RICHMOND, Va. – James Madison made national headlines earlier this season at Virginia Tech, becoming just the second FCS squad to knock off a Top 25 team.
Coach Mickey Matthews described the victory as the biggest of his career, but said Wednesday that the most important games for the Dukes (3-0) actually begin this weekend.
James Madison hosts Delaware in its Colonial Athletic Association opener, one of two top-10 showdowns in arguably the nation's best Football Championship Subdivision conference.
Villanova, the defending FCS champion, travels to William & Mary in the other. It's a rematch of last year's national semifinals.
In Harrisonburg, the Dukes are off to a 3-0 start for the first time in Matthews' 12 seasons, and coming off a sloppy 10-3 victory at home against Liberty. It followed the victory in Blacksburg and a bye, and "we were still signing autographs," Matthews said.
His team knows it needs to be more ready to play against the Blue Hens (4-0, 1-0).
"This is a bigger game in our program than the Virginia Tech game," Matthews said. "Certainly from a national standpoint and your reputation, the Virginia Tech game was probably bigger, but our goal has always been to win the conference championship and compete for the national championship. Because this is the first conference game, it's very big."
The Blue Hens are one of five CAA teams ranked in the top 10, and one of the four league schools to win the national title in the past seven years. They won in 2003, JMU in 2004.
The game figures to be low scoring, with Delaware allowing a league-low 5.5 points and the Dukes second at 8.7. The Blue Hens have yielded just one touchdown in four games.
"We should be very motivated offensively after that fiasco Saturday night," Matthews said of the Liberty game, when his team managed just 283 yards. Nobody played well on offense."
Delaware coach K.C. Keeler expects his defense to be severely tested.
"Obviously, to beat Virginia Tech, they had to do some good things," he said.
In Williamsburg, William & Mary and the Wildcats will meet for the third time in the past year, with the Wildcats having won both last year, including 14-13 in the FCS semifinals.
Villanova has 15 starters back from last year's champions, led by do-everything Matt Szczur, the conference's offensive and special teams player of the year. William & Mary has 13 starters returning, and Wildcats coach Andy Talley said he knows how the game will go.
"As all these games in the CAA are, just about every game with William & Mary has been a war," he said. "We've been fortunate, very fortunate, to have some things break our way."
In the gauntlet that is the CAA, winning teams feel like that most every week.