Growth and “trending upward” were the themes at Sun Belt Football Media Day, according to Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson.
The same could be said for Troy University football.
The event, held Monday, July 25, at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, showcased all 12 Sun Belt teams, including newcomer Coastal Carolina. Benson said the conference’s recent realignment was based around easing travel for student athletes.
Idaho and New Mexico State, the two farthest schools geographically, will be leaving the conference following the 2017 season. Appalachian State, located in Boone, North Carolina, is only 250 miles from Coastal Carolina, located in Conway, South Carolina.
“Last August, when we added Coastal Carolina as the final piece to that structure, we established a footprint,” Benson said. “We established geography that will work for many, many years to come.”
On June 8, the conference announced that it would begin playing a championship game in football in 2018. Benson said it would “mark the next generation, the next era for the Sun Belt.”
“It’s safe to say that in 2018 we will be in divisions,” Benson said.
Benson then explained how each state had a team pairing within the conference, but that Troy and South Alabama, the ninth and 10th teams, sat in the geographical center of the conference.
“We still haven’t decided that one yet,” Benson said, referring to how the “Battle for the Belt” rivals would potentially be split.
Benson announced that the Sun Belt had reached an agreement with an over-the-air broadcast network to televise conference games, and that it would be “important to determining what the conference schedule would look like” in the fall. The name of the network was not released by press time.
For Troy, the conference schedule will be “friendlier”in 2016, according to head coach Neal Brown. This season, the Trojans will host six teams on their 12-game schedule.
“As an overall offense, we’re gonna be more talented,” Brown said.
Despite his offensive optimism, Brown said his biggest concern was developing the team’s young talent, especially on defense. The defense returns as many starters as the offense, but lost one fewer.
“To win at any level, you have to have a strong defense,” Brown said. “We gotta find some key depth early on defense.”
Brown said that while the Trojans were “ready to take the next step,” they are “maybe a year away” from winning a bowl game. Troy’s last postseason game was a 48-21 win over Ohio in the 2010 New Orleans Bowl.
“The fans deserve it,” Brown said.
When asked how the conference has changed since he was a coordinator at Troy, Brown said the focus has moved toward defense more than toward offense. He also said the quality of coaching has grown in that time, too.
Benson, in his opening address, repeated that sentiment. He said that over the past three years, conference revenues grew 10 times and that each university received $1 million toward its budget.
“That’s a sign of a legitimate FBS conference,” Benson said.