Our Sun Belt season recap series rolls on as we now head to Alabama to check on the 2017 co-conference champions.
It took just three years for Neal Brown to get this program back on top as they went 7-1 in Fun Belt play and claimed a conference crown. Brown is now 25-13 after three seasons and figures to enter 2018 as one of the Group of Five’s most sought after head coaches.
The future is bright at Veterans Memorial Stadium but before moving onto to 2018, it’s time to appreciate what the Trojans accomplished in 2017.
Expectations were sky high for the Trojans as they entered 2017 fresh off a double-digit win season with a ton of talent returning. Brandon Silvers would be a four-year starter at quarterback and he would have all of his skill talent returning. The coaches called for Troy to finish second while the UDD staff called for Troy to finish the season as co-champs with Appalachian State.
It appeared that it was a conference title or bust for the Trojans as they had a ton of senior talent to go with some promising youngsters. With a veteran defensive back seven combined with a star tailback and a quarterback that has seen it all, Troy was setup to have a big year in the Sun Belt. With no Appalachian State on the schedule, most thought the final game against Arkansas State would determine the conference champion.
The Trojans opened the season with a high-level Group of Five matchup as they took on Boise State on the blue turf on the first Saturday of September. The game was on national television, but what was expected to be a shootout turned into to a defensive struggle as the Broncos would outlast the Trojans by a count of 24-13.
It was a disappointing start for Neal Brown’s squad, but they bounced back quickly as they crushed FCS Alabama State in their home opener and then picked up a very nice road win against New Mexico State. The Trojans returned home and needed a fourth quarter comeback to beat a pesky Akron squad, 22-17. Then came the big one.
On the last Saturday in September, the Trojans would head to Death Valley to take on LSU in Tiger Stadium under the lights. Behind a 30-carry and 191-yard effort from Jordan Chunn, the Trojans would pull off a stunner as they knocked off the SEC heavyweight. The next week would be an informercial for the program as the national media focused on Neal Brown and the job he’s doing with this Troy program.
After a bye week full of praise, Troy would welcome in South Alabama to Veterans Memorial Stadium for a Wednesday night showdown on ESPN2 for the best trophy in college football. There, Troy would put together their worst performance of the season as Jordan Chunn was knocked out of the game with a leg injury as the Trojans only put up 30 rushing yards on 20 carries. Add in four turnovers and you have a recipe for an upset as the Trojans dropped a home game to their archrival.
Even with the brutal loss, the Trojans still controlled their own destiny in the Sun Belt with Appalachian State suffering an upset loss to ULM on November 4th. So immediately following the loss, Troy would go on to win five conference games in a row with an average margin of victory of 25.4 points. During this run, the offense would come alive as they posted 40 points per game. This run would setup a de facto conference championship game in Jonesboro.
On the first Saturday in December, Troy would take on Arkansas State on a cold night and flirted with disaster. Troy allowed 437 passing yards to Justice Hansen while the Red Wolves collected 606 total yards of offense on the night. However, red zone defense and timely turnovers came up huge as Troy found a way to squeak out a victory to bring home a conference title.
That win would send Troy to the New Orleans Bowl where they would take on a North Texas team that was a C-USA championship game participant. The Trojans gave up a season high 30 points but the offense dropped a fiftyburger on the Mean Green defense. Brandon Silvers was excellent as he tossed for 305 yards and four touchdowns as the Troy fan base had a party in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Entering the season most thought the Troy defense was going to be good, but I’m not sure anyone thought this was going to be a dominant group. For the year, the Trojans never gave up over 30 points as S&P+ ranked this as the 17th best defense in the country. The Trojans only gave up more than 200 yards rushing once and forced 26 turnovers for the season. Vic Koenning’s defense recorded 42 sacks and lived in opposing backfields all season. Quiety, Brown and Koenning have built a defensive powerhouse and it appears to not be slowing down anytime soon.
It was suppose to be a big year for this offense and passing game, but for most of the season this Air Raid attack was surprisingly grounded. In three of the first seven games, Brandon Silvers threw for under 200 yards as the offense struggled to find its way. The unit figured it out by the end of the year as Silvers hit the 300-yard mark in two of the final three games as the offense came alive. However, with Silvers gone and offensive coordinator Kenny Edenfield now at South Alabama, this will be something monitor in 2018.
Neal Brown is 23-5 in the last two seasons and has this program rolling as he enters year four. Troy will have some questions to answer in 2018, but with a solid nucleus on defense and some really impressive line and skill talent on offense, the Trojans will once again be in the conference title mix this upcoming fall. The Trojans will have to get through Appalachian State in Boone but they will be a heavy favorite in every other league game. With both Boise State and Nebraska on the non-conference schedule, the chance for another national statement will be there.
Enjoy him while you got him, Troy supporters.