Pitt is not slated to resume its rivalry with West Virginia on the gridiron until 2022, but Panthers fans will have an opportunity to watch one of their own take on the Mountaineers this month, as former Pitt quarterback Ben DiNucci was named the starter for James Madison by Dukes head coach Curt Cignetti on Tuesday afternoon. James Madison is scheduled to face West Virginia in Morgantown on Aug. 31.
”Ben DiNucci's going to be the starting quarterback," Cignetti said after James Madison’s practice on Tuesday. "I have total trust and confidence in him. He's played a lot of football. He’s impressed me. He has done a good job with his decision-making.”
DiNucci started under center in all 13 of the Dukes’ games in 2018 and led the team to a 9-4 record. That included a four-game stretch early in the season in which James Madison outscored its opponents 204-17. All told, DiNucci threw for 2,275 yards and 16 touchdowns in addition to running for 433 yards and nine touchdowns. However, turnovers were an issue, as he threw 12 interceptions in 2018. Five of those came in a season-ending 23-20 FCS playoff loss to Colgate last December.
At Pitt, DiNucci redshirted as a freshman in 2015 but went on to play in 12 games and start six. Although he threw for 1,091 yards and five touchdowns, he struggled with consistency and turnovers, completing just 56 percent of his passes and throwing five picks in 2017. With that said, his frenetic style of play endeared him to many Pitt fans, especially in his 2017 debut against Penn State, in which he ran in the team’s only touchdown of the game.
DiNucci will lead the No. 2 FCS team in the nation into Morgantown to face a new-look West Virginia team now missing longtime head coach Dana Holgorsen, who spurned the program for Houston, and quarterback Will Grier, who is now hoping to back up Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton in the NFL. Holgorsen and Grier have been replaced by former Troy head coach Neal Brown and Oklahoma transfer Austin Kendall, and the result is one of the narrowest spreads for an FBS-FCS matchup in Week 1, as West Virginia is favored by just 6.5 points.
Kickoff from Milan Puskar Stadium is set for 2 p.m. ET on Aug. 31 — the same day Pitt is slated to face Virginia in its season opener at Heinz Field. The James Madison-West Virginia game can be seen on AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh. The Pitt-Virginia game will air at 7:30 p.m. ET on the ACC Network.