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OAYP Sun Belt Preview: Troy

By Jim Johnson
SouthernPigskin.com
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Jim Johnson breaks down the 2019 Troy Trojans using his OAYP advanced metric.

It’s August and college football is just around the corner. To get ready for the Sun Belt season, I’ll be previewing each of the league’s teams through the prism of my OAYP advanced metric. In short, the formula takes each program’s opponent adjusted performance from 2018 and combines that score with the individual player scores that we have released throughout the offseason, in order to make it predictive.

Today, we round things out with Troy.

Below you’ll find the team’s projected starting lineup, plus some key contributors, with each qualifying returnee’s marginal OAYP score and Sun Belt position ranking. The players with OAYP scores and rankings listed are full qualifiers. Players with OAYP scores but not rankings listed were second tier qualifiers, but did not meet the full qualifying threshold. Players with neither listed did not meet any qualifying threshold.

However, whereas the prior marginal OAYP rankings reflected each player’s number only relative to the Sun Belt, these scores are relative to Southern Pigskin’s entire coverage area -- so the ACC and SEC, as well. This should more accurately reflect a given player’s efficiency and value since the sample size now includes over 600 players, so especially strong or weak groups in any particular league won’t skew the rankings anymore.

The Trojans suffered some serious personnel attrition from the sidelines and the booth to graduation to the transfer portal, but with almost all of their most challenging games at home, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Chip Lindsey’s squad representing the East in the title game in year one.

OFFENSE

2018 Offensive OAYP (Rank): -0.51 (6)
2019 Projected Offensive OAYP (Rank): -0.27 (6)
QB Ranking: 4
RB Ranking: 2
WR/TE Ranking: 8
OL Ranking: 5

For all of Troy’s losses in the receiving corps, the return of Kaleb Barker is huge. Albeit on a smaller sample size, had he met the full qualifying threshold, he would have been the third ranked QB in the Sun Belt per OAYP, just behind Zac Thomas and Shai Werts. Troy went 5-1, including the game he went down in against Georgia State, with Barker at the helm, the lone loss coming against Boise State, whilst averaging a smooth 36.7 points per game, which would have ranked in the national top 15. His eight yards per attempt also would have tied Zac Thomas for second in the Sun Belt, while his 163.58 passer rating would have been first, had he qualified. Sawyer Smith did an admirable job in his stead, but there’s no question as to who the better player is. A full season of healthy Kaleb Barker will do a lot in the way of assuaging any concerns about Troy’s loss of offensive production elsewhere.

That being said, OAYP really can’t tell us much about the guys replacing the aforementioned loss of production. Tray Eafford is the only pass catcher who even registered in the secondary qualifying threshold, and he scored at about the mean.

So, unless a new Damion Willis-Deondre Douglas type tandem emerges from that group, an emphasis on the run game would be prudent. Now, BJ Smith was not looked upon very kindly by OAYP, but I’ve already expressed my disagreement with some of the running back rankings, so I won’t go back into that. Despite his and Jabir Daughtry-Frye’s relative scores, I would not be in favor of changing their touch distribution. Smith is nowhere near the home run hitter that his backfield partner can be, but he was far more efficient, averaging 5.42 yards per carry with a 40.2% success rate, while gaining at least five yards on 44% of his runs. Daughtry-Frye, meanwhile, put up an astounding 11.45 extra yards per carry at the second level, but gained 5+ yards on less than 40% of his runs and posted a mere 32.1% success rate. He’s a nice change of pace from Smith, but just isn’t reliable enough to split carries much more evenly.

Smith would also benefit from better run blocking, which was strangely poor last year given how talented the group seems to be, individually. All four returnees ranked in the top ten at their position in the league, but the unit as a whole ranked 113th in line yards, last season, 118th in percentage of 5+ yard carries, and 88th in stops allowed at or behind the line of scrimmage. The pass protection was better for the most part, although it did struggle with the blitz on passing downs. Regardless, the point is, this offensive lines overall performance needs to be way better. These guys are too good for the numbers to be that bad.

