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Future looks bright

Troy State football coach Larry Blakeney was on the golf course Friday when the announcement came.

Troy State accepted the invitation to join the Sunbelt Conference, and the football program will begin play in 2004.

"Well, that means I won't have to recruit against people saying, '(Troy State) is not in a conference,'" Blakeney said.

The move to the Sunbelt will help the Trojan football program in many ways. The Trojans will be able to fight for a bowl game as soon as 2004, and the New Orleans Bowl – the reward for the conference champion – is the first of the season. It was also the highest-rated non-BCS bowl game last season.

"That's because it's the first," Athletics Director Johnny Williams said. "It's better to be there than in the middle when everyone is getting tired of bowl games."

Troy State will also get 80 percent of the new football requirement for its schedule. By 2005, every school has to play five home games against Division I-A teams. The conference schedule will supply four of those games.

"We're excited to be able to give all our member schools that amount of help," Sunbelt Commissioner Wright Waters said. "Schools could not meet that requirement if they were independent, because there would be no way they could afford the guarantee money to play that many home games."

Troy State has to find only one more home game every year, rather than the five it would have had to find otherwise.

Williams said the UAB series will move into a home-and-home series soon, so that takes care of one game every other year. The other consistent team could be a school with which the Trojans are very familiar.

The Tallahassee Democrat reported earlier this week that Florida A&M expects to be Division I-A by 2004. The Trojans and the Rattlers have played each other many times in the past, and the geographic proximity makes the two schools a natural rival.

"We have to get that game," Williams said. "They were up here last week looking at our facilities."

FAMU currently plays at the Division I-AA level and competes in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. The two played each other last season in Mobile.