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An Absurdly Premature Assessment of: Troy

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The least you should know about Troy...
2006 Record
8-5 (6-1 Sun Belt, Champion)
Past Five Years
29-31(14-7 Sun Belt)
Returning Starters, Roughly
15 (6 Offense, 9 Defense)
Best Player
Omar Haugabook led the Sun Belt in just about every possible passing category: attempts, completions, completion percentage, yards, efficiency and touchdowns – his 21 scores, in fact, were 12 better than the conference’s second-best mark. And, since soon-to-be first rounder Lawrence Timmons (or anyone else on the FSU defense) failed to sack him last year, SMQ has to assume he escaped this tackle, too.
Bizarre Tradition(s)
Troy is such a young program at the Bowl Subdivision level, under both "Famous Players" and "School Traditions," this site says "None." But the school’s been playing football since 1909, when it was Troy Normal School. It’s won three NAIA and Division II national championships, annually played Jacksonville State for decades over something called "The Ol’ School Bell" and once finished a game in 1988 on a lighted practice field because the stadium lights went out. Most recently, Troy has had pass rushers DeMarcus Ware and Osi Umenyiora go in the first and second round of the draft. But SMQ finds no evidence whatsoever to support the local legend taken for granted by colleagues during his only trip to Troy University: Troy, Alabama is the home to the headquarters of Trojan brand condoms. Is that a viable recruiting tool? Discuss.
Bizarre Item of Dubious Interest
Chan Gailey Equilibrium: forged inTroy? The perpetually 7-5 Gailey coached the Trojans to – yes – a 7-4 record in 1983. He did, however, lead the Division II champions the following year before reverting to the mean higher up the coaching ladder.

Whatever else those venomous, ulteriorally-motivated critics (you know who you are) want to charge against SMQ, he can at least hold fast to a conviction to honesty as he sees it, so at the inevitable chagrin of Sun Belt message boards everywhere, he should preface his first preview of the conference with the disclaimer: the Sun Belt Conference should be in the Championship Subdivision, nee Division I-AA. This is true of a handful of other mid-major programs (most of them, like Idaho and New Mexico State, former members of the Sun Belt or its predecessor, the Big West), but only the Sun Belt in the conference's entirety. Its members are a couple dozen games under .500 against the rest of the Bowl Subdivision since the league came into existence (for clarity: 9-72 since 2004, 2-53 vs. BCS conferences - ed.) and draw an announced average of 14,000 people, which comes in below NCAA requirements before standard inflation of actual bodies is taken into account. Today's and all future Sun Belt references should be considered in light of this low, low opinion of the conference and all of its teams on the I-A level.

Now: Troy has embarrassed a pair of heavy BCS conference favorites in the past five years, Mississippi State and Missouri (the latter the only ranked opponent to actually visit Troy), played defending mythical champ LSU within four points in 2004 and last year held a lead at Florida State and was tied at Georgia Tech in the fourth quarters of consecutive games. So the Trojans are often scrappy, at least, if not exactly fearsome to the four relative heavyweights - Arkansas, Florida, Oklahoma State and Georgia - shilling for what it imagines will be an easy win this fall. One of those teams (SMQ's looking at you, OSU) will get a minor scare for its buck.

What's Changed: Rob Austin, Chris Jamison Kirbie Bodiford and Zach Yenser, if Phil Steele's calculations are correct, started somewhere in the vicinity of 85 games on the offensive line over the past three years. The three guys replacing them will have somewhere in the vicinity of zero.

What's the Same: Omar Haugabook has the size (6-2, 200), the great last name and may be the best quarterback in the school's history by the end of his second year; he came in the most highly regarded and immediately won the starting job out of junior college, then led the highest scoring offense in the conference. Some of his inconsistency can be attributed to being outmanned on the road by defenses from Florida State, Georgia Tech and Nebraska in career starts two, three and four, but he also threw at least one pick in six of seven Sun Belt games, including three against UL-Monroe and two in the loss to Arkansas State. He was 9-23 for 53 yards against winless Florida International in the final game of the regular season. Where the interceptions were concerned, though, he cut his TD-INT ratio (21:17 on the season) to 8:2 in the last three games, and ran for 200 yards in the finale and bowl game on top of it.

Back with Haugabook: leading rusher Kenny Cattouse and leading receivers Gary Banks (68 catches, eight touchdowns) and Mykeal Terry. By production, this represents pretty easily the best collection of skill talent in the Sun Belt.

I'll do what I can to help y'all. But, the game's out there, and it's play or get played. That simple.: Haugabook was the most visible catalyst for the championship run, but the run defense was mostly lights out over the final five games - all but one of them on the road. Arkansas State ran roughshod in that game (233 yards on a 4.57 average) and handed Troy its only home and only conference loss, but at Florida Atlantic the previous week and at Middle Tennessee State, Florida International and Rice to close the year, the Trojans allowed a combined 171 yards (42 per game) on a yard and a half per carry. All those except mediocre (and one-dimensional) Middle Tennessee State were among the worst running teams in the country, but it was a dramatic improvement by Troy - which had held Florida State to 45 yards in September - without which the conference title probably isn't a reality. Those kinds of numbers lead to good results elsewhere, like two interceptions against FAU and a staggering five against Rice, teams that each threw for 300-plus on the Trojans with the running game faltering but only scored 17 apiece.

(It didn't escape SMQ's attention that Troy also had two picks against Georgia Tech despite giving up about eight yards per rush. It's just that, you know, Reggie Ball...the interceptions were going to be there, is what SMQ is trying to say, no matter what was up with Tashard Choice).

Troy on YouTube: This is pretty much a wasteland, since any version of "Troy football" gets you Troy Smith or some high school in Ohio, and anything with "Trojans" is inevitably USC-related. There are more clips than anything about Troy's "Sound of the South" marching band, the main benefit of which in this video is offering some evidence of actual attendance in Movie Gallery Stadium at the end of a losing season in 2005. Nineteen thousand? You think so?

See also: Nothing football-related, if you value your eardrums and equilibrium, but there is a modern-day depiction of the Trojan War, shot for a school project and entitled simply, "Troy." SMQ has a degree in history education, and he'd give this an A+++, with quadruple bonus points for the credits. Completely wrecks the curve for tenth grade.

Best-Case: Extremely masochistic - though no doubt profitable - scheduling continues with three certain poundings out of the gate: at Arkansas, at Florida and home against presumptively improving Oklahoma State. There's also a visit to Georgia in November. In between, though, there are the seven Sun Belt games and a game with I-AA Eastern provisional I-A member Western Kentucky. SMQ will not try to predict Sun Belt games, which since the demise of North Texas' 1,786-game run in the conference is utterly futile, but in this category can get away with saying they're all "winnable." Trojans could easily be 8-4 and back in New Orleans (also presumptively improving, though, like Oklahoma State football, optimism remains in rather, um, shallow supply moment to moment).

Worst-Case: Four of six conference wins in `06 were by eight points or less - two of those go the other way, and 4-3 is probably not good enough to earn another automatic bowl bid. With the murderous out-of-conference slate, Troy could be looking at sinking as low as 5-7 overall, and nobody nowhere gets any sort of bowl bid at 5-7.

Non-Binding Forecast: It was against the worst defense in Conference USA, but Haugabook looked legit in the bowl game and will be runaway favorite for Sun Belt Player of the Year barring injury or implosion. Not having glanced at any other returning depth charts in the conference, SMQ's willing to say legit quarterback alone = 6-1 in the SBC, another conference title and 7-5 overall.