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Underrated matchup for Week 7: Georgia Southern vs. James Madison

Saturday will bring us a battle between two of the top teams in the Sun Belt. One of them *should* be postseason bound if not for archaic NCAA rules.

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James Madison v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

We’ve reached the midway point of the 2023 college football season and there will be several important games of consequence highlighting the Week 7 slate this weekend.

The headliner will be a top 10 showdown in the Pacific Northwest with No. 8 Oregon visiting No. 7 Washington. We’ll also get No. 10 USC renewing its blue blood rivalry with No. 21 Notre Dame in South Bend while No. 25 Miami tries to shake off last week’s embarrassment when facing No. 12 North Carolina. While those matchups are absolutely worth your time, I want to go slightly off the grid and point your attention elsewhere.

Every week, I’ll go full hipster and point out an under-the-radar game that you should also be paying attention to on the schedule. This week, we’ll head to the Commonwealth of Virginia for an intriguing Sun Belt showdown at high noon.

Georgia Southern at James Madison, Noon ET, ESPN2

Odds via DraftKings Sportsbook

Spread: James Madison -6
Total: 58.5
Moneyline: JMU -238, GS +195

The underrated matchup that we’ll take a look at for Week 7 brings us to Bridgeforth Stadium in Harrisonburg, VA, where the Georgia Southern Eagles will battle the James Madison Dukes. The nation will get to watch this Sun Belt East showdown on ESPN2 and if not for stupid NCAA transition rules (more on that in a moment), this could’ve been a de-facto division title game (yes, you’re also very much in the hunt too Marshall).

Georgia Southern is 4-1 heading into this matchup and appears to be taking a step forward under second-year head coach Clay Helton. Outside of a turnover-filled loss to Wisconsin, the Eagles have mostly handled their business and each of their four victories have come by double-digits. That was the case in their 38-28 victory over Coastal Carolina two weeks ago, a game where they scored all of their points in the second and third quarters.

Quarterback Davis Brin has operated the controls of an offense that is currently ranked 45th in SP+ and has been mostly great outside of the aforementioned Wisconsin game where he threw five interceptions. Khaleb Hood and Derwin Burgess Jr. have been excellent receiving weapons for him and and he’s had two great running back options in OJ Arnold and Jalen White to hand the ball off to.

Meanwhile, James Madison is undefeated at 5-0 heading into this matchup and has continued its seamless transition into FBS. Ranked 55th overall in SP+, the Dukes own a Power Five victory over in-state rival Virginia and have knocked already off a pair of Sun Belt contenders in defending champion Troy and South Alabama to open conference play. Two weeks ago, they were able to hold off a late comeback attempt by the Jaguars for a 31-23 victory.

The offense has been led by USF/Arizona transfer quarterback Jordan McCloud, who is completing 65% of his passes and has shown off his abilities as a runner from time to time. Running backs Kaelon Black and Ty Son Lawton have been the top rushers while Reggie Brown and Elijah Sarratt have been explosive, big-play receiving targets for the Dukes. On defense, Jalen Green, James Carpenter, and Mikail Kamara have formed a fearsome front, as they’ve combined for 13.5 sacks heading into this matchup.

Despite their success in its year-and-a-half at the FBS level, James Madison is unfortunately ineligible for postseason play. To prevent FCS programs from hastily making a decision to move up, the NCAA has a rule where transitioning teams are unable to participate in postseason play for their first two years in FBS. That’s why the Dukes were unable to play in last year’s Sun Belt Championship Game despite winning the division and they were subsequently denied a waiver request to shorten the transition period this past April. The NCAA has received backlash for this rule and last week, Virginia Attorney General and JMU alum Jason Miyares sent a letter to NCAA president Charlie Baker asking him to reconsider their stance on the Dukes.

So that leaves us with this intriguing Sun Belt battle on Saturday between two teams who *should* be vying for a conference championship under normal circumstances. And under normal circumstances, James Madison *should* be celebrating bowl eligibility if they win here. Archaic NCAA rules aside, I highly recommend having this on in the early window, especially with the day’s marquee matchups not kicking off until later.