Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich
The ACC isn’t quite in the clear from the determined underdogs of the FCS.
The CAA is arguably the toughest conference in the FCS -– it started the season with three wins against FBS opponents, including a 2-1 record against the ACC -- and Maryland is next on its list of upset candidates. When asked on Wednesday how easy it’s been to get his players’ attention about the CAA’s potential heading into their matchup with James Madison, coach Ralph Friedgen said, “I’ll tell you that Saturday night. You don’t know what these kids think.”
Virginia’s loss to William & Mary and Duke’s loss to Richmond should serve as reminders that anything can happen when James Madison visits College Park this weekend. Considering the schools are only about 140 miles away from each other, a large contingent of Dukes’ alumni is expected in Byrd Stadium, and it’s hardly as if JMU has been a pushover under Mickey Matthews, who is in his 11th season and is the school’s winningest coach. The Dukes finished 8-0 to win their conference title a year ago and enter this season ranked No. 6 in the preseason FCS polls.
To keep this in perspective, though, this is a game Maryland should win. James Madison lost to Duke last year, 31-7, and lost to North Carolina in 2007, 37-14. Maryland’s mishaps on the road against Cal weren’t entirely unexpected, considering how young and inexperienced the team is, especially up front. Eighteen of the 26 players on the depth chart saw their first career action. There were also eight Terps who started for the first time in their careers against California.
There were too many penalties, turnovers and sacks, and there were times when players on both sides of the ball were aligned improperly. Friedgen is looking for improvement in all three phases of the game, but those are mistakes that are correctable with practices and will improve with game experience. The one thing Friedgen can’t control is how his players will respond following their 52-13 loss to Cal last weekend.
“Unless I’m mistaken, I have a lot of belief in these kids’ characters,” Friedgen said. “I can’t speak on their inexperience, but I can speak on their character and they haven’t disappointed me in that at all. Cal is done. We need to worry about James Madison. When we count them up at the end, they all count, so we have to get ready to go –- and I think my kids hear me.”
And the rest of the conference is hoping they listened.