Sun Belt

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#126 ULM Warhawks

NATIONAL FORECAST

#126

Sun Belt PREDICTION

#11

HEAD COACH: Matt Viator, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Matt Kubik | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mike Collins

After going just 2-11 last season, ULM dismissed Todd Berry and hired McNeese State head coach Matt Viator from the FCS ranks. The Warhawks return plenty of experience on offense, but it was one of the nation's least productive units, while the defense will be undergoing a complete overhaul. It likely will be another tough season in Monroe, La.

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Previewing ULM's Offense for 2016


New coach Matt Viator inherits an offense with seven returning starters, but they accomplished little last season. The Warhawks ranked last in the Sun Belt in scoring (21.0 ppg), total offense (310.8 ypg) and turnovers committed (30).

There are at least some building blocks for a quality passing attack. Quarterback Garrett Smith passed for 2,033 yards, 17 TDs and 11 interceptions last season, and he gets back his top two receivers in Marcus Green (63 receptions, 698 yards) and Ajalen Holley (60 for 709). ULM will utilize heavier tight end sets to expand the passing attack and bolster the ground game. Tight end Alec Osborne should be a weapon after missing the 2015 season due to injury.

The team’s top two rushers return in Ben Luckett (509 yards) and Kaylon Watson (336), and Smith is also a running threat. But all-purpose speedster Tyler Cain, who missed last season with an injury, will move to starting running back to spice up a ground game that was held under 100 yards rushing seven times last season. Viator had strong rushing attacks at McNeese State, so that should be a priority in year one at ULM.

, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing ULM’s Defense for 2016


Mike Collins, a former ULM player, defensive coordinator and 2002 interim head coach, returns to Monroe as the defensive coordinator. He has changed the scheme from a 3-3-5 to a 4-2-5, which still takes advantage of an experienced secondary. Safeties Tre’ Hunter, Wesley Thompson and Roland Jenkins, along with cornerbacks Lenzy Pipkins, Marcus Hubbard and Aaron Townsend, give ULM talent and depth on the back end.

But there are big question marks otherwise, as the entire front six must be replaced. ULM took a big hit when playmaking defensive end Ben Banogu (team-high 14.5 tackles for a loss) transferred to TCU. In his absence, Caleb Tucker could be an X-factor. The former Houston transfer was disruptive in short stints last season, and he will be key as an undersized, athletic defensive end. Other former backups also will have to come of age if ULM is to grow any teeth in its run defense or pass rush. For example, sophomore Shaquille Warren steps into a starting role on the line after making only one tackle last season. 

If the youngsters can make an impact up front, it could free up the veteran secondary to make plays. If they can’t, then there will be some major growing pains for the rebuilt defense.

Related: 

Previewing ULM's Specialists for 2016


Craig Ford made 9-of-14 field goals in his freshman season, and he is the obvious choice at placekicker. Freshman walk-on Alex Prince is likely the best option at punter. Green is an experienced kick returner.

Final Analysis
 

Viator isn’t used to losing. With a 78–33 record over 10 years at McNeese State, he remains the only coach in Southland Conference history with at least eight years on the job to never have a losing season. But in traveling 200 miles north, Viator takes over a ULM program coming off a 2–11 record, its worst record since 2003. To make it work in Year 1, he must tweak the offense in the right way, find some defensive playmakers quickly and hit a couple of home runs with his first recruiting class.

To make the task even tougher, ULM has only five home games, plus daunting road trips to Oklahoma and Auburn in the first month of the season. The combination of a new coaching staff and unproven players says this could be a late-blooming team. If so, there will be only two home games in the second half of the season to show that progress. If Viator can pull off a .500 record in his debut season, he’ll be a Sun Belt Coach of the Year candidate.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#122 Texas State Bobcats

NATIONAL FORECAST

#122

Sun Belt PREDICTION

#10

HEAD COACH: Everett Withers, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Brett Elliott | DEF. COORDINATOR: Randall McCray

Believed to be on a program on the upswing, Texas State finished a disappointing 3-9 last season. Head coach Dennis Franchione was replaced by Everett Withers, who is tasked with getting the Bobcats back on track. With just eight returning starters, Withers will have every opportunity to mold this program to his liking. But is Texas State in line for a quick turnaround or another finish near the bottom of the Sun Belt standings?

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Previewing Texas State’s Offense for 2016


Everett Withers has already had to dodge this question: Who’s your No. 1 quarterback? As for his response, well, it’s simple: You have to wait until late August for the answer. 

