MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Troy Trojans have staged a major comeback.

A program that hasn't had a winning record since 2010 reached the season's midpoint already on the brink of bowl eligibility, leading the Sun Belt Conference and receiving Top 25 votes. The Trojans, who visit in-state rival South Alabama Thursday night, are off to easily their best start since moving up to the FBS level in 2001.

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Second-year coach Neal Brown started the season wanting his team to build confidence and continue improving from his 4-8 debut as a head coach. That's already been accomplished with the Trojans starting 5-1 and winning their first three Sun Belt games.

"Now, it's about handling prosperity," Brown said. "We're 5-1 but we have not reached any of our goals. We've got everything in front of us. We understand that our schedule only gets tougher as we go. And for the first time, the guys on our football team are winning.

"They've never had this experience. We're getting better crowds. The kids on campus are excited, so they're telling them and obviously their families are telling them how they're doing."

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The program hasn't seen much success since the 36-year-old Brown was major college football's youngest offensive coordinator. The Trojans captured their fifth straight Sun Belt title in 2010 and haven't had a winning record since.

Then longtime coach Larry Blakeney retired and his former underling was lured away from his job as Kentucky's offensive coordinator. Brown is the fourth-youngest FBS head coach.

He appears to have a program on the rise again that has won national titles in both the NAIA and Division II and was once a regular in the FCS playoffs. Now, the focus is on sustaining, especially against a South Alabama team that has already toppled Mississippi State and then-No. 19 San Diego State.

"With each win, energy grows, excitement grows, expectations grow," Brown said. "But your day to day really shouldn't. How you got to that point really shouldn't. That's a positive thing. This program deserves that, and this program has won at a high level for a long time.

"It deserves to be in that conversation. If we want to continue to do that, we've got to continue to handle these situations well."

The Trojans' most attention-getting performance came in their lone defeat. Troy scored two touchdowns in the final five minutes against No. 4 Clemson, but couldn't convert a final onside kick in a 30-24 defeat.

"We were really close and we didn't get the job done," said quarterback Brandon Silvers, who leads the Sun Belt with 14 touchdown passes. "It was a good feeling after that game. We definitely weren't supposed to win that game beforehand but we kind of put ourselves back on the map a little bit only losing by six to them."

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Troy then stuffed Southern Miss inside the 10 to preserve a 37-31 victory and has overcome poor starts to win at Idaho and against Georgia State on homecoming.

The Trojans lead the Sun Belt in 11 categories, including scoring and total offense and rush defense.

They lead the nation with 14 interceptions and one sack allowed and are second nationally in red zone defense, allowing opponents to score only 63.2 percent of the time after driving inside Troy's 20-yard line.

The result has been a terrific start for a team that had never opened better than 3-1 at the FBS level and now has grander ambitions.

"We're not done yet," Silvers said. "We're grateful for what we've done so far, but this season's far from over. We've got to keep on winning."

This article was written by John Zenor from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.