Coach: Larry Blakeney (14th season, 115-53-1) 2004 record: 7-5 (Lost to Northern Illinois in Silicon Valley Bowl) Sun Belt finish: 4-2 (2nd) 2004 I-A offensive rankings: Rushing: 44th (167.3 ypg) Passing: 115th (116.9 ypg) 2004 I-A defensive rankings: Scoring: 10th (16.7 ppg) Rushing: 8th (100.9 ypg)
at South Carolina
at North Texas
at UL Monroe
at UL Lafayette
at Arkansas State
Depth Chart: Offense
4 returning starters in red
James Earl Cray
Depth Chart: Defense
4 returning starters in red
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By now, the magic of December for Troy's Trojans has evolved into some harsh realities for head coach Larry Blakeney. The Trojan squad, in its first year in the Sun Belt, finished second in the league race in 2004 and grabbed its first-ever bowl berth in the Dec. 30 Silicon Valley Classic.
It's probably a good thing that Troy made that march last year, since this year's squad is only a shell of that unit. Gone are 15 fifth-year seniors and 14 starters, including most of the squad's highest-profile players. Only three of the eight returning starters are seniors, leaving a gaping leadership void.
As a true freshman, quarterback D.T. McDowell had some good moments last year. He started the final six games of the season, leading the Trojans to four straight wins to close the year and send the Trojans to their first-ever bowl appearance in the Silicon Valley Classic.
McDowell has the ability to win games with his arm, legs and athleticism. But, he completed only 40.4 percent of his passes and ranked last among Sun Belt quarterbacks in pass efficiency. With a year under his belt, he should be improved in both those areas heading into this season.
Junior Carl Meadows operated the No. 1 offense for most of spring drills but is not a running threat, making McDowell's improvement even more important.
Gone are running back DeWhitt Betterson and his school-record 3,441 career yards. He was the backbone of Troy's run-oriented offense (69 percent of the snaps were rushes in '04). Sophomore Kenny Cattouse played in only four games last year but emerged from spring drills as the go-to rusher.
With the departure of leading receiver Jason Samples, junior James Earl Cray should become McDowell's top target. Cray had 20 catches and two scores last year and is solid on short patterns. But the Trojans lack a bona fide deep threat to stretch the field.
Only underrated guard Zarah Yisrael returns as a starter on the offensive line; he'll shift from the right side to left guard. Lettermen are available at every other position, most notably senior James Edwards and junior Kenny Griffin.
There is no heir apparent for Demarcus Ware, the Sun Belt's leader in sacks and tackles for a loss. Redshirt freshman end Kenny Mainor may be close after a stellar series of spring drills. Tackle Torre Lankford had 41 tackles and 10 quarterback hurries as the primary backup to last year's experienced unit.
Linebacker is not a concern, since Bernard Davis and Leverne Johnson make up the Sun Belt's best duo. Davis led Troy with 108 stops and had seven tackles for a loss from the weak side spot last year. Johnson was second on the squad with 89 tackles and had a team-high 60 solo tackles in the middle.
Johnny Faulk emerged as a big-play corner last season; he finished in the nation's top 20 in interceptions with five and ranked third on the Trojans with 75 tackles. Cornerback Adrian Ghent is also experienced, but both are only 5-foot-10 and could have trouble handling taller receivers. Free safety Sherrod Martin was a surprise in his freshman season.
Thomas Olmsted ranked in the nation's top 20 in punting (43.1) and killed 30 punts inside the 20, while Greg Whibbs only missed twice in 14 field goal tries last year and was 6-of-7 outside 30 yards. Leodis McKelvin (11.7 average and two punt return TDs) will be a threat every time he touches the ball.
This year's squad is only a shell of last year's unit that finished second in the Sun Belt and went to the Silicon Valley Classic, the school's first-ever bowl. Defense, though, will keep Troy in games even though the front four vanished from one of the nation's best units of last year. If the Trojans can make up for the loss of Ware's dominant presence on the defensive line and win their showdown at North Texas on Oct. 1, a Sun Belt title could be within reach.