Troy takes ranking into game against Arkansas State
College football coaches have a tendency to downplay the significance of national rankings, at least until the final polls are in.
But when a ranking makes history, not only for the program but the conference as well, that makes all the difference.
Troy's move into the No. 25 spot in the Associated Press media poll this week is not only a first for the Trojans program but for the Sun Belt Conference as well.
And Troy coach Neal Brown wasn't being coy about the ranking.
“I am proud of it,” he said. “I think it is significant for our conference, for Troy University, for our athletic department. It proves and validates what we are doing with our program.”
In just his second year as the head honcho, Brown, who served as offensive coordinator at Kentucky, Texas Tech and Troy before returning to the Trojans in December 2014, has injected new life in the program that fell on somewhat hard times after winning or sharing five consecutive conference championships from 2006 through 2010.
Since winning a piece of the title with Florida International in 2010, the Trojans have experienced only one winning record in conference play, that being a 4-3 mark in 2013 that helped them to break even for the season overall at 6-6.
The other four years the Trojans finished up with losing records both overall and in league play, including Brown's first year in 2015 when they were 4-8 overall and 3-5 in Sun Belt play.
But they will put an 8-1 overall record and 5-0 league mark on the line when they host Arkansas State (5-4, 5-0 Sun Belt) at 9:30 p.m. ET at Troy's Veterans Memorial Stadium. ESPNU will air the tantalizing matchup of Sun Belt leaders.
The Trojans have won seven consecutive games since throwing a scare into then-No. 2 Clemson back on Sept. 10 before losing 30-24.
The Red Wolves have a winning streak going as well, having won their last five outings — all in league play — since dropping a shocker to Central Arkansas 28-23 on the last Saturday in September.
“I think it speaks really highly of Blake Anderson and his staff to get them off the mat and put five wins in a row together and to keep improving,” Brown said.
Troy brings the league's highest-scoring (38.1 ppg) and most productive offense (474.0 ypg) into the game led by the conference's leading rusher and third-most productive passer. Running back Jordan Chunn, who has earned the nickname “MegaChunn” for his 6-foot-1, 231-pound frame, has averaged 114.2 yards a game rushing.
Quarterback Brandon Silvers has thrown for an average of 255.8 yards a contest while completing 65.6 percent of his passes with 19 touchdowns against only four interceptions. Wide receivers Deondre Douglas and Emanuel Thompson are tied for the league lead in receptions with 5.4 per game.
Arkansas State has the No. 3 scoring defense in the conference, giving up 25.0 points per outing but has yielded 411.4 yards a game in total offense. Defensive ends Ja'Von Roland-Jones and Chris Odom have combined for 15 sacks, with Roland-Jones ranking third in the conference and Odom fourth.
Sophomore quarterback Justice Hansen has completed only 58.5 percent of his passes but is coming off his best performance. In last week's 41-22 win over New Mexico State, he was 20-of-27 passing for 257 yards and two touchdowns and one interception.
Running back Warren Wand leads the rushing attack with 607 yards and five touchdowns. He rushed for 99 yards on 13 carries for two touchdowns against New Mexico State.
“I think they have gotten healthy defensively,” Brown said of the Red Wolves. “They missed some guys early in the season.
“Once they settled on the quarterback, you can see the chemistry growing between him and the receivers. The offensive line is playing better, too. A lot of credit to that staff for the way they responded.”
The game will be the second in a row for the Trojans against a team unbeaten in Sun Belt play. They dealt Appalachian State its first league loss 28-24 last week at Troy.