Undefeated James Madison had a lot of swirling issues this week while it prepared to host one-win Connecticut, but coach Curt Cignetti wants a singular focus.
The No. 21 Dukes (9-0) petitioned the NCAA for a waiver to be included in bowl eligibility, something NCAA rules deny them as a program transitioning to the highest level of college football. They are also denied a chance to play for the Sun Belt Conference championship, a rule the NCAA put in place to ensure programs making the step up are prepared for better competition.
“We would be in those rankings probably somewhere around where we’re ranked,” Cignetti said this week. “But you know, it’s not where you are today, it’s where you finish, and I steadfastly believe we should be a part of those rankings. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be a part of those rankings. ... We’ve had the 24-hour rule to kind of think about those kind of things. And now the total focus is on Connecticut.”
Huskies coach Jim Mora likes the Dukes’ model for success. James Madison would have played in the league championship game last season had it been eligible, and would again this season.
“They have an outstanding recruiting base and they do a fantastic job in keeping players,” said Mora, in his second season with the Huskies (1-8).
“We have to get players who are established players who have played in big-game environments and have snaps under their belt. We have to continue to get the best players in our state and in the past two years, we have,” he said.
“The facts of the matter are that in our area, there is not a large population that we can pull from unlike other areas of the country, so we have to do a great job here. But for us to build this program the way we want to build it, we have to attack the portal and we plan to be very aggressive in the transfer portal.”
The Huskies and the Dukes have met five times and James Madison has won the last four, although the last meeting came in 1999 when both teams were members of the Yankee Conference or the Atlantic 10.
The Huskies average 123.8 rushing yards, while James Madison leads the country in rushing defense, allowing less than 60 yards per game. A one-dimensional offense is a burden as an underdog.
JMU has won 12 straight dating to last season, the longest winning streak among teams in the Group of Five. UConn has lost 12 straight road games against ranked teams and last won a game on the road against a ranked team in 2012 when it beat No. 19 Louisville 23-20 in triple overtime.
The Dukes will be without Jalen Green for the rest of the season. Green leads the nation with 15 1/2 sacks and 21 tackles for a loss, but was injured at the end of last week’s victory and needs surgery. The Dukes also lead the nation in sacks, averaging 4.67 per game.
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