In the annals of college football rivalry trophies, we have a gold hat, a couple of axes, a little brown jug, and a bronze pig.
But South Alabama and Troy has bested them all with a gold belt that not only Jaguars and Trojans fans love, but MMA and WWE fans as well.
The first-ever Battle for the Belt was a tight tussle, but thanks to a strong performance by quarterback Cody Clements, South Alabama will take the Belt to Mobile.
South Alabama’s 24-18 win over in-state rival Troy on Saturday should put the Jaguars into the top tier of the SBC, but the Jags wouldn’t be in this position without two key players who came from another program in Alabama.
When UAB announced that it was dropping football in January, a number of its players decided to stay in the state to continue their college football careers. Clements was the starting quarterback for the Blazers last year, and his experience has helped a young USA squad to a program-changing win over San Diego State two weeks ago.
Clements’ favorite target is tight end Gerald Everett, who was a teammate with Clements at UAB and moved with him to South Alabama. Clements was 11-of-21 against Troy, throwing for 205 yards and two touchdowns, both of them to Everett in the first half to help the Jaguars take a 21-8 lead midway in the second quarter.
USA also had a strong defensive effort, holding the Trojans to only 146 passing yards and intercepting three of Troy quarterback Michael Silvers’ passes. Cornerback Kalen Jackson had two of those three interceptions, as well as six tackles, including two tackles for loss.
The Jag defense — which was abused by N.C. State last week in giving up 586 yards — got big fourth-quarter stops late in the game, including a 4th-and-1 with under two minutes left in the game.
South Alabama will take a few more days to admire its win — as well as posing with the Belt — since the Jaguars won’t take the field until next Tuesday — yes, Tuesday — in a key game against Arkansas State at home in Mobile.
A win over the Red Wolves would put the Jags at 2-0 in Sun Belt Conference play and make them a major player in the chase for the conference title. The Red Wolves are ripe for an upset despite beating Idaho on Saturday. As long as quarterback Fredi Knighten remains out of the huddle, the ASU offense is missing its main playmaker.
The rest of the schedule is reasonable with games against Texas State, Idaho, Louisiana-Lafayette and Georgia State before ending with back-to-back games against Georgia Southern and Appalachian State.
South Alabama could go into the last two weeks of the season with a chance to contend for the SBC title, as well as a chance to go bowling for the second year in a row. But right now, the Jags have already made history by taking the first Battle of the Belt game.