The first-year head man, who replaced Dennis Franchione at Texas State after the latter retired last December, has said that every spot on the depth chart is up for grabs, including the starting quarterback.

On the surface, incumbent Tyler Jones would appear to have a leg up on the competition; the senior has eclipsed 3,000 total yards in each of the past two seasons. Yet, with Eddie Printz, a graduate transfer from Missouri, and redshirt freshman L.G. Williams hot on Jones’ heels, the race probably won’t be settled until a week before the Bobcats take the field at Ohio University on Sept. 3. 

While the quarterback battle will hog the headlines, Texas State has as many questions, if not more, at tailback. The Bobcats certainly have quantity at the position (Nick Bingham, Stedman Mayberry, Tyler Siudzinski and Anthony Taylor along with incoming freshman Tyler Tutt). The quality of those tailbacks is where the uncertainty lies.

Regardless of who’s under center and who’s toting the football, new offensive coordinator Brett Elliott has made it clear that Texas State will remain an up-tempo attack. After averaging 78.6 and 77.2 snaps in 2014 and 2015, respectively, the Bobcats plan to surpass those numbers this season.

Related:

Previewing Texas State’s Defense for 2016

, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

There’s nowhere to go but up for this group. Texas State ranked 124th in the nation in total defense (521.8 ypg) and 120th in scoring defense (39.2 ppg). Defensive coordinator Randall McCray hopes that a change in formation (3-4 in 2016 compared to 4-2-5 in 2015) and an emphasis on “running to the football” will turn things around. 

For the Bobcats to improve defensively, they have to do a better job of creating takeaways. In 2015, Texas State had to wait until Game No. 9 (Georgia State) to record its first interception of the season. In all, the Bobcats finished with 14 takeaways (11 fumble recoveries, three interceptions).

McCray’s toughest task prior to the season opener is in finding a dominant nose tackle, arguably the most important position in the 3-4. Dallas McClarty is a candidate for the job, but look for freshmen Ramon Readus and John Lilly to challenge the senior.

Previewing Texas State’s Specialists for 2016


Brandon McDowell showed with his kick-six touchdown against South Alabama last season that he is a home run threat on special teams. Lumi Kaba the punter was great, but Lumi Kaba the placekicker wasn’t. Kaba pinned opponents inside the 20 on 20 different occasions last season. Yet, the junior’s field goal kicking left something to be desired (10-of-18). 

Final Analysis
 

Before last season’s 3–9 clunker, Texas State was a program on the rise. After recording four wins in 2012, the Bobcats’ debut FBS season, and upping that total to seven two seasons later, what transpired in 2015 was unexpected, and that’s putting it mildly. Withers, who has said he wants to bring a new brand of football to Texas State (hence the hashtag #PartyInTheEndZone), guides a football program that is at a crossroads. 

Best-case scenario? The Bobcats show that last season was merely a speed bump and make positive inroads toward 2017 by going to a bowl game. Worst case scenario? Texas State slips further behind, which is entirely possible given the lack of talent in some key areas on both sides of the ball. 

If Texas State can weather the early storm of a tough non-conference schedule and take advantage of a favorable Sun Belt slate down the stretch, Withers’ team could reach six wins and secure the first bowl bid in program history.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#120 New Mexico State Aggies

NATIONAL FORECAST

#120

Sun Belt PREDICTION

#9

HEAD COACH: Doug Martin, 7-29 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Doug Martin | DEF. COORDINATOR: Frank Spaziani

Doug Martin has just seven wins in his three seasons at , but the Aggies should be able to improve on 2015's four victories. Offense has been Martin's calling card and even with just four starters returning on that side of the ball don't be surprised if NMSU has one of the more productive attacks in the Sun Belt. The defense has a new coordinator calling the shots and plenty of room for improvement.

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Previewing New Mexico State’s Offense for 2016


New Mexico State’s offense improved across the board in 2015 as head coach Doug Martin assumed the play-calling duties. The Aggies were fifth in scoring in the Sun Belt Conference at 28.6 points per game, eclipsing 30 points six times after reaching 30 points just three times in 2014. The offense revolves around junior running back Larry Rose III, who finished seventh in the country in rushing yards per game (137.6) to go with 14 touchdowns. The Texas native topped the 200-yard mark three times last season. While the offense will certainly feature Rose, NMSU added depth in the offensive backfield with San Jose State transfer King Burke.

