WASHINGTON (AP) - Back in July, James Madison coach Mickey Matthews spotted a billboard on campus counting down the number of days to the game against West Virginia.
Hang on, thought the coach. The Mountaineers aren't the opening game of the season. Yes, they will be the Dukes' highest-profile opponent, but this looked like a case of putting too many eggs in the emotional basket.
"I'm worried about the JMU nation," Matthews said this week. "You'd think this was the Super Bowl V or something that we're playing. ... I've been extremely concerned about it because we have a lot of big games after this."
The alumni are no doubt pumped because the Dukes actually won a similar game only a couple of years ago, beating then-No. 13 Virginia Tech in one of those FCS-stuns-FBS results that gives the lower-level school some nice pub and the top-level school the football equivalent of a dunce cap.
They'll try to repeat history Saturday against the No. 9 Mountaineers at the Washington Redskins stadium in Landover, Md., where West Virginia is playing a "home" game to help maintain its profile among recruits and fans around the nation's capital.
But Matthews has done his best to sound like an underdog coach without a prayer. He pointed out, for example, that the Dukes (2-0) managed to get Virginia Tech on a short, letdown week after the Hokies had opened against Boise State on a Monday night.
"Virginia Tech was a tired football team when we played them that day," Matthews said. "I wish WVU would have played Monday night against Boise."
Instead, the Mountaineers (1-0) are coming off an early season off week, having dispatched Marshall 69-34 two weeks ago.
"They could have scored 100 against Marshall if they had wanted to," Matthews said, "so I wouldn't be surprised if anything we do concerns them."
Matthews piled it on, praising West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Tavin Austin and Stedman Bailey. Smith set career school records for completions and touchdowns passes against Marshall.
"You are competing against the guy that's probably going to win the Heisman Trophy. I don't think he's going to win it, but he'll certainly get invited to New York," Matthews said. "And then you have two guys that will be carrying his suitcases, catching passes from him."
Of course, Matthews has nothing to lose, so he can say pretty much what he wants. West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen was more conventional with his comments in the lead-up to the game, and he made it a point to mention to his players what the Mountaineers did to the Hokies in 2010.
"You are going to make reference to that, but it is happening more and more," Holgorsen said. "Everyone remembers when Appalachian State beat Michigan. It is happening almost every week now. We are going to be motivated this weekend. We don't want them talking about us in that category on Saturday."
The change in venue gives West Virginia a chance to play before a big East Coast crowd, as opposed to a Big East crowd. The Mountaineers' switch to the Big 12 means they won't be venturing to these parts as much anymore.
"It is important to us to have a presence over there," Holgorsen said. "We have switched conferences and will be playing a lot of games in the Southwest and Midwest, so this is important for us. In the Big East, we played over there three times a year."
Of course, that strategy backfires if the Dukes pull off the upset - a result that that would seem all the more remarkable after listening to Matthews.
"I think when he gets bored making so many yards passing, Dana calls some runs," the JMU coach said of his counterpart. "So the running backs won't quit."