James Madison Dukes football
2021 James Madison Dukes football team
James Madison University Athletics logo.svg
First season1972
Athletic directorJeff Bourne
Head coachCurt Cignetti
3rd season, 33–5 (.868)
StadiumBridgeforth Stadium
(capacity: 24,877)
FieldZane Showker Field
Field surfaceFieldTurf
LocationHarrisonburg, Virginia
NCAA divisionDivision I FBS
ConferenceSun Belt Conference
Past conferencesColonial Athletic Association
All-time record351–220–4 (.614)
Bowl record0–0 (–)
Playoff appearancesDiv. I FCS: 18
Playoff recordDiv. I FCS: 24–16
Claimed national titlesDiv. I FCS: 2 (2004, 2016)
Conference titles10 (1975, 1999, 2004, 2008, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2019, 2020, 2021)
Division titles2 (1994, 2006)
RivalriesOld Dominion Monarchs
ColorsPurple and gold[1]
Fight song"JMU Fight Song"
MascotDuke Dog
Marching bandMarching Royal Dukes

The James Madison Dukes football program represents James Madison University in the sport of American football. The Dukes compete in the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) as a member of the Sun Belt Conference (SBC), beginning play within the conference for the 2022 season. The university first fielded a football team in 1972, and the Dukes play at the on-campus Bridgeforth Stadium in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The Dukes are currently coached by Curt Cignetti.

The JMU football team has been the centerpiece of JMU sports since the early 1990s. Under former head coach Mickey Matthews the Dukes continued their rise in national prominence, winning the 2004 FCS National Championship. The Dukes won their second National Championship in 2016 and finished as national runners-up in 2017 and 2019.

Notable Dukes include Charles Haley, one of two players to win five Super Bowl rings and is also an inductee of the College Football Hall of Fame and Pro Football Hall of Fame;[2] Scott Norwood, of the Buffalo Bills; Gary Clark, an All-Pro wide receiver for the Washington Redskins; and Arthur Moats, a linebacker for the Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers who is known for delivering the sack that led to the end of the record streak of consecutive starts made by Brett Favre in the National Football League (NFL).


See also: List of James Madison Dukes football seasons

Just five years after (then) Madison College had become a coeducational institution, the Dukes fielded their first football team. Football was the brainchild of Dr. Ronald Carrier, Madison's president at the time, who was attempting to change the psychology of the campus away from an all-women's teachers college.[3] The first game took place on October 7, 1972 against Shepherd College's junior varsity team at Harrisonburg High School. The team consisted of a few dozen walk-ons and was coached by 30-year-old Challace McMillin.

In 1975, the Dukes had their first undefeated season and won the Virginia College Athletic Association title. Two players, Madison Hall of Fame quarterback Les Branich and offensive guard Jeff Adams, played in both the Dukes' only winless season in 1972 and its only undefeated season in 1975.[3][4]

For the 1980 season, Madison made the jump from NCAA Division III to NCAA Division I-AA where they played as an Independent through 1992. After twelve seasons the Dukes would join the Yankee Conference, which would become the Atlantic 10 Conference in 1997, then finally the Colonial Athletic Association in 2007.[5]

Mickey Matthews era

JMU vs. Central Connecticut State, September 10, 2011
JMU vs. Central Connecticut State, September 10, 2011

The Dukes made the NCAA playoffs in former head coach Mickey Matthews' first year with the team and in 2004, the Dukes won the Division I-AA (now FCS) National Championship behind quarterback Justin Rascati and running back Raymond Hines. They were the first and only team to win three games on the road to advance to the National Championship Game. They returned to the playoffs in 2006 but suffered an early exit to the hands of Youngstown State University. The Dukes went to the playoffs again in 2007, traveling to Appalachian State in the first round. While down 27–28, JMU lost the game with a fumble on the ASU 8-yard line in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter. In 2008, they posted a 10–1 season record (the lone loss coming in the season opener to FBS team Duke) and received the top seed in the playoffs behind sensational quarterback Rodney Landers. After defeating Wofford and Villanova (for the second time that season), they were defeated by the Montana Grizzlies in the semi-final round after Landers went down with an ankle injury. In the second week of the 2010 season, JMU beat then #13 FBS ranked Virginia Tech in Blacksburg 21-16[6]

A $62 million stadium expansion to Bridgeforth was completed in 2011, adding an upper deck, club seating and 17 private suites. Bridgeforth's official seating capacity is approximately 24,877, and is designed so it may be expanded to seat over 40,000.