NMSU returns some experience on the offensive line, but the Aggies will need to settle on a quarterback. Junior Tyler Rogers passed for 966 yards and seven touchdowns with three interceptions after throwing 23 interceptions in 2014. Rogers’ season ended with a broken left thumb (non-throwing) in the fourth game of the season. He will have competition this fall, most notably from Southern Miss graduate transfer Tyler Matthews, a former four-star recruit who originally signed with TCU in 2012. 

Teldrick Morgan left the program after leading the Aggies in receptions the past two seasons. The Aggies’ leading returning receiver is Tyrian Taylor, a former junior college transfer who had 691 receiving yards last season. NMSU added three more junior college receivers in February.

, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing New Mexico State’s Defense for 2016


Martin hired his former boss, Frank Spaziani, to lead the Aggies defense in 2015. Martin was the offensive coordinator under Spaziani in 2012 at Boston College. Spaziani inherits a unit that allowed 45.0 points and 522.3 yards per game, both among the worst in the nation last season. 

The strength of the Aggies defense remains its linebackers, led by senior Rodney Butler (weak side), junior Derek Ibekwe (middle) and sophomore Terrill Hanks, who was third on the team with 81 tackles and had three interceptions as a true freshman.

The Aggies have been an undersized unit up front and will be inexperienced in the secondary, where Spaziani implements a Cover-4 scheme. NMSU signed five interior defensive linemen and six defensive backs in February to help address a glaring need.

NMSU proved to be adept at takeaways last year with 12 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries.

Spaziani has his work cut out for him, but if he can turn the Aggies from bad to mediocre on defense in 2016, NMSU should improve on its three wins from a year ago.

Related: 

Previewing New Mexico State’s Specialists for 2016


There has not been much in the way of returns in recent years — NMSU averaged just 16.7 yards per kickoff return and 8.3 yards per punt return in 2015 — but the Aggies have addressed their kicking game. Freshman placekicker Parker Davidson was 10-of-17 on field goals last year with three kicks over 40 yards. NMSU signed punter Payton Theisler in February to address what was an obvious weakness.

Final Analysis
 
New Mexico State has just two years remaining in the Sun Belt Conference before an unknown football future. Martin heads into his fourth year at NMSU with his most talented team, led by a core group of juniors that has increased the competitiveness of the program. NMSU lost three games in 2015 by a touchdown or less. To take another step forward in the Sun Belt, the Aggies will need better quarterback play to complement Rose on offense and for the defense to make significant improvement under Spaziani’s watch. A bowl game is probably still out of reach, but New Mexico State could flirt with a .500 record in league play.



COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#119 Idaho Vandals

NATIONAL FORECAST

#119

Sun Belt PREDICTION

#8

HEAD COACH: Paul Petrino, 6-29 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Kris Cinkovich | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mike Breske

improved from one win in 2014 to four last season, and the Vandals gave up leads in two other games that would have made them bowl eligible. Paul Petrino has 13 starters returning from a team that's looking to take care of some unfinished business and get Idaho back to the postseason for the first time since 2009.

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Previewing Idaho’s Offense for 2016


Junior quarterback Matt Linehan made great strides during his sophomore season, increasing his accuracy (63.1 percent) and number of touchdowns (16) while reducing the number of interceptions (11) thrown. The son of Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan will rely on a pair of senior tight ends in Buck Cowan and Deon Watson, who combined for 90 catches and 11 touchdowns last season. Watson also is expected to play some wide receiver, which should create mismatches in the secondary.

Callen Hightower, who caught 57 passes a year ago, is the top returning wideout, though Jacob Sannon and David Ungerer are back from injuries and should be in the mix with Reuben Mwehla and Jante Boston on the outside.

The strength of the offense lies in the offensive line, which returns four starters. Center Steven Matlock is the leader, while 6'6", 322-pound Jordan Rose is a force at tackle. Idaho reduced its sacks allowed in 2015 by 12 from the previous season, and lowering that number again will only help Linehan and the passing game.

The most interesting position will be running back, where four players — Aaron Duckworth, Isaiah Saunders, Denzal Brantley and true freshman Dylan Thigpen — will vie to replace bruising 1,000-yard rusher Elijhaa Penny. If the Vandals can generate a consistent run game to complement their passing attack, this is an offense that can be very dangerous.

, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing Idaho's Defense for 2016


The good news is that Idaho returns 12 players who made at least one start. But the Vandals lost leading tackler Broc Westlake and dynamic playmaker Quinton Bradley. The unit ranked 123rd in scoring defense and 118th in total defense, so there is plenty of room to improve. Idaho needs to generate a pass rush to give its secondary a chance against the many pass-happy offenses it will face this season.

Safety Russell Siavii is the only returning player who had more than one interception in 2015, though the secondary should be bolstered by the return of Jayshawn Jordan from an injury. 

Sophomore linebacker Kaden Elliss had a monster freshman season, recording 83 tackles while starting all 12 games. He’s expected to be the focal point on defense, getting help from linebacking mates Tony Lashley and Ed Hall.

Tueni Lupeamanu anchors a defensive line that had trouble stopping the run last year.

Many players saw action on defense last season because of injuries. That experience should make the defense better, though forcing turnovers likely will be key for a team that recorded only 17 takeaways last season.

Related: 

Previewing Idaho’s Specialists for 2016


Senior Austin Rehkow handles both kicking and punting, and he’s one of the best in the country. As a freshman in 2013, he led the nation in punting average and was twice a finalist for the Ray Guy Award. He also made 23-of-27 field goal attempts last season. Idaho’s other special teams units all ranked in the bottom 10 nationally. 

Final Analysis
 

The Vandals just missed a .500 season in 2015 — they blew huge leads in losses at South Alabama and New Mexico State that would have given them a 6–6 record — and a postseason appearance. “It’s a goal we should accomplish this year, no question,” head coach Paul Petrino says. “I think it’s a year we can take a big step forward.”

The Vandals are looking for their first winning season since 2009 and have a shot if Linehan’s efficiency trajectory keeps climbing and he gets help from unproven but talented skill players. Idaho’s margin for error isn’t very large, so the Vandals must stay healthy and catch a break or two to reach a bowl game for just the third time in school history.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#110 Georgia State Panthers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#110

Sun Belt PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Trent Miles, 7-30 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Luke Huard | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jesse Minter

A strong finish resulted in bowl eligibility, a first for a Georgia State program in just its third season as an FBS member. The challenge for Trent Miles' team in 2016 is to build on that momentum and capitalize on its experience (16 returning starters) with the goal of emerging as a legitimate contender in the Sun Belt.

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Previewing Georgia State’s Offense for 2016


Replacing a quarterback in Nick Arbuckle, who set a Sun Belt record with 4,368 passing yards last season, won’t be easy. But the return of six starters including the majority of the other skill players should help the Panthers remain among the most productive offenses in the league. 

“We’re going to try to get our system to fit around our talent,” coach Trent Miles says. “We’re very talented at receiver, tight end and running back. Our quarterbacks are talented, they just haven’t played for us.” 

Conner Manning, who barely played at Utah, enters as a graduate transfer into a quarterback competition with last year’s backup Emiere Scaife and redshirt freshman Aaron Winchester. Regardless of who emerges, Georgia State boasts one of the best receiver duos in the league with senior Robert Davis (61 receptions, 980 yards) and sophomore Penny Hart, who led the league with 5.5 receptions and 84.5 yards receiving per game. 

The Panthers didn’t put a huge emphasis on running the ball last year, ranking last in the league at 96.9 yards per game. But they do bring back all eight players who had more than one carry and might focus more attention there as they break in a new quarterback.

, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing Georgia State’s Defense for 2016


Much of Georgia State’s turnaround can be attributed to its defense, which improved from last in 2014 to fourth in the Sun Belt in total yards per game. There was also a major difference in takeaways, as the Panthers forced 14 more turnovers last season than the year before. Led by 33-year old coordinator Jesse Minter — the son of former Cincinnati head coach and current Georgia State defensive line coach Rick Minter — GSU’s defense should be even better in 2016 with nine starters and all but one player in its front seven rotation returning. 

Senior defensive end Shawanye Lawrence is a quintessential example of how Georgia State has built the program. After starting as a 17-year old freshman, he’s developed into a 6'4", 270-pound senior who keyed a 122-yards-per-game improvement against the run last year. 

The Panthers are solid at both cornerback positions with junior Chandon Sullivan, who started as a true freshman, and sophomore Jerome Smith, who led the team with 11 pass breakups. Losing Tarris Batiste, who was a rock at safety, leaves a hole at a key position. 

“I feel good about our secondary and our front,” Miles says. “We’ve got a couple young guys at linebacker that have been in the system that need to step up and get going.” 

