‘To be the man…’

Published 6:19 pm Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I’ve always been a fan of professional wrestling.

From the time I was four years old, I’ve enjoyed the mostly all-male soap opera that plays out on cable television every Monday night.

So, I suppose that’s why I found myself thinking of Ric Flair earlier this week when the Sun Belt preseason coaches’ football poll was released.

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As many of you already know, Middle Tennessee was picked to win the league, while Troy, the four-time defending champion, was picked to finish second.

As soon as I heard the news, I could hear “The Nature Boy” himself in my head.

“To be the man, you have to beat the man. And I am the man,” Flair would often tell whichever poor sap was trying to knock him off that particular week.

When it comes to Sun Belt football, Troy is ‘the man.’

Middle Tennessee had a very impressive season in 2009. The Blue Raiders went 10-3, complete with a win over ACC foe Maryland and a New Orleans Bowl victory over Southern Miss.

But, one of those three losses was to Troy, and the game wasn’t even close.

Troy dominated MTSU in every phase of the game, winning 31-7 in the process.

So, why then, has MTSU become the favorite to win the conference?

I can see the argument that Troy has lost a lot of talent.

Levi Brown, Bear Woods, Boris Lee, Cameron Sheffield and Brandon Lang are all gone, just to name a few.

But, if I’ve learned anything from watching this conference for the last five years, it’s that in the Sun Belt, Troy never rebuilds.

Seriously, Troy has proven time and time again that it has more depth and talent than any other team in the league.

Plus, the last time Troy had to replace an all-conference quarterback, it was Omar Haugabook who was departing.

By season’s end, Levi Brown had led Troy to the title.

But, don’t get me wrong. MTSU will have a good team this year.

Dwight Dasher could be the best player in the league not named Jerrel Jernigan, and with Troy’s inexperienced defense, MTSU just might be able to take the throne from Troy.

But, let’s not forget the Tony Franklin factor. Franklin led MTSU’s offensive turnaround last season as offensive coordinator, and with him now calling the plays at Louisiana Tech, there’s a chance the MTSU offense could take a small step back.

But, we’ll all find out Oct. 5 on national TV.

Until then, I’m picking Troy to repeat. After all, nobody’s beaten ‘the man’ yet.

Nick Duke is a sports reporter for The Messenger, and he can be reached at nduke@Troymessenger.com or on Twitter at Messenger_nick.