After Troy’s 16-14 loss to JMU in September, the Trojans slipped into Sun Belt obscurity for a few weeks. As the Dukes keep winning – they’re 8-0 heading into this week – national media covers the Dukes heavily on a weekly basis because of their bowl ineligibility.
That leaves other Sun Belt teams flying well under the radar.
While attention gets thrown at JMU, Troy just keeps winning. The Trojans will finally garner some well-deserved national attention Thursday when they host South Alabama on ESPN2.
The Trojans are an impressive 5-0 since their loss to the Dukes, and their only two losses this year came to teams (Kansas State and JMU) in the latest AP Top 25 poll. Not only is Troy winning, but the Trojans have been dominant.
In their last four games, the Trojans are 4-0 with a scoring margin of +95 points. They’ve allowed just 20 points over their last four games, including holding three of their four opponents to single digits.
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Sun Belt’s best team?
There’s not a great argument for Troy being the Sun Belt’s best team given JMU’s unblemished record, which includes a win at Troy, but the Dukes aren’t head-and-shoulders above Troy by any means. Troy is 3-1 in league action with a blowout win over a solid Georgia State team and another commanding victory over a quality Texas State squad. Both wins, which came by 39 combined points, occurred on the road.
Troy is no joke. The defense is arguably the Sun Belt’s best – JMU’s might be more disruptive along the defensive line, but Troy’s is more consistently excellent – and the offense leans on stud running back Kimani Vidal to move the ball effectively.
It really starts with the defense for the Trojans. Troy has held three of its four Sun Belt opponents to their respective season low in scoring, including limiting JMU to 16 points. Arkansas State was the only Sun Belt team that wasn’t held to a season-low in scoring by the Trojans. Oklahoma shut out the Red Wolves.
Given Troy’s mid-season surge, it’s a shame JMU and Troy aren’t destined to meet in the Sun Belt Championship. Troy and JMU aren’t that far apart in terms of on-field ability, and predictive metrics say as much.
ESPN’s SP+ lists the Dukes 39th nationally and the Trojans 46th. ESPN’s Football Power Index actually lists Troy ahead of JMU, with the Trojans at No. 50 and the Dukes at No. 55. Both teams are viewed similarly by most predictive metrics, suggesting a rematch would feature an extremely tight point spread.
When you’re talking about the Sun Belt’s best team, JMU understandably is dubbed the top team. Troy shouldn’t be discounted from that conversation, though.
The Trojans showed on Sept. 16 that they were up for the task of battling with JMU. If the two teams met again this season, it could be a classic. It’s a shame that NCAA transition rules will effectively keep the Dukes from a rematch with the Trojans.
South Alabama showdown
The Trojans have a chance to showcase their vaunted defense Thursday night against South Alabama. The Jaguars have underperformed relative to expectations this season, but they have a 26-point win over Oklahoma State and a pair of 48+ point wins over Sun Belt West opponents. They’re dangerous, even if the 4-4 record is disheartening.
With games against Troy, Arkansas State, and Texas State left, South Alabama is a Louisiana loss away from controlling its destiny in the Sun Belt West. For Troy, a win Thursday gives the Trojans the inside track to winning the Sun Belt West for a second consecutive season under head coach Jon Sumrall.
Thursday’s game was highly anticipated coming into the season, and while South Alabama has fallen short of its preseason expectations, the Trojans deserve way more national respect. They’re one of the best Group of Five teams, and they can help prove that Thursday with a home win over a talented South Alabama team.