For the second straight year, the Falcons will travel to Ft. Worth, Texas to participate in the Armed Forces Bowl. This will be the seventh time playing in the bowl, making them the most frequent participants.
The Falcons enter with a winning streak of four consecutive bowl games and will face a first-time bowl participant in James Madison University. JMU made the upgrade to FBS just this year and put together an outstanding year, finishing 11-1, with a #24 ranking.
Scouting James Madison
JMU is in a state of flux since the end of the regular season. Head coach Curt Cignetti has signed to coach at Indiana next season and has taken several coaches with him, including his offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, and quarterback coach. The team will be coached by offensive line coach Damien Wroblewski, and many of the other coaches have been replaced by fill-ins.
A large number of key players have also entered the transfer portal, including Sun Belt Player of the Year QB Jordan McCloud. Most of those players, including McCloud, will play in the bowl, but their two best defensive linemen, Mikhail Kamara and Jalen Green, will not be in the lineup. Kamara is sitting out and Green suffered a season ending injury after 9 games.
Offensively for the Dukes, QB Jordan McCloud will likely be a major problem for the Falcons. He threw for 3400 yards and 32 TDs on the year and added 311 yards and 8 TDs on the ground.
RBs Kaelon Black and Ty Son Lawton combined for 1162 yards and provided a solid option for grinding out a running game.
WRs Elijah Sarrat and Reggie Brown both produced 1000+ yards receiving on the year and each earned All-Sun Belt first-team spots. Brown is the deep threat, averaging 19.8 yards per catch, but Sarrat is the favorite target with 74 receptions and 14.5 yards per catch. TE Zach Horton is also an All-Sun Belt first-teamer who produced 266 yards and 6 TDs.
Prognosis and Prediction
The Dukes are currently favored in this game by 1.5 points per DraftKings odds with an over/under of 40 points. The betting line opened at JMU -4.5, and with the turbulence in the coaching staff and players roster, the line has tightened. The main factor in my mind that makes this a game that the Falcons could come out with the victory is the difficulty in preparing for the Falcon’s option offense with a replacement coaching staff that may not be aware of how to use the talent on the defensive side of the ball. How often does an offensive line coach need to prepare his team for a rushing attack that is completely different from anything the team has seen this year?
Another factor in the Falcon’s favor is a senior-laden team that appears to have many key players back in the starting lineup and has been undefeated in bowl games getting their last big hurrah on the football field (with the possible exception of safety Trey Taylor) and a serious motivation to make amends for the final four games of the season.
JMU, on the other hand, has clearly been the more consistent team this year and comes into the game with the motivation to prove themselves in a game that the NCAA originally did not want them playing in due to the ban on first-year teams. The combination of an excellent quarterback with two dangerous wide receivers and a solid tight end might be a challenging task for the Falcon secondary.
These considerations make me think that this game should be more high-scoring than indicated by the over/under. Also, I’m leaning toward the Falcons in this game and expecting them to win 31-28.