Date: December 23
Time: 3:30 PM ET
Location: Amon G. Carter Stadium - Fort Worth, TX
Betting Line: JMU -4.5
James Madison Dukes
2023 Record: 11-1
Form: Winners of four of their last five
Key Players: QB Jordan McCloud, RB Kaelon Black, DT James Carpenter
The Story So Far: James Madison’s success in 2023 may have been some of the most publicized in the G5. While the Dukes were not eligible for the Sun Belt championship or for the postseason due to FCS-to-FBS transition rules, they did find their way into a bowl game thanks to the lack of eligible teams that actually reached six wins this season. Now that we’ve reached the postseason, James Madison find themselves without the head coach that got them here, as well as several of their better players who have either signed with other schools or opted out to prepare for the NFL Draft.
A huge piece of JMU’s offensive success, however, will play in the bowl game: JMU QB and Sun Belt Player of the Year Jordan McCloud. The former Arizona and South Florida quarterback threw 32 touchdowns this season and rushed for eight with only nine interceptions. McCloud also passed for 3,400 yards on the season.
On the defensive side of the ball, JMU have drawn comparisons to NFL defenses from fellow Sun Belt coaches throughout the year, cited as one of the most fundamentally sound defensive clubs in the Group of Five. 282-pound Defensive tackle James Carpenter is one Duke who will be available for this game, with four sacks and 48 total tackles to this name this year.
Air Force Falcons
2023 Record: 8-4
Form: Lost their final four games of the regular season
Key Players: DB Trey Moore, LB Bo Richter, FB Emmanuel Michel
The Story So Far: Through the first eight weeks of the season, Air Force looked like the strongest contenders to be the Group of Five’s representative in the New Year’s Six. However, once they ran into the Army Black Knights on November 4, things took a bit of a turn. Injuries did play a part, however, in Air Force losing their final four games of the season.
Air Force are one of the only teams left in the country to run an offense that very closely resembles the traditional triple option. Quarterback injuries this season have been a problem, but the Falcons have several ball carriers that are capable of breaking off big plays when blocks come together. Emmanuel Michel and John Lee Eldridge III are the two most notable. Michel is something of a short yardage specialist with nine touchdowns this year, while Eldridge has an extremely impressive 6.9 yards per carry.
Defensively, like JMU, Air Force are exceptionally stout. The Falcons were the top scoring defense in the Mountain West, allowing just 17.92 points per game. Safety Trey Taylor has been one of the nation’s best free safeties, earning All-America honors from the American Football Coaches Association. The senior from Frisco, Texas had 67 total tackles this season, with 4.5 for a loss and three interceptions. Air Force’s front seven were especially exceptional with 26 sacks 59 tackles for loss and, therefore, will be an exceptional challenge for JMU.