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Troy Football: 2018 Trojans Preview and Prediction

Hunter Reese, Troy Football

Hunter Reese, Troy Football

Troy came up just short of a breakthrough in 2016, narrowly missing out on both a major upset (at Clemson) and a conference title. In 2017, it made good on both of those promises, pulling off a midseason stunner at LSU and finishing atop the Sun Belt standings en route to a school record for wins as an FBS program. Instead of heading for greener pastures, Neal Brown is still in charge, and despite some notable attrition, the roster is hardly in rebuilding mode.

Previewing Troy Football's Offense for 2018

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2018 Athlon Sports College Football Preview Magazine

There's a bright neon "VACANCY" sign at quarterback, where four-year starter Brandon Silvers is gone after overseeing a 21-5 run over the past two seasons. The top candidates to replace him are junior Kaleb Barker and sophomore Sawyer Smith, neither of whom has seen significant time in his first two years on campus nor appeared to distinguish himself as the clear frontrunner in spring practice. Three-star freshman Gunnar Watson joins the mix this summer with a chance to make an immediate mark.

The rest of the skill positions will be in more familiar hands, especially receiver, where returning starters Deondre Douglas, Damion Willis and Sam Letton will be joined by Louisville transfer Traveon Samuel, a frequent target the past three seasons for Lamar Jackson. The ground game is less certain with the departure of Troy's all-time touchdown leader, Jordan Chunn, who led the team in rushing two of the past four years. But between Jamarius Henderson, B.J. Smith and Jabir Daughtry-Frye, there's no shortage of viable options to pick up the slack, and whoever emerges from the pack will be running behind four returning starters on an offensive line with a combined 72 career starts.

Previewing Troy Football's Defense for 2018

The Trojans led the SBC in both total and scoring defense in 2017 and led the nation in red zone defense. They also said goodbye to six full-time starters from that unit, leaving coordinator Vic Koenning with as many question marks as answers in his bid to uphold those standards.

The good news is that the returnees are all among the Sun Belt's best: Edge rusher Hunter Reese and cornerback Blace Brown -- both former walk-ons -- were first-team all-conference picks as first-year starters; nose tackle Trevon Sanders and linebacker Tron Folsom joined them on the second team. Senior safety Cedarius Rookard is the veteran of the group with 28 career starts. And even among the projected new starters, the only one who didn't see relevant action last season is safety Will Sunderland, who began his career as a blue-chip recruit at Oklahoma.

Previewing Troy Football's Specialists for 2018

There's an embarrassment of riches in the return game, headlined by sophomore Marcus Jones, who returned three kickoffs for TDs as a true freshman. But he'll have to hold off Daughtry-Frye, who finished No. 11 nationally in kick return average in 2016 before missing all of last year with an injury, and Samuel, who returned kicks for Louisville. Punter Tyler Sumpter took over placekicking duties midway through last season, finishing 7-for-9 on field goals, although he didn't attempt a kick from beyond 40 yards.

Final Analysis

The schedule opens with two non-conference heavies in the first month, Boise State and Nebraska, and ends with a trip to fellow SBC East favorite Appalachian State. In between, though, the Trojans will likely be favored in every game, putting a third consecutive 10-win season very much within reach.

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NATIONAL RANKING: 76
SUN BELT EAST PREDICTION: 1