(Part 2 of a 12-part Sun Belt Conference preview series)
Returning 10 offensive starters and fresh off of its first winning season since 2010, Troy enters the season with heightened expectations.
Coming off of a 4-8 2015 campaign, the Trojans (10-3, 6-2) improved their victory total by six games in their second year under coach Neal Brown. Troy put up a fight in its only non-conference loss, a narrow 30-24 decision against eventual national champions Clemson in Week 2. Finishing 6-2 in league play, the Trojans went on to defeat Ohio 28-23 in the Dollar General Bowl.
Unlike last year, the Trojans aren't starting under the radar. Pursuing its first conference title since winning five straight from 2006-10, Troy was picked second behind Appalachian State in the Sun Belt coaches preseason Media Day poll. The Trojans handed eventual co-champ App State its only league loss last year, 28-24, but the two teams do not meet this season.
Three first-team All-Sun Belt performers return from an offense which led the conference in scoring (33.7 points per game) and passing (260.5 yards per game), finished second in total yardage (429.6 ypg) and ranked sixth in rushing (169.2 ypg).
Back to direct the offense for the fourth straight season is first-team All-Sun Belt senior quarterback Brandon Silvers, who threw for 3,180 yards with 23 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last fall.
Troy also returns its top running back in senior Jordan Chunn (279 carries, 1,288 yards, 16 TDs; 30 receptions, 228 yards) and top receiver in Emanuel Thompson (80 receptions, 820 yards, 6 TDs). Both earned first-team All-Conference acclaim.
Senior Josh Anderson (56 carries, 280 yards, 3 TDs) and Memphis transfer Jamarius Henderson will spell Jordan in the running game.
Complementing Thompson in the receiving corps are junior Deondre Douglas (60-740-6) and seniors Tevaris McCormick (35-456-3) and John Johnson (24-305-2).
Troy allowed only nine sacks — tops in the nation — but will have to overcome the loss of first-team All-Sun Belt left tackle Antonio Garcia (42 career starts). Drafted in the third round by the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, Garcia did not allow a sack all season.
Senior left guard Stevan Rowzee and junior center Deontae Crumitie are the veterans up front. Sophomore left tackle Kirk Kelley, a New Orleans John Ehret product, is slated to fill the vacancy at left tackle.
Troy has some keys spots to fill defensively following the loss of Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year Rashad Dillard (40 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, 11 quarterback hurries) at end and leading tackler William Lloyd (70 tackles, 8 TFL) at linebacker.
Statistically, the Trojans were third in the Sun Belt in points allowed (22.1 ppg), first against the run (120.2 ypg), seventh against the pass (246.4 ypg) and third in total defense (366.5 ypg).
Senior tackles Jamal Stadom (36 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 2 sacks) and Baron Poole II (21 tackles, 8 TFL, 3.5 sacks) will be joined up front by two new ends. Sophomore East Mississippi Community College transfer Rasool Clemons is expected to contribute on the edge.
Sophomore Zo Bridges (14 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 sacks) is the team's most experienced linebacker.
Four starters return in the secondary — senior nickel back Tyquae Russell (36 tackles, 2 TFL), senior cornerback Kamryn Melton (36 tackles, 2 INTs), senior strong safety Kris Weatherspoon (52 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 8 pass breakups, 1 INT) and junior free safety Cedarius Rookard (52 tackles, 3 INTs). Junior Blace Brown, a converted wide receiver, is the projected starter at the other corner.
The graduation of Ryan Kay, who attempted every field goal and handled every punt, leaves a void in the kicking game. Junior Bratcher Underwood takes over the place kicking duties after being limited to kickoffs.
Troy returns two of the Sun Belt's top return specialists. Sophomore Jabir Daughtry-Frye returned 20 kickoffs at a 27.9-yard clip with one TD en route to being named first-team All-Conference. Rookard returned 21 punts for an 8.2-yard average.
2017 TROY SCHEDULE
(All times Central and subject to change)
DATE OPPONENT TIME
Sept. 2 at Boise State 2:45 p.m.
Sept. 9 Alabama State 5 p.m.
Sept. 16 at New Mexico State* 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 Akron TBA
Sept. 30 at LSU TBA
Oct. 11 (Wed.) South Alabama * 7 p.m.
Oct. 18 at Georgia State* TBA
Oct. 28 Georgia Southern* TBA
Nov. 2 (Thurs.) Idaho* 8:15 p.m.
Nov. 11 at Coastal Carolina* TBA
Nov. 24 (Fri.) Texas State* TBA
Dec. 2 at Arkansas State* TBA