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Troy, New Mexico State meet in battle for Sun Belt dark horse label

Chip Dillard/Icon Sportswire

If a wildcard team manages to win the Sun Belt Conference this season – which is only if Georgia Southern and Appalachian State both collapse – it might be the winner of Saturday’s game between New Mexico State and Troy, two teams with high-powered offenses that have gotten big, emotional wins in the last couple of weeks.

NMSU is still on a high after beating in-state rival New Mexico in an emotional boost for a program trying to shed the label of a habitual loser. One week later, Troy got an electrifying win of its own, beating Southern Mississippi, a good team in Conference USA, to prove the Trojans are for real.

Both Troy and New Mexico State want to break through the glass ceiling of the top tier of the Sun Belt, especially since Arkansas State is 0-3 to start the season and Appalachian State may be 1-3 if it loses at Akron this week.

The winner of Saturday’s game at Troy will not only get its first conference win of the season, but could go on a roll to then contend for the SBC title. If the Trojans win, they could go on a solid run with winnable games against Idaho and Georgia State before heading to Mobile for their rivalry game against South Alabama.

An Aggie win on the road would do wonders for a team that has played well despite its 1-2 record. A win at Troy gives them momentum for a home game against Louisiana-Lafayette and a road game at Idaho before a midseason trip to Texas A&M, in what should be called the Aggie Bowl.

NMSU should be going into this game with a lot of confidence after hanging with Kentucky for three quarters before the Wildcats pulled away for a 62-32 win. Now, the Aggies will have running back Larry Rose III ready to go after missing the first three games of the season recovering from sports hernia surgery.

Rose, the Sun Belt’s preseason offensive player of the year, will make his season debut after putting up 1,934 all-purpose yards last season, including 1,651 rushing. Rose’s big-play capability could be the missing link to an offense that started slowly, but is now getting in gear.

Quarterback Tyler Rodgers has managed the offense well and has made some plays so far this year, throwing for 657 yards and four touchdowns while also rushing for 187 yards and three touchdowns. Getting Rose back means Rodgers has his big weapon back to make more plays downfield.

However, New Mexico State will have to go against a tough Troy defense that is very good at stopping the run. The Trojans allow only 124.3 rushing yards per game, third best in the Sun Belt. Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning has built a strong defense that has bent, but not been broken, so far.

If Troy’s offense gets going, it may be game over. Running back Jordan Chunn – nicknamed “MegaChunn” by the team – had a monster game against Southern Miss last week, rushing for 176 yards on 31 carries and a touchdown. His big (6-foot-1, 231 pounds) but quick body has run around and over opponents this season, and he should have a big game against an NMSU defense that hasn’t been good for the last two seasons.

The stakes in this game are high since the schedules aren’t that tough for both teams until November, which could set up the winner for a good chance to at least be in the conversation for the SBC title. App State and Georgia Southern are still the favorites despite their struggles, but Troy and NMSU could claim the dark horse label with a win this week.

Troy, New Mexico State meet in battle for Sun Belt dark horse label

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