Posted September 14, 2010 | comments Leave a comment

Tommy Keeler: State's football picture changing

Take a good look at the Associated Press college football poll this week. At the very bottom, where it mentions "others receiving votes," something looks odd.

James Madison University received 11 votes this week in the poll after their stunning 21-16 win over Virginia Tech. It's the first time the Dukes have ever received votes. After Appalachian State beat Michigan in 2007, the rules were changed so that voters could vote for Football Championship Subdivision teams.

The other odd thing about the poll is that Virginia Tech isn't in the poll for the first time since Nov. 30, 2008. With Virginia's near upset of No. 18 USC, could it be that things are changing in the commonwealth?

There's no doubt that the JMU win, which many are calling the biggest in school history, will help them land better recruits. JMU won the FCS National Championship in 2004, and that certainly aided the program.

The Dukes' national title made many, especially in the state, take notice. However, the win over Virginia Tech made an entire country take notice. How often does JMU get mentioned on ESPN's Sportscenter? (About as often as I do?) Now the Dukes will forever be known as the team that upset Virginia Tech.

JMU coach Mickey Matthews has always done a solid job with the program, and it is always a factor in the FCS these days. Now it could be the new Appalachian State, a potential powerhouse in the FCS.

The Dukes should be really good on defense the next few years. They have only two seniors starting on defense, and their defense looked great against the Hokies.

The recruits should come flying in from all over the country over the next few years, with everybody wanting to play for America's newest underdog darling.

Meanwhile in Charlottesville, the Cavaliers are slowly beginning to re-emerge as a program. Virginia hung tough with USC, and I think the Cavaliers are going to have a strong season.

First-year coach Mike London has things going in the right direction. The players seem to want to play for him and they are giving 100 percent all the time. The Cavaliers were able to score late in the game against USC because of that, while the Trojans had slacked off at the end of the game.

To me, it was just another sign of where the program is headed. London, who won a FCS national title with Richmond, knows what it takes to get to the top -- recruiting.

And right now would seem to be the best time to make an impact in recruiting. Virginia Tech has owned the state when it comes to recruiting for a number of years now.

However, with an 0-2 start this season, including the loss to JMU, there's no question high school athletes will think a little harder about choosing Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech has won at least 10 games for six consecutive seasons. The program has been strong since the early 1990s, and one or two losses won't change that. I still expect them to finish well over .500 this season, and make a bowl game.

I think the Hokies will be just fine, but with Virginia on the rise and JMU gaining attention, Virginia Tech's days of dominating in recruiting could be over.

Virginia Tech will now have plenty of competition, which in turn could make every team in the state better. And fans throughout the state will benefit from that. I don't think Virginia is going to become the new Florida, but anytime football in the state improves, it's sure to be a great thing. It's one of the many storylines I'm looking forward to over the next few years.

In the next few weeks the sports staff writers at The Northern Virginia Daily will begin blogging. Jeremy Stafford, the only one who saw JMU's upset win coming, will blog about high school sports and Shenandoah University sports, while Brian Eller blogs about D.C.-area pro sports. Sports Editor Jeff Nations will be blogging about a little bit of everything.

As for me, I will be blogging about Division 1 college sports in Virginia, mostly focusing on JMU, Virginia and Virginia Tech. My blog will be called Campus Conversation, and I hope to keep readers entertained and well informed when it comes to the Dukes, Cavaliers and the Hokies.

I will also try my best to keep everyone up-to-date on some of the local athletes we have at the Division I colleges in the state. In fact, Sherando graduate and JMU starting tight end Brian Barlow had two catches in the win against Virginia Tech, and had a key block on the Dukes' second touchdown.

I'm excited about this new Internet venture the sports department is taking and even more excited about what the future holds for the football programs at JMU, Virginia and Virginia Tech.

College football has been pretty good here in the commonwealth for many years. After this weekend, I think things are about to get even more interesting, and the football is going to be even better.

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