Middle Tennessee vs. James Madison Football Picks, Betting Odds, Predictions for Saturday’s Showdown
Mark Brown/Getty Images. PicturedL DJ England-Chisolm.
- James Madison begins its road in the FBS by taking on Middle Tennessee.
- With the spread dropping, is it safe to take the points?
- Tanner McGrath breaks down the matchup and offers up his best bet.
Middle Tennessee vs. James Madison Odds
|Middle Tennessee Odds|
-115o / -105u
|James Madison Odds|
-115o / -105u
Welcome to the FBS, James Madison! The Dukes will begin the next step for their program in a matchup with Conference USA’s Middle Tennessee.
The problem here is that I’m low on both teams. I already took the under on both win totals, and I feel confident in both picks. So, how do I handicap two teams I believe the market has overvalued?
Let’s figure that out together.
At first glance, Middle Tennessee feels like a team we could get behind. The Blue Raiders won five of their final seven games last season on their way to a Bahamas Bowl win over Toledo, winning outright as 10-point dogs.
Rick Stockstill returns with quarterback Chase Cunningham, who didn’t ball out, but was rather efficient in his opportunities. A 16:3 TD-to-INT ratio is nothing to balk at.
Cunningham was making decent throws in spring practices, too.
— Tk Barnett (@Tk3era) April 24, 2022
But I’m projecting plenty of regression for the Blue Raiders.
Cunningham is back, but he loses his top two receivers from last season. It’ll be tough to replace the 88 receptions and 1,033 yards that Jarrin Pierce and Jimmy Marshall contributed last season.
The wide receiver unit has consequently been knocked down a few notches.
Middle Tennessee has just three offensive linemen back with very limited experience and added five JUCO transfers for depth.
Like the receivers, the offensive line and running game will also take a step back. Three of the top four running backs are also gone, with Frank Peasant’s 3.8 YPC being the only holdover from the 2021 room.
Finally, the top four tacklers are gone, and the secondary was plundered. MTSU’s top-three defensive backs are gone, including two-time First Team All-Conference USA safety Reed Blankenship, the school’s all-time tackle leader.
To round it all up, Cunningham will have to work with a new offensive coordinator, Mitch Stewart, whose experience comes from Murray State and Samford.
It’s a tough schedule for a team that has too many new pieces to mesh together. The one bright spot is a special teams unit that is projected to make a big jump. The Blue Raiders are projected to finish outside the top 100 in Offensive and Defensive Efficiency, per SP+.
The natural inclination is to think lowly of James Madison. It’s tough to move up to the FBS level, and the Dukes landed in the tougher Sun Belt division.
However, there is reason to think the Dukes can compete. This is a team that deserved to make the jump, as they made the FCS playoffs in eight straight seasons.
Over the last five years, the Dukes have competed with FBS teams, including these respectable results:
- Losing 20-13 to West Virginia in 2019
- Losing 24-13 to NC State in 2018
- Beating East Carolina 34-14 in 2017
The Dukes only return nine starters — five on offense and four on defense — while losing 34 lettermen in total. Curt Cignetti is back for his fourth year — alongside his fourth-year offensive coordinator — but the defensive coordinator dipped, so they promoted linebackers coach Bryant Haines to DC.
There are question marks at quarterback. Cole Johnson has been the starter for a couple of seasons, putting up a ridiculous stat line of 3,779 yards and a 41:4 TD-to-INT ratio last season.
However, the Dukes picked up Colorado State transfer Todd Centeio, who has dealt with injuries the last few seasons and is dangerous with his legs alongside his arm.
QB Todd Centeio warming up with the RBs: pic.twitter.com/VHSEmG3XyG
— Madison Hricik (@SportingMads) April 19, 2022
There might not be a starting quarterback named until Saturday, but the general mood is that it will be Centeio.
Curt Cignetti still has not named a starting QB. He says he will do so if he feels it’s necessary. Says the team pretty much knows who it is.
I still believe it’s Todd Centeio but we will learn for sure later this week or when the Dukes take the field Saturday night
— TJ Eck (@TJEck_TV) August 29, 2022
Middle Tennessee vs. James Madison Betting Pick
In a battle between two teams that I’m low on, I’ll usually take the points.
The market is moving that way, too. The Blue Raiders opened at +7.5, but were quickly bet to +6.
The line has dropped to +5.5 at most books.
This may not be respected money, but it’s sharp enough to take into consideration.
I think it’s too early to lay a touchdown with the Dukes. James Madison has a high ceiling, but the program is working with some new pieces while holding a quarterback battle directly before its first FBS game.
Our internal projections make this spread MTSU +5.1, so I’ll take the Blue Raiders at +6.
I’ll keep it small, and I wouldn’t play it past +6.