(PHOTO/ Troy Athletics)
Students from both Troy University and The University of South Alabama are well familiar with a shared rivalry. The Battle for the Belt, as it has become known, has grown immensely in recent years, sparking social media conversations and “hate weeks” on both campuses. But where did this rivalry come from?
Long-time fans likely aren’t in tune with the bitterness of their in-state counterpart, mainly because South Alabama first added football to its athletic program in December 2007. The Jags’ first team was assembled for the 2009 season with Head Coach Joey Jones at the helm, matching up against several military academies, as well as Huntington College en route to a 7-0 season. USA began its transition to Division I by facing off against FCS and Division II programs during the 2010 season, posting a perfect 10-0 record with a win over Georgia State. The Jags competed as a Division I FCS independent program during the 2011 campaign, and the team was then added to the Sun Belt Conference as a Division I FBS program to kick off the 2013 season.
Since the 2013 season, the best mark that the Jags have reached is a 6-6 season.
The team finished 6-7 in 2014 and 2016 after losing its bowl games.
So back to the rivalry. Where did that come from?
The first meeting between the two programs was in 2012. The Trojans easily handled a young South team with a 31-10 victory. But the rivalry as we know it began the next season. With USA’s admission into the conference, this matchup now held a little more weight and meant the Jags had a lot to prove as it seemed the gap had been closed between the newcomer team and one of the Sun Belt’s best.
South Alabama was fresh off a 31-24 loss at the hands of Tennessee and was set to face the Trojans the following week. The Jags had the win all but sealed in Veterans Memorial Stadium when Troy quarterback Corey Robinson found Eric Thomas for a score within seven seconds of the game’s end. The extra point put the game on ice for the Trojans, sending the Jags back to Mobile with a 34-33 loss.
For the rivalry to be genuinely born, South Alabama had to win, and the 2014 season delivered just that.
The Trojans were handed a 27-13 loss in 2014, and then a 24-18 loss in 2015. Ever since, the game has been back and forth, with the road team winning since 2015.
Also, in 2015, the student government associations from both universities came together to put a name on one of the fastest-growing rivalries in the nation. The “Battle for the Belt” was named in reference to the Sun Belt Conference and marked by an engraved wrestling belt-style trophy that the winning team gets to the house until the next game.
Commissioners and athletic directors took note of the increasing popularity of the game and made a move to protect it despite the formation of divisions within the Sun Belt Conference, divisions that separated the two schools. South Alabama and Troy are on tap to play every season, similar to how Auburn and Georgia play every year, despite sitting in the SEC west and east, respectively.
As for this season, the Jags sit at (1-5, 0-2 Sun Belt) with a lone win coming over Jackson State. The Trojans, fresh off a meeting with the SEC’s Missouri, sit at (2-3, 0-1 Sun Belt). Neither team has likely lived up to the preseason standards they had set for themselves, but teams play different in rivalry games, and the matchup between the Trojans and Jags is always unpredictable.
In 2017, one week after Troy’s historic win over LSU in Baton Rouge, a (1-4) South Alabama team came to Veterans Memorial Stadium and took back the belt in commanding fashion, showing no signs of a poor start with its 19-8 win.
So now, with the creation of this new rivalry, students from both schools can enjoy seeing gameday buttons galore, internet memes about the opposing school, and a little more school pride than usual as these teams are set to take the field Wednesday, October 16.