Gameday On for Richmond-JMU

(STATS) – What’s shaping up as the game of the year in the Colonial Athletic Association will be ESPN’s game of the week.

Saturday’s colossal Richmond-James Madison matchup won’t be among the network’s showcase events – its mega-contracts with the SEC and other Power 5 conferences ensure that won’t happen. Still, having ESPN’s wildly popular College GameDay pregame show on the JMU campus is clearly a very big deal for two consistently successful programs whose achievements have gone relatively unnoticed on the national landscape.

"It’s a huge opportunity for the university and athletics," JMU athletic director Jeff Bourne stated.

College GameDay has visited an FCS site just six times previously, the last being 2014’s Yale at Harvard game.

Saturday’s showdown is certainly worthy of being No. 7, with JMU (7-0, 4-0) and Richmond (5-1, 3-0) the lone remaining unbeatens in league play and having climbed to fourth and 11th, respectively, in the latest STATS FCS Top 25.

But despite the strong credentials of both participants, the game still needed the stars to align perfectly in order to make Harrisonburg, Virginia, the center of the college football universe for at least one Saturday morning.

Ole Miss’ stunning loss to Memphis and Texas A&M’s 18-point home defeat to Alabama last Saturday took the luster off this week’s only FBS clash between Top 25 teams. Unbeaten Utah’s visit to USC also lost some appeal after the struggling Trojans fell to 3-3 by losing at Notre Dame.

And don’t discount the fact that GameDay’s producer, Lee Fitting, is a JMU graduate.

"It helps to have personnel working for ESPN," Bourne said. "I’m sure he had a lot to say at the end of the day."

Dukes head coach Everett Withers wasn’t buying any notions of inside influence, however.

"GameDay don’t come here if they don’t have two really good teams," Withers said at his weekly press conference. "We can give all the credit to a lot of people, but we better be giving it to the two teams that are playing this game. That’s why they’re coming."

And both have indeed done their parts. JMU has steamrolled its way to its first-ever 7-0 start behind a prolific offense averaging an FCS-leading 613.0 yards and 48.7 points. The Spiders, who count ESPN football analyst Todd McShay among their alumni, are averaging 37.0 points over a five-game winning streak following an opening-week loss at Maryland.

The Dukes, whose impressive resume includes a 48-45 win at American Athletic Conference member SMU in September, also possess a drawing card in dynamic quarterback Vad Lee, a top STATS FCS offensive player of the year candidate. The Georgia Tech transfer was recently profiled in ESPN’s "Big Man on Campus" segment following his performance against SMU, in which he rushed for a career-high 276 yards and two touchdowns and threw for 289 yards and three more scores.

Lee also set a career high with 433 passing yards in last season’s 55-20 win at Richmond, one of 14 straight regular-season victories that ranks as the FCS’ second-longest active streak.