N.C. State opens the college football season with James Madison on Saturday (noon, ESPNU). Ten things to know about the Dukes:
1. 2017 recap
The Dukes went 14-1 overall and were unbeaten (8-0) in the Colonial Athletic Association in coach Mike Houston’s second season.
They opened the season with a 34-14 win at East Carolina, their second win over an FBS opponent in three years.
JMU scored 127 points over the next weeks and took an 11-0 mark into the FCS playoffs. They beat Stony Brook (26-7), Weber State (31-28) and South Dakota State (51-16) on their home field before losing to North Dakota State in the championship game (17-13) in Frisco, Texas.
JMU had the best scoring defense (11.1 points per game) in the country and produced an FCS-best 44 turnovers (31 by interception).
2. Returning leaders
Passing: QB Cole Johnson (14-23, 141 yards)
Rushing: RB Marcus Marshall (850 yards)
Receiving: WR Riley Stapleton (42 catches for 615 yards)
Tackles: CB Jimmy Moreland (68)
3. Returning all-conference players
CB Rashad Robinson (consensus All-American, first-team CAA)
CB Jimmy Moreland (first-team CAA)
DE Darrious Carter (third-team CAA)
G Jahee Jackson (second-team CAA)
P Harry O’Kelly (second-team CAA)
RB Trai Sharp (third-team CAA)
4. Key losses
DE Andrew Ankrah (CAA defensive player of the year)
QB Bryan Schor (3,222 passing yards)
WR Terrence Alls (55 catches, 710 yards)
DL Simeyon Robinson (6.5 sacks)
LB Kyre Hawkins (111 tackles)
S Raven Greene (5 interceptions)
LT Aaron Stinnie
5. Breakout candidates
Receiver Riley Stapleton is a big target (6-5, 229 pounds) for whoever winds up being the starting quarterback. Stapleton was second on the team with 45 catches (for 615 yards) last season.
Cole Johnson was Schor’s backup last year but Ben DiNucci transferred from Pittsburgh and has been competing for the job. Coach Mike Houston didn’t publicly name a starter on Monday.
DiNucci started six games for Pitt last year, including a 35-17 home loss to N.C. State.
The Dukes are blessed with depth at running back with the return of Sharp and Marcus Marshall (850 yards). Cardon Johnson received a sixth-year waiver after missing the 2017 season with an Achilles injury. He ran for 710 yards in 2016.
Jawon Hamilton, a transfer from Central Florida, is a fourth running back who could help.
Linebacker Wayne Davis is a transfer from Ohio State and was the high school player of the year in Virginia in 2015.
The Dukes could run the ball (194.3 yards per game) and stop the run (90.5 ypg) last year.
They were even better defensively against the pass (No. 1 in the FCS in pass efficiency and interceptions).
They have to replace the bulk of their starters on defense but cornerbacks Rashad Robinson and Jimmy Moreland are two of the best in the country.
Schor set a lot of passing records and won a lot of games in 33 starts the past three years. He won’t be easy to replace.
Seven starters from last year’s stout defense need to be replaced, including three of the front four and both safeties.
8. Coaching Connections
Offensive line coach Steve Shankweiler, hired in January, was a defensive analyst for N.C. State last season. Shankweiler was a longtime ECU assistant, as was offensive coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick.
Defensive coordinator Bob Trott is a former Duke assistant and has also had coaching stops at Virginia, Clemson and UNC.
9. Recent history vs. FBS
The Dukes are 3-10 vs. FBS opponents since 2000 with a 1-5 record against ACC teams. They beat Virginia Tech, 21-16, in 2010.
Sept. 1 at N.C. State
Sept. 8 at Norfolk State
Sept. 15 Robert Morris
Sept. 22 William & Mary
Sept. 29 at Richmond
Oct. 6 Elon
Oct. 13 at Villanova
Oct. 27 Stony Brook
Nov. 3 at New Hampshire
Nov. 10 Rhode Island
Nov. 17 at Towson