New Rivalry Brewing in Virginia? Old FCS Foes Battle in Sun Belt

Photo courtesy of James Madison athletics

There will be no Commonwealth Cup to the winner, but the annual showdown between Virginia and Virginia Tech won’t be the only clash of in-state foes from Virginia in November.

As it transitions to FBS, James Madison will be taking on Old Dominion on Nov. 12. Both programs will be members of the Sun Belt.

It’s more than likely that the two schools will become rivals in their shared state and conference. Although they will have gone a decade in between meetings, one might argue that rivals is what they’ve always been.

Since the Last Meeting

These two teams last played in Harrisonburg on Nov. 17, 2012. That night, quarterback Taylor Heinicke led the Monarchs to a thrilling comeback victory over James Madison, 38-28. The Dukes led by 11 points on three separate occasions, but Heinicke threw three touchdowns in just over a 7-minute stretch in the second half to cap the comeback.

Since that last meeting, much has changed. Both FCS programs at the time, Old Dominion since decided to take its football to the FBS level. The Monarchs won their first bowl game in program history by taking down Eastern Michigan in the 2016 Bahamas Bowl.

The Monarchs did the unthinkable in 2018 when they stunned in-state foe and then No. 13 Virginia Tech. After eight years as a member of Conference USA, this will be ODU’s first season as a member of the Sun Belt — not bad for a program revived in 2009 after nearly 70 years.

So, what has James Madison been doing during this time?

One word: Winning.

Since the last meeting with Old Dominion, it has won an FCS national title, and competed for two others. The Dukes notably ended North Dakota State’s streak of four straight national championships in the 2016 FCS semifinals before ultimately topping Youngstown State for the crown.

James Madison’s days in the FCS are over. It has accepted an invitation to join the Sun Belt. The Dukes will play their first season in the Sun Belt this fall.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Well, these two in-state foes will once again go to war in the fall. The schools sit just a 3-hour drive apart despite not facing one another since 2012.

Old Dominion is one of the fastest rising programs in college football. With 17 returning starters, including all 11 on offense, many see the Monarchs as a sleeper in the Sun Belt this season. James Madison is playing with house money in its first FBS season.

The Dukes won a lot at the FCS level. Old Dominion will want to prove that things are different at the FBS level.

When it comes to transitioning, perhaps no one lays out a better blueprint than Appalachian State. Like James Madison, the Mountaineers were an FCS power who made the move to FBS in 2014.

Since the initial 7-5 season, Appalachian State has won at least nine games every year and the Sun Belt four times. The Mountaineers are also 6-1 in bowl games.

With a great culture and great coach in Curt Cignetti, it’s not hard to see James Madison following a similar path.

A Rivalry in the Making?

With a decade in between meetings, one might argue that too much time has passed for the Dukes and Monarchs to still be rivals. Others see this rivalry as an inevitability.

With the teams set to meet in November, there is a chance that contest has Sun Belt title implications for Old Dominion. Just imagine what a James Madison victory might do for the rivalry moving forward.

The state has plenty of football history; this rivalry will add another chapter to it.

Way-Too-Early Score Prediction?

Score prediction? For a game in November? Absolutely!

Old Dominion returns a lot of talent and gets this game in Norfolk. The Dukes, on the other hand, are replacing 12 total starters.

Still, there will be plenty of motivation on James Madison’s part to prove it belongs.

Prediction: Old Dominion 20, James Madison 17