Column: So Troy made a bowl game, but which one?

Scott Watkins

Staff Writer

The Troy Trojan football team is bowl-eligible for the second consecutive season in Head Coach Neal Brown’s third year at the helm.

Not only that, but Troy reached bowl eligibility on Oct. 28 and is still the only Sun Belt team to reach the six-win mark up to this point.

It’s also the first time Troy has reached the postseason in back-to-back seasons since 2009-2010. Since Brown was hired, Troy has won more games in just over 2.5 seasons than it did in the final four years of former Head Coach Larry Blakeney’s tenure.

So now that the Trojans are guaranteed a 13th game, the only question that remains will be speculated up until the answer is given in December: Where will Troy be playing?

There are five bowl games with a primary tie-in to the Sun Belt and one game with a possible tie-in. The five guaranteed are the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, the Dollar General Bowl, the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl, the AutoNation Cure Bowl and the Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl.

The Frisco Bowl is a newly rebranded bowl in Frisco, Texas, that has just one guaranteed conference tie-in: the American Conference.

The original plan called for the other tie-in in the 2017 game to be from the Sun Belt Conference. However, it isn’t  guaranteed, and the bowl may pick a team from another conference.

Now that we know the possible destinations, who else from the Sun Belt will be playing in the postseason?

While just one Sun Belt team has reached the six-win threshold so far, three teams have five wins and are likely to reach six before the end of the season. Those teams are Arkansas State, Appalachian State and Georgia State.

Of the three teams sitting at four wins, New Mexico State is the probably the most likely to find two more.

The Sun Belt-affiliated bowls do not have a pecking order, but instead pick teams based on geography and quality of game.

This means if New Mexico State can hit six wins and end its 57-year bowl drought, the dreaded Arizona Bowl will likely pick the Aggies, and Troy fans can breathe a quick sigh of relief.

This leaves four other options on the table. The Camellia Bowl in Montgomery and the Dollar General Bowl in Mobile are nearby, but the New Orleans Bowl is a popular choice among fans.

While Troy and Arkansas State are on a collision course for a possible de facto conference championship game, the outcome of the matchup will have little bearing on where the two teams end up due to the bowls having no selection order.

However, if only five teams are bowl-eligible, then the aforementioned Frisco Bowl will likely pick out of another conference. That means the New Orleans bowl will zero in on Arkansas State and Troy, with the winner of that game being the favored choice on the bayou.

To throw another wrench into the mix, Louisiana is one of the three four-win teams left in the conference. Similar to last season, if the Ragin’ Cajuns could get six wins, it stands to reason they would be chosen for the New Orleans Bowl over Troy.

While many see the New Orleans Bowl as the most prestigious destination for a Sun Belt team, the numbers say otherwise.

The payout for the New Orleans Bowl is $500,000, while the Dollar General Bowl payout is $750,000. The Cure Bowl in Orlando trumps both, however, paying out $1.35 million.

The Cure Bowl also gets a team from the American Conference, making it the most attractive game for a Sun Belt team. If the bowls go strictly by quality of game, Troy belongs in Orlando at the Cure Bowl.

However, a medium will likely be found. The best place for Troy may be the bowl the Trojans paid a visit to at the end of last season — the Dollar General Bowl.

While the Camellia Bowl is closer, the payout is a mere $250,000. Furthermore, the Dollar General Bowl traditionally gets one of the top two teams from the Mid-American Conference, increasing the quality of the game.

Last season, Troy played and defeated Ohio, the MAC East Division champions, in the Dollar General Bowl in Mobile.

As for the Camellia Bowl, it will likely take the loser of the upcoming game between Appalachian State and Georgia State, with the winner heading to Orlando.

Nonetheless, there is still a month of football to be played. There is a reason the conference has garnered the “Funbelt” moniker, and that is simply because anything can and will happen before the regular season ends.

Regardless, fans of the Trojans will in all likelihood be making another trip south to Mobile.

As for who their opponent will be, that remains to be seen. There is a chance we could be treated to a second Troy-versus-Ohio bout, but the Northern Illinois Huskies are also a strong possibility.

November has only just begun, and everything is just speculation until the decisions are made. Until then, Troy has three games remaining, and all three are against conference opponents.

Brown will have his team focused on doing what has not been done in Troy in 20 years, which is winning 10-plus games in consecutive seasons.

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