WHO: Buffalo (10-3) vs. Troy (9-3)
WHAT: The 20th Dollar General Bowl
WHEN: 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
WHERE: Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, AL
THE SKINNY: There was a point not long ago this college football season where it looked like Buffalo was barreling down toward a MAC Championship and Troy was doing the same in the Sun Belt. Both programs had knocked off Power Five opponents from the Big Ten — Rutgers in the case of the Bulls, Nebraska in the case of the Trojans — and each had gathered the occasional top 25 ranking from voters in both major polls.
Neither squad wound up hoisting their respective conference title in 2018 but that doesn’t take much of the shine off this appealing matchup between two of the best Group of Five teams this year.
For Buffalo, this is just their third ever trip to a bowl game and they’re still looking for win No. 1. Head coach Lance Leipold has done a terrific job since moving up from the Division III level to steadily build the program up year-by-year. The Bulls haven’t just beat up on lowly conference opponents this year, they have some legitimate NFL prospects and are led by an explosive offense full of playmakers.
QB Tyree Jackson, who was mentioned in a report by Yahoo! Sports as a possible grad transfer if he doesn’t leave for the NFL, could be playing his last game with the team but was named the MAC Offensive Player of the Year and is just shy of a 3,000 yard passing campaign and two back of the school record for touchdown passes. His favorite target is easily wideout Anthony Johnson, a potential first-rounder who missed time earlier this season but still has a chance to go over 1,000 yards for the second time in his career. Tailback Jaret Patterson isn’t to be overlooked either and has a chance to become the first freshman in school history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season as well.
Troy, who was one of the winners of the coaching carousel this winter by keeping Neal Brown around for another year, also can put up points but can fall back on a pretty stout defense too. They enter allowing just a shade over 21 points per game and have players both young (freshman linebacker Carlton Martial) and old (senior corner Blace Brown) to deal with. Offensively, things have been a bit uneven since Sawyer Smith took over at QB due to injuries but the sophomore is capable of putting up big numbers when he has time to throw. The Trojans have plenty of weapons around him to account for too, including running back B.J. Smith (1,093 yards, 12 TD) and receiver Damion Willis.
Both sides have plenty to play for, including a potential first postseason triumph for Buffalo at the FBS level and a third-straight 10 win season for Troy. It’s not every bowl game that you get a pretty fun matchup of Group of Five teams of similar stature but that’s the case in the Dollar General Bowl. While everybody figures to be plenty motivated coming in, something says the Bulls have just enough firepower to get past the Trojans’ defense to secure the win in enemy territory down in Mobile.
THE PICK: Buffalo 31, Troy 27