HARRISONBURG — In 19 games under coach Mike Houston, James Madison has yet to fail, or even play poorly, against a lesser opponent.
The Dukes have approached each Saturday the same, whether they’re matched up against an inferior non-conference opponent or a Colonial Athletic Association rival.
And though JMU is 18-1 and has captured a national title in those 19 contests, with the way CAA games went this past weekend, Houston said his players must be prepared to play each week just like they have since he arrived in Harrisonburg.
“It just looks like it’s going to be every single weekend that you have to bring your A game if you want to win,” Houston said.
On Saturday, JMU travels to Delaware to face an improved Blue Hens squad under first-year coach Danny Rocco.
JMU beat Delaware by 23 points last season, but this year Rocco has his team at 2-1 featuring a veteran defense.
“You’re facing a quality opponent. You’re at their place,” Houston said. “Delaware has a rich tradition — six national championships. They have a very active following of alumni, much like we do, so it’ll be challenging environment, a quality opponent and it will be something where we have to play well in order to have a chance.”
This past Saturday, two Top 10 teams — Villanova and Richmond — lost in league games to previously unranked Albany and Elon, respectively.
Albany’s 19-10 overtime win against Villanova gave the Great Danes their first Top 10 win in program history. Elon running back Malcolm Summers ran for 294 yards in the Phoenix victory at Richmond.
Top-ranked JMU doesn’t want to be the next to fall.
“You definitely take notice,” senior left tackle Aaron Stinnie said. “You know the CAA is a strong conference, so you got to come out to do your best every single week because you don’t know who will come out the victor.
“Every team is good and everyone has amazing players.”
Entering this weekend the CAA has a season-high six teams in the STATS FCS Top 25 — JMU, Villanova, New Hampshire, Richmond, Albany and Elon.
All those programs, minus Elon, are also ranked in the FCS Coaches Poll.
“This conference is so, so strong this year,” said New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell, who has coached in the league since its 2007 inception.
New Hampshire has a win over FBS Georgia Southern, and even Rhode Island, which lost 84-7 at JMU last year, took FBS Central Michigan to triple overtime before falling in the first week of the season.
“As anybody in this league knows, any weekend you get a conference win is a good weekend,” Houston said. “Looking around the league, it may have as much parity and be as strong from top to bottom as it has ever been.”
Houston said he saw highlights of Elon’s win at Richmond.
“[Elon] coach [Curt] Cignetti has done a great job coming in there in his first year and obviously changing the culture,” Houston said. “Not only the win over Richmond, but he has a quality win over Furman. They have three wins already on the season, so he’s got things turned around there.
“And what it looks like to me is that every single week this year, we’re going to be faced with a team that we’ll have to play our best against in order to have a chance to win.”
Albany coach Greg Gattuso and Villanova coach Mark Ferrante said their teams were in a defensive, field-position fight until Albany won on an 80-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown by linebacker Eli Mencer.
“It says a lot about our resiliency and toughness,” Gattuso said. “We didn’t fold and we just kept playing them.
“People talk about signature wins, and I don’t subscribe to it very much because I think we’ve beaten some good people over the last few years. We beat Buffalo last year in the opener. We beat New Hampshire at New Hampshire [last year]. We play good teams week in and week out and our conference is a fight every week.”
Ferrante called the game “a typical, CAA hard-fought battle.”