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Opinion: Trojans nowhere near their potential

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Scott Watkins

Staff Writer

The Troy football team is heading into the offseason having completed the most successful season in the school’s FBS history. After securing the first 11-win season since the program began Division I play in 2001, has Troy hit its ceiling?

Here’s the short answer: not even close.

The long answer starts in week one of the 2017 season when Troy traveled to the Northwest to play the Group of Five’s premier example of sustained success in Boise State.

Troy’s offense was stifled for nearly the entire game. The Trojans put together their best drive of the contest late in the third quarter but fumbled the ball into the end zone for a touchback. A Troy score would have tied the game at 17, but the Broncos went on to win 24-13.

Fast forward six weeks to mid-October, and Troy is one of the hottest teams in the country thanks to an upset win over a nationally ranked LSU team. The Trojans followed that up with a nationally televised flop at home against rival South Alabama.

What’s the point of bringing up those two games? Both games were winnable, and they represented Troy’s only two losses on the year.

Troy accomplished its goal of winning a Sun Belt championship, but an undefeated season was well within reach. The new goal for the Trojan football team is a perfect season and a trip to a New Year’s Six bowl.

No Sun Belt team has ever finished with a spotless record or represented the Group of Five in the New Year’s Six. The conference, however, is stronger than it’s ever been, and the talent surge is being led by Troy.

Troy’s defense was among the best the Sun Belt has ever seen statistically. In the past 10 seasons, only last year’s Appalachian State team allowed fewer than the 18.5 points per game Troy allowed in 2017.

The vaunted linebacker group that spearheaded the Trojans’ defense is set to return 78.2 percent of its tackles in 2018.

Veteran defensive backs Blace Brown and Cedarius Rookard will continue to lurk in the backfield while rising star Marcus Jones will likely move outside from his nickel spot and replace Jalen Harris.

Not only is there plenty of returning talent on defense, there are several positions of strength on the offensive side of the ball as well.

Even though Troy is graduating several star players, the Trojans are still in strong shape with who is returning. This is a testament to just how quickly Troy Head Coach Neal Brown has brought in and developed talent.

Gone are receivers Tevaris McCormick, Emanuel Thompson and John Johnson. Along with them go 98 receptions from last season alone.

This loss may seem problematic, but Troy shouldn’t miss a beat. Leading receivers Deondre Douglas and Damion Willis will be returning along with Tray Eafford, who had a breakout freshman season after recording 312 receiving yards in 2017.

To throw more talent on the stockpile, Troy received word on Tuesday that former Louisville wide receiver Traveon Samuel will be transferring to Troy and is eligible to play immediately. The speedy receiver is adding 1,633 all-purpose yards to the Trojan receiving corps.

At running back, Troy is graduating one of the most prolific running backs in Sun Belt history in Jordan Chunn. His production, however, can be replaced in year one of the post-Chunn era.

With Josh Anderson also graduated, a new stable of backs is set to emerge. Former Memphis Tiger Jamarius Henderson possesses a dangerous combination of speed and elusiveness while junior college transfer Kevin Perkins can provide the kind of hard running between the tackles Anderson gave Troy.

Also in the mix is the speed back Jabir Frye. Frye missed all of 2017 after redshirting and can provide the Trojans with a perimeter threat.

Perhaps the biggest question surrounding Troy is at quarterback. Quarterbacks Kaleb Barker and Sawyer Smith will battle to take the spot Brandon Silvers left. Barker can give Troy an option look while Smith provides the Trojans with a pocket presence.

Regardless of who takes the first snap of 2018, he will be surrounded by a strong supporting cast.

An undefeated season is not beyond the realm of possibility. The non-conference schedule is slightly easier in 2018. Boise State will make a return trip in a monumental home-opener, and LSU is replaced with a road game at a new-look Nebraska team.

As we all settle in for a long offseason, Troy fans can take solace in knowing an even brighter day is on the horizon.

The Trojans are not rebuilding in 2018 but are merely reloading for another run atop the Sun Belt.