New Orleans-- The Troy Trojans come into the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl with a 10 and 2 record and on a 6-game win-streak. But from upsetting LSU to losing to rival South Alabama, it's been an up and down year for third-year Head Coach Neal Brown and his team.
"I think this is another challenge for us," Brown said. "LSU was a huge win obviously. The Arkansas State game 2 weeks ago, winning a conference championship was huge. How far have we matured as a program? Can we handle the success? Can we bounce-back after a huge win and put back-to-back performances together? So that's the challenge in front of us."
This marks Troy's 4th apperance in the New Orleans Bowl, but first since 2010. The Trojans are back to their winning ways since Neal took over the program in 2015, with their second-straight 10-win season-- an accomplishment Coach Brown intends on continuing.
"Very early in the process, our guys bought-in," Brown said. "And I think our culture that we really started shaping in that first year where we only won 4 games-- that culture has really spread and we've got a program that I think is on firm-footing for years in the future as well."
North Texas is in a similar situation under second-year head coach Seth Littrell. The Mean Green are making their 5th appearance in the New Orleans Bowl but first since 2004. Littrell stepped-in to his position turning-around a program that went 1 and 11 in 2015 to 5 and 8 last year and 9 and 4 this year.
"I think the biggest difference is just culture," Littrell said. "Being another year into our system and those relationships that we've developed with these players I think is crucial. I think that's been the biggest key to our success-- getting everybody on the same page, understanding what our core values are and being able to pull the rope in the same direction."
And while they did make a bowl last year, they were on the losing end. So for North Texas, hoisting that trophy on Saturday is the next step in their program's progress.
"Our number one goal this year was to win our bowl game," Littrell said. "That was the number one goal we set. That was something we didn't accomplish this past year. I think just building upon the program and understanding this is how we play. We want to compete for championships on a yearly basis and we want to win bowl games."
The R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl kicks-off at noon (CT) on Saturday, Dec. 16.