Related: 

Previewing Georgia State’s Specialists for 2016


The Panthers face a major challenge in replacing Wil Lutz, who handled their field-goal kicking, punting and kickoffs. Barring a late roster addition, redshirt freshman Brandon Wright will begin as the favorite to assume those duties, but he’s never appeared in a game. Sophomore receiver Marquan Greene did a solid job last year as kickoff return specialist, averaging 24.3 yards with a touchdown, and he’ll handle punts, too. 

Final Analysis


Winning their final four Sun Belt games to reach bowl eligibility for the first time was a major boost for a program that had been 1–23 in Miles’ first two seasons. Now the coach believes the Panthers are poised to take the next step and get in the conference title mix as they build depth and develop talent. 

“You don’t go from no football to a bowl game in six years that easily,” Miles says. “It takes a lot of work and building. Part of the deal is finally believing you can do it, and once our guys got the confidence factor they played good football. I don’t feel we’re very far away from being a program that can compete every year.”




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#107 UL Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns

NATIONAL FORECAST

#107

Sun Belt PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Mark Hudspeth, 36-16 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jorge Munoz | DEF. COORDINATOR: Charlie Harbison, Melvin Smith

Last season marked the first time in head coach Mark Hudspeth's five-year tenure that  did not win nine games or play in the New Orleans Bowl. The Ragin' Cajuns will look to rebound from a 4-8 showing by leaning on its experience (14 returning starters) and the unexpected return of their best player.

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Previewing UL Lafayette’s Offense for 2016
 

Last year’s starting quarterback, Brooks Haack, transferred to Northwestern State for his final year of eligibility, and the top backup, senior Jalen Nixon, converted to running back in the spring. That left sophomore Jordan Davis, who showed enough in roughly five quarters of action to close the season to claim the title of de facto starter entering 2016. At 6'3", 205 pounds, Davis boasts the kind of size and athleticism that was sorely missing last year with Haack largely confined to the pocket. 

The offense will continue to revolve around versatile running back Elijah McGuire, who enters his senior campaign as the only active FBS player with at least 3,000 yards rushing and 1,000 receiving. His productivity suffered a bit in 2015 — his yards-per-touch average fell from an eye-popping 8.9 over his first two seasons to 5.6 as a junior — partly due to his increased workload. But that was reflective of the offense as a whole, which saw its scoring average in conference games plummet even more dramatically, down by more than a touchdown per game. And the departure of All-Sun Belt receiver Jamal Robinson doesn’t bode well for reversing that trend. Either the Cajuns need more big plays from veteran targets Al Riles and Gabe Fuselier, or someone from a group of touted second-year wideouts will be counted on to emerge ahead of schedule.

Related:

Previewing UL Lafayette’s Defense for 2016

, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

The defense struggled in every respect in its first season under coordinator Melvin Smith, yielding at least 400 yards in all eight losses and at least 32 points in all but one. Not surprisingly, then, even with seven returning starters, the overriding theme in 2016 is discovering new blood.

The leading returning tackler, junior Tracy Walker, moved from safety to linebacker in the spring; all-conference cornerback Savion Brown shifted to safety; and the incoming recruiting class targeted junior college defenders with a chance to contribute right away at defensive end (Jarvis Jeffries), defensive tackle (Trevara Miller, Kevon Perry), cornerback (Artez Williams) and safety (Denarius Howard). The secondary also expects to welcome back a familiar face, Simeon Thomas, who filled Brown’s starting role in the spring after missing all of 2014 and ’15 due to academics.

Regardless of the personnel, one of Smith’s top priorities in the fall will be finding a way to generate more turnovers. The Ragin’ Cajuns managed just 11 takeaways last year, fewest in the Sun Belt. The most direct route to improving that number is improving the pass rush, a mandate that will fall largely to Jeffries or promising sophomore Mario Osborne.

Previewing UL Lafayette’s Specialists for 2016


Kicker Stevie Artigue was hit-or-miss as a true freshman, and despite flashes of impressive leg strength, the misses added up: Altogether, Artigue connected on just eight field goals, fewest of any regular Sun Belt kicker, and was just 6-of-13 beyond 30 yards. Fellow freshman Steven Coutts, a native Australian, fared somewhat better on punts, allowing returns on just 15 of his 59 attempts.

