MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Troy coach Neal Brown wants his team to embrace the heightened expectations for the once-dominant Sun Belt Conference program. The renewed optimism surrounding the Trojans is fueled by their best Division I season, a 10-3 record punctuated by a bowl win over Ohio. That matched Colorado for the biggest turnaround of 2016.
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Troy coach Neal Brown wants his team to embrace the heightened expectations for the once-dominant Sun Belt Conference program.
The renewed optimism surrounding the Trojans is fueled by their best Division I season, a 10-3 record punctuated by a bowl win over Ohio. That matched Colorado for the biggest turnaround of 2016.
Led by quarterback Brandon Silvers and tailback Jordan Chunn, Troy is picked second in the league behind Appalachian State this season. The program hasn't won a Sun Belt title since capturing a fifth straight in 2010.
"When you have expectations, you can kind of undersell yourself or you can go and approach them about meeting them head-on, and that's the approach that we're going to take," Brown said. "The expectation level has risen in our program and now we've got to go and meet those expectations head on."
The Trojans return 10 offensive starters but lost lineman Antonio Garcia, a third-round NFL draft pick. Wide receiver Emanuel Thompson's 80 catches last season led the league and produced 820 yards and six touchdowns.
Silvers, Thompson, offensive lineman Steven Rowzee and defensive tackle Daron Poole are preseason first-team All-Sun Belt picks.
"I feel like this is going to without a doubt be the best offensive team that we've had in my three years here," Brown said.
Some other things to keep an eye on this upcoming season:
EARLY TEST: The Trojans open against a Boise State program they're trying to emulate as a Group of 5 conference power. It's a big difference from last year, which started against Austin Peay, an FCS team that didn't win a game. "That's a huge carrot to dangle during preseason camp," Brown said. "We can't afford complacency because if we're not ready to go, if we're not hitting on all cylinders, then we can get embarrassed in that season opener."
FINISHING STRONGER: The Trojans became the first Sun Belt team to crack the Top 25 last season after an 8-1 start, then lost two of their last three games, including a second-half collapse against Arkansas State. Silvers thinks the Trojans do have a similar mentality to those championship teams of the past. "I just feel like we have that confidence, we have that Troy edge back from where they were winning championships," he said.
BACKFIELD: Silvers is entering his fourth year as starter with 7,394 yards and 54 touchdowns. Chunn is back after racking up 1,288 yards and 16 touchdowns last season to earn first-team All-Sun Belt honors. Memphis transfer Jamarius Henderson, who had 320 yards as a freshman in 2015, is challenging other returnees for carries.
KEY GAMES: Sep. 2 at Boise State; Oct. 11 South Alabama; Dec. 2 at Arkansas St.
PREDICTION: The Trojans should be potent enough on offense to contend again in the Sun Belt, especially if the defense can overcome losing defensive standouts led by Rashad Dillard. They aren't scheduled to face Appalachian State, which makes the road easier for both teams.
SEASON OPENER: The Trojans open Sept. 2 at Boise State.