We have four games on the bowl game docket on Saturday, and perhaps the most intriguing one of the bunch is the one that gets the primetime treatment over on ESPN. The 10-3 Buffalo Bulls will be facing off with the 9-3 Troy Trojans in the Dollar General Bowl, a matchup of two evenly matched Group of Five programs.
Buffalo’s solid season was good enough to secure a bid in the MAC Conference championship game where the team lost a heartbreaker to NIU. They were actually up by a score of 22-10 at the half, but MIU mounted a furious comeback to secure a 30-29 victory. Troy just missed out on the Sun Belt championship game after losing to Appalachian State in the regular season finale, but the Trojans are arguably the second-best team in the conference regardless.
This one projects to be a closely contested game which could go down to the wire. Let’s take a look at what both sides bring to the table for what should be an interesting contest.
Buffalo vs. Troy, 7 PM EST, Sat. December 22, ESPN
Buffalo vs. Troy pick:
Buffalo sprinted out of the gates and won its first four games of the season, but the team ran into a roadblock in the form of a stout Army squad afterwards. A five-game winning streak followed, but the Bulls would come back to earth and close out the year by losing two of its last three. The final loss came to NIU in the MAC Championship game.
Troy’s regular season followed a similar path. After dropping the season opener to Boise State, the Trojans won their next five before losing again, this time to Liberty. The club would follow that up with a four-game winning streak, which was snapped when they fell in the regular season finale to a strong Appalachian State team by a score of 21-10.
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Buffalo’s first lengthy winning streak of the season included a pair of double-digit wins, with the other two margins being a touchdown. The second winning streak may have been even more impressive, as four of the five victories over that span checked in at 10 points or more, with the fifth being a 9-point win over Miami-Ohio. The team received a little comeuppance at the hands of Ohio to the tune of 52-17 in the second to last game of the regular season.
Troy has also had its share of impressive success in 2018, as six of the team’s nine wins were of the double-digit variety. The squad’s 59-7 victory over Florida A&M was its largest of the season, but its most noteworthy win may have been a 24-19 victory over Nebraska. While this is a down year for the Cornhuskers, it’s still a highlight for a Sun Belt squad to take down a Big Ten program.
There’s no head-to-head history between these two programs to glance at, so we can move right along to recent bowl game performance. For Buffalo, this will be the first time the team has gone bowling since 2013. They faced off with San Diego State in the Potato Bowl and lost in a laugher by a score of 49-24. The Bulls have only one other bowl appearance on their resume, a 38-20 defeat at the hands of UConn in the International Bowl following the 2008 season.
Dating back to 2009, Troy has appeared in four bowl games, winning three of four. The team has gone bowling after each of the last two years. Back in 2016, the Trojans faced off with Ohio in the same Dollar General Bowl and walked away with a 28-23 win. Last year, they played North Texas in the New Orleans Bowl and cruised to a big 50-30 win.
For last year’s Dollar General Bowl, Sun Belt school Appalachian State dropped the hammer on MAC squad Toledo in a 34-0 victory. Over the past five years, Sun Belt programs have been getting the better of their MAC opponents in this bowl game by going 4-1 over that span. The lone loss came following the 2014 season when Toledo conquered Arkansas State by a score of 63-44.
This is a very close matchup on paper, and the end result should be a quality game between two of this year’s most impressive small school programs. While neither squad was able to take down their respective conference crowns, there’s no questioning they can lay claim to being among the best that the Sun Belt and MAC have to offer in 2018.
The Bulls came oh-so-close in the MAC title tilt, and we can only imagine how bad the one-point loss stung. While Troy didn’t make it to the Sun Belt title game,, the team also suffered a disappointing loss to a rival in its final game. We would imagine both clubs will be amped up and ready to finish out 2018 on a positive note.
From a bottom line perspective, Buffalo is the stronger squad on an overall basis. This should be a really tight game that can legitimately go either way, but we like the Bulls to do just enough to come out on top when the final whistle blows.
We’ll take Buffalo minus the points.