Sam Khan Jr., ESPN Staff Writer 638d

Bowl win punctuates Troy's historic turnaround season

Back in Week 2, Troy went toe-to-toe with Clemson, then the No. 2 team in the country, and the natural national reaction was to wonder what was wrong with the Tigers, a popular preseason College Football Playoff pick, struggling to beat a Troy team that was 4-8 the year before.

While everything worked out for Clemson (the Tigers won that day and are now in the playoff), the scare Troy put into them in that 30-24 decision also proved to be foreshadowing for the Trojans, a team that was en route to one of the best turnarounds in 2016.

On Friday night, Troy put the finishing touches on a historic season, defeating Ohio 28-23 in the Dollar General Bowl to finish six wins better than it was in 2015 and log its first 10-win season since joining the FBS in 2001.

An early sequence in Friday's game seemed to indicate the type of night it was going to be. A 47-yard pass from Troy quarterback Brandon Silvers to Deondre Douglas set up a 1-yard Jordan Chunn touchdown run, and on the ensuing drive, Ohio quarterback Greg Windham threw an interception. It was the first of five turnovers the Bobcats committed, and Troy took advantage by scoring 21 points off those miscues.

The most impressive turnover Troy came up with was by senior linebacker Justin Lucas, who jumped to bat down a second-quarter Windham pass but intercepted it all in the same motion. That pick would lead to an 11-yard scoring pass from Silvers to Emanuel Thompson and a 21-10 lead.

While Ohio (8-6) inched back into the game, the Trojans (10-3) were content to slow things down in the fourth quarter, just enough to hang on to the win.

It closed out a season that saw some impressive highs for second-year coach Neal Brown and the Trojans. In November, they cracked the Associated Press top 25 for the first time in program history. They became the first team in Sun Belt Conference history to start the season 8-1. It seemed like the Trojans would be headed for a conference title.

Two losses in their final three regular-season games put those dreams to rest, but that didn't stop them from finishing the year on the right note. The six-win improvement they secured with Friday's win ties Colorado for the best in the FBS this year. (The Buffaloes also went from four wins to 10 but have a game remaining.)

Brown, who before taking over the program in 2015 was known as one of the brightest young offensive coordinators in the country following stints at Troy, Texas Tech and Kentucky, is showing himself to be one of the quality young coaches in the game, a ripe 36 years old and having been on five conference championship coaching staffs in his career.

Since Brown took over as Troy's head coach, the Trojans have scored 50 or more points five times, something they did only once in the 66 games before he got the job. They set attendance records both overall and in per-game average.

The team adopted the motto #RebuildTheWall in the Brown era, a nod to Greek mythology and the mighty wall that surrounded the city of Troy. In 2016, the Trojans rebuilt a strong wall that provides optimism for a bright future.

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