What do the football programs at Georgia, Oregon, Ohio State, Michigan, and TCU all have in common?
They are the only FBS teams with a longer winning streak than Troy, which earned its sixth consecutive win with last week’s madcap 23-17 comeback win at Louisiana.
(Two other FBS schools, UTSA and Liberty are also riding six-game win streaks).
The school from Troy, Alabama, is quietly having an excellent season. The Trojans are 7-2 overall and in firm command of the Sun Belt West Division with a 5-1 mark that includes wins over second-place South Alabama (4-1) and third-place Southern Mississippi (3-2).
Under first-year coach Jon Sumrall, the Trojans are already bowl-eligible and have surpassed their win total from a year ago when they went 5-7 overall (3-5 Sun Belt East).
RELATED: Troy In HERO Sports’ G5 Power Poll
This year, Troy lost its first game of the season at Ole Miss, a semi-respectable 28-10 defeat to the 8-1 Rebels, who are ranked No. 11 in this week’s Associated Press poll. Ole Miss led 28-3 entering the final quarter before Troy scored its lone touchdown. The other loss was a true heartbreaker to the Sun Belt East’s Appalachian State, 32-28.
In that contest, host Appalachian State scored on a fourth down 53-yard Hail Mary pass on the game’s final play to pull out the improbable victory.
Last week, the current Troy win streak was severely tested in the comeback win over Louisiana. In that game, Troy surrendered the game’s first 17 points before scoring the final 23. Troy’s only lead came when sophomore Kimani Vidal scored on a 22-yard touchdown run with five seconds left, breaking a 17-17 deadlock. Vidal rushed for 117 yards, picking a pretty opportune time to earn his first 100-yard rushing day of his career.
The Trojans haven’t generated an overly large number of headlines, likely because this is not the flashiest team. Troy relies on a stingy defense and an offense that has done enough to get by.
The Trojans are second in the Sun Belt and 12th nationally in scoring defense, allowing 17.6 points per game. The defensive leader is linebacker Carlton Martial, an undersized, 5-9, 210-pound senior tackling machine. Martial is second in the Sun Belt in tackles, averaging 10.5 per game. He has played his best against the most formidable competition. In the opening loss to Ole Miss, he had 11 tackles but saved his best performance in a 16-7 win over Marshall when he had 18 tackles.
That is the same Marshall team that beat Notre Dame earlier this season.
A former walk-on, Martial missed one game this season due to a lower-body injury, the loss at Appalachian State. It’s no coincidence that the 32 points allowed against Appalachian State, without Martial in the lineup, were the most the Trojans allowed this season.
Martial is far from the only feared defender.
T.J. Jackson, a 6-1, 270-pound sophomore defensive end, leads the Sun Belt with 12.5 tackles for loss and is tied for third with 6.5 sacks.
Troy is tied for 12th in the Sun Belt and tied for 104th nationally in scoring offense (22.6 ppg.).
Senior DK Billingsley (498 yards rushing, 4.8 avg., 4 TDs) leads the rushing attack while Vidal has rushed for 484 yards (4.2 avg.) and three scores. The passing attack is striving for more consistency. Junior quarterback Gunnar Watson has thrown eight touchdown passes and eight interceptions.
Senior Jarret Doege, a former starter at Bowling Green and West Virginia, has thrown five touchdown passes and three interceptions.
In a bit of irony, Doege transferred from West Virginia to Western Kentucky this past January and spent much of preseason camp there before transferring to Troy on Aug. 18 (after not earning the starting QB job). He then played a pivotal role in Troy’s 34-27 win on Oct. 1 at none other than Western Kentucky. After Watson took a hard hit in the third quarter, Doege replaced him and completed 7 of 8 for 71 yards and two touchdowns.
It’s been a season where many have contributed as Troy has so far exceeded modest preseason expectations when the Trojans were picked to finish third in the West during the Sun Belt’s preseason poll.