By: Steven Lassan | 6/3/11, 1:41 PM EDT
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Sun Belt PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Larry Blakeney, 161-82-1 (20 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Kenny Edenfield | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jeremy Rowell
The Trojans needed a boost at quarterback last year, especially when veteran Jamie Hampton went down with an October leg fracture. Corey Robinson more than filled the bill, throwing for 28 touchdowns, a 63.6 completion mark and almost 300 yards per game while taking almost every non-Wildcat-formation snap.
“How he goes is how we go,” says veteran coach Larry Blakeney. “He knows that and we know that. Corey needs to be the total guy who understands the situation at all times.”
There’s no reason to believe the Sun Belt’s Freshman of the Year and New Orleans Bowl MVP won’t be that guy, if the offensive front rounds into shape. And that’s a big “if” since three inexperienced hands will be teaming with senior tackle James Brown and junior guard Kyle Wilborn — the latter joining part-time starter Jacob Creech in coming off shoulder surgeries.
If the line does shape up, an offense that averaged 34.1 points last year should be productive. The top three receivers are gone, including the Sun Belt’s all-time all-purpose yardage leader in Jerrel Jernigan, and Robinson needs some new receivers to emerge, especially with Chip Reeves and Jamel Johnson ruled ineligible after spring practice.
Diminutive Shawn Southward has led all Trojan rushers each of the past two years and is still just a junior. He averaged 5.4 per rush with seven scores last year. Backup Chris Anderson will bounce between running back and H-receiver this year.
On paper, the Trojans feature one of the nation’s most experienced returning defenses, especially in the secondary. But that unit allowed over 30 points per game and 26 rushing scores last year, and improvement up front was a focus in the spring. All-league end Jonathan Massaquoi had 13.5 sacks and 20.5 tackles for a loss as a sophomore, but the other slots are question marks, especially at nose tackle with returnee Emmanuel Dudley missing the spring with injuries.
Things are much better in the secondary, where injuries ravaged Troy last year. The result, however, is that Troy has five returnees who have significant starting experience. Bryan Willis, Jimmie Anderson and Chris Pickett have all started at the corners; Barry Valcin returns at free safety after missing all of 2010 with an ankle injury; and strong safety LaDarrius Madden led the secondary in tackles (49). But Madden may not even start with impressive junior college transfer Brynden Trawick available.
Middle linebacker Xavier Lamb led Troy in tackles last year (91) and former walk-on Brannon Bryan was a late-season surprise in the linebacker corps.
The kicking game is solid with seniors Michael Taylor (17-of-22 field goals) and Will Goggans (42.2-yard average on punts), but the Trojans have to find a replacement on returns for the dangerous Jernigan.
Troy has won or shared five straight Sun Belt Conference titles and whipped Ohio 48–21 in the New Orleans Bowl last year. Unless Robinson hits a sophomore jinx or the offensive line fails to jell, ranking in the nation’s top 20 in passing and total offense (11th and 17th last year) won’t be a surprise. But Troy’s defense ranked 89th nationally in 2010, the lowest of any conference champion, and gave up over 45 points per game during a four-game midseason stretch. If the Trojans are going to contend for a sixth title, they may have to win some shootouts along the way.