The story of the week in James Madison after their loss to Richmond wasn't the fact that College Football Gameday was there, nor was it about their big CAA conference loss, which took them out of the drivers' seat for the CAA title and conference autobid.
It was the fact that their superstar quarterback, QB Vad Lee, sustained an injury that would require surgery and take him out for the remained of the season.
The play didn't look like much. The Dukes, who were already down by two touchdowns, saw Lee simply try to make something happen on a routine 2 yard run left. A shoestring tackle by Richmond's linebacker wasn't particularly dirty, though in retrospect it looked like his foot was tackled awkwardly.
A play afterwards, Lee remained in, and collapsed after hucking a deep pass, and his incredible career at JMU was done.
Here's the previous play, a 2-yard loss by Lee. Omar Howard with the tackle pic.twitter.com/5mTsEKtvCM— Matt Jones (@MattJones36) October 26, 2015
A look at Vad Lee's injury. Was hobbled before he threw pass to Ravenel pic.twitter.com/bsbJJm4mAx— Matt Jones (@MattJones36) October 26, 2015
It's a horrible injury to happen to anyone, anywhere at any level of football. But it has brought into focus how dependent so many teams are on their quarterbacks.
Lee is hardly the first MVP-level quarterback to go down this season.
Another Walter Payton candidate, Villanova QB John Robertson, went down with a season-ending injury and saw the nationally-ranked Wildcats fall out to a mere afterthought in the CAA title race (not to mention the FCS playoff race).
The gold standard of FCS programs, North Dakota State, is not immune, either. Bison QB Carson Wentz went down, and the once-dominant FCS team is now sitting behind Illinois State in the Missouri Valley football conference standings.
In all of college football, depth has become even more important than ever. It seems like injuries are diagnosed more quickly, and players held out more quickly, than ever, thanks to an increased lookout for head injuries and early detection of other potential problems. Pairing with this, counterintuitively, is a seeming increase in the number of serious, season-ending injuries, like Lee's.
It's hard to see what the solution is. Rip up all the artificial turf, which makes players move faster and thus put them more at risk for injuries? That's unlikely to happen, and besides, Lehigh, who plays their home games on natural grass, is as injured as many other teams this season. Better equipment? It may help, it may not, but it will take years to find out.
Could it be play-calling? Lee, known throughout FCS as a dual-threat QB, wasn't afraid to run the ball. Yet it wasn't a play-call that got him hurt, or exposed. It was a normal, broken play.
Probably the solution is even greater emphasis on the physical training before the season, and having a world-class training and conditioning staff. What's scary, though, is that JMU was the best conditioned team I've seen Lehigh play all season, and that still didn't help Vad Lee escape injury.
1: Illinois State Redbirds
2: Jacksonville State Gamecocks
3: Harvard Crimson
4: Coastal Carolina Chanticleers
5: Richmond Spiders
6: James Madison Dukes
7: Chattanooga Mocs
8: Eastern Washington Eagles
9: North Dakota State Bison
10: Dartmouth Big Green
11: McNeese State Cowboys
12: Portland State Vikings
13: Fordham Rams
14: South Dakota State Jackrabbits
15: Sam Houston State Bearkats
16: Southern Utah Thunderbirds
17: Eastern Kentucky Colonels
18: William & Mary Tribe
19: The Citadel Bulldogs
20: Western Illinois Leathernecks
21: South Dakota Coyotes
22: Charleston Southern Buccaneers
23: North Carolina A&T Aggies
24: Brown Bears
25: Indiana State Sycamores
- Johnnies Climb. Harvard, man. They're good. They're very good. They didn't just beat Princeton this weekend; they dominated them, 42-7, as they've dominated everyone on their schedule. Senior QB Scott Hosch has 12 TDs and 1 interception. They've only given up more than 10 points all season. Bark about their easy out-of-conference schedule if you must, but even taking that into consideration, if you even take a tiny look at the statistics and wins, they unquestionably, in my mind, belong in everyone's Top 10. I have them at 3, and I think it's more than deserved.
- Interchangeable teams at 8-13? In my poll, I have this mess at 8-13 consisting of championship-caliber 2-loss teams (Eastern Washington, North Dakota State), the team with two amazing FBS wins but an inexplicable loss to a so-so team (Portland State), an undefeated team (McNeese State) that has a lot to prove against good FCS teams, that has and two teams who I've seen whom I know are great (Fordham, Dartmouth) but are difficult to stack up against the others. How to separate these teams? Unless you use computer models, it ain't easy. If I listen to Massey, Dartmouth should be at No. 8, and - in a bit of a shocker - Eastern Washington would be the bottom of this pile. Ultimately, basically with my own eye test, I ranked them EWU, NDSU, Dartmouth, McNeese, Portland State, Fordham. But I could see some big outcomes next week making me shuffle these teams around again. Not much separated them in my mind.
- What Has Brown Done For Me? There's an ugly loss to Bryant to explain, but at 4-2 and a 4 game win streak Brown has been creeping up my list, and snuck in at No. 24 this week. Chris Berman's favorite FCS team has been getting better in leaps and bounds since their 53-27 loss to Harvard, which is looking less bad by the minute, and QB Johnny Pena has been racking up points and wins. If they can get a win over Penn this weekend at home - which wouldn't be a bad feat, either - they will be a tough Ivy out the rest of the way.