After an offseason of coaching changes and players transferring, Troy football aims to recapture the Sun Belt Conference title and keep its 10-win season streak going.
Troy returns key starters on both sides of the ball, but the team will have to fill in spots left by players who graduated or transferred after last season.
On offense, the Trojans have senior quarterback Kaleb Barker, who is coming off an ACL tear from the middle of last season.
Before the injury, Barker was posting one of the most efficient seasons in Troy history. Barker set the single-season record for completion percentage at 73%. Accompanying him in the backfield will be senior running back B. J. Smith, who rushed for 1,186 yards and 13 touchdowns in his breakout junior season.
One of the biggest X-factors will be the wide receiving core.
After last season, Troy lost seniors Damion Willis, Sidney Davis and Deondre Douglas, who were Troy’s top three receivers last season and accounted for 1,747 yards in total.
This new crop of receivers has a high ceiling.
In the 2019 recruiting class, Troy brought in Reggie Todd and Khalil McClain among other talented recruits to fill the gaps.
Sophomore Luke Whittemore is set for a breakout season after stellar play last year.
The offensive line returns four of five starters from last year, so it looks to be strong once again. The unit will be coached by Ryan Pugh, the new offensive coordinator this season.
The defensive side of the ball is where the Trojans lost the most during the offseason.
Marcus Jones, Tron Folsom and Tyler Murray among others highlight Troy’s defensive departures after last season.
Despite the losses, Troy’s defense should remain strong. During the coaching changes, Troy retained key assistant coaches, such as Bam Hardmon.
As the defensive run game coordinator, Hardmon has built a strong defensive front in each of his four seasons at Troy.
Last year, Troy ranked 24th nationally and second in the Sun Belt in rush defense, allowing just 128.7 yards on the ground.
For this year’s defense, Jarvis Hayes and Marcus Webb return up front along with freshman All-American Carlton Martian, Justin Whisenhunt and a host of talent at the linebacker spot.
The secondary is where Troy’s defense will have to fill in the most holes. But Terence Dunlap, Melvin Tyus and Will Sunderland more than held their own last year.
Freshmen Koby Perry and Reddy Steward were among Troy’s best defensive recruits last spring, so they could also contribute early.
Troy’s schedule looks to be a slightly lighter load than it was last year.
Key Sun Belt Conference games against Arkansas State, South Alabama, Georgia Southern and Appalachian State will all be played at home.
The Trojans start the season against Campbell, which should be a win before entering the bye week.
After the bye week, the team has a four-game stretch in which it plays Southern Miss, Arkansas State and Missouri.
I think Troy will go 3-1 in this stretch, only losing to Missouri.
In each of the last two seasons, Troy has taken down Power 5 opponents in LSU and Nebraska.
This season, Troy takes on Missouri at Faurot Field in Columbia, Missouri.
One of the primary problems the Trojans face is Kelly Bryant, who transferred to Missouri from Clemson.
Bryant might be the best quarterback the Trojans face all year, so for now, this game looks like it will end up in the loss column, but Oct. 5 is a ways from now.
The remaining seven games will all be Sun Belt Conference games.
This stretch will likely determine if Troy will play in its first ever Sun Belt Championship Game.
That could come down to Troy’s last game on Nov. 29 against Appalachian State, which will be played at home.
This game determined the East Division champion last year, and it could very well come down to the regular-season finale again.
Both Troy and Appalachian State lost their head coaches after last season, so there is uncertainty with both teams.
I will give Troy a slight advantage due to the home-field advantage, but both teams will look a lot different on Aug. 31 than they do on Nov. 29.
This season will be an important one for Troy football as it looks to build on the success and the foundation built by former Head Coach Neal Brown.
Talent on both sides of the ball, in addition to a manageable schedule, should lead Troy to another its fourth-straight 10-win season and possibly its first Sun Belt Championship Game berth.