Troy fans would rather not have a rivalry with South Alabama. The Trojans were playing football for a couple of decades in the southern half of Alabama before USA fielded a team, and they've never lost to the boys from Mobile. Friday night, the Jaguars stand a great chance of notching that first win.
Start Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Records: Troy (1-6, 1-2 Sun Belt). USA (4-2, 3-1)
Live Stats: Track them here
Betting Odds: South Alabama -113.5. Over/Under of 54.5
We're switching things up this week since Underdog Dynasty has a fantastic South Alabama writer in Brian Wright (don't be modest). He flipped me a Q&A about this game and I flipped him one. Here are Wright's thoughts on the matchup, followed by mine:
Joey Jones remains the only coach in USA football history. What do you think of the job he's done establishing the program?
He has done an excellent job. He took lessons from restarting Birmingham Southern's program with what he learned by talking to other coaches who have started programs. Schnellenburger, Leavitt, etc. He worked with the AD and the President to build first-class facilities and they recruited good talent with character and held them to a high standard.
Who are the players to watch on offense and defense? Who should Troy be concerned with?
Offensively, Brandon Bridge is where the offense starts. He has a big arm and can run the ball too. He has had problems with dropped passes earlier this season but they are improving as a unit. Xavier Johnson will see more playing time with the potential season-ending injury to the team's leading rusher, Jay Jones. Wide receiver Shavarez Smith seems to be Bridge's go-to receiver and can be a big playmaker downfield.
Defensively, Maleki Harris is all over the field at linebacker. Defensive lineman Theo Rich broke through with 3.5 sacks last week against Georgia State and is always one to keep an eye on. Sophomore Roman Buchanan and senior Qudarius Ford are two great players to watch in the secondary.
What are the biggest bright spots for the Jaguars this year? Weak spots?
The bright spot had been the defense, which many thought might be the weak spot coming into the season. They graduated several players in the front six or seven. But they rank among the top of the conference in most categories.
Punting has been another bright spot, it helps to have a more consistent punter who can help pin the opposing team deep in their own territory.
Weak spot has been the receiving core and the offense in general. They returned almost the entire starting offense from last year but they have had problems playing as a cohesive unit. Receivers have dropped passes and the offensive line struggled early. But over the last three games they have showed some improvement, which will be critical for the schedule they have to face in November.
What does the team have to do to keep the momentum going and make a bowl game?
The defense just needs to keep doing what they have done all season. The offense has to get more consistent and the receivers have to make catches when the ball is in their hands. If they can do that and stay healthy, they have a great shot at a bowl game.
What does the long-term future look like for Jaguar football/recruiting?
Recruiting is looking good. They already have some 18 verbal commits for 2015 and they are in a hot-bed of talent in Mobile. Coach Jones routinely says that Mobile is a great place to pitch players and he believes that if he can get them on campus, he has a great shot. They have great facilities, a great location and a great school.
Fans like the gameday experience and hope to have an on-campus stadium one day. That's when most people think the football program will really take off attendance-wise.
How are Jaguar fans approaching this game? Do they consider it a rivalry game?
Jag fans consider this their big rivalry game. Most people know at least some of Troy's and Larry Blakeney's legacy over the last 24 years. Many remember or have heard about their upsets of Missouri and Oklahoma State. Plus being an in-state team in the same conference they have some rivalry inherent in other sports that bleeds over to football. It is somewhat influenced by the Alabama-Auburn rivalry, again two schools in the same state and conference, but it's nowhere near the same degree obviously.
Lets get the big one out of the way first: The big news out of Troy lately is that Coach Larry Blakeney has announced he'll retire after the season. Is there any word on who they are looking at to replace him? Have Trojan fans rallied behind anyone in particular for the position?
There isn't a true consensus among the fan base on who they want. Most are excited about the prospect of a new coach in general because Troy hasn't had a winning season since 2010. The names floating around are typically SEC coordinators or former SEC head coaches.
Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown may be the fan favorite. He held the same position at Troy in 2008-09 and did well. Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee's name gets thrown around too. Whether that's realistic remains to be seen.
Among the retreads, Gene Chizik and Houston Nutt come up the most. I don't understand it, especially with Chizik, who was bad at Iowa State and worse at Auburn. A third group wants to echo Georgia Southern and hire a hot FCS coach, but there's little agreement on who that FCS coach is.
With the big one out of the way, who are the players to watch on offense and defense? Who should be the Jaguars be concerned with?
Chandler Worthy is the player to watch for Troy. The wide receiver has returned a kickoff for a touchdown in each of the last two games. Freshman quarterback Brandon Silvers has played well this year. I wouldn't be surprised if he's a four-year starter. Jamal Stadom leads the defense.
What's the biggest bright spots for the Trojans this year? Weak spots?
Biggest bright spots is Silvers, because he can play for three more years. Fact is, this is a disappointing team and the fan base has its eyes firmly set on next season. Weak spots? I hate to say it but pick one. There is little running game to speak of and the defense just gave up 53 points to an Appalachian State squad that hadn't beaten an FBS team since Michigan in 2007.
What does the team have to do to "stop the bleeding" and have a successful second half of the season?
I thought the resignation of Larry Blakeney could turn the season around, especially when Troy beat NMSU the week of the announcement. But after the App game, 3-9 is likely the best-case scenario.
What does the long-term future look like for Troy football/recruiting?
Great question. Blakeney was always known for strong recruiting and Troy has nearly a dozen formerly players in the NFL right now. It all depends on the new coach. The school hopes to name Blakeney's replacement by Dec. 1, or Dec. 15 at the latest.
How are Troy fans approaching this game? Do they consider it a rivalry game?
Troy fans probably don't want this to be a rivalry. Their team has played for much longer and they've never lost to South Alabama. That said, I see it becoming one over the next several years, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
What is your prediction for the game? Who wins and why?
South Alabama wins. The Jaguars are a Sun Belt contender this year. Unfortunately, Troy is not.
... Aaaaaaand there you have it folks. We'll see how things shake out Friday night. Tell us your prediction in the nifty poll attached to the bottom.