Newly ranked Troy hosts Sun Belt challenger Arkansas State
TROY, Ala. (AP) The Troy Trojans face a big challenge to their first national ranking just four days after cracking the Top 25.
The 25th-ranked Trojans (8-1, 5-0 Sun Belt Conference) host Arkansas State (5-4, 5-0) Thursday night in Troy's second straight battle of teams with perfect league marks.
The Trojans survived the first such challenge with a 28-24 win over Appalachian State. Now, the stakes are potentially even higher.
Troy is the first ranked Sun Belt team and also the only one to start a season 8-1. The Trojans haven't joined fellow Group of Five teams Boise State (No. 20) and Western Michigan (No. 21) in the playoff rankings.
''It sets up an exciting opportunity for us,'' Troy coach Neal Brown said. ''It is a good opportunity to measure ourselves to what has been the premier program in the Sun Belt over the last five years.''
The Red Wolves have indeed been the league's team to beat in recent seasons, a mantle once held by Troy. They haven't lost since starting out 0-4 and have won 14 consecutive conference games and 17 of 20 road contests within the league.
Arkansas State is the only FBS program to win four league titles over the past five seasons.
No Sun Belt team has been hotter than the Trojans, who have won seven straight since a 30-24 loss to No. 5 Clemson. None would be bigger than the Appalachian State victory, when Jordan Chunn scored the go-ahead touchdown with 1:02 left.
''I don't know if I expected them to be 8-1 but I surely expected them to be in the mix in the conference race,'' Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson said.
The result of both teams' hot streak is the first Sun Belt game between teams with 5-0 league records or better.
Some other things to know about the Arkansas State-Troy game:
SUN BELT'S BEST? Troy once dominated the Sun Belt much like Arkansas State has lately. The Trojans haven't won a league title since capturing their fifth in a row in 2010, when Brown was offensive coordinator.
PROTECTING QBS: Which team will be able to pressure the quarterback best? No team in the nation has given up fewer sacks this season than the three allowed by Troy, and the Trojans defense also leads the Sun Belt with 25 sacks. Arkansas State has strong pass rushers in Ja'Von Rolland-Jones (7.5 sacks) and Chris Odom (7.0).
PICK ARTISTS: Arkansas State's Money Hunter, the Sun Belt defensive player of the week, just set the league record with his fourth career interception return for a touchdown. Troy's Blace Brown has six interceptions and leads the nation in picks per game.
TOP RUSHERS: The game features two of the league's top four rushers. Troy's Chunn is tops with 1,028 yards and 10 touchdowns; Arkansas State counters with Warren Wand, who is averaging 67.4 yards per game.
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT: Arkansas State quarterback Justice Hansen is second in the league in pass efficiency. Taking care of the ball will be huge in this one since he's facing a defense with 16 interceptions.
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