The Dollar General Bowl figures to be one of the more intriguing pre-Christmas bowl games, as it matches up the Troy Trojans of the Sun Belt and the Buffalo Bulls of the MAC. Game time is set for 7:00 EST on Saturday, December 22, at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.
Oddsmakers list the Bulls as 3-point favorites with an over/under of 53.5 points. Be sure to check out a complete list of this year’s bowl betting odds.
This game marks three consecutive bowl appearances for the Trojans under head coach Neal Brown. Troy also has a chance to win their bowl game for the third straight year after winning the Dollar General Bowl two years ago and the New Orleans Bowl last season.
Perhaps more importantly, the Trojans also have a chance to win 10 or more games for the third year in a row. The Trojans are currently 9-3 on the season. They went 7-1 in Sun Belt play, losing only to Appalachian State the final week of the season to keep them out of the conference title game. However, that is one of the few blemishes on an otherwise impressive campaign for Brown and the Trojans in 2018.
Buffalo, on the other hand, is playing in a bowl game for just the third time in bowl history. The Bulls last went bowling in 2013, so just being in this game is a big deal. It’s also worth noting that Buffalo lost their two previous bowl appearances, so getting a win in the Dollar General Bowl would be a first in program history.
Much like Troy, the Bulls suffered great disappointment last time out. After going 7-1 in MAC play during the regular season, the Bulls lost the conference title game against Northern Illinois. Buffalo led that game 29-10 late in the 3rd quarter but gave up 20 unanswered points and lost 30-29. It was a crushing blow for a team that looked like the best team in the MAC for most of the season. They will now try to erase that memory in their first-ever meeting with Troy.
These are two of the better group-of-five teams in the country, so I’m expecting a competitive game. There will also be a slight clash of styles. With that in mind, I think Troy’s experience playing in bowl games will pay off, as will playing in their home state. In a close game, those things will matter, so I like the Trojans and the points in the Dollar General Bowl.
Troy’s biggest strength is on the defensive side of the ball. They gave up just 21 points per game this season. It’s fair to question the difficulty of their schedule, which included just four bowl teams and only one power conference opponent. However, only two teams scored over 21 points against them this year, and one was Boise State the first week of the season. If they were playing a power conference team, we could overlook their defense a little. But the Trojans certainly have the talent and athleticism on defense to match up against just about any group-of-five team.
To be fair, Buffalo is not your average MAC team. They averaged 35 points per game and had plenty of balance between the run and pass. The Bulls had two running backs with over 800 yards on the season and two receivers with over 800 yards receiving. They also have a quarterback in Tyree Jackson who has plenty of size at 6’7’’ and tons of arm talent. Outside of their season opener against Boise State, Troy probably hasn’t seen a quarterback with Jackson’s talent.
However, I still have some concerns about Jackson facing a quality defense. After all, he’s not the most accurate quarterback. Also, his performance took a dip in November. I think he’ll be fine after a couple of weeks off to regroup after Buffalo’s loss in the MAC title game. But Jackson will have to be sharp and consistent if the Bulls expect to sustain drives against Troy’s defense.
On the other side of the ball, I like how Troy’s offense matches up against Buffalo. Sophomore quarterback Sawyer Smith is still finding his way after becoming the full-time starter midway through the season. But the Trojans have a strong rushing attack behind B.J. Smith, who ran for over 1,000 yards and 5.5 yards per carry this season. Backup Jabir Daughtry-Frye also offers a nice change-of-pace, as he’s just 5’7’’ but is a home run threat every time he touches the ball.
Meanwhile, the Buffalo defense was most vulnerable this year when facing good running teams. In a loss to Ohio, they gave up over 400 yards rushing and 52 points against a team known for their rushing attack. They also struggled to contain the running game against some of the better MAC teams. If they have similar problems in this game, the Trojans will be able to control the clock and keep Jackson and the Buffalo offense off the field.
To be honest, this game is a tossup for me. Jackson is surely the most impactful player on either team. If he has a big game, he’s capable of carrying Buffalo to victory. But I think Troy could end up having a slight edge on both sides of the ball. The Trojans are also playing a de facto home game and have experience preparing for bowl games. With those intangibles and an extra three points, I’m leaning toward Troy in this bowl.