Final Analysis


Last year’s 4–8 finish was the first wobble under Mark Hudspeth, whose first four years on the job resulted in identical 9–4 records capped by four consecutive victories in the New Orleans Bowl. The stumble is not nearly enough to affect Hudspeth’s job security — prior to his arrival the Ragin’ Cajuns had never played in any bowl — and in the short term, McGuire’s decision to pass on the NFL Draft gives him a recognizable cornerstone around which to rebuild. The Cajuns also dodged a potential bowl ban this winter stemming from NCAA violations in which Hudspeth wasn’t implicated. If Davis scratches his potential in his first year as the starting quarterback, ULL has a chance of returning to its familiar place among the Sun Belt frontrunners.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#102 Troy Trojans

NATIONAL FORECAST

#102

Sun Belt PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Neal Brown, 4-8 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Kenny Edenfield, Matt Moore | DEF. COORDINATOR: Vic Koenning

A few more fortunate bounces and breaks and may have gone bowling in Neal Brown's first season as head coach. Instead, Brown and his coaching staff welcome back 14 starters from a team that went 4-8 last season and is looking to take the next step forward this fall.

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Previewing Troy’s Offense for 2016 
 

When he was on in 2015, quarterback Brandon Silvers was on: In Troy’s four wins, Silvers connected on 13 touchdown passes without an interception, and the Trojans scored at least 41 points in all four games. The rest of the time? Not so much. In his other seven starts, Silvers managed just five touchdowns against seven picks, and the Trojans exceeded 21 points just once. This time around, Silvers will be a junior with 22 career starts under his belt, much too far along to write off as growing pains the kind of turbulence that plagued him as an underclassman.

With more consistency under center, the pieces are in place for an attack that’s at least efficient, if still not very explosive. Running back Jordan Chunn, who accounted for more than 1,000 yards and 20 touchdowns rushing in 2013-14 as a backup, is healthy again after missing almost all of 2015 to a broken collarbone. Four regulars from last year’s wide receiver rotation (John Johnson, Emanuel Thompson, Deondre Douglas, and Clark Quisenberry) were pushed in the spring by three new arrivals from the junior college ranks. Five linemen are back who logged at least six starts as part of an ever-evolving front, including implacable left tackle Antonio Garcia, who’s logged 24 straight. 

Even without a proven big-play threat, there are too many options to expect a rerun of last year, when Troy finished next-to-last in the Sun Belt in total offense.

, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing Troy’s Defense for 2016
 

All-conference defensive end Tyler Roberts is gone, leaving a pass-rushing vacancy the Trojans will attempt to fill by moving fifth-year senior Terris Lewis from middle linebacker to Bandit. The new middle backer is senior Justin Lucas, whose promotion will place him alongside a pair of former junior college teammates, William Lloyd and Demetrius Cain, who played together (and won two national championships) at East Mississippi Community College prior to transferring to Troy last year. 

Between the linebackers, linemen Rashad Dillard and Baron Poole II, cornerbacks Josh Marshall and Jalen Rountree, and incoming safety Kris Weatherspoon, as many as eight potential defensive starters arrived via the juco route.

In addition to Weatherspoon, the secondary will also benefit from the talents of newly eligible Auburn transfer Kamryn Melton, who wasted no time assuming a starting cornerback role in the spring after sitting out 2015.


Related: 

Previewing Troy’s Specialists for 2016 
 

The incumbent punter, Ryan Kay, is poised to add placekicker duties as well, a role he held as a sophomore before yielding last year to the departed Jed Solomon. That ought to work out just fine: Kay connected on 10-of-14 field goal attempts in 2014, including 5-of-5 from beyond 40 yards. The bigger concern is replacing All-SBC return man Teddy Ruben.

Final Analysis 
 

Troy hasn’t posted a winning record since 2010, and its first season under coach Neal Brown offered only fleeting hints of progress. The Trojans were 0–3 in games decided by six points or fewer, suggesting that all that separated them from the postseason was a handful of plays at the margins. The biggest key to closing that gap in 2016 is continued growth by Silvers, who has a chance to put up gaudy numbers in a system that, given Brown’s roots in the Air Raid, is specifically designed to produce them. But that will also mean identifying a go-to option or two from a fairly pedestrian group of backs and receivers, none of whom has given much indication (yet) of progressing beyond his status as a role player. Perhaps Chunn will emerge with the backfield to himself for the first time, or one of the new junior college receivers. Otherwise, narrowly qualifying for a mid-December bowl game might be the best-case scenario.




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