Matthews gained his 100th career victory on October 6, 2012 in a 13–10 win over the Towson Tigers.[7]

At the end of the 2013 season, after going 6–6 and missing the FCS playoff for the fourth time in five years, Mickey Matthews was let go as the head football coach after 15 seasons at the helm for the JMU Dukes.[8]

Everett Withers era

On December 21, 2013, Everett Withers, assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State was named as the sixth head coach in the program's history by athletic director, Jeff Bourne.[9] Prior to his work at Ohio State, Withers was interim head coach for North Carolina during the 2011 season after the dismissal of Butch Davis.[10] His first win as interim head coach at North Carolina was against the Mickey Matthews led James Madison Dukes on September 3, 2011.[11] While at JMU Withers compiled a 19-7 overall mark while making playoff appearances in both of his years in Harrisonburg. He also helped JMU receive national attention when ESPN's College GameDay show traveled to Harrisonburg to feature the 2015 Dukes.

Mike Houston era

2016 season

On January 18, 2016, James Madison named Mike Houston as head coach of the Dukes football program. Houston was formerly head coach of the Lenoir-Rhyne Bears (2011–13) and Citadel Bulldogs (2014-15). Houston was very successful at Lenoir-Rhyne claiming three conference championships and an appearance in the NCAA Division II Football National Championship. At The Citadel, Houston led the Bulldogs to their first SoCon conference championship since 1992.[12] In 2016 Houston defeated 4 FCS top 25 teams on the road as he led the Dukes to the 2016 Colonial Athletic Association football title with a 20–7 win over Villanova University gaining the University's first ever back to back titles. In the 2016 FCS playoff second round, he and the Dukes defeated the University of New Hampshire 55–22. The Dukes then went on to defeat Sam Houston State 65–7 in the NCAA FCS Quarterfinals. In the Semifinals, Mike Houston's Dukes defeated the five-time NCAA Division I FCS champions the North Dakota State University Bison 27–17, giving them the opportunity to face Youngstown State in the National Title Game on January 7, 2017 in Frisco, Texas. JMU won the National Championship in decisive fashion, with a score of 28–14 (Youngstown State scored a meaningless touchdown with seconds left in the game) on a cold, 15 °F afternoon in Frisco, Texas

On January 7, 2017 JMU faced the Youngstown State Penguins football for the 2016 FCS National Championship at Toyota Stadium (Texas) in Frisco, Texas. JMU got off to a fast start leading Youngstown 21-0 by the middle of the second quarter. JMU QB Bryan Schor had two quick passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown by JMU RB Khalid Abdullah got the game started quickly for the Dukes. Youngstown State battled back to score just before halftime to make it a 21-7 game at the half. JMU added another touchdown early in the third quarter extending their lead to 28-7. Youngstown State added a touchdown late in the 4th quarter but the game had already been decided. JMU finished off the game winning their second national championship by a final score of 28-14. JMU QB Bryan Schor threw for 112 yards and 2 touchdowns, JMU RB Khalid Abdullah rushed for over 100 yards and 2 touchdowns and JMU DB Jordan Brown finished with 7 tackles to lead the JMU defensive effort.[13][14]

2017 season

The Dukes started their title defense season on September 2, 2017 with a dominating win against Division 1 FBS members East Carolina,[15][16] winning by a score of 34-14 to claim a victory over a team from college football's highest division for the second time in three seasons. The Dukes went on to finish with a perfect regular season record, including an 8-0 record in the Colonial Athletic Association- becoming the first team since 1977 to go undefeated in back-to-back CAA campaigns[17] On Sunday November 19, JMU was awarded the #1 seed in the 2017 FCS Playoffs by the Selection Committee.[18] After a First Round Bye, JMU faced the Stony Brook Seawolves in the FCS Second Round, winning by a score of 26-7.[19] In the FCS Quarterfinals, the Dukes faced Big Sky member Weber State. Trailing late in the 4th quarter, JMU eventually won the game on a last second field goal, advancing to the FCS Semifinals to face South Dakota State, from the Missouri Valley Football Conference. In this game, the Dukes, bolstered by 10 takeaways on defense, cruised to an easy 51-16 victory,[20] and earned a return trip to Frisco, TX to defend their 2016 National Championship. In the Title game, the Dukes were plagued by dropped passes and uncharacteristic turnovers, and fell to the North Dakota State Bison by a score of 17-13.[21]

In 2017, JMU set program and CAA record winning streaks. Before falling to North Dakota State, the Dukes won their previous 26 games, dating back to the 2016 season, the 2nd longest winning streak in FCS history (NDSU- 33 games[22]).

