NEW ORLEANS – Winning a share of five-straight Sun Belt Conference championships has helped Troy build a solid reputation in the South.
Yet the Trojans still wonder how they're viewed nationally. They've been to four bowl games since becoming a full member of the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2002, but have won only one.
Troy (7-5) gets its latest chance to make an impression on a national television audience on Saturday night, when the Trojans play in their third New Orleans Bowl and meet an Ohio program that has risen to prominence in the Mid-American Conference under former Nebraska coach Frank Solich.
"Troy isn't that well known around the country, but there aren't that many schools that have won five straight conference championships," Trojans defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi said. "Another good performance in a bowl game would raise the profile of the program. ... It's going to give us an opportunity to play bigger and better teams."
Ohio (8-4) came within one victory of playing for the MAC title, but fell flat in its regular season finale, a 28-6 loss at Kent State that snapped a seven-game winning streak. Despite that setback, the Bobcats still have a shot to take their first-ever bowl victory in five tries.
This is the second straight season that the Bobcats have gone to a bowl under Solich. Last year they lost to Marshall, 21-17, in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
"We've had a good season and a lot of great games, but we're still looking to have a finale where we put four quarters of effort into it and have a great game," Ohio defensive end Dak Notestine said. "We haven't quite accomplished that yet and that game against Kent State was tough. We're looking for a little redemption and to end the season on a good note."
The game matches two teams that have contrasting styles and strengths, and which have never played against each other.
Solich, whose Nebraska teams ran the option from 1998-2003, features a similar offense at Ohio. The Bobcats have averaged nearly 170 yards rushing this season and have scored 25 TDs on the ground. Quarterback Boo Jackson, has scored seven of the 22 touchdowns he's accounted for on the ground this season.
"We're definitely looking for them to run the football," Massaquoi said. "They run the option. You have to be disciplined on defense. They have a couple of monkey wrenches that they throw in there. They're coached by a great coach."
Ohio also fielded one of the top defenses in the MAC, allowing 332.7 yards and 21.8 points per game.
"The game is going to be decided between their defense and our offense," said Troy senior wideout Jerrel Jernigan. "Can they stop us or can we pass and run the ball on them like we've been doing all year?"
Troy coach Larry Blakeney, the school's all-time win leader with 160, has the Trojans throwing the ball all over the place and sometimes has Jernigan running out of the wildcat. They've piled up a lot of yards (441.1 per game) and points (32.9) to compensate for a defense that had only three players start all 12 regular season games.
Troy allowed 372 points this season, second most in school history. The Trojans overcame that thanks to the production of Jernigan and first-year quarterback Corey Robinson.
"We've got a freshman quarterback and he's doing an outstanding job," Jernigan said. "Corey throws the ball and all I do is catch it. He does most of the work."
Jernigan may be understating his importance. He has accounted for 1,080 yards and seven touchdowns from scrimmage, including 774 yards and five TDs receiving. He also has 600 yards and a TD on kick returns and 301 yards and a score on punt returns.
He is averaging 165 all-purpose yards a game.
Blakeney likes to get the ball in the hands of play-makers however he can, and that has not been lost on Solich.
"They have a lot of speed on their team and they utilize it very well," Solich said. "You know you've got your hands full."