The Trojans rank No. 74 in Athlon's Top 130 for 2019
After a three-year run that produced 31 wins, a Sun Belt title and several high-profile upsets, Neal Brown left Troy for West Virginia. An another offensive-minded coach, former Auburn offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, has taken over and even though he has question marks to address on both sides of the ball, don't expect the Trojans to slip too far in the East Division standings.
Previewing Troy's Offense for 2019
At the conclusion of spring practice, all signs pointed (for the second year in a row) the quarterback situation was a dead heat between senior Kaleb Barker, who started the first six games in 2018 before suffering a torn ACL, and junior Sawyer Smith, who took nearly every snap over the second half of the season. However, Smith decided to transfer to Kentucky, leaving Barker as team's unquestioned starter going into the 2019 campaign.
Barker was the more efficient of the two quarterbacks in 2018, finishing with 13 total touchdowns to just two INTs before his injury; the Trojans averaged more than 10 points more per game in his starts than in Smith's.
The ground game is more settled. Senior B.J. Smith, a first-team All-Sun Belt pick in his first year as the feature back, should earn the lion's share of carries again behind four returning starters on the offensive line. The receiving corps, on the other hand, is almost a blank slate: Last year's top three wideouts are all gone, leaving a void that may be filled by newcomers.
Previewing Troy's Defense for 2019
Troy consistently fielded one of the Sun Belt's best defenses under departed coach Neal Brown, holding SBC opponents under 20 points per game each of the past three seasons. This year, for a unit that lost its leading tackler (Tron Folsom), best pass rusher (Hunter Reese), two All-SBC-level cornerbacks (Blace Brown and Marcus Jones) and first-team all-conference picks on both the front line (nose tackle Trevon Sanders) and the back (safety Cedarius Rookard), extending that streak might be setting the bar just a little high. But the drop-off likely will not be as steep as the exodus suggests.
For one, the scheme will remain largely intact with the promotion of a Brown holdover, Brandon Hall, to defensive coordinator. And attrition notwithstanding, there are still 10 players back on defense who started multiple games in 2018. Safety Melvin Tyus will anchor the secondary, linebacker Carlton Martial is back after a standout freshman season, while fellow linebacker Zo Bridges - a part-time starter in 2017 who missed all of last year - returns to lineup. Between a healthy Bridges at Bandit and senior ends Jarvis Hayes and Antione Barker, the league's most productive pass rush has the potential to retain its title.
Previewing Troy's Specialists for 2019
Marcus Jones' surprise transfer in the spring to Houston was a double whammy, forcing the Trojans to replace both a proven cornerback and one of the nation's most electric return men. Placekicking and punting duties will fall again to junior Tyler Sumpter, who went 8-of-11 last year on field goal attempts from 40 yards and beyond and averaged 45.1 yards on 55 punts.
The last three years under Brown, who left for West Virginia, were the best in school history, yielding 31 wins, a conference championship in 2017 and landmark upsets over LSU and Nebraska. Troy's winning percentage in that span (.795) matched UCF's as the best of any non-Power 5 program.
That said, it's hard to imagine a better long-term fit than Lindsey, an Alabama native with deep recruiting ties in the state as both a high school coach and an assistant at Auburn. It's also hard to imagine him inheriting a more solid foundation. Transition year or not, if the SBC East isn't on the line again in the regular-season finale against Appalachian State, it will be disappointing.
National Ranking: 74
(Top photo courtesy of Troy Athletics)