SBC title hangs in balance as Trojans take on Owls

Published 8:45 pm Friday, December 3, 2010

In a season where the Troy Trojans have been chasing a record fifth-straight conference championship, it will all come to the final game.

With a win over Florida Atlantic today, and a FIU loss to Middle Tennessee, Troy will have clinched a co-championship and a 7-5 overall record.

But that famous slogan “Drive for Five” will all be for not, barring a regular season finale loss.

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While the FAU Owls may be having a bit of a down season in 2010, thanks to its current 4-7 overall record, head coach Larry Blakeney knows he and his team are in for a dog-fight in Boca Raton, Fla.

“They have some big, big receivers,” the coach said. “Our guys are going to have to get their lariats out and throw it around their ankles.

“We have to generate some points and they are always fast and physical on defense. The kicking game will have to tie us together and keep things going. Hopefully, we will have a good, three-phase, plan and we’ll be able to execute it at Lockhart Stadium and find a way to win. It is not going to be easy. I told our players that they are physical, just like Western, only they throw it 100 times better than Western did. So, that is what we are dealing with.”

Even though the two teams have met just seven times, it has been a series that Troy has dominated, holding a 6-1 all-time lead.

That one loss is one that still haunts the Trojans, as the Owls came into then Movie Gallery Veterans Memorial Stadium, and left with a victory, helping clinch a share of the conference and earning the team it’s first bowl trip to New Orleans back in 2007.

In last season’s matchup, a Trojan victory, led by a record setting performance from quarterback Levi Brown, helped secure Troy’s fourth-straight Sun Belt Championship.

Now, a year later, Troy is looking for more of the same.

“We will be hyped up for the game and they will be hyped up, like always,” senior wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan said.

“There will be some trash talking before the game and during the game. It will be up to us to stay focused during the game and not lose our focus.”

Jernigan led the Troy last week with 138 total yards, finishing with six rushes and catches each. And just like last week, the only thing on the senior’s mind is helping his team get a win.

“Me, personally, I don’t want us to end up like we did my freshman year when we won eight games and didn’t get to go to a bowl game. We need to go ahead and win this game to put the icing on the cake.”

A win today would give Troy its seventh of the season, which has created a new mantra all together, according to Blakeney.

“I think the players knew that if they could get to six they would have a shot to go somewhere,” he said.

“I started the meeting out on Sunday with ‘Seven is Heaven’. The ‘Drive for Five’ has been a good little moniker for us. It has been tough. Like I have said all along, the league is better than it has ever been, competitively. Anyone in the league can beat anyone else and there are going to be three, or four, or five of those teams in any given year who will have a chance to vie for that championship. I am not saying they are going to be the same ones every year. FIU happens to be on top right now, but anything can happen in this league. I would hate to see Middle Tennessee go down to FIU and win and us not win. The things that we have said all along could happen.”

Even though Troy became bowl eligible last weekend with its sixth victory of the season, there is still much debate about where the Trojans will be playing come bowl season.

One thing is for sure, that debate will be over by Sunday. With a championship hanging in the balance, either Troy or FIU will presumably be headed to New Orleans to compete in the New Orleans Bowl, while the other would be headed to Mobile for the Bowl.

Who it will be is anyone’s guess heading into the final games.

“New Orleans has the first selection,” Bowl President Jerry Silverstein said Friday afternoon. “We are all really waiting to see what happens on Saturday.

“There is definitely a lot of appeal in Troy. They are a team that is two to three hours away and one that has a lot of alumni in the surrounding area. It will come down to matchups and which we think will work best for the bowl game itself. Troy had a great showing in last year’s GMAC Bowl in Mobile and that is something we are taking into consideration this time around.”

Regardless of where the Men of Troy will play in the postseason, the only thing the players and coaches and focus on now is beating the Owls today.

“Last week, we saw their quarterback overthrow a lot of guys, but this week I don’t think that will happen,” junior linebacker Xavier Lamb said. “We have to really be focused on what we have to do in coverage. In the past we have been there, but we have really been messing up. We have to really remain focused (on this game) because they run a very similar offense to Western Kentucky and South Carolina, so that should be good for us because we have been practicing against the same thing for three weeks.”