EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second in a series of articles by Jim Butta, a veteran sports writer for The Parkersburg News and Sentinel., who has served as the newspaper's beat writer for the Mountaineers.
The analysis is a compilation of research done on each opponent West Virginia University will face during the 2012 season.
Much of the information comes from the team's spring prospectus as well as stories written about the program during and after its spring drills.
Veteran head coach Mickey Matthews will lead his second Dukes squad the first dropped a 45-10 decision at Mountaineer Field in 2004 against the old gold and blue. But instead of playing the contest in the unfriendly confines of Milan Puskar Stadium the game will be played at FedEx Field, the home of the NFL's Washington Redskins.
Offense: JMU returns eight starters from last year's 8-5 squad. Among the group will be leading rusher Dae'Quan Scott, who rushed for 1,304 yards and 12 touchdowns on 237 carries, quarterback Justin Thorpe and leading receiver Brian Barlow.
Also back is wide receiver Renard Robinson, tight end Jonathan Sharp, tackles A.J. Scott and Josh Wells as well as guard Earl Watford.
Thorpe, a redshirt senior, completed 72-of-122 attempts for 872 yards and five touchdowns with Barlow, a second-team All-CAA performer as a fullback/H-back, led the team with 33 catches for 316 yards and a score.
Defense: The good news is that leading tackler Stephon Robertson returns after earning First Team All-CAA honors with 113 tackles, including 61 solo, nine tackles for loss and two sacks.
The bad news is the unit will be facing a Mountaineer offense that racked up 70 points against a Clemson prevent unit that was statistically ranked among the tops in the country.
Five other starters return for the Dukes on defense including free safety Jakarie Jackson, cornerback Leavander Jones, wide safety Dean Marlowe and linemen Tyler Snow (end) and Jordan Stanton (tackle).
Marlowe led the team with four interceptions while Jackson picked off two passes and finished with 49 tackles (29 solo). The unit will face a stern test with the likes of quarterback Geno Smith, who passed for an Orange Bowl record 407 yards and six touchdowns in the win over the Tigers, wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey and running backs Shawne Alston, Andre Buie and Dustin Garrison.
Specialists: More good news for Dukes fans. Leading scorer Cameron Starke returns for his junior campaign after connecting on 15-of-19 field goal attempts and all but one of his 35 PATs.
Also back is redshirt senior punter David Skahn, who averaged 40.1 yards per kick in 2011 with a long of 56 yards and 20 landing inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
Scott and Marlowe averaged eight yards apiece on punt returns, but Matthews and his staff will have to find a solid replacement for leading kickoff returner Kerby Long.
Overlook: Let's not kid ourselves here. This is a money game for both JMU and the Mountaineers. Both teams will receive a hefty paycheck regardless of the outcome of the contest.
On paper the game appears to be about as one-sided an affair as fans will witness in 2012. WVU just has too many weapons on offense for a Dukes' defense that has some weapons, but not nearly enough to slow down the 'Mountaineer Express' that it will be facing.
Offensively, JMU will attempt to control the football with the running of Scott and junior Jordan Anderson (169-858, 9 TDs) and the passing of Thorpe, who had an efficiency rating of 127.7 last season.
WVU's defense, despite being in only its second game in the new system, will have enough athletes to counteract the Dukes' top threats, however, and should help the old gold and blue stay unbeaten in its series with James Madison.
Series: WVU leads 1-0.