JMU fans, players, and coaches were adamant the Dukes were the best team in the Sun Belt East in 2022. It’s hard to argue with them after the Dukes defeated Coastal Carolina 47-7 in their season finale, but the Chanticleers went on to play in the Sun Belt title game with JMU ineligible as an FBS transitioning team.
Troy steamrolled Coastal Carolina in the Sun Belt championship game, leaving JMU fans to wonder what might’ve happened if the Dukes and Trojans played instead.
The Dukes are unable to qualify for the SBC Championship again in 2023 due to NCAA transition rules, but they’ll get their shot at Troy on Saturday. Troy hosts JMU at 7 p.m. ET, with the game airing on the NFL Network.
College football betting odds list the Trojans as short favorites Saturday, with a point total hovering around 50.
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While the game might be billed by fans as “the real 2022 Sun Belt title game,” the 2023 teams are different. JMU is without star quarterback Todd Centeio, who graduated after last season. Troy won’t have standout linebacker Carlton Martial, who graduated after the 2022 season as well.
Still, the respective teams were predicted to win their Sun Belt divisions before the season started.
JMU replaced Centeio with Jordan McCloud, an Arizona transfer. The Dukes leaned on several offensive transfers, including wide receivers Elijah Sarratt (St. Francis) and Taji Hudson (East Carolina) in their 36-35 win over UVA last week. Stony Brook transfer Ty Son Lawton starred for the Dukes at running back, helping the Dukes erase a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Cavaliers.
As for Troy, Gunnar Watson returned at quarterback, and standout running back Kimani Vidal gives the Trojans a reliable rusher. He ran for more than 200 yards in a season-opening win over Stephen F. Austin, and he tallied 83 yards on 17 carries in a Week 2 loss to Kansas State.
Troy wasn’t known for its offense in 2022, but the Trojans have a nice backfield. If Troy can increase its offensive output from 2022, the Trojans will be the team to beat in the conference in 2023.
Both teams, despite a few key departures, are expected to excel defensively.
The teams enter Saturday’s game off different showings against Power Five teams. JMU beat Virginia, an ACC team, in a thrilling 36-35 win. The Dukes scored the final 12 points of the game to win by a point.
Troy, however, fell to Kansas State 42-13. The Trojans pulled within four points with less than a minute less in the first half, but then allowed the Wildcats to answer with a touchdown before halftime. The score shifted momentum, and the Trojans never came within 10 points again.
The Trojans should be hungry after the disappointing defeat against a Power Five team. JMU will need to push the Virginia win out of its mind and refocus on Troy if it wants to defeat the 2022 Sun Belt champion.
Expect a slugfest Saturday between two solid Group of Five programs.