Countdown to Kickoff: Troy enters 2018 trying to replicate last year's success
After leading Troy to a 10-3 season in 2016 and an 11-2 campaign in 2017, head coach Neal Brown still leads the Trojans.
Despite 13 openings at Power 5 schools, Brown remained at Troy despite leading the Trojans to two of their best seasons in program history.
Now, Brown and Troy look to continue their strong run in the Sun Belt in 2018.
But the Trojans will have to fill a major hole at quarterback. Troy lost its four-year starting signal-caller Brandon Silvers, who threw for 3,290 yards and 17 touchdowns during his senior campaign in 2017.
Neither quarterback the Trojans will turn to has notable experience. Junior Kaleb Barker and sophomore Sawyer Smith are battling for the starting role. Barker only threw 13 passes and completed nine of them for 143 yards and one touchdown. Smith didn’t record a pass attempt last season. Troy could also give incoming freshman quarterback Gunnar Watson an opportunity to win the job. Watson comes to Troy as a 3-star recruit.
Additionally, the Trojans saw their all-time touchdown leader leave after his four years in Jordan Chunn, who ran for 774 yards and 10 touchdowns during his senior season. But Troy has two solid options in junior running backs Jamarius Henderson and B.J. Smith. Henderson rushed for 355 yards and four touchdowns on 45 carries, while Smith recorded 101 yards and two touchdowns last season. Jabir Daughtry-Frye could also be thrown in the mix despite only tallying one carry last season.
Luckily for whoever wins the starting quarterback job, he’ll have plenty of targets to throw to. The Trojans have starting senior wide receivers Deondre Douglas and Damion Willis and starting junior tight end Sam Letton returning. Douglas narrowly recorded more receiving yards than Willis in 2017. Douglas tallied 628 yards, while Willis finished the year with 620. Douglas added four touchdowns and Willis had three. Letton had 115 yards and one touchdown on 11 receptions.
The Trojans also have depth on their offensive line. Troy has four returners back, including senior center Deontae Crumitie, junior guard Tristan Crowder and junior tackle G.L. Gaston.
Defensively, Troy was the best team in the Sun Belt in scoring defense and total defense in 2017. But this season the Trojans will have to replace six starters. On the D-line, they’ll have defensive end Hunter Reese and nose tackle Trevon Sanders returning. Reese amassed 35 total tackles, including 14 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks, one interception and one fumble recovery. Sanders had 22 tackles, including five tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
At linebacker, junior Tron Folsom is back after leading the Trojans in tackles last year. Folsom recorded 80 tackles, including nine tackles for loss, two quarterback hurries and one interception.
In the secondary, senior safety Cedarius Rookard leads a group that has seen plenty of action. Rookard was the second-leading tackler on the team with 74.
Troy’s defensive production may take a step back with so many new starters, but the Trojans still could field a strong defense in the Sun Belt.
ESPN’s Football Power Index predicts Troy will take a leap backward in 2018. The Trojans are projected to finish at 8-5.
Troy begins the 2018 season against Boise State. The Trojans get a reprieve in week two against Florida A&M before taking on Nebraska in week three.
Troy kicks off Sun Belt play on the road against Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 22. The Trojans return home to face conference foes Coastal Carolina and Georgia State. They play their final non-conference game against Liberty on Oct. 13. Troy plays South Alabama, Louisiana and Georgia Southern before taking on Texas State in the penultimate game of the regular season.
The Trojans and Bobcats meet on Saturday, Nov. 17 at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Troy handed the Bobcats a 62-9 loss last season. ESPN’s FPI gives the Trojans an 87 percent chance to pick up another win against Texas State.