The Villanova Wildcats are back on ESPN, and it's not for what you think it is. Mark Ferrante is taking his 'Cats down to Harrisonburg, Va. for a football game against the defending FCS National Champions.
James Madison still holds the top spot at No. 1 and is the site for this weekend's ESPN College GameDay. The undefeated Dukes (5-0, 2-0 CAA) host the visiting No. 11 Wildcats (4-2, 2-1 CAA) on Saturday. Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m.
This isn't the Dukes’ first time on College GameDay, as they lost 59-49 two years ago against fellow CAA rival Richmond at home. As for Villanova, this is the first time the football team has played in a game for ESPN's big college football show.
This is only the eighth time that a game between two FCS schools have been featured by the network.
James Madison will be coming off of a bye week going into Saturday's matchup, while Villanova enters with back-to-back league wins over Maine and Towson.
Here are three things to watch for:
To find James Madison's most recent loss, you'll have to go back to last season. The Dukes lost to North Carolina, 56-28, on Sept. 10, 2016. However, they haven't lost a game to a FCS opponent since Dec. 5, 2015, when they lost to Colgate in the opening round of the playoffs. Overall, the Dukes are riding an impressive 17-game winning streak going into Saturday's game. Right now, they are currently tied with Richmond for the longest winning streak of all CAA teams. Richmond set the mark back in 2008-09. A win for the Dukes would give them sole possession of the record. Interestingly enough, the team that ended Richmond's run happens to be the team James Madison will be playing tomorrow--Villanova.
Aside from that, the Dukes have some other notable streaks. On top of being the defending national champions, they also have won the CAA title in each of the last two seasons. Also, Villanova has yet to defeat James Madison in the post-John Robertson era. A win would make it three-in-a-row against the 'Cats. These are the top dogs in the conference and in the FCS, it will be a huge test for Villanova.
With the help of 12 returning starters from last season and three more FBS transfers, James Madison has picked up from where it left off. The Dukes are dominant on both sides of the ball, ranking in the top five when it comes to scoring averages offensively (41.8 points per game), while relinquishing only 11.6 points per game to opponents. James Madison is pretty balanced offensively. Under center, it still has Bryan Schor, an accurate senior quarterback. He mainly stays in the pocket and has a 12:5 touchdown-to-interception ratio so far this season. Schor is capable of taking off and running, but his best work is when he stays back. He will likely spread the damage around his receivers: Ishmael Hyman, Riley Stapleton, Ezrah Archie, John Miller, and David Eldridge--a Virginia transfer that has had an immediate impact in the receiving game. On the ground, the Dukes lost Cardon Johnson to a season-ending injury a few weeks back, but they haven't skipped a beat with a two-back system that consists of Marcus Marshall and Trai Sharp. The Wildcats' defense has been excellent at stopping the run, but with a loaded offense in both facets of attack, can they find a way to actually slow down the Dukes?
Defensively, James Madison seems to have at least one stud at each level of the defense. Safety Raven Greene was named a preseason All-American and has played well thus far. Linebacker Kyre Hawkins is a physical player that seems to get to the ball on every play. He leads the team in tackles, but is also solid at dropping back in coverage when he needs to. Then, up front, Andrew Ankrah is likely to be the subject of double teams. Ankrah is on the Buck Buchanan Watch List. Overall, as a unit, this first-string defense will be tough to score on, as it has only given up 37 of the team's relinquished 58 points this season.
Villanova has had some tough tests so far and some good games, but it hasn't faced anything like James Madison. The Wildcats have some first-time starters and freshmen in key spots. Against a talented team like James Madison, this is a great opportunity for some of those guys to prove their worth. Jack Schetelich won in his first career start against Maine, where he ran and threw for a touchdown. However, 52 total yards and an interception to go along with those, leaves more to be desired. Schetelich, a redshirt freshman, will have to grow up quickly in time for the James Madison game. A game manager performance might not be enough to cut it, when it comes to winning the game. He's shown flashes of competency, it's about stringing all those along together. Protecting him in the trenches are redshirt freshmen M.J. Dumas and Paul Grattan. Grattan has started at left guard since the season opener, while Dumas made his debut last week.
On the other side of the ball, Villanova had to introduce two new starters at defensive ends after some graduations--Jafonta Johnson and Aaron Seigle. They will be key in getting the pass rush going and creating pressure up front. In the secondary, Jaquan Amos is another young player turned starter after an injury. So far, Amos has made the most of his opportunities and was recently named the CAA Rookie of the Week for his play against Maine--where he returned a fumble for a 99-yard touchdown (tying a FCS record). Amos is the youngest of an experienced secondary and will be in a big spot to build off of what he did last week.