The return of college football is just a measly three weeks away. The Mountain State is already gearing up as West Virginia University Mountaineers are preparing for their opening game against FCS foe James Madison.
After almost a year away from football, Morgantown and Milan Puskar Stadium will be louder than ever to welcome back its home team. WVU football has a deep tradition in the state and WVU is unquestionably its favorite team.
The Gold and Blue head into the 2019 campaign with some unfinished business to take care of. They had a decent season a year ago but finished with three consecutive losses.
New head coach Neal Brown has a lot to overcome in his first year. The team had several moving parts this offseason, including at quarterback where it saw Will Grier take his talents to the NFL.
The Mountaineers absolutely have the players to compete at a high level this year, but with a difficult Big 12 schedule in place, it’s tough to determine how well they’ll actually perform.
Regardless of projections, the football season should bring a much-needed boost of energy to the West Virginia sports betting market. The state has been struggling in terms of generating a lot of betting action and revenue in recent months.
A large part of that problem is WV’s lack of an online sportsbook. It’s been reported that FanDuel Sportsbook might be the first to launch, but it’s truly a guessing game. DraftKings Sportsbook could also release in time for football season.
Let’s take a deeper look inside WVU’s week 1 matchup and see how the Mountaineers will do against the James Madison Dukes.
JMU better than you think
A lot of times, quality college football programs schedule a weaker, FCS opponent for the opening week of the season. This gives the team a nice and easy dress rehearsal where it can work out the kinks before getting into the tough part of the schedule.
Last year, WVU played this game in its second week. It trounced Youngstown State 52-17. That will not be the case this season against James Madison.
The Dukes will come to Morgantown with intentions and even a belief that they will be leaving with a victory.
That’s a scary sign for WVU. It must play a team that is among the best in FCS and has absolutely nothing to lose.
On the other hand, the Mountaineers obviously cannot afford to lose this game. The entire season will be over before it starts if that’s the case.
Dukes on the rise
Coach Brown won’t be the only one making his debut with a new team. Curt Cignetti took over as JMU’s new head coach last winter. He spent his last two seasons at Elon and has a career record of 67-26.
Cignetti inherits a squad that went 9-4, yet had a disappointing year.
Ben DiNucci returns as the Dukes’ quarterback after throwing for over 2,200 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2018. Although he didn’t create too many explosive plays, DiNucci’s completion percentage was over 68% for the year.
The quarterback will have plenty of help around him. JMU returns its three leading receivers from a year ago:
- Riley Stapleton
- Kyndel Dean
- Jake Brown
Stapleton paced the group with 61 receptions for 696 yards and seven touchdowns.
While the offense should do more than hold its own (JMU averaged nearly 46 points per game last season), it’s the defense that could be scary.
The Dukes bring back 10 of 11 starters from a year ago.
They lost their best player in cornerback Jimmy Moreland to the NFL draft. His replacement, Rashad Robinson, however, was recently named to Athlon Sports’ Preseason FCS All-America Team.
Besides Robinson, JMU has another potential headache for WVU in punt return specialist D’Angelo Amos. He was also listed as one of Athlon’s preseason All-Americans. The Dukes were only one of four programs to have two players chosen to the team.
Amos proved he was a weapon last season when he led the nation in punt return average (22 yards) and touchdowns (3). He earned All-America honors last year as well.
JMU plans to contend for the FCS National Title this year. That might not mean a lot to those who only focus on the FBS, however, it will mean something to WVU on Aug. 31.
The Dukes will be ready to play and if the Mountaineers are not, it could be a surprisingly difficult first game. JMU only lost to NC State last year by 11 on the road in its first matchup. WVU will need to come out strong early on to set the tone and make sure this game is not that close.
Betting on the Mountaineers
While WV hopes that mobile sports betting does return in time for the football season, there are still three retail locations for bettors to currently wager.
The three active land-based WV sportsbooks are:
Lines for the WVU football Week 1 game against James Madison are not available yet. We will update this space when they are. For now, though, DraftKings in New Jersey has the following odds for the upcoming WVU football season:
- Over 5 (-110)
- Under 5 (-110)
Big 12 champion
- WVU +2500