FRISCO, Texas — A win Saturday for James Madison would at least change the recent snapshot of the FCS and would further bolster athletic director Jeff Bourne’s aspirations.
The Dukes would have two national championships in the last four years – the same number of titles in that span as their opponent, North Dakota State, the perennial contenders and class of the subdivision.
“They’ve been at this a long time, an extremely successful program, very well run and great group of fans,” Bourne told the Daily News-Record on Thursday at Toyota Stadium, the site of Saturday’s noon kickoff. “But our goal, as you look at it, is we consider ourselves every bit capable of doing everything they can do on a regular basis.”
The Bison enter Saturday aiming for their eighth crown in nine years. The only year they didn’t win it all was in 2016 when JMU became the lone team to ever beat North Dakota State in an FCS playoff game at the FargoDome.
“Multiple championships is our goal,” Bourne continued, “and I want to year in and year out make sure that we not only keep pace, but find a way to exceed it. I don’t see anything backing down on JMU’s part in regard to our commitment.”
Though Bourne is bullish on the future, he admitted he wasn’t exactly sure how this season would play following former coach Mike Houston’s departure for East Carolina and Curt Cignetti’s hiring after last season.
“I think it exceeded my expectations in Year 1,” said Salem native Bourne, a 1981 graduate of Bridgewater College. “And to be back here is where we want to be every year that we can, so I feel really good about the program.
“Transition is a difficult thing to work through and I think it’s much more difficult than most people realize. All the faces and names are changing in regard to the assistant coaching staff. There wasn’t any carry over from the existing staff, so they’re having to come in, get their hands around the existing student athletes and the program itself as well as recruit to it. And we all know the recruiting piece is extremely vital to the long-term success, so they were able to do all of that very, very effectively.”
Bourne said his relationship with Cignetti is strong and he appreciates the coach’s calm demeanor.
“It’s been a very positive first year with this coaching staff,” Bourne said, “and you look to build continuity and support on that.”
The longtime Dukes athletic director said the team’s fan base is eager for Saturday, having sold out the school’s 4,000-plus ticket allotment already. In addition, there are several alumni-backed and fan-driven watch parties around the state and country on Saturday, with some as far away as San Diego, Phoenix and London.