In a conference that can be short on sure football commodities, the Troy Trojans were once as dependable of a program as any. From 2005-2010, Larry Blakeney's squad ran off an impressive streak of five straight conference titles (3 tied, 2 outright) and more often than not were the Sun Belt's prized representative in the New Orleans Bowl.
What was notable about Troy's run of success was that it was always done in quiet, workmanlike fashion. They've always taken the long view of slowly building up an infrastructure to facilitate the rise of the program from Division 2 to 1-AA to FBS. What was most impressive about their approach was a self awareness to know their limitations and to build a culture of winning off of their strengths. Although they have always publicly stated their aspirations for higher standards, you rarely caught Troy acting too flashy (think Texas A&M) or dreaming too much of the future to the detriment of the here and now.
As often happens with elder statesman head coaches, program dynamics eventually turned sclerotic under legendary head coach Larry Blakeney and the program hit an extended downturn. However, the rebuilding process looks to be on schedule. If Neal Brown's 2016 recruiting was any indication, Troy will soon have the playmakers to complete the rebuild and start contending for bowl games and conference titles.
If that happens, it'll be a huge triumph for Troy partisans everywhere to know that Trojans football can thrive without Blakeney at the helm.
- No UAB-esque administration problems here. There's been plenty of investment in Troy's facilities recently, which will more than likely assist in helping the Trojans get back to prominence.
- There's a history of success at multiple levels here. In the mid to late 2000's there were conference titles and bowl games aplenty, they had a good run of success in 1-AA in the late 1990's, and also have a couple of Division II titles to their name in the 1980s as well.
- The recruiting base is ridiculous, and Neal Brown's seemingly shown how Troy can take advantage, at least on paper.
- There appears to be a definite ceiling for fan support at Troy. Even during the height of Blakeney's tenure, and even when teams like Mississippi State, Oklahoma State, and Missouri came to town, Trojan fans haven't managed to sell out Veterans Memorial Stadium.
- It's not as quite remote as Moscow or Las Cruces, but given that the nearest "major" metro area with a decently-sized airport is Montgomery--over an hour's drive away--Troy, Alabama is most definitely an outpost.
- Can anyone not named Larry Blakeney--aka the Bill Snyder of the Sun Belt--win consistently at Troy?
Making the case for why Troy should be lower than 5th: Haisten Willis, Managing Editor and Georgia Southern Beat Writer
Gotta go with lower, if only slightly. As proud a program as this is, Troy seems a bit directionless at the moment, a lost puppy wandering the G5 neighborhood.
Coach Brown will have this team back in the win column soon, I've got not doubt about that. But as a program there doesn't seem to be much of an identity. Troy was Larry Blakeney for so long and now much latch onto something else as its calling card. It's a strange position to be in if you're the head coach.
Example: I was lucky enough to chat with Troy's PA announcer ahead of the Georgia Southern matchup last season. Not five minutes passed before the legendary 2004 win over Missouri came up in conversation. When the present came up there wasn't as much to talk about.
There also wasn't much of an atmosphere to speak of during that game, and as Will notes above Troy isn't exactly easy to get to. Again, this is a solid program with a winning tradition. I'd only place them just below 5th in the conference based on those factors.
But the Trojans did so well jumping up two divisions under Blakeney, winning title after title and sending players to the NFL. Now what?
If you were playing NCAA football in an online dynasty...
You want a Sun Belt team in a recruiting hotbed with a decent amount of history and infrastructure to their name, but you also don't want the easiest job right out of the gate. You always enjoyed the trumpet players from EA Sports's half-assed Russian band sounding like they were about to spontaneously combust on the spot while playing Troy's fight song.
You had a particular attachment to Movie Gallery as a kid, much to the bafflement of your friends and loved ones.
If you choose this job in real life:
Much like South Alabama, you want a Sun Belt job in the nation's college football heartland with ample recruiting opportunities and a natural launching point for a higher profile P5 job. But unlike South Alabama, you want a program with some real history and facilities to build off of. You're either a lifer or a big name up and comer, and you're not afraid of the pressure that comes with restoring a former power to its previous glory.
Troy may be one of the smallest of small market teams, but it's a niche they've shown they can be successful at in the past. In the long view, a small fanbase and a remote location limits the Trojans' ability to grow the program beyond the scope of an occasional Sun Belt power. However, investments in the program through solid facilities, a longtime winning history, and being located in one of the best recruiting hotbeds in the country will always give them a chance to be competitive.
Expectations therefore may not be consistently as high among the top tier of the 'Belt, but competing for the occasional conference title is considered a reasonable standard. For now, that's more than most of the teams below them can say.
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