It’s Not Us, It’s You: Ex-FCS Rival James Madison Turns Heads In FBS

By: Tyler Wille

We can still hear it, can you? The quasi-vitriolic chants of ‘Safety School, Safety School’ launched from the Zable bleachers towards our in-state rivals in purple and gold. Just like yesterday. Take a quick glance at the CAA standings and you’ll notice that you’re still conditioned to think,

“Hmm, I wonder how JMU is doing.”

And then we remember—they’re off to FBS-er pastures. Since formally accepting a spot in the Sun Belt Conference in the winter of 2021, former CAA foe James Madison has made waves in the college football world. The Dukes are currently 5-1, this run including a road win at Appalachian State, who knocked off a top-10 ranked Texas A&M team on the road just a week prior to the Dukes coming to town.

For those of us in green and gold, JMU’s whole FCS-to-FBS charade feels sudden and jarring, like seeing an ex move onto bigger and better things. Sure, you’re happy for them, but the glow-up leaves you watching from the sidelines wondering…why not me?

It does pose an interesting hypothetical and a fun thought exercise to imagine how an FCS program like ours would fare throughout a full FBS season. William & Mary did in fact take down its FBS foe in September of this year, walloping the UNC-Charlotte 49ers 42-24 in Charlotte. This was the Tribe’s first win over an FBS opponent since 2009 (UVA, duh), but that 13-year drought should not be interpreted as a disparity of talent between perennially-ranked FCS programs (like W&M) and many of the programs in FBS.

During that 13-year period, for instance, FCS programs have beaten storied FBS schools like Baylor, Georgia Tech, Iowa State, and Florida. The powerhouses have even toppled ranked FBS programs. Montana beat a #20 ranked Washington team in 2021. North Dakota State beat #13 Iowa in 2016. Our old pal James Madison beat #13 Virginia Tech in 2010. FBS opponents fall to their early-season FCS counterparts at a rate that belies any sense of irregularity.

For reference, below are the FCS wins over FBS programs this season. (Side note: Major props to anyone who bet the over in that Eastern Kentucky game!)

Sept. 2William & Mary41-24Charlotte
Sept. 3Delaware14-7Navy
Sept. 10Eastern Kentucky59-57 (7 OT)Bowling Green
Sept. 10Holy Cross37-31Buffalo
Sept. 10UIW55-41Nevada
Sept. 10Weber State35-7Utah State
Sept. 17Southern Illinois31-24Northwestern
Sept. 24Sacramento State41-10Colorado State

So what do JMU’s immediate FBS success and the ability of FCS programs to routinely upset FBS programs tell us? Not much, except that a) JMU’s long-standing FCS dominance has absolutely translated the the FBS stage, and b) it’s fun to imagine William & Mary making some headlines as a hypothetical fledgling FBS program. Flirting with .500 in the MAC? We could see it. Taking out power-5 bottom-feeders like Vanderbilt? Not hard to picture. Reunited with JMU in the Sun Belt? Well, it would be fun to have another chance to take down the Dukes.

In reality, William & Mary football has no sights on the FBS, nor should it. Currently ranked #12 in FCS, the Tribe has a good thing going as a major contender in the CAA,

For now, let’s tip our collective tri-cornered hats to our old rivals up in Harrisonburg and focus on the rest of the CAA season. Down here in Williamsburg, we have championships to chase.

#RankJMU #GoTribe

UPDATE:Since the writing of this article, JMU went on to beat Arkansas State 42-20 to earn a #25 FBS ranking in the AP poll (and then dropped out of the rankings with a 45-38 loss to Georgia Southern). William & Mary beat CAA rivals Delaware 27-21 with Cam Newton in attendance. Long live FCS and long live the Tribe!

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