Play Western: Nov. 7, at Western
‘08 Record: 8-5
Coach: Larry Blakeney
Returning starters: eight offense, five defense
The Buzz: Troy is looking to make its reign of the Sun Belt Conference into a dynasty by returning a full coaching staff from last season, the starting quarterback , leading rusher and wide receiver in coach Larry Blakeney’s 19th season as head coach of the Trojans.
Troy earned a vote in the Preseason AP Top 25, and should they refrain from slipping up in conference and put on a respectable show at Florida in Week Two, the Trojans could enter the polls as soon as the halfway point of the season. Tennessee and South Florida are formidable, but Troy is comparable to Western’s first two non-conference opponents.
Outlook: Quarterback Levi Brown took over for injured starter Jamie Hampton six games into the 2008 season and finished with 2,030 yards passing, 15 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Brown is back for his senior season in 2009, and accompanying him at the offensive skill positions is the same group that won five of Troy’s last seven games to end the season on a high note.
Last season sophomore running back DuJuan Harris posted the first 1,000-yard performance from a Troy running back since 2004 despite Blakeney’s pass-friendly spread offense. At wideout the Trojans return their top player from last season in Jerrel Jernigan, completing the trifecta of skill position returns from 2008. Jernigan will move from the inside to outside receiver spot to garner more receptions
The defensive unit is more of the same. Troy’s front four is formidable and the defensive has a plethora of capable linebackers. Depth won’t be a problem, except for perhaps in the secondary. The Trojans will rely on at least one first-year starter at cornerback to supplement a pair of senior safeties, Chris Bowens and Courtland Fuller.
How Western can win: Troy has either won or shared a part of the Sun Belt Conference championship each of the past three seasons and touts eight of its 15 returning starters as members of the Sun Belt all-conference team in 2008.
The Toppers’ best shot of winning against their most daunting in-conference foe is to hope they go overlooked by the Trojans. Troy’s schedule isn’t as strong as 2008’s (included Ohio State, Oklahoma State and LSU), but an uncharacteristically late non-conference match-up looms against Arkansas following the Western game on Nov. 7.