Buffalo and Troy, two of the regular season’s most successful Group of Five teams, square off in the Dollar General Bowl with plenty on the line.
The Bulls are trying to extend their program-best season to 11 wins, while the Trojans are hunting for back-to-back 10-win campaigns.
In addition to all the talented players on display, the Dollar General Bowl boasts two of the best coaching prospects in the FBS in Buffalo’s Lance Leipold and Troy’s Neal Brown.
If you’re a fan of a power conference team with a struggling head coach who could be fired in the next year or two, this is the game to watch for coaching prospects.
If Buffalo and Troy continue on their current trajectories, Leipold and Brown won’t be coaching at their schools much longer, with top programs expected to go after them.
Leipold, who started his head coaching career at Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater, helped Buffalo produce its best-ever season by improving from 6-6 to 10-3.
The gargantuan leap from average team to potential ranked side at the end of bowl season allowed Leipold to jump into the national coaching spotlight.
He’s been able to get there because of a dominant offense led by quarterback Tyree Jackson and wide receiver Anthony Johnson.
If the Bulls are able to push the ball down the field at will Saturday, they could end up with a 3,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher and a 1,000-yard receiver.
In their 10 victories, the Bulls averaged 39.3 points and eclipsed the 40-point barrier in each of their last three wins.
Jackson, a 6’7″ junior, should be one of the top quarterbacks to watch in 2019, and he has an opportunity to boost his stock going into the offseason with a strong performance against Troy.
Johnson, a senior who has three 100-yard receiving games, will use the Dollar General Bowl as a chance to impress NFL scouts as he ramps up draft preparations.
However, the Bulls could struggle with scoring points at will, as they’re going up against the 28th-best defense in the FBS.
The Trojans conceded 21.2 points per contest, and the most points they gave up in the regular season was 27 to UL-Monroe on September 22.
The tenacious defense allowed the Trojans to earn a few marquee wins during Brown’s four years at Troy, making him an intriguing coaching candidate.
Troy’s latest power-conference scalp came in September, as it knocked off Nebraska by five points at Memorial Stadium.
While their defense receives plenty of praise, the Trojans possess a star on the offensive side of the ball as well.
Running back B.J. Smith, who ran for 1,093 yards and 12 touchdowns, is the main threat for the Sun Belt team, and he’ll challenge the Bulls from the first drive.
Quarterback Sawyer Smith will try to complement Smith’s production in the pocket, and he’s going to have to play at a high level if Buffalo gets into an offensive rhythm.
Smith, who took over for injured starter Kaleb Barker in October, put together a few nice outings in October and early November, but he’s coming off a game against Appalachian State in which he completed 51.5 percent of his passes and threw two interceptions.
As long as Smith doesn’t turn over the ball, Troy’s offense should keep it in the game for the majority of the 60 minutes.
Although Troy’s defense is one of the better units to hit the field in the first half of bowl season, it will give up points to the explosive Buffalo offense at some point of the contest.
Jackson and Johnson will work their way into the spotlight by making a few plays, which will challenge the Trojans to keep up with them.
Smith will break few big runs for the Trojans, but the quarterback play won’t be good enough to overpower the Bulls.