'GameDay' hoopla aside, JMU focused on a victory

By CRAIG HALEY

STATS FCS Senior Editor

(STATS) - Academic studies, the football program's success, playing time, such factors contributed toward defensive tackle Cornell Urquhart's commitment to play at James Madison while he was a high school senior.

If only he knew then what was to come two years into his Dukes career, then the recruiting process might have been over before it even got started. During Urquhart's sophomore season in 2015, ESPN's iconic preview show "College GameDay" broadcast for the first time from James Madison's purple-crazed campus.

"To be honest, if I had heard 'GameDay' was coming here," the 6-foot-4, 280-pound senior looks back, "I would have committed on spot, wouldn't even have bothered to come to campus."

The attraction of a "GameDay" visit to any campus is mesmerizing, even for the biggest teams in college football. It basically symbolizes a program's arrival to the big time or validates the ones already there that they're in the place to be.

Urquhart says he's grown up watching the preview show - laughing at the hilarious signs of fans standing behind the set, seeing the personalities come to life, anticipating the highlight moment at the end of the broadcast when analyst Lee Corso predicts his winner of the big game by donning the head of the mascot costume of his chosen school.

Saturday's return of "GameDay" to JMU's campus in Harrisonburg, Virginia, might be bigger and better than when 12,000-plus filled the school's Quad on Oct. 24, 2015, but it won't include the Dukes' players like the last time. They'll be off at the team hotel, preparing for their matchup against fellow CAA Football power Villanova later in the day.

Their absence won't change the special feeling of the day. The Dukes simply want to focus of getting a different result this time after losing 59-49 to Richmond following the first "GameDay" visit.

"I think it's great exposure," said All-CAA senior safety Raven Greene. "I'm sure it does wonders for recruiting and building a brand of JMU as a whole. I feel like it's a great thing to happen to us, especially for the second time."

Greene, quarterback Bryan Schor and second-year coach Mike Houston filmed interviews with an ESPN crew on Tuesday, set to air during Saturday's three-hour broadcast (9 a.m. to noon ET). Wednesday morning, the preparation intensified as various production trucks staged in the Quad.

Maybe Houston will appear on set during the broadcast, but his wish is for the players to not be asked by the cable TV giant to be there. As grand as any "GameDay" visit is for a school - and Saturday's will mark only the eighth all-time for an FCS game dating to the first one in 2002 - the nucleus of James Madison's team knows much greater success.

It's funny how life can turn out, too. Many of the crowd signs during the first "GameDay" visit supported then-starting quarterback Vad Lee, at the time a candidate for national player of the year. But he suffered a career-ending injury during the loss to Richmond, which opened the door to Schor, then a transfer redshirt sophomore, to replace him and become the starter.

It wasn't even certain that Schor would remain QB the next offseason, but he held onto the job and led James Madison to not only the CAA title, while winning the conference's offensive player of the year award, but also the FCS national title.

In last year's visit to Villanova, Schor was the one knocked out of the game, suffering a shoulder injury in the first half. With true freshman Cole Johnson replacing him, the defense stepped up and helped guide the Dukes to a 20-7 victory, which clinched the CAA title. Urquhart was named the CAA defensive player of the week for his performance in the win, and the defense has been at a championship level ever since. The Dukes are riding a 17-game winning streak - the longest in Division I.

"We came together and we did what we had to do to win the game," Urquhart said.

"I think it kind of set the tone for us the rest of the year as far as being able to find our groove," Greene said. "The offense needed us and thankfully we were able to finally put it all together and pull through for them in ways they'd been putting up great numbers for us all year."

So the coaches and players can look beyond the second "GameDay" visit. Sure, it's similar for them in that's "it's surreal" to see the excitement explode again, Greene said. But their approach is so different.

For the top-ranked Dukes (5-0, 2-0), the epicenter of the FCS world will not be the Quad on Saturday morning, but a jam-packed Bridgeforth Stadium beginning with a 3:30 p.m. kickoff, when they fully expect to beat a Villanova squad that, despite being set back by devastating injuries, is No. 11 in the nation.

Maybe JMU's prospective recruits will be in attendance for "GameDay," or watching from afar. They just might be ready to might commit to the Dukes on the spot.

"It was a great experience that they came," Urquhart said, "but I think that kind of distracted us from what our main goal was, which was to win the game."

"That's something that we're cognizant of this year," Greene said, "as far as honing in on everything that we need to."

Updated October 11, 2017

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