What the addition of James Madison means for Panthers Football

Illustration by Monique | The Signal

The James Madison Dukes football program officially announced that they would be leaving the Colonial Athletic Association and joining the Sun Belt Conference for the upcoming 2022 football season.

Entering his fourth year as head coach, Curt Cignetti is ready for the challenge as he has a 27-year coaching background in the FBS and holds a 33-5 record since taking over as head coach of the Dukes in 2019.

“We don’t know dates yet or anything like that, but we fully anticipate playing an FBS schedule next year,” said Cignetti.

JMU is among three other teams to join the Sun Belt in the upcoming football season, joining the likes of Old Dominion, Southern Miss, and Marshall. The installation of these teams evens out the members of the Sun Belt conference to 14 teams.   

“This move brings another strong brand and passionate fanbase into the Sun Belt and elevates the Dukes’ storied football program to the highest level of NCAA competition. I am grateful to JMU’s President Johnathan Alger and Athletics Director Jeff Bourne for their leadership during this process and look forward to working closely with them moving forward,” said Sun Belt commissioner Keith Gill.

James Madison University was one of the founding universities of the CAA in 1985 and has won 10 conference titles and two Division I FCS titles in their 36-year membership in the conference.

The Dukes had a successful 2021-22 football campaign as the team went 12-1 in the regular season. The eventual champions, North Dakota State,  knocked them out in the semifinal of the FCS championship.

With such success in the CAA, the Dukes will join an eastern division of the Sun Belt Conference that includes heavy hitters such as Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina and Georgia State.

The Appalachian State Mountaineers have dominated the eastern division since 2014. They don’t plan on handing over the reins as the favorite to represent the east in the Sun Belt Championship game.

As for the Georgia State Panthers Football team, the addition of James Madison creates a division filled with competitive teams. 

The Panthers boasted a 6-2 conference record, with their only losses coming at the hands of the previously mentioned Appalachian State and eventual Sun Belt Champions Louisiana-Lafayette.

James Madison flexed a national top-five offense all year, averaging an astonishing 39.5 points per game. 

This electric offense featured sixth-year senior and CFPA National Performer of the Year quarterback Cole Johnson, who threw for 41 touchdowns while only giving away four interceptions.

The Dukes also touted a top-five defense that only allowed 14.1 points per game and 222 total yards per game. This team is a viable threat to the Panthers, as they ended the 2021 season with a nationally 72nd ranked offense and 83rd ranked defense. 

The Sun Belt just got a lot more interesting as the conference increased in talent. The influx of new competition is set to shake up who may be seen as the consummate favorites to win the conference championship.