Today's Free Picks for
Posted at 10:30 AM EST. Odds subject to change.
Troy -2½ over James Madison
Veterans Memorial Stadium, Troy, AL
Streaming: NFL Network
7:00 EST. James Madison University is riding a wave of positive momentum right now. One of the most successful FCS programs in recent history, the Dukes made a statement in their first season as a Sun Belt member last year. They finished 8-3 in 2022 and despite being a newcomer, knocked off former conference titans like Georgia State and Appalachian State. They finished the 2022 season stomping Coastal Carolina, 47-7, one of the participants in the Sun Belt Conference Championship game.They'll get their first chance to challenge Troy tonight.
This season hasn't knocked JMU off their pedestal, either. The Dukes are 2-0 and off a big-emotional win at UVA. The Virginia Cavaliers no doubt had that game circled; they played tremendously hard, as they commemorated former UVA football players who were fatally shot last November. But win they did not, as JMU continued their stampede and spoiled UVA's storybook moment in Charlottesville. Just one week later, JMU hopes to build off that momentum as they face last year's Sun Belt Champions, the Troy Trojans.
Statistics favor JMU in almost every category heading into this contest, but that doesn't deter us from considering a different thought-process today. Troy has been as steady as any Sun Belt program for a full calendar year. In fact, their last conference loss was September 17th, 2022, falling to Appalachian State in a close battle in Asheville NC. Sure, they lost defensive coordinator Shiel Wood and some key members of last year's defense, a special group that only permitted 14.8 ppg through their 11-game winning streak, but it's still a formidable and prideful unit. Their 2023 defense is very stingy against the pass and PFF ranks them top 40 in tackling and top 51 in coverage.
On the other side of the ball, Troy's offense can also be very explosive (ranked 17th according to the Action Network), an area of concern for the JMU defense (ranked 95th), but that's not the biggest reason why we’re getting behind Troy today.
Firstly, the line is telling. Why would a surging JMU squad, who's seemingly as talented as last season and poised to take over the Sun Belt, still be listed as an underdog in this matchup? Of course it's in Alabama, but home-field alone is hardly a reason to rank Troy as a near-field goal favorite considering the Dukes' momentum.
The answer is something intangible. The Trojans are coming off the exact opposite feeling that JMU had last week - they were shallacked by Big-12 contender Kansas State, and the disparity of talent was evident from the beginning. The 15th ranked Wildcats beat Troy 42-13 and greatly outgained the visitors, not surprising coming from a school that owns a mountain of top 25 ranks on offense and defense through two games into the season. Troy's less-experienced players were justifiably frustrated by the experience, but heading back home to defend the conference they ruled last season is a fresh new brand of motivation, one that figures to wake up the Trojans at just the right time.
We always look for opportunities to sell teams when perception is at its highest and buy on teams that look a little shaky, especially if they're in an ideal spot for redemption. This is that situation. While JMU appears to be the better program right now, it's likely that we get the very best version of Troy tonight at home, defending its honor and its conference. JMU exclusively has positive sentimentality around them right now - among their peers, in newspapers, even in the national media. Meanwhile the Trojans are incurring negative attention, as analysts too quickly perceive a program that's not built for success like they were last season, yet the home team is favored here for a reason. Take the Trojans to step up and remind the newest member of the Sun Belt that they're not going down without a fight.
Troy -2½ -106 (Risking 2.12 units - To Win: 2.00)