On Tuesday December 12, James Madison University announced Mike Houston had signed a 10 year contract extension to keep him at the school through the 2027 season.[23]

2018 season

The Dukes entered the 2018 season ranked second nationally[24] behind only the defending national champion North Dakota State faced off against NC State to start the 2018 campaign and lost a close game by a score of 24-13.[25] JMU then won its next four games as they held their #2 ranking. The Dukes then had their 19 game home win streak snapped[26] against Elon who was ranked #10 in the country at the time. The Dukes also faced an uncharacteristic loss to New Hampshire later in the season[27] as their record fell to 6-3. JMU won out the rest of the season but failed to win a share of the conference title for the first time since 2014. They earned an at large bid to the NCAA FCS Playoffs[28] and faced Delaware in the First round, winning 20-6.[29] The Dukes then traveled to Colgate in the second round of the playoffs amid rumors of Mike Houstons departure.[30] JMU lost this game on a last second field goal. During the game, starting quarterback for JMU Ben DiNucci threw 5 interceptions and threw for 0 touchdowns as the Dukes lost 20-23.[31] At the end of the season, JMU finished with a 9-4 record.

Following the conclusion of the 2018 season, Mike Houston accepted the position of head coach at East Carolina University.[32]

Curt Cignetti era

JMU vs. Richmond, November 16, 2019
JMU vs. Richmond, November 16, 2019

On December 14, 2018, it was announced that former Elon football head coach Curt Cignetti would be the 8th head coach of James Madisons football program.[33]

The Dukes entered the 2019 season with 19 starters returning and a preseason ranking of #1 but not a consensus #1 as NDSU once again entered the season at #1 throughout most FCS polls.[34]

#2 James Madison came three yards shy of forcing a potential overtime in the NCAA Division I Championship Game, but a late interception sealed a third consecutive national title for #1 North Dakota State in a 28-20 victory for the Bison on Saturday afternoon at Toyota Stadium. The Bison concluded the 2019 season with a perfect 16-0 record,[35] while the Dukes saw their 14-game win streak end, completing the campaign at 14-2. JMU's 2019 senior class finished their careers with the most wins in school history, with 51 victories,[36] and the Dukes are now 2-2 overall in national-title games. JMU also finished 2019 tied for the most wins in a single season, with 14. This matches the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Since 2016, all three meetings with JMU and NDSU have been decided by 10 points or less, a touchdown game in each of the national-title game matchups.

On November 6, 2021, it was announced that the James Madison football program had accepted an invitation to move up to the FBS Subdivision and would join the Sun Belt Conference prior to the 2023 football season.[37] In response to this announcement, the Colonial Athletic Association announced that James Madison would be banned from the conference's championships for the remainder of their time in the conference.[38]

Current coaching staff

Name Position Year Joined Alma mater
Curt Cignetti Head Coach 2018 West Virginia (1982)
Grant Cain Special Teams Coordinator/Tight Ends/Assistant Head Coach 2019 Catawba (2003)
Bryant Haines Linebackers/Defensive Coordinator 2018 Ball State (2009)
Mike Shanahan Offensive Coordinator/Wide Receivers 2018 Pittsburgh (2012)
Damian Wroblewski Offensive Line/Associate Head Coach for Offense 2018 Lafayette (1999)
Marcus Hall-Oliver Safeties/ Recruiting Coordinator 2020 Minnesota State (2014)
Matt Birkett Cornerbacks 2018 Edinboro (2003)
Eddie Whitley Jr. Rovers 2020 Virginia Tech (2012)
John Miller Running Backs 2021 James Madison (2018)
Tino Sunsiri Quarterbacks/Pass Game Coordinator 2021 Pittsburgh (2012)
Pat Kuntz Defensive Line 2022 Notre Dame (2009)
Matt Transue Senior Director of Football Operations 2022 Tennessee (2013)
Derek Owings Director of Football Strength & Conditioning 2020 Mercer (2016)

Conference affiliations

All-time record vs. CAA Football

Team Record
Albany 3–0
Delaware 13–14
Elon 9–1
Maine 14–5
New Hampshire 12–9
Rhode Island 12–3
Richmond 21–18
Stony Brook 5–1
Towson 23–6–1
Villanova 17–12
William & Mary 27–17

All-time record vs. Sun Belt

Team Record
Appalachian State 4-12
Coastal Carolina 1-1
Georgia State 1-0
Georgia Southern 1-7
Marshall 0-2
Old Dominion 0-2
Troy 1-1


North Dakota State

The James Madison, North Dakota State Rivalry sees two of the most successful teams of the 2010's and was birthed December 3, 2011 in the Second Round of the FCS Championship.[39] This was the first ever meeting between the two teams and would see James Madison ranked #17 with North Dakota State at #2. The game was played in North Dakota State's Fargodome and would end 14-26 NDSU. Although this game was played in the second round and was an expected victory for North Dakota State, what was not expected was this playoff win would the first of 22 straight, including 5 straight FCS National Championships. During this stretch, James Madison would improve their football team, including 2015, when they would be ranked #5 before losing to Colgate in the Second Round.

In 2016, the teams would meet again, this time in the Semi-Final. The #2 Bison, who had won 22 straight playoff games, would host the #4 Dukes once again in the Fargodome.[40] With both teams sharing a 12-1 record, the game would be broadcast on ESPN and for good reason, as it would be considered one of the best FCS games ever played. This time the #4 Dukes would come out on top, with a final score of 27-17, ending the record breaking win streak the Bison held and sending them to the FCS National Championship. James Madison would face Youngstown State and beat them 28-14, winning them their second National Championship.[41]

In 2017, the two teams would get a highly anticipated rematch in the FCS National Championship. This time, James Madison would have the win streak to protect, going undefeated in the regular season and not losing since the first game of 2016. The #2 Bison beat out #1 James Madison 17-13, holding the Dukes in the Redzone to end the game. This was the Bison 6th National Championship in 7 years,

In 2019, history would repeat itself, seeing the teams face off in the FCS National Championship. The teams traded places in the ranking since the last meeting, with the Dukes at #2 and the Bison at #1. Once again, the Bison would hold the Dukes late, intercepting the Dukes Quarterback Ben Dinucci on the 2 yard line with seconds left to go, giving the Bison a victory of 28-20.


Main article: James Madison-Richmond football rivalry

William & Mary

Main article: James Madison-William & Mary football rivalry


Main article: Delaware–James Madison football rivalry


National championships

Year Coach Record Championship
2004 Mickey Matthews 13–2 NCAA Division I-AA National Championship
2016 Mike Houston 14–1 NCAA Division I (FCS) National Championship
Total national championships 2

Conference championships

Year Coach Conference Conference record
1975 Challace McMillin Virginia Collegiate Athletic Association 5-0
1999 Mickey Matthews Atlantic 10 Conference 7–2
2004 Mickey Matthews Atlantic 10 Conference 7–1
2008 Mickey Matthews Colonial Athletic Association 8–0
2015 Everett Withers Colonial Athletic Association 6–2
2016 Mike Houston Colonial Athletic Association 8–0
2017 Mike Houston Colonial Athletic Association 8–0
2019 Curt Cignetti Colonial Athletic Association 8–0
2020 Curt Cignetti Colonial Athletic Association 3–0
2021 Curt Cignetti Colonial Athletic Association 7–1
Total conference championships 10


The Dukes have appeared in the Division I-AA/FCS Playoffs 18 times, most recently in 2021. Their combined record is 24-16. They were Division I-AA/FCS National Champions in 2004 and 2016 and National Runners-Up in 2017 and 2019.

Year Round Opponent Result
1987 First Round Marshall L 12–41
1991 First Round
W 42–35
L 21–24
1994 First Round
Troy State
W 45–26
L 21–28
1995 First Round Appalachian State L 24–31
1999 First Round Troy State L 7–27
2004 First Round
National Championship Game
William & Mary
W 14–13
W 14–13
W 48–34
W 31–21
2006 First Round Youngstown State L 31–35
2007 First Round Appalachian State L 27–28
2008 First Round
W 38–35
W 31–27
L 27–35
2011 First Round
Second Round
Eastern Kentucky
North Dakota State
W 20–17
L 14–26
2014 First Round Liberty L 21–26
2015 Second Round Colgate L 38–44
2016 Second Round
National Championship Game
New Hampshire
Sam Houston State
North Dakota State
Youngstown State
W 55–22
W 65–7
W 27–17
W 28–14
2017 Second Round
National Championship Game
Stony Brook
Weber State
South Dakota State
North Dakota State
W 26–7
W 31–28
W 51–16
L 13–17
2018 First Round
Second Round
W 20–6
L 20–23
2019 Second Round
National Championship Game
Northern Iowa
Weber State
North Dakota State
W 66–21
W 17–0
W 30–14
L 20–28
2020 First Round
North Dakota
Sam Houston State
W 31–24
W 34–21
L 35–38
2021 Second Round
Southeastern Louisiana
North Dakota State
W 59–20
W 28–6
L 14–20

Head coaches

Head Coach Years W-L-T Pct.
Challace McMillin 1972–1984 67–60–2 .527
Joe Purzycki 1985–1990 34–30–2 .530
Rip Scherer 1991–1994 29–19 .604
Alex Wood 1995–1998 23–22 .511
Mickey Matthews 1999–2013 109–71 .606
Everett Withers 2014–2015 19–7 .731
Mike Houston 2016–2018 37-6 .860
Curt Cignetti 2019–present 33-5 .868
Totals Coaches Seasons Wins Losses Ties Pct.
1972–2021 8 50 351 220 4 .614

Future non-conference opponents

James Madison has several known future non-conference matchups set (as of February 18, 2022).[42]

2022 2023 2024 2025 2026 2027 2028
Middle Tennessee at Miami (OH) Monmouth Norfolk State Miami (OH) at North Carolina
Norfolk State at North Carolina North Carolina A&T at Liberty
at Louisville at Monmouth
at Virginia Tech


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