and his 908 yards and 8 rushing TDs. However, they do return three out of four top RBs and bring in Ty'Son Lawton who ran for over 2,000 yards in his career at Stony Brook. With an offensive line as good as this one, I could probably rush for 100 yards and a couple of TDs a game on Saturday, and I had a knee replacement a year ago.
James Madison Defense
To say that the 2022 JMU defense was good would be like saying Forrest Gump could run. They were SECOND in the nation in rushing yards allowed a game (80.2 ypg) and led the SBC, as well as being fourth in the country, in total defensive yards allowed (272.2 ypg). All of this led to an average of 20.9 ppg allowed, which is pretty damn good when you're scoring 37 ppg. The Dukes bring back seven starters from that ferocious defense and look to continue to terrorize Sun Belt offenses.
JMU's Game Plan and Outlook
Even though both of these schools were Division I-AA (FCS) opponents until JMU made the move to the FBS level last year, they have never faced each other before.
With a defense that stifled FBS schools, JMU could very easily pitch a shutout Saturday evening. With Bucknell's issues with generating offense, it's difficult to envision the Bison mounting any sort of attack. JMU played one FCS opponent last year, Norfolk State (2022 record of 2-9), and beat them 63-7. I anticipate a very similar defensive effort.
Offensively, the Dukes will be interesting to watch. The QB battle between Barnett and McCloud was a close one and neither have very much game experience. I expect both to see some playing time and with an offensive line as experienced as the Dukes, they will have no problem rolling over an overmatched Bison squad. Because of the question marks on offense, expect to see a heavy dose of JMU's ground game.
While there isn't a line in this game, if there was it would probably be JMU by 35 to 38 and a total of about 57. I don't see the Dukes' defense missing a beat but the offense will probably take a couple of games to iron everything out.
James Madison 45 - Bucknell 6
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