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TROY, Ala. - It will be a small-scale version of those other league championship games - minus the super-sized stadium, the national TV audience and the official designation.
Troy and Florida Atlantic will get to settle the Sun Belt Conference title and New Orleans Bowl representative on the field Saturday. It's just a fortuitous, climactic regular season matchup, not an actual championship game.
"We certainly have a share of the championship already but the things that everybody wants and everybody plays for are riding on the game," Trojans coach Larry Blakeney said.
It is a winner-take-most if not winner-take-all. If Florida Atlantic (6-5, 5-1) wins, the Owls will share the title and represent the Sun Belt in New Orleans against Memphis.
The Trojans (8-3, 6-0) can win the league outright and secure their second straight trip to New Orleans.
"A game at your stadium for the championship and the bowl bid is pretty good stuff. This is the way it's worked out," Blakeney said.
The game at 30,000-seat Movie Gallery Stadium doesn't have the same nationwide appeal of Tennessee-LSU (Southeastern Conference) or national title implications of Missouri-Oklahoma (Big 12).
It still means plenty to the players and coaches involved for a league that has mostly been bullied by those major-conference teams.
"It'll be so heartbreaking to come this far, after all we've been through starting out 0-2," Troy linebacker Marcus Richardson said. "We can't turn back now. We've got to have this."
A win and bowl berth would be a big coup for Florida Atlantic also. The Owls are hoping to have a new 30,000-seat stadium in time for the 2010 season.
What better sales pitch than a surprising league title?
"It's a very big game not only for the players but obviously everybody that's connected with the university," Owls coach Howard Schnellenberger said. "Our support has been slower growing than the accomplishments of our team.
"This kind of game and this opportunity certainly (fan) the fires of enthusiasm."
The Trojans at least have hope that they might land in another bowl game even with a loss. The Sun Belt placed two teams in the postseason last year, Troy and Middle Tennessee.
The Trojans scored two touchdowns in the final 2:20 to hand Middle Tennessee its first league loss in the second-to-last game of the 2006 season.
"I just don't want the same thing that happened to Middle Tennessee last year to happen to us," Richardson said. "The word for the week is humility."
The Trojans, however, dispatched Middle Tennessee - which was still alive for a share of the title - 45-7 last week.
The game matches probably the league's top two quarterbacks. Troy's Omar Haugabook is the leader in total offense, a dual threat with 2,710 yards passing and 545 rushing.
Florida Atlantic's Rusty Smith has thrown for 3,061 yards with 25 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. He and the league's top passing offense will face a defense that is No. 1 in the Sun Belt and 11th nationally against the pass.
And those eight picks Smith has thrown? Well, Troy cornerback Elbert Mack has swiped that many passes by himself to lead the nation.
The Trojans also have the Sun Belt's top scoring offense and defense. No wonder Schnellenberger scrapped the team's normal day-after review of the Florida International game and started in immediately on preparing his team for Troy Sunday.
He's curious to see how his players respond to unfamiliar circumstances.
"It is a new thing for us to have a game that has such monumental consequences," Schnellenberger said, praising Troy's "terrific" offense and defense.
Blakeney said the Owls might have the league's best defense even if they actually rank fourth in yards allowed.
"We'll certainly be hard-pressed to win this game," Blakeney said. "This won't be an easy task, we know that. It's a game that if you come out a winner, then you certainly have earned it."
Re: AP Ariticle:
Re: AP Ariticle:
Fledgling saidHumility is the word of the week. What is this Sesame Street?
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