If you wanted to follow a Hollywood-type script, the teams picked to finish 1-2 in a conference should play late in the season, perhaps even in the final game.
But even though it did happen last year, it often doesn't work out that way.
Arkansas State, picked to finish second by the league's coaches preseason, hosts defending champ and preseason favorite Troy Saturday in a significant game for both teams.
Last year, Troy clubbed ASU, 35-9, in the final game of the regular season, giving the Trojans the Sun Belt title and the trip to the New Orleans and leaving the Wolves at home with a 6-6 record.
Will this year's game decide the race for the top? Probably not, in what is seen as a fairly balanced league. But beating the other favorite gives you a sure leg up on the rest of the year.
Is this game too early?
"It doesn't matter," ASU coach Steve Roberts said. "It's on the schedule where it is. That's all we're concentrating on.
"We're not spending any of our time thinking about (if) it would be better or worse to play them someplace else in the schedule."
What the Red Wolves WERE spending their time on was getting better after a 38-9 loss at No. 22 Nebraska that preceded the bye. That same day, Troy was drilled, 56-6, by Tim Tebow and Florida down in Gainesville. This past week, while Arkansas State sat, Troy opened its conference schedule with a victory over Alabama-Birmingham to go to 2-1.
Arkansas State is 1-1, but the win was over 1-AA Mississippi Valley State.
• Arkansas State follows a bye week with a critical home game against defending Sun Belt champion Troy this week.
• Last year, Troy defeated ASU in the final game of the regular season to win the Sun Belt and get the automatic bid to the New Orleans Bowl.
• DE Alex Carrington, the preseason defensive player of the year in the Sun Belt, had just two tackles in each of the first two games, picking up a sack at Nebraska. He didn't play much in the lopsided win over 1-AA Mississippi Valley State.
• QB Corey Leonard was just 11-for-20 for 131 yards (no touchdowns or interceptions) and was sacked four times in the loss at Nebraska
Series History: Troy leads, 5-3 (last meeting, 2008, Troy, 35-9).
Scouting The Offense: Running back Reggie Arnold is off to another big year, with five touchdowns in the first two games, but getting a read on the offense isn't easy when you realize the Red Wolves jumped from 1-AA Mississippi Valley to a ranked Nebraska team on the road. This week's game falls in the middle of those two and should provide a more-accurate read on what's going on with Leonard's offense.
Scouting The Defense: Steve Roberts was not happy with the play of his re-tooled secondary in the loss at Nebraska and made the area a focus of the bye week. "Obviously it's real early in the season and we've got some players that are new at the roles that they're being asked to play this year as far as first-year starters and playing significant snaps," Roberts said. "I know that we'll improve and I think there are a lot of things that are easy to correct. We just have to make sure that we get everybody on the same page."
Carrington, the preseason Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year, is off to a slow tackling start (four, including a sack in the first two games) but should be more of a factor in conference play, which starts this week.
Quote To Note: "We're not throwing in the towel because we got beat by the University of Nebraska. We have a lot to play for this year. It's not all doom or gloom around our program, that's for sure."-Arkansas State coach Steve Roberts after the loss at Nebraska.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Arkansas State vs. Troy, Sept. 19-The Red Wolves were picked second to the Trojans in the preseason Sun Belt coaches'; poll and get the early shot at them in Jonesboro. ASU was in it with Troy on the stat sheet last year but lost the game, 35-9 and with that loss went the conference title.
Keys To The Game: Playing at home, you would think the Red Wolves need to come out and ride the fan wave to early control. But, of course, that won't be easy against Troy, the class of this conference. ASU clearly has to play better in the secondary or it could be a tough game.
Players To Watch:
RB Reggie Arnold-He was supposed to be the featured guy on the offense and he has been, with five touchdowns in the first two games. He has 26 for his career, tying him for third place all-time at the school and for fourth in the Sun Belt. He is trying to become the eighth player in 1-A history to record four straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
DE Alex Carrington-He didn't play a lot in the opener because of the score and then had just two tackles, one a sack, in the loss at Nebraska, but this guy needs to be a force to lead this defense.
QB Corey Leonard-The career stats keep piling up and the senior wants to win a conference title before he leaves.
• The Red Wolves appear to be a pretty healthy bunch, and the week off has to help the bumps and bruises from the first two games.
• WR Jahbari McLennan was the recipient of seven of Corey Leonard's 11 completions at Nebraska, a career high for McLennan, who gained 69 yards on his catches. But he was guilty of a red-zone fumble with his team down 21-0.
• LB Demario Davis (10), CB Cordarious Mingo (seven), LB Nathan Herrold (six), CB Greg Smith (five) and S Kelcie McCray (five) all recorded career highs in tackles in the loss at Nebraska. Davis' previous high was three.
• DE Alex Carrington's first sack of the season, at Nebraska, gave him 13.5 for his career, three shy of becoming No. 5 on the school's all-time list.
• RB Reggie Arnold's 83 yards at Nebraska gave him 3,419 and moved him into third place on the Sun Belt Conference's all-time rushing list.
• P Ryan Wilbourn averaged just 20.1 yards per punt in the opener but bounced back with a 45.0 average, including a 57-yarder, at Nebraska. That was the longest punt in the conference in the first two weeks of the season.
• K Josh Arauco, a Lou Groza finalist last year and on the watch list in 2009, missed an extra point at Nebraska and then hit on a 42-yard field goal.