What an impressive run Troy has experienced as a member of the Sun Belt Conference. This was Troy’s 22nd season in the Sun Belt and Trojans have won seven conference titles after Saturday’s 45-26 championship win over Coastal Carolina that wasn’t even as close as the final score indicated.
Under first-year coach Jon Sumrall, the Trojans were among the most improved teams in the country. After three straight sub .500 seasons, including 5-7 last year, Sumrall has the Trojans 11-2 this season. It is also the fourth double-digit win total in the past seven seasons.
In the Sun Belt championship, Troy scored the game’s first 31 points.
There was concern that Coastal Carolina quarterback Grayson McCall, the three-time Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year, wouldn’t play due to a foot injury that sidelined him the previous two games.
Yet McCall did indeed play, completing 29 of 41 for 319 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception.
It’s just that he was upstaged by game MVP Gunnar Watson, who was 12 for 17 for 318 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions.
Watson is a fifth-year junior who has spent all of his time at Troy. He wasn’t an immediate impact player, having thrown a total of 34 passes in his first two years. Over the past three seasons, he has attempted 841 passes. This season he hasn’t put up eye-popping stats, throwing 13 touchdown passes but 10 interceptions. He is 48th nationally in passing efficiency.
Yet in the biggest game, he produced magnificently.
A player who could be a real sleeper at the next level is receiver RaJae’ Johnson, a 6-4, 220-pound senior.
Like his quarterback, Johnson hasn’t produced outlandish numbers this season – 34 receptions, 672 yards, and six touchdowns. He has enjoyed a most impressive late-season surge. In the regular season finale, a 48-19 win at Arkansas State, he had three receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown. That was his first 100-yard receiving game this season.
Then in the Sun Belt championship, he had four receptions for 134 yards and two touchdowns.
Watch this insane one-handed grab for a 34-yard touchdown against Coastal Carolina.
There is a lot of depth on Troy, as Johnson, a transfer from UAB, wasn’t even the Trojans’ leading receiver. Sophomore Tez Johnson is the leading receiver with 52 receptions for 823 yards and four touchdowns. What makes Troy so dangerous offensively is its versatility. The Trojans can run the ball, led by sophomore Kimani Vidal, who has rushed for 1,059 yards (5.1 avg.) and nine touchdowns.
Where Troy clearly makes an impact is on defense.
The Trojans are eighth nationally in scoring defense, allowing 17.54 points per game. The ringleader is linebacker Carlton Martial, the Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year and all-time FBS leader in tackles with 563.
He had nine tackles in the championship win over Coastal Carolina.
Troy has picked an opportune time to play its best football of the season. The Trojans have won 10 in a row, their longest winning streak since 1995. Troy opened with a 28-10 loss to Ole Miss, then beat Alabama A&M 38-17 before suffering its second loss, 32-28 at Appalachian State.
Even though Appalachian State is just 6-6, the Mountaineers were considered a great team early in the season. They opened with a 63-61 loss to North Carolina and then beat Texas A&M 17-14 when the Aggies were still considered a Top 10 team. Then Appalachian State beat Troy the next week and after that, both teams were never the same.
This week Troy is ranked for the first time this season, No. 23 by the Associated Press and No. 24 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
And now the Trojans will face Conference USA champion UTSA (11-2) during the Dec. 16 Cure Bowl in Orlando.
Like Troy, UTSA has won 10 in a row. UTSA is ranked No. 22 in both polls. The only G5 school that is ranked above Troy and UTSA is AAC champion Tulane, No. 14 in the AP and No. 17 in the Coaches Poll.
Because of how hot both teams are, look for the Cure Bowl to be among the more entertaining games this bowl season.