Andrew Ferguson - AState Athletics

Troy Trojans targeting Arkansas State to achieve their goals

Troy Trojans want to regain the top spot in the Sun Belt

They have not played since Thursday, September 12, 2013.

It was a Thursday night in Jonesboro when the Red Wolves, on their way to a third straight conference championship, defeated the Troy Trojans 34-27.

A little more than 3 years later they meet again, the two teams that has won the Sun Belt championship or shared it every year but once since 2005. And what else is new, they are playing again for a likely league championship.

“I don't know that you can downplay it,’’ said Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson. “Our kids are smart enough to know it is a big game.”

And this one is the biggest of them all.

After starting 0-4, Arkansas State has won five straight and is the surprise entry into Thursday night’s contest on ESPNU (8:30 kickoff). Ranked No. 25 in the nation, Troy is 8-1 on the season and coming off a victory over Appalachian State on Saturday where the players carried Brown off the field after the comeback.

“What happened Last week win set up an even bigger game this Saturday,’’ said Troy coach Neal Brown.

“Arkansas State is the defending conference champion,’’ said Brown. “They have won four of the last five (Sun Belt) championships and have been to five consecutive bowl games. They are the team to beat in the Sun Belt Conference. They are the champions until someone defeats them. They are the hottest team in the league right now. They are playing at a high level; they are playing their best football of the year right now.“

In his third year as the Trojans’ head coach, Brown is very familiar with Arkansas State and some of its players. He spent four seasons at Troy (2006-09), including the final two as the Trojans’ offensive coordinator, and appeared in three bowl games.

He also served as OC at Kentucky, where he played before transferring to UMass, and Tech Tech. At Tech he said he recruited A-State quarterback Justice Hansen and wide receiver Kendall Sanders.

I”t sets up for a good opportunity for us,’’ said Brown. “It gives us an opportunity to measure ourselves against the premier program in the Sun Belt conference the last five years. It has the makings to be as big as any game we have played in our Division 1 history.

“In this game, we are going after what Arkansas State is. They are the conference champions and that is what we want to be. It changes people's approach to us. We have been the team that has gone out to do the hunting and now we are going to be the hunted for the rest of the season.”

With the short week, Brown said the Trojans did some prep work on the Red Wolves during an off week before they play UMass.

“The way I look at it anytime anyone can stem the time and get a team back going,’’ he said. “They were oh-and-4, coming off a loss to Central Arkansas. It speaks highly of Blake Anderson and his staff to get them off the mat and not only win but put five  wins in a row together against some quality people, but also keeps improving. I think that speaks to the culture they have at Arkansas State.