In their first year in the Sun Belt, Troy went 5-2 and took second place in the conference. It was an impressive feat for a program still transitioning to the FBS, but nothing compared to what would come. After a disappointing 2005 season, Larry Blakeney would lead the Trojans to five straight conference championships. From 2004 to 2010, Troy would only post one losing record and miss a bowl game twice.
Entering his 24th year as head coach, Blakeney has established himself as the father of Troy football. He took over the program in 1990, after being embroiled in the Eric Ramsey Scandal at Auburn. In 2000, Blakeney was honored with a Johnny Vaught Lifetime Achievement Award by the All-American Football Foundation. The next year he would become only the second coach to take a program from Division-II to the FBS.
After listing all his achievements, it's hard to imagine Blakeney could ever leave Troy on anything but his own terms. But the truth of the matter is that college football isn't what it once was. Bobby Bowden and Mack Brown aren't on the sidelines anymore. Auburn fired Gene Chizik two years removed from a national title. We live in a "what have you done for me lately" world.
Lately, Blakeney has had his worst three year stretch since joining the FBS. For the first time since taking over the program he posted back-to-back losing seasons, only missing three in a row by beating rival UAB in overtime during their 2013 home opener.
In the last few years the Sun Belt has changed. Troy's dominance has been replaced by Arkansas State and their flavor of the year coaching approach. Teams have moved on, and new programs have joined. The top tier of the conference is separating itself from the rest, and challenging their rent-a-win opponents on a regular basis.
With former FCS powerhouses App State and Georgia Southern joining the Sun Belt, Troy could quickly fall behind. Those programs, along with surprising newcomer South Alabama, will push forward because, like the Trojans once, they aren't used to losing.
You hate to call it complacency, because coach Blakeney's staff is anything but complacent. Since hitting rock bottom in 2011, they've slowly progressed. But how long will Trojan fans wait to be back in the conference driver seat? How long will they be ok with new in-state rival South Alabama being picked to finish ahead of them?
Blakeney's job is safe this year, and it should be. He's earned the right to slip, but he's still expected to get back up.
The overwhelming belief is that Troy will extend their bowl-less streak to a record fourth season. They're expected to go 6-6, again. How much longer will that be okay?
It's still too early to tell, but this next season could determine the future of Larry Blakeney and Troy football.