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Troy loses RB B.J. Smith, SBC Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, to season-ending injury

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This one will certainly leave a lasting mark.

Over the summer, Troy’s B.J. Smith was named as the Sun Belt Conference’s Preseason Offensive Player of the Year.  Two months later, the football program confirmed, the running back will be sidelined for the remainder of the 2019 season because of an injury sustained in the Week 3 loss to Southern Miss.

While the specific nature of the injury wasn’t divulged by the school, it’s believed Smith injured his knee midway through the second quarter of last Saturday’s game.

Last season, Smith led the Trojans with 1,186 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns.  This season, the fourth-year senior had rushed for 106 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries in two games.

Because of the timing of the injury, Smith can take a redshirt for the 2019 season and return to the Trojans next season.

Troy lets Nick Saban know they would still like to play Alabama

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Alabama head coach Nick Saban went on a familiar rant about Alabama’s schedule after last weekend’s blowout victory over New Mexico State. Although Alabama has pioneered the art of playing a good (or at least an above-average) opponent form a power conference on a neutral field and are about to embark on some fun home-and-home series in the coming years, sometimes Alabama gets picked on for some of the lesser opponents they face on the football field (as do many other power conference programs).

After drubbing New Mexico State by 52 points in Week 2, Saban was asked after the game how playing a team like New Mexico State helps prepare his team for the SEC schedule.

“We’re playing the best teams that we can get to play us,” replied Saban in his signature style anytime someone challenges him on the schedule. Saban then asked the reporter to “start calling around and see you can get somebody else to play us?”

“We’ll play anybody you can get to play us,” Saban proclaimed.

Anybody, you say? While many teams may shy away from facing Alabama, there is one school in the same state ready and willing to reserve a date. It’s Troy.

Troy has never faced Alabama or Auburn. They are not alone in being snubbed by Alabama and Auburn. Alabama has not played an in-state opponent in non-conference play since 1944. Auburn has been a bit more open to in-state opponents in recent years, but not quite to the degree where a team like Troy enters the mix. Auburn will host Samford later this season and hosted Alabama State in 2018, Alabama A&M in 2017, and Jacksonville State in 2015. Auburn played Samford previously in 2014. These have all been games against FCS opponents, while schools like Troy, UAB, and South Alabama can’t get a call back.

“I think we have a very good model that’s worked well for us and I don’t see that changing,” Alabama athletics director Greg Byrne said at the SEC meetings in 2017.

Troy has made an effort to start a scheduling dialogue though, although it has come up empty for years.

“Nothing would please us more than to be able to go play,” former Troy head coach Larry Blakeney said in 2013. “Take our program and take our people to Bryant-Denny or Jordan-Hare. I think it would be good for college football. It certainly will be good for the conferences and all the schools involved, would probably make more and spend less. I don’t think either coach at either place now or before is worried about losing, maybe it will happen one day. Maybe it will happen. I hope it will. I don’t know that it will happen in my tenure.”

Well, it didn’t happen in his tenure, obviously. But it didn’t happen in Neal Brown‘s tenure either, and Chip Lindsey‘s tenure is off on the same trend with Alabama and Auburn not getting Troy on the schedule.

Saban doesn’t make the schedules, and he has said repeatedly the decisions about that are not in his hands despite his comments about his desire to play tougher schedules (credit him for that at least). But until Alabama actually will play anyone who wants to play them, maybe Saban should scale back that response a bit.

First-year head coaches (barely) finished above .500 in 2019 debuts

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For those FBS schools that made changes at the top of its program last year and on into early 2019, the results, at least for the opening weekends of the college football season, were decidedly mixed.

Entering Weeks 0/1, a total of 26 head coaches were in their first games (two coaching a second first game) with their respective schools. Of those 26, 15 won their opening matchups while *uses fingers to do the math, takes off shoes when fingers run out* 11 dropped their openers.

Seven of the head coaches new to their current schools — Akron (Illinois), East Carolina (NC State), Houston (Oklahoma), Liberty (Syracuse), Texas State (Texas A&M), UMass (Rutgers) and Utah State (Wake Forest) — led off with Power Five opponents; not surprisingly, all seven of those ended up exiting Week 1 with a loss.  Exactly half of the 26 kicked off against FCS schools, and just one, Western Kentucky to Central Arkansas, failed to come away with a win.

At the other end was Louisville and North Carolina leading off with matchups against Power Five foes, Notre Dame for the former and South Carolina the latter.  The Cardinals extended their nation’s-worst losing streak to 10 in a row while the Tar Heels got past the Gamecocks in Mack Brown‘s return to Chapel Hill.

Oh, and there was Hugh Freeze‘s official return to coaching from a hospital bed up in the coaches’ box in Liberty’s loss to Syracuse.

