Nobody needs to tell James Madison fans that the September 3 opener against Middle Tennessee is only three months away. After all, the date has been circled, starred or however else highlighted since the game was announced at the beginning of February.
Indeed, when the Dukes kick off the 2022 season at 25,000-seat Bridgeforth Stadium, they will do so as the 131st member of the Football Bowl Subdivision and as a resident of the Sun Belt Conference. The game against the Blue Raiders will mark the first time an FBS opponent has visited JMU.
After a seven-season stretch (2012-18) in which 11 programs elevated from the Football Championship Subdivision to that of the FBS, the last three years were void of such movement.
That changes, officially July 1, when JMU joins the big boys following their time as a behemoth in the FCS. The Dukes, who played the last 15 seasons in the Colonial Athletic Association, won national titles in 2004 (as a member of the Atlantic-10) and 2016 and played in the national championship game in 2017 and 2019.
The move is part of a larger shakeup that has former Conference-USA members Southern Miss, Marshall and Old Dominion also joining the Sun Belt effective the coming season, making it a 14-member conference (two seven-team divisions) for football. JMU will reside in an East Division that will also include Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina and Marshall.
JMU, which paid a $1-million exit fee to the CAA and had its $2 million SBC entrance fee waived, will play an 11-game schedule featuring eight conference matchups. Among three non-conference games is a November 5 trip to Louisville that will result in a $600,000 payout.
Coach Curt Cignetti, who took over the program prior to the 2019 season after Mike Houston left for ECU, will steer the Dukes through a two-year transition period. JMU will become a full-fledged member of the FBS in 2024 when it will be eligible to play for a conference title and accept a bowl bid.
JMU, which played its first NCAA division-affiliated season in 1974 under Challace McMillin at the D-II level, will be the first program since Liberty in 2018 to join the FBS. Next year, Sam Houston State and Jacksonville State will make the move when they become members of what will be an entirely new-look Conference-USA.
Here is a glimpse at how teams that joined the FBS in the past decade have fared.
The Minutemen, who were in the Atlantic-10 and CAA with James Madison, have not won more than four games in any of their 10 seasons since elevating. UMass, which became an independent in 2016 after four years in the MAC, is 20-92 as an FBS member. Long-time defensive coordinator Don Brown returned to Amherst in November to take over the coaching duties. He previously led the then-FCS program for five seasons (2004-2008) and won a pair of conference championships.
2012 South Alabama
South Alabama has been playing football for only 13 seasons and took a very quick and unusual route to the FBS. The first two years, 2009 and 2010, USA won all 17 of its games while playing as an unclassified program and with a schedule that included prep schools, JUCOs and Division III teams. After one season in the FCS, it was off to the Sun Belt. The Jaguars have yet to have a winning season as an FBS member, though they have been to two bowls following 6-6 regular seasons.
2012 Texas State
The Bobcats’ first year playing at the highest level was the last one for the WAC as an FBS football conference. They have since resided in the Sun Belt. TSU’s 4-8 showing in 2021 was the program’s best since going 7-5 in 2014, their only winning season since moving up.
Texas-San Antonio has been playing football for only 11 seasons. The first (2011) was as an FCS member before jumping into the FBS in 2012 as a member of the WAC. The Roadrunners have since been in Conference USA, which they won last season by defeating Western Kentucky in the championship game. A 12-2 season concluded with a loss to San Diego State in the Frisco Bowl, a defeat that left them 0-3 in bowl games.
2013 Georgia State
The Panthers had their best season in 2021 when they went 8-5, including a Camellia Bowl win over Ball State. They have had winning seasons in four of the last five years, all under Shawn Elliott. The program, which was launched in 2010 under Bill Curry, lost 24 of its first 25 games as an FBS member.
2014 Appalachian State
A perennial power in the FCS has been a model of success since joining the FBS. The Mountaineers have won at least 10 games in five of their eight seasons since elevating, with a 7-5 mark in their inaugural FBS season being the low-water mark. ASU has won four Sun Belt titles and won each of its first six bowl games before losing to Western Kentucky in the Boca Raton Bowl last year.
2014 Georgia Southern
Though ineligible for postseason play as a first-year FBS member in 2014, the Eagles ran the table in conference play (8-0) to win the Sun Belt. That was the first of their five winning seasons in eight years at the FBS level. GSU, which slipped to 3-9 last season, is 3-1 in bowl games.
2014 Old Dominion
Only one of the Monarchs’ seven seasons at the FBS level – they did not play in 2020 – has been above .500. That was 2016 when they went 10-3, including a Bahamas Bowl win over Eastern Michigan. Last year, Ricky Rahne’s team won its last five regular-season games to reach 6-6 and a qualify for the program’s second bowl game, a loss to Tulsa in the Myrtle Beach Bowl.
The 49ers took the gridiron for the first time in 2013 and spent their first two seasons at the FCS level before moving up to the FBS, where they have had one winning season in seven years. That was 2019 when they went started 2-5 before winning five straight to qualify for a bowl (Bahamas Bowl loss to Buffalo) to finish 7-6. A three-game losing streak at the end of last season prevented the 5-7 team from receiving a second bowl bid.
2017 Coastal Carolina
After compiling a 43-10 mark in their final four seasons in the FCS under former Wall Street executive Joe Moglia, who led the Chanticleers to three consecutive Big South co-championships (2012-14), the transition to the FBS was bumpy at first. However, under Jamey Chadwell, the Chanticleers are 22-3 the past two seasons, including the program’s first bowl win.
The Flames, who outright won or shared eight conference titles in their final 10 seasons as members of the Big South before becoming an FCS independent in 2017 as part their transition process, are 32-17 in four seasons as an FBS program. That includes a 26-11 mark under Hugh Freeze the past three years, each of which concluded with a bowl victory. Liberty is moving to Conference-USA in 2023.