Although the Sun Belt is the only one of the 10 FBS conferences without a championship game, Saturday’s matchup between Troy and Arkansas State somewhat serves as a de facto title contest. Both teams enter with 6-1 records in Sun Belt play, so the winner will have at least a share of the conference crown and could claim it outright if Appalachian State loses to Louisiana.
Both the Trojans (9-2) and Red Wolves enter this game with momentum, as Troy has won five in a row and Arkansas State has won its past two games. The Trojans opened their season with a close 24-13 loss to Boise State, but made plenty of noise across the country when they went into Baton Rouge and upset then-No. 25 LSU (24-21). Troy has been pretty dominant during its current five-game winning streak, beating opponents by an average of 25.4 points per game.
The Red Wolves hung tough with Nebraska in Lincoln before losing 43-36 and had to cancel a home date with Miami due to the threat of Hurricane Irma. Arkansas State enters this game having won two in a row and six of its last seven, scoring 37 or more points five times during this stretch.
The Red Wolves have won four straight against the Trojans, including last year’s 35-3 victory on the road.
Troy at Arkansas State
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Arkansas State -1.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Arkansas State’s offensive strength vs. Troy’s defensive strength
The Red Wolves are second in the Sun Belt in passing offense at 331.1 yards per game and lead the way with 33 touchdowns through the air. Justice Hansen (3,219 yards, 32 TDs) has done most of this damage and is coming off of a 520-yard, four-TD performance against ULM. The Trojans are tops in the conference against the pass, holding teams to 206.1 yards per game, and have nearly as many interceptions (12) as touchdowns (15) allowed through the air. Seven different players have recorded one of Troy’s 12 interceptions, including four by Blace Brown. The junior cornerback is tied for second in the Sun Belt in that category and also has returned one of his picks for a touchdown. It will be imperative for Hansen to make enough plays for Arkansas State through the air while trying to avoid the big mistake.
2. Troy's offensive Line vs. Arkansas State's Ja'Von Rolland-Jones
The reigning Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year, Rolland-Jones (above, right) could take home the honor yet again as the senior defensive end is leading the conference and tied for second nationally with 12 sacks. Rolland-Jones is a big reason why the Red Wolves are in the top 20 in the FBS in sacks (33 total) and the 6-foot-2, 244-pounder has shown an ability to take over games. Two weeks ago, he had seven tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble in a 30-12 win over Texas State. Rolland-Jones needs just 1.5 sacks to tie former Arizona State standout Terrell Suggs for the FBS career record (44.0). The Trojans have done a fine job of keeping quarterback Brandon Silvers upright, giving up just 13 sacks in 11 games, but stopping Rolland-Jones figures to be arguably the stiffest challenge this offensive line has faced. And that includes going up against LSU, who got to Silvers three times in the Trojans’ upset win back in September.
3. Can Jordan Chunn find running room against Arkansas State?
One of the best ways to counteract the Red Wolves’ pass rush while keeping their offense off of the field is to extend drives and control the clock. Troy can do this with an effective running game, which is where Chunn comes in. He’s third in the Sun Belt in rushing with 741 yards and second in touchdowns on the ground with 10, but he’s been somewhat hampered since returning from a two-game absence in late October because of injury. Over his past three games he’s run for 223 total yards, but he’s been limited to 40 carries. Still, he’s averaging a respectable 5.6 yards per carry and has four rushing touchdowns over this span. Chunn is capable of big games, such as his 191 rushing yards to fuel the upset of LSU, and he will be needed against Arkansas State. The Red Wolves are fourth in the conference against the run (146.6 ypg) and have held Sun Belt foes to just 3.2 yards per carry.
Both teams are coming into this game with confidence, having played well against premier programs, and playing well against conference opponents. There is a reason why the oddsmakers have this one so close, as the teams are both well-coached and should be well-prepared. This one may come down to whichever team commits a turnover, or has the ball last with time running out.