WIN (15)
Eliah Drinkwitz, Appalachian State (beat East Tennessee State, 42-7)
Scot Loeffler, Bowling Green (Morgan State, 46-3)
Jim McElwain, Central Michigan (Albany, 38-21)
Brad Lambert, Charlotte (Gardner-Webb, 49-28)
Mel Tucker, Colorado (Colorado State, 52-31)
Les Miles, Kansas (Indiana State, 24-17)
Chris Klieman, Kansas State (Nicholls, 49-14)
Mike Locksley, Maryland (Howard, 79-0)
Mack Brown, North Carolina (South Carolina, 24-20)
Thomas Hammock, Northern Illinois (Illinois State, 24-10)
Ryan Day, Ohio State (FAU, 45-21)
Rod Carey, Temple (Bucknell, 56-12)
Chip Lindsey, Troy (Campbell, 43-14)
Matt Wells, Texas Tech (Montana State, 45-10)
Neal Brown, West Virginia (James Madison, 20-13)

LOSS (11)
Tom Arth, Akron (lost to Illinois, 42-3)
Mike Houston, East Carolina (NC State, 34-6)
Geoff Collins, Georgia Tech (Clemson, 52-14)
Dana Holgorsen, Houston (Oklahoma, 49-31)
Hugh Freeze, Liberty (Syracuse, 24-0)
Scott Satterfield, Louisville (Notre Dame, 35-17)
Manny Diaz, Miami (Florida, 24-20)
Jake Spavital, Texas State (Texas A&M, 41-7)
Walt Bell, UMass (Rutgers 48-21)
Gary Andersen, Utah State (Wake Forest, 38-35)
Tyson Helton, Western Kentucky (Central Arkansas, 35-28)

Southern Miss’ leading receiver to miss first two games of ’19

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The offseason travails of Quez Watkins will, briefly, extend into the regular season.

In late January, it was reported that Watkins had been forced to withdraw from Southern Miss and enroll at a junior college in an effort to get his academic house in order. In late June, it was confirmed that Watkins was back on the USM campus and enrolled in classes.

The news regarding the wide receiver was even more positive a month later as head coach Jay Hopson confirmed that Watkins was expected to join the rest of his teammates for the start of summer camp. While that indeed happened, the pause button has been hit on the feel-good storyline for the Eagles as Hopson revealed this week that Watkins will miss the first two games of the 2019 regular season, at home against FCS Alcorn State Aug. 31 and then on the road against Mississippi State the following weekend.

The receiver would then be eligible to return for the Sept. 14 game against Troy.

Hopson declined to address the specific issue or issues that led to what walks, talks, looks and smells like a suspension.

As a redshirt sophomore last season, Watkins led the Golden Eagles in receptions (72), receiving yards (889) and receiving touchdowns (nine). Watkins’ nine scores accounted for nearly half of the team’s 19 touchdowns through the air.

Four fumbles cost Buffalo in Dollar General Bowl as Troy celebrates third-straight bowl victory

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Buffalo (10-4) had a case of fumblitis in the Dollar General Bowl Saturday night, and it cost them. The Bulls were defeated by Troy (10-3), 42-32, as the Bulls fumbled the football six times, losing four.

In the third quarter, Troy managed to pull off the kind of feat you are probably more likely to see from a triple-option offense like Army. The Trojans managed to keep the Buffalo offense off the field for the entire third quarter. The Trojans opened the half with the football and scored. They then pulled off a brilliantly executed onside kick to keep possession of the football and drove the ball down to the six-yard line. But a fumble by B.J. Smith was picked up by Buffalo’s Tyrone Hill, who raced down the field 93 yards for a defensive touchdown to give Buffalo the lead, 24-21.

Troy’s offense went right back to work on the ensuing possession though, traveling 69 yards over 12 plays to retake the lead, 28-24, on a Damion Willis touchdown reception from the two-yard line. After sitting on the sideline or in the locker room for a little more than an hour, Buffalo’s offense finally got back on the field early in the fourth quarter, only to go three-and-out. Troy would add to their lead on the next drive with a quick three-play drive for a touchdown. Sawyer Smith completed a 45-yard touchdown pass to Sidney Davis to extend the lead to 35-24.

Buffalo was down but not out. The Bulls charged forward with a 10-play drive ending in the end zone with a Tyree Jackson touchdown pass to K.J. Osborn, and a successful two-point conversion brought Buffalo within three. The Buffalo defense then forced Troy to punt as the time was continuing to become a factor. Starting with the football at their 21-yard line and about three and a half minutes to play, Buffalo’s hopes of another score were quickly tossed aside when Jackson fumbled the ball away. It took Troy just one play to run right up the middle for a dagger of a touchdown with Sidney Davis reaching the end zone on a 20-yard run on the first play from scrimmage.

Although this was the most successful season in Buffalo history, the Bulls see their season left unfulfilled. Buffalo lost the MAC Championship Game against Northern Illinois that came into the game with five losses and then end the year with a loss in a bowl game. Buffalo’s search for their first bowl victory in program history continues. Things may have ended on a sour note for Buffalo this season, but that should not take away from the continued success head coach Lance Leipold is having with the program. In his fourth season on the job, Leipold has coached Buffalo to a school-record for wins in a single season and the bar has been raised moving forward.

Neal Brown continues to be doing a solid job at Troy as well. The win over Buffalo clinched a third-consecutive 10-win season for the Trojans, each finishing with a victory in a bowl game. Troy has gone a combined 31-8 in the past three seasons after going 4-8 in Brown’s first season as head coach of the program in 2015.

The loss by Buffalo dropped the MAC to a woeful bowl record of 1-5 as the conference wrapped up its bowl schedule. Ohio scored the only bowl victory for the conference this season while the rest of the MAC’s bowl teams lost by a combined 70 points, including losses by both division winners in the conference this season. The Sun Belt Conference has one more team in action this bowl season (Arkansas State), and currently holds a bowl record of 3-1. The win by Troy clinched a winning bowl season for the conference for the third straight season (11-4 in bowl games since 2017).