The Troy football team faces a new set of challenges following the loss of last year’s senior class, highlighted by the loss of Brandon Silvers and Dallas Cowboys running back Jordan Chunn.
Fresh off a Sun Belt championship, the sixth in program history, the Trojans will be tested if they can sustain success after winning a title and transitioning at the quarterback position.
The biggest question surrounding Troy’s offense will be the quarterback battle.
Junior Kaleb Barker and redshirt sophomore Sawyer Smith will battle over who will take the reins after Silvers concluded his career last season.
Last year, Barker ran for 181 yards and two touchdowns and threw for 143 yards and a touchdown. Smith took a redshirt season last year, but he did see some playing time in 2016.
Whoever starts at quarterback will have a strong core of wide receivers to throw to. The Trojans return seniors Sidney Davis, Damion Willis and Deondre Douglas, and added Traveon Samuel, a transfer from the University of Louisville.
On defense, the Trojans return All-Sun Belt honorees Blace Brown, Trevon Sanders, Hunter Reese and Tron Folsom.
The Trojans start out the season against No. 22 Boise State, which will be one of the most consequential Group of 5 games this season. The winner will have a head start in the race to earn a spot in one of the New Year’s Six bowls.
In week three of the season, the Trojans play at Nebraska in what will be an opportunity to take down a Power 5 team in consecutive years after beating LSU on the road last year.
Nebraska has a new head coach in Scott Foster, who’s one of the fastest-rising stars in football after he completely turned around Central Florida. But, even with a new coach, Nebraska is still a struggling program right now, so Troy has a golden opportunity on Sept. 15.
Immediately after Nebraska, the Trojans head to Louisiana-Monroe for a second-straight road game. The Warhawks have one of the best offenses in the conference led by quarterback Caleb Evans.
Despite the Warhawks going 4-8 last season, this looks to be a trap game for Troy, especially if the Trojans score a big win at Nebraska the week before.
Another key game for Troy will be on the road against South Alabama on Oct. 23.
The Trojans will be coming off a bye week and will play a road game on a weeknight against an arch-rival, so this could be a vulnerable game for the Trojans.
Last season, the Trojans lost to the Jaguars after beating LSU and having 10 days off. But history is on the Trojans’ side as the road team has won the last three games in that rivalry.
Troy concludes the regular season on the road against Appalachian State in a game that could decide the Eastern division since the Mountaineers will likely be the Trojans’ primary competitor in the division.
One good thing for the Trojans is that the Mountaineers graduated quarterback Taylor Lamb, so Troy won’t be alone in breaking in new quarterbacks this fall.
Of the key games, I think Troy will lose to Boise State, split the Nebraska and Louisiana-Monroe games, beat South Alabama and lose to Appalachian State.
The Appalachian State game is even harder to predict considering it’s three months away and both teams are going through similar situations right now.
Troy may have a slight upper hand considering the Mountaineers lost defensive coordinator Nate Woody to Georgia Tech while the Trojans still have Vic Koenning at the helm.
It’s likely that the winner of this game will advance to the Sun Belt Championship the following week .
The western division will likely not be as competitive as the East should be this year.
Louisiana-Monroe might give Arkansas State a run for its money, but the Red Wolves are head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd, winning 26 of their last 32 Sun Belt games as well as five of the last seven conference titles.
For the first time since 2013, Troy’s depth chart will not have a quarterback named Brandon Silvers. It will be a transition for the Trojans, but the team is loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, so look for another successful year under Head Coach Neal Brown.