Troy State Trojans (8-3, I-AA)
Coach and programTroy State is happy to finally be a member of Division I-A football after 92 years of competition. However, that joy is likely to wear off soon after the Trojans open the season at Nebraska, not an easy task for any college program, and especially one playing its first-ever game at the I-A level.
While Troy State is not a full-fledged member of Division I-A yet, as this season is officially considered a "transition year," the Trojans will count as a I-A game and toward bowl eligibility for their opponents.
However, for themselves, the Trojans are not yet eligible for postseason play.
But let's slow down. No one is thinking about bowl games yet at Troy State, as they could be one of the worst teams in the country this season. The schedule does them no favors either, with road trips to Miami (Fla.), Mississippi State, and Maryland in addition to the season-opener against Nebraska.
Still, head coach Larry Blakeney is excited for his players about making the leap up from Division I-AA.
"We realize that we will have our hands full with our schedule," Blakeney said. "This isn't going to be easy, and our players know that. But they want to carry on the legacy left by the players before them and the teams of the past."
The last time Troy State changed affiliations, moving from Division II to the I- AA ranks in 1993, it continued to be successful after winning two D-II national titles in the '80s. Seven playoff appearances in eight years preceded the move to I-A, as well as a 77-22-1 record.
"We, at least, want to be respectable, and, at best, shock the world. That is the mindset we want this year," said Blakeney, who is entering his 11th year at Troy State.
Blakeney has some talent to work with, as 12 starters return from last season's 9-3 team, but that was I-AA. Things will be a bit different this time around.
OffenseMaybe Troy State saw that Oklahoma won the national title last year while running the spread offense and wants to emulate the Sooners. Maybe they just wanted to score some points so their fans would have something to cheer about as other teams have their way with the Trojan defense.
Either way, gone is Troy State's old "multiple-set" look, a more traditional attack, and in is the "Trojan Spread" offense. The new look features four wide receivers and a one-back set designed to create multiple formations and confuse defenses.
Installing the offense is new coordinator John Shannon, who spent the last seven years as offensive coordinator at Jackson State.
"It was best for the program," Blakeney said of the change. "We feel like this new offense will put us closer to being able to do what we need to do at the next level -- which is spread the defense out and give us an opportunity to score quickly."
Leading the attack will be senior quarterback Brock Nutter (6-1, 208), a three- year starter who was first-team All-Southland Football League in 2000. Butter, who has started 37 consecutive games, is within striking distance for the school records for passing yards, attempts, completions, and total yards.
Still, Nutter must grasp the new offense and maintain the accuracy that allowed him to throw only five interceptions a year ago if Troy State is to have any success moving the ball.
The Trojans also seem to be fine at running back, where senior Demontray Carter (5-10, 201) returns. Carter ran for over 800 yards on the ground and gained over 1,200 yards of total offense in 2000, when he was the Southland's Newcomer of the Year after transferring from Auburn. Carter also scored a team-high nine touchdowns.
But for Carter to produce so successfully again this season, four new starters on the offensive line will have to step up and make holes for him to run through.
Junior left tackle Stan Curington (6-7, 286) is back, but the rest of the line is unproven.
Wide receiver is also an area full of questions. Specifically, who will replace All-Southland receiver Jonathan Carter, who graduated? The first option looks to be junior Heyward Skipper (6-0, 182), who started 11 games in 200 and made 29 catches, second behind Carter.
Other candidates for action include Daniel O'Brien (6-2, 180), Jermaine Richardson (5-10, 180), Chris Day (6-1, 185) and Adrian Moore (6-1, 230).
Defense and special teamsThe top two tacklers from a year ago return for Troy State in linebackers Naazir Yamini (5-11, 234) and Jimmy McClain (6-1, 230), making linebacker a definite strength on this team. That's important, as a young secondary needs time to develop.
In Division I-AA, the Trojans allowed only 104 yards rushing in 2000 while holding opponents to only 14.6 points per contest. Those numbers are sure to go up in Division I-A.
Yamini and McClain will do their part to limit the damage, as they are both have experience after starting every game last season.
Three starters return on the defensive line, as do four others who saw significant playing time. Senior Vernon Marable (6-2, 260), junior Davern Williams (6-3, 289) and junior Osi Umenyiora (6-4, 270) all earned all- conference honors last season as starters.
Both starting cornerbacks return in juniors Deiric Jackson (5-8, 179) and David Philyaw (5-9, 185), but other than them, few players in the secondary have experience.
Both last season's place-kicker and punter have graduated, making the special teams a huge question mark for the Trojans.
Bottom lineTroy State obviously has players who were good at the Division I-AA level. The test will be if they can raise their level of play to match the intensity of Division I-A football.
The new spread offense should be exciting at least, but the defense must be up to the task of stopping some people or it won't matter how many points the offense scores.-- Travis Richmond