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COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
Sun Belt PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Larry Blakeney, 169-98-1 (22 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Kenny Edenfield | DEF. COORDINATOR: Wayne Bolt
If anything can help the Trojans rebound from two straight losing seasons — a first in coach Larry Blakeney’s 22 years — it’s the strong arm of Corey Robinson. The senior enters his fourth season as the starter as the nation’s active leader in passing attempts (1,402), completions (894) and yardage (10,258), and he’s the Sun Belt’s all-time leader in completions and yardage. Injuries kept Robinson on the sideline temporarily last year, but backup Deon Anthony completed 70 percent of his passes with nine scores in only 113 attempts. Quarterback is not a concern.
The problems lie elsewhere. The top three running backs are gone, and Anthony (390 yards) was the team’s second-leading rusher as the backup quarterback. The Trojans threw for almost twice as many yards as they ran for last year, and that was with the solid (and now departed) Shawn Southward taking handoffs. With converted 5'8" wideout Khary Franklin penciled in as the starting running back, look for the Trojans to throw to the backs even more this year.
Robinson does have a favorite target returning in Eric Thomas, who caught 55 passes last year. Blakeney is high on Chandler Worthy, a potential breakout performer in 2013.
Another big concern lies up front, where new position coach Jim Dye will have a new-look offensive line. Dye hopes to solve the issues on the left side of the line — which protects Robinson’s blind side — by shifting Terrence Jones, the starter at right tackle last year, to left tackle.
There is work to be done, with the 2012 Trojans ranking last in the league in total defense and interceptions (six) while recording only 13 sacks.
New defensive coordinator Wayne Bolt, who is back for his second stint with Troy, hopes to shake things up — and it starts in the front six in the Trojans’ 4-2-5 scheme. Tyler Roberts is making the move from outside linebacker to end, where his blitzing abilities will be a plus. Tackle Shermane TeArt, who started the first five games last season, is back from injury, which should help the run defense. Mark Wilson, who emerged late last season, will be the starter at middle linebacker.
The secondary needs to show improvement, and it should be able to do so with several experienced hands coming back. Safety Chris Pickett, the team’s top returning tackler, missed much of spring practice with an injury, but he should be ready to go in the fall. Camren Hudson, who started three games, is the other safety. Cornerback Chris Davis was second on the team with five pass breakups. Zach Miller, who started every game at cornerback, is not expected back due to academics.
The Trojans’ kicking game is as solid as any in the Sun Belt, with Will Scott hitting 17-of-21 field goals and averaging 41.0 yards per punt last year. Worthy’s quickness makes him dangerous as a return man. He averaged 22.0 yards per kickoff return in 2012.
Blakeney has 169 career wins at Troy, more than the rest of the current Sun Belt coaches combined at their respective schools. But the last two seasons have been very un-Trojan-like, especially after Troy had won or shared the league title the previous five years. Troy surrendered 29 or more points nine times in 2012 and was last in the league in red zone defense, prompting a retooling of the defensive staff and scheme.
With Robinson’s arm, the Trojans will be a threat on every offensive possession, but they won’t be in title contention unless the defense makes a quantum leap forward.