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 The Sun Belt Conference is joining the championship Saturday excitement.
The league doesn't have an official title game, but Saturday night's matchup between Troy and Arkansas State will serve exactly that purpose. The winner represents the Sun Belt in the New Orleans Bowl.
``Here we are, with a chance to play the best team in our league for all the marbles. That was our goal from the very start, to have a chance to play for a championship and a bowl,'' Troy coach Larry Blakeney said. ``It is a championship game. It deserves a crowd and an atmosphere worthy of a championship game.''
The Sun Belt matchup can't match the hype of the Southeastern Conference and Big 12 title games the same day, but there will be plenty at stake when Arkansas State plays at Troy. Blakeney's Trojans (7-4, 5-1) can 1/4 an outright conference title with a victory. If Arkansas State (6-5, 4-2) wins, the teams would tie Louisiana-Lafayette for the championship. Arkansas State would go to the New Orleans Bowl in that scenario.
pajohns.com Bowl if it loses this weekend. Arkansas State might not be so lucky. The Sun Belt has secondary tie-ins with the Papajohns.com, Independence and St. Petersburg bowls, but it's not clear how a Sun Belt team with a 6-6 record would be treated under those agreements.
``What we've agreed to say is, 'Let's see how it plays out,''' said Sun Belt commissioner Wright Waters, who is also chairman of the NCAA's postseason football licensing subcommittee.
Arkansas State would rather not be involved in any musical chairs for the last bowl spots. The Red Wolves control their fate this weekend, but a loss would drop them to a tie for third in the conference. They're approaching the Troy game with plenty of urgency.
``If we don't come out on top, then we're pretty much done,'' offensive lineman Matt Mandich said.
Arkansas State would be in much better shape if it hadn't let fourth-quarter leads slip away in losses to Louisiana-Lafayette and Florida International.
``We just really didn't finish,'' Mandich said.
Still, the Red Wolves enter this weekend on a two-game winning streak, and Arkansas State's Reggie Arnold has run for 100 yards in three straight games.
Troy has had two weeks to prepare for this game after drubbing Louisiana-Lafayette 48-3. The Trojans' DuJuan Harris rushed for 235 yards in that win.
M, and the Red Wolves later lost 35-0 at Alabama. Troy lost at Ohio State and Oklahoma State early on, and the Trojans led LSU 31-3 last month before falling 40-31.
Troy shared the league title in 2006 and 2007.
``We don't want to share it, we want to win it outright and, to do that, we have to beat Arkansas State,'' Troy defensive end Brandon Lang said. ``We don't want to be co-champions with a silver ring, we want the gold rings with a conference championship.''
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