From the Bird’s Nest: Death. Taxes. Troy.
Location: Troy, Alabama
Stadium: Larry Blakeney Field at Veterans’ Memorial Stadium (30,000)
2010 Record: 8-5 (6-2 SBC)
Coach: Larry Blakeney
Record: 161-82-1 (21st season)
Last meeting with Louisiana: 2010 (Troy 31, Louisiana 24)
Over the last five years, the Sun Belt Conference has been stable in some areas, not so stable in others.
But one thing has remained the same.
At the end of each of the last five seasons, Troy has gotten a Football Championship Trophy.
They’ve shared the league title a few times, including last season when they tied with FIU at 6-2. But they’ve won championships, been to bowl games and won when they got there.
Five seasons. 41 wins.
And those who would suggest that their time has passed better think again.
The Trojans will be good again.
Like everyone in the Sun Belt, Troy has some question marks. But they also have plenty of exclamation points.
Larry Blakeney enters his 21st season as Trojans head coach. They were a Division II program when he started there. He has overseen the transition from D-II to the FCS to the FBS.
And has continued to win.
Troy will be poised to contend in the Sun Belt again this year. And, as usual, it starts with the man getting the snaps. Corey Robinson was the only freshman in the FBS to crack the top 30 in total offense last season, passing for 3,726 yards and 28 touchdowns. Only Levi Brown has thrown for more yards in a single season at Troy.
The fact that Robinson was chosen as pre-season SBC Offensive Player of the Year shouldn’t come as a surprise…until you look a little closer at Troy’s offense for 2011.
Like at wide receiver, for instance.
Troy lost Jerrel Jernigan to the New York Giants. But that wasn’t the only loss. In fact, the top five receivers from last year are gone. Tebarius Gill and Jason Bruce were seniors and Chip Reeves and Jamel Johnson were ruled academically ineligible for the 2011 season. Senior Brett Moncrief is the top returning receiver from last season with only 16 catches for 214 yards….and he missed the entire spring with an injury.
Yet, there is plenty of talent in the receiving corps, as usual. Troy has as many as ten receivers that are getting a close look this pre-season. One could safely assume, given Troy’s propensity for great talent at the skill spots, they’ll have some who can catch the ball when the season starts.
DuJuan Harris, the starter at tailback, is gone, but Shawn Southward actually led the team in rushing last year with 623 yards. Junior college transfer Montrell Conner, who started his career at Mississippi State, will be in the mix to get some carries as well.
Troy returns two starters on the offensive line and both are good. Left tackle James Brown was a second-team all-league pick a year ago and Kyle Wilborn will be in his third year as a starter. Wilborn can play multiple positions on the line. Jacob Crouch started three games before an injury sidelined him prematurely. It looks like redshirt junior DeMarkus Underwood has the lead for the right tackle spot. He’s lost some weight but is still 6-6, 315.
With so many spread offenses in the Sun Belt, the key to defense is getting a rush off the edge. Troy, it seems, has excelled at that throughout their conference dominance. And this year will be no exception. Preseason Defensive player of the year Jonathan Massaquoi led the league in sacks (13.5) last year. He had 20.5 tackles for loss, also best in the ‘Belt. Mario Addison is gone at the other end. Expect John Robles (6-4, 245) to replace him. Emmanuel Dudley returns at nose tackler. Former LSU transfer Slidell Corley will get plenty of reps as well.
The Trojans best linebacker, Xavier Lamb returns, as does will linebacker Brannon Bryan. Kanorris Davis should start at the nickel linebacker.
Although KeJuan Phillips was ruled academically ineligible, there’s still experience in the secondary. The Trojans have three corners who started games last season. Barry Valcin, who missed all of last year because of injury, will lead the safety corps.
Michael Taylor was the best kicker in the Sun Belt last year, scoring 101 points and hitting 17-20 field goals. Punter Will Goggans also returns. He was third in the league last year.
Questions abound in the return game for Troy with Jernigan gone. There will be competition this fall to see who the return men will be, although you can expect the running backs to be around for kickoff returns.
Troy opens on the road at Clemson and Arkansas before hosting Middle Tennessee on Sept. 24. They also get ULM, FAU and North Texas at home. They have to go to FIU, but they’ll be focused after the Panthers handed the Trojans a rare home loss last year. Louisiana, WKU and Arkansas State are the other road trips. None of those will be a walk in the park. A home date with UAB and a road contest at Navy round out the schedule.
Since Troy had to win their last two games to get a share of the league title and lost the tiebreaker for the auto bid to FIU, many think this will be the year that Troy gets knocked down a peg. The conference schedule will be tough, with some crucial road games. But if the Trojans find someone to return kicks and catch the passes from Robinson, they’ll be right there at the end.