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Sorry, Troy

By Jim Johnson
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SP Editor Jim Johnson is ready to apologize to Troy. He was wrong.

Last week, I dubbed the App State at Georgia Southern game the “de facto Sun Belt Conference Championship”, citing that with both teams having beaten the presumed best in the West, and Troy’s apparent offensive regression after losing Kaleb Barker, the winner would be favored in each of its remaining contests and go on to face an inferior foe in the actual championship game.

Troy fans, analysts, even the official team Twitter account made their disagreement abundantly clear.

I was wrong. They were right. My bad.

In that game a week ago, App, who entered the contest looking like the bullies of the Sun Belt, became the bullied. I left blown away by the progress that Georgia Southern had made in just one year under Chad Lunsford. And while the improvement under Lunsford is still impressive, in hindsight, we probably undervalued the impact of App losing its starting quarterback on their first drive, not to mention a defensive leader in Jordan Fehr shortly thereafter.

Then this afternoon, while Troy was taking down one of the top two teams in the Sun Belt West, a Louisiana squad that had just beaten A-State themselves, Georgia Southern was getting housed by the other.

Apparently Georgia Southern is not yet a finished product. Clearly App State is far from infallible. And though I still have some concerns about Troy, they appear to be the lone team in the division trending in the right direction at the most crucial time of year.

The week after losing Kaleb Barker, the Sawyer Smith led offense posted its worst percentile performance of the season in a loss to a bad Liberty team.

Following the bye week, the offense looked much better and the passing game was efficient, but not heavily relied upon.

Tonight, however, he and the passing game took a huge step forward, arguably looking as good as it has all season.

Without a ton of run support, Smith completed 18 of his 22 attempts for 317 yards and a touchdown, Damion Willis doing most of the damage on the receiving end.

Coupled with another strong defensive showing against a Ragin’ Cajun attack that to that point had been one of the better groups in the entire country, Troy is now the lone unbeaten Sun Belt team in conference play.

It’s far too early to chalk up the league. I learned my lesson about counting hatched eggs or whatever. That said, this thing is now wide open. It still feels like whoever comes out of the East should roll in the inaugural title bout, but maybe it’s time for a break from declarative statements.

Before my (probably short lived) hiatus though, it’s worth noting that of the top three in the division, Troy is the only one that seems to be putting things together, as opposed to coming apart.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP