With the cold front that has frozen the Shenandoah Valley, practice conditions for James Madison haven’t been ideal lately. Not that anyone is complaining.
“It means we’re still playing,” JMU coach Mike Houston said.
Fourteen down, one to go. The only thing standing between James Madison and a second consecutive national championship is No. 2 seed North Dakota State at noon Saturday in Frisco, Texas.
So what’s a little cold weather in the meantime?
“They’re practicing very, very well right now,” Houston said during a luncheon at O’Neill’s Grill in Harrisonburg Tuesday. “We had a very spirited practice yesterday in single-digit weather.
“You’re a little concerned going out how practice would be. They really practiced at a high level. I guess they figured the more they moved around, the warmer they were going to be.”
It’s the price JMU must pay for getting this far. But the Dukes (14-0) have been there before. A year ago, when JMU beat Youngstown State in the FCS title game, it was 23 degrees in Frisco.
This year’s final is what everyone expected from day one. The Dukes and Bison were 1-2 in the preseason poll, and it stayed that way the first 10 weeks of the season.
North Dakota State slipped to No. 6 after a loss to South Dakota State but was the obvious No. 2 seed for the playoffs.
Both are coming off unexpected blowouts in the semifinals. JMU dominated South Dakota State 51-16, and NDSU owned Sam Houston State 55-13.
“It’s (what) everybody in the preseason penciled in as the two teams that had the best shots to get there,” Houston said. “But certainly, there’s been a lot we both had to go through and overcome in order to get to this point.
“I think it says a lot about depth of both programs and the players we have in those programs. You have the clear top two teams in the country.”
The Bison (13-1) will be making their sixth trip to the national championship game in seven years. They won five titles in a row before losing to James Madison 27-17 at home in last year’s semifinals.
That landmark win in Fargo was JMU’s 11th in a row. The Dukes’ winning streak is now at 26 games.
“The positive thing is having a lot of players who were on last year’s roster who know what to expect when we get down there,” Houston said. “They know the challenges we’ll face with all the attention and hoopla that surrounds the championship game.
“We have an opportunity to do something really, really special. That’s something our seniors are really, really motivated by. Even though we’re facing the biggest challenge of the year, and we’re facing the best football team we’ve faced all year, the kids are excited for the opportunity.”
Johnson can be reached by phone at 757-247-4649. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveJohnsonDP.