James Madison vs. Virginia Odds, Picks & Predictions for Saturday
Photo by Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Tony Elliott (Virginia)
James Madison vs. Virginia Odds
After a blowout loss in Week 1 against Tennessee, the Virginia Cavaliers host the G5 darling James Madison Dukes in what will be the most emotional game of the season.
This is Virginia’s first home game since a senseless act of gun violence last fall claimed the lives of three Virginia players and ended the school's football season prematurely. Being home underdogs to a smaller school in Virginia will only add motivation on Saturday.
Unfortunately, the Cavaliers are underdogs for a reason — the Dukes are a winning program with real advantages on the field at almost every position.
Can the favorites overcome a feel-good narrative on the road?
Despite only being in FBS football for a year, first-half struggles on offense last week and the emotional advantage for the ‘Hoos, the Dukes are around a touchdown favorite after opening at -3.5.
The reason for that is clear. The Dukes took FBS by storm last season, and even though they lost a few stars like defensive end Isaac Ukwu and quarterback Todd Centeio, they still fared favorably in returning production metrics.
They return all five starters from a quality offensive line, star nose guard James Carpenter and the best linebacking duo in the Group of Five (Jailin Walker and Taurus Jones).
Curt Cignetti commands one of the most consistent programs in college football. James Madison has printed productive skill position players, and receiver Reggie Brown and sophomore running back Kaelon Black are the latest in the Dukes’ lineage.
The Dukes entered the season with a big question of which player would replace Centeio at quarterback, and he left big shoes to fill as the Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year.
Cignetti tabbed redshirt freshman Alonza Barnett III for the role after he wowed in the offseason with his physical gifts and quick learning. He started last week against Bucknell and struggled mightily as a passer, as he completed just 3-of-11 passes for 15 yards and an interception, resulting in a poor 2.9 QBR.
Cignetti, who benched Barnett after halftime, compared his young quarterback's performance to a golfer with the yips.
Consequently, Jordan McCloud has taken over as the starting quarterback, and like Centeio, he's a two-time transfer looking to finish his career under Cignetti’s sharp tutelage. McCloud was the favorite when fall camp opened, but Barnett’s athleticism won the job.
McCloud will start in Charlottesville after completing 7-of-11 passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns, which resulted in an impressive 91.4 QBR. He should continue Cignetti’s excellent run of quarterback play, which began with Ben DiNucci then Cole Johnson and most recently Centeio.
With McCloud at quarterback, Black (career 6.0 yards per carry) and Brown leading the skill positions and a quality offensive line, the Dukes boast a strong and versatile offense.
However, their defense might be even better.
James Madison ranked eighth nationally in Bill Connelly’s returning production metric for defense. Despite the loss of Ukwu to Ole Miss, there are stars at every level. Carpenter is one of the best individual defenders in the Group of Five, and Jones and Walker fit perfectly behind him.
Last year, the Dukes were the best defense in the country at preventing drives, ranking first in the country in Success Rate Allowed. They were vulnerable against Explosive Plays, but Tony Elliott’s toothless offense struggled both to move the ball consistently (97th in Success Rate) and quickly (85th in Explosive Plays).
Emotions will be high in Charlottesville, as Virginia looks to deliver a win and provide further healing for the community. While the Cavaliers are at a deficit when analyzing the on-field matchup, it’s hard to imagine a more emotional locker room.
(Note: These teams are close, and James Madison players will certainly be affected emotionally, too. Both programs have many regional recruits with shared history.)
Virginia’s 2022 football season was a tough one on the field, too, and last week’s 49-13 loss to Tennessee didn't provide much optimism. Despite Elliott's history of coordinating strong offenses for Dabo Swinney at Clemson, the Virginia offense has been one of the worst Power-Five units.
Starting quarterback Tony Muskett, a transfer from FCS Monmouth, completed 9-of-17 passes for 94 yards before injuring his shoulder — he’s a game-day decision this week. True freshman Anthony Colandrea will start if Muskett can’t go.
Whoever is taking snaps is likely to be under nonstop pressure from Carpenter, Walker and the rest of the Dukes' defense. The Cavaliers returned just 17 starts along their offensive line, and the unit received a poor 32.0 PFF Pass Blocking Grade last week against Tennessee.
The Dukes have some concerns about defensive-end depth, but they're stacked at other defensive positions and should be in the backfield all day.
The good news for the Cavaliers is the defense is competitive; if they have a path to an emotional win on Saturday, it’s by turning the game into a slog and winning close. The defense ranks 58th in SP+, and while this isn't anything to brag about for a Power-Five team, it's downright sparkling compared to their 127th-ranked offense.
On the other side, James Madison is a matching 60th in both offense and defense in SP+.
James Madison vs. Virginia
Betting Pick & Prediction
Do you seek out emotional spots and narratives and bet with the human factor involved in your decision? You might not have a better spot all season than the Virginia moneyline.
The emotions of this moment, the motivation for the team, the anticipation of their return and the roar of the crowd behind them will all look to boost the Cavaliers. No one will blame you for bucking math and matchups in this game.
Are you a coldly analytical player? The Dukes are favored by one touchdown, but SP+ makes it almost two scores. James Madison is a winning program with advantages in the trenches, coaching, skill positions and quarterback.
The Dukes will also be motivated in this game because it's a chance for a team ineligible for a bowl game to beat an in-state Power Five program.
It makes me feel like a bad person, as if I am spiting the college football gods, but I’ll lay the points. There won’t be a dry eye in the house on Saturday in one of the most important games of the season, but James Madison will eventually pull away with the victory.
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