TROY – There are many more similarities than differences when Southern Mississippi and Troy look at each other.
Proud pasts. Dangerous presents. Futures with high ceilings.
Home games against quality regional non-conference opponents are tough to come by for both. That’s why Saturday’s contest in Troy is significant.
“I think it’s a great test for us,” Troy coach Chip Lindsey said at his weekly press conference Tuesday. “If you look at the teams in that conference (Conference USA) and the teams in our conference (Sun Belt), I think they’re very similar from the standpoint of type of school, location and so forth.
“I know Southern Miss is traditionally one of the better teams in that league. It’s a good measuring stick for us, and I think it will be very similar to our conference games this year.”
The phrase Lindsey later used exactly matched one provided by Troy Director of Athletics Brent Jones earlier Tuesday – “it just makes sense.”
This is the second of a two-game series that started with Troy upsetting USM in Hattiesburg in 2016. Fortunately, there are more football date s coming. The Trojans and Golden Eagles have agreed to a four-game series in the next decade with USM hosting Troy in 2021 and 2029 and Troy hosting in 2024 and 2028.
Jones called it a great series for several reasons.
“I think it works because it’s a regional rivalry – so both fan bases can travel,” Jones said. “I remember Troy bringing to Hattiesburg almost 3,000 people a few years ago. They’re expected to bring a great crowd, as well.
“We compete with Southern Miss in softball, baseball, men’s basketball, our golf team is in Hattiesburg right now. And even when we’re not competing in that year, we’re competing with them recruiting-wise.”
This particularly matchup includes a lot of crossover in high places. Lindsey was USM’s offensive coordinator in 2014-15. Inside receivers coach John Carr was Southern Miss’ director of operations from 2013-15. Tight ends and S-backs coach Cole Weeks graduated from Southern Miss and was a graduate assistant in 2015. Strength and conditioning coach SaJason Finley came to Troy after four years at USM.
“There’s a lot of commonality there,” Jones said.
The link goes higher, of course. USM AD Jeremy McClain led Troy’s athletics department from 2015 until this past April . He had been USM’s deputy AD for three years before coming to Troy.
“I spent six years there at Southern Miss and was here for 2½ years before I became the AD,” Jones said.
They have talked this week – and will again.
“That’s not out of the ordinary. I talk to him once or twice a week to begin with,” Jones said. “We really appreciate each other. Jeremy’s as good of a human being, as good of a person and as good of an AD as there is out there. I’m excited about him coming back and (me) being able to host.”
They both are big-picture guys. There has been no trash talking.
“We’re both gentlemen,” Jones said. “We recruit in Mississippi and they recruit here. It’s like any other regional rivalry. This is what makes college athletics so great, when fan bases and get together, travel is part of it. We’re really looking forward to this game. It makes a lot of sense.”
Wanna play? Lindsey didn’t see Alabama coach Nick Saban’s postgame comments Saturday about the Crimson Tide having difficulty scheduling games.
“For me, I don’t really get to make those decisions,” Lindsey said when asked if there would be interest in scheduling a game with Alabama. “I didn’t hear the comment. I’ll say this – our schedule model is really good. Our AD, Brent Jones, we’re on the same philosophy as far as our model goes. I think we’re in a good spot where we’re at there. I really can’t speak to any of those other schools.”
Jones, if he didn’t hear Saban’s comments live, it didn’t take long for the AD to learn about them.
“My Twitter was blowing up as part of that,” Jones said Tuesday, adding he hasn’t called Alabama AD Greg Byrne yet – “but I will be.”
However, Jones said it’s not as easy as it sounds.
“A lot of the schedules are out five to eight years … and it has to work out for both teams,” Jones said. “We might not have an open date; they might not have an open date. But definitely, we’re open to playing as many schools, especially within our footprint, as possible.”
That has certainly been Troy’s history. Since 2006, the Trojans have played at least one game against SEC members Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Missouri, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, South Carolina and Tennessee.
“We’re not opposed to anybody in our footprint,” Jones said. “We have Ole Miss in a few years and a home-and-home upcoming with Mississippi State and Memphis. We’re excited about that and we’ll see where that goes.”
Players of the Week: Lindsey released Troy’s offensive, defensive and special teams players of the week from the Campbell game.
Receiver Kaylon Geiger was the offensive winner. Geiger caught five passes for 104 yards, including a 41-yarder.
“He had two big third-down catches and a big fourth-down catch,” the head coach said.
Linebacker Carlton Martial was an easy choice for the defense. Martial had 13 tackles, two behind the line of scrimmage. He was the Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Week.
“It was good to see him do that in a game setting because he did that to us all fall camp,” Lindsey said.
The special teams player was true freshman kicker Jack Martin from Dothan, who kicked off six times with three touchbacks and three fair catches.
“I’m really excited about how he was able to perform as a freshman,” the coach said. “He went out there and relaxed and kicked the ball like he’s capable.”
Coming back: Troy quarterback Kaleb Barker was one of three players named a Mayo Clinic Comeback Player of the Week for his performance in Week 1.
Barker, who returned for the season opener after suffering a torn ACL against Georgia State last season, completed 18 of 29 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns against Campbell.
“I think you’ll see him continue to get better as the season goes on, but we’re really excited about how he played,” Lindsey said, noting Barker has been through the knee injury three times. “He’s worked extremely hard to get back to this level, dating back to high school now. I think he can be a role model for some of our kids who are in a similar spot.
“It takes a commitment to get yourself back. It takes a lot of hard work and time in the training room. I think it’s hard sometimes for guys to handle the long recovery, but he’s done a great job of that. We’re really excited to see him back out there.”
At the end of the season, three of the nominees will be chosen as Mayo Clinic Comeback Player of the Year Award winners and will be recognized at a special ceremony during the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
Additionally, $30,000 will be donated in the names of the nine student-athletes selected as finalists to their school’s general scholarship fund, with $15,000 being awarded in the names of the three winners and $15,000 on behalf of the six named honorable mention.
Receiver out: Lindsey said Troy got through the opener against Campbell in decent health, although several Trojans were banged up a bit.
“Demontrez (Brown) is going to be out for a while. We lose a little depth at receiver, but everybody else should be pretty healthy,” Lindsey said. “We have a couple of guys banged up. At this time of year, when you start playing, everybody is a little banged up. Demontrez, though, will definitely be out. The off week, it might help us get cleaned up from some nicks and bruises.”
Defensive coordinator Brandon Hall said “pretty much everybody” on his side should be available Saturday night.
“I think there are a couple of guys we’re still waiting to get the all clear on, but for the most part it looks like we’re going to have everybody,” Hall said.