DEFENSE

2018 Defensive OAYP: 0.77 (1)
2019 Projected Defensive OAYP: 0.56 (1)
EDGE Ranking: 2
DL Ranking: 2
LB Ranking: 2
CB Ranking: 4
S Ranking: 5

OAYP projects this to be the best defense in the Sun Belt in 2019, and with good reason, even in spite of guys like Tron Folsom and Marcus Jones transferring. With a top two position group throughout the front seven, and no real holes in the secondary, this unit has no readily apparent weaknesses.

Jarvis Hayes will no longer enjoy the luxury of Trevon Sanders eating people alive in the interior, or Hunter Reese drawing attention away from him, but Hayes certainly has the potential to overcome all of that and more. Some guys shy away from an increased leadership burden. Others thrive with it. 2019 will tell us which one of those Jarvis Hayes is. I would guess the latter for the team’s returning leader in tackles for loss. He also tied Antione Barker for the team lead in sacks, among returnees.

And, while for a lot of teams losing a player like Sanders as the spearhead of the defense would be potentially devastating, Troy is in a decent spot with Marcus Webb and Will Choloh in the interior. Webb, in particular, has waited his turn and served admirably in a rotational capacity for a couple of years now, though he did earn six starts in 2018. His overall production took a step back after a splashy 2017 campaign, but the talent is clearly there to resume his previous form.

It also won’t hurt having the best linebacker in the conference as the centerpiece of the defense. As a redshirt freshman, Carlton Martial tallied 76 tackles, 8.5 for a loss, 3 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 14 combined QB pressures, 13 run stuffs, and graded out as one of Pro Football Focus’ top five run defenders on his way to earning Freshman All-American honors. Steady as steady comes, he was a consistent force with flashes of brilliance. He’ll take on more of a leadership role in 2019 after Hunter Reese graduated and Tron Folsom transferred, but Troy should be just fine at the position between he and Justin Whisenhunt.

Tyler Murray, too is one of the best players in the league at his position. That said, he is uniquely positioned among this group, as he played primarily from the slot in 2018. That said, in a league that boasted solid nickelback play from a handful of athletes, none were better than Murray. The loss of multi-year standout Blace Brown to graduation, and breakout star Marcus Jones to transfer, leaves Troy with two solid but less experienced boundary corners in Terence Dunlap and Will Sunderland -- both of whom did at least score positively above the mean, per OAYP, relative to just the Sun Belt, but below the mean when compared to the ACC and SEC, as well. Still, that puts quite a burden on Murray’s shoulders. Although, if anyone can handle it, this do-it-all virtuoso can after posting 5.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions, five pass breakups, a forced fumble, and 8.5 run stuffs a year ago.

The safety spots beg a few more questions. Melvin Tyus was extremely reliable last season, but did show much of a playmaking knack. Kyler Knudsen, meanwhile, albeit in more of a backup role, did flash some plus ball skills to go with all that enticing length. Altogether, the secondary, aside from Murray, isn’t as proven as the front seven, but with that much talent up front it might not matter.

POSITION GROUP RANKINGS

1. Linebackers
2. Edge Defenders
3. Defensive Line
4. Running Backs
5. Quarterback
6. Cornerbacks
7. Offensive Line
8. Safeties
9. Pass Catchers

TOP 100 PLAYERS

These are the athletes listed in my annual preseason ranking of the 100 best players in the Sun Belt, which combines my personal opinion and the eye test with the OAYP metric.

7. LB Carlton Martial
17. CB Tyler Murray
27. EDGE Jarvis Hayes
35. RB BJ Smith
51. QB Kaleb Barker
54. OG Kirk Kelley
62. OT JL Gaston
70. DL Marcus Webb
72. LB Justin Whisenhunt
82. OG Tristan Crowder
83. EDGE Antione Barker
87. OT Austin Stidham
91. K Tyler Sumpter
96. S Melvin Tyus

CONFERENCE SCHEDULE

Troy largely took care of business and left no doubt against the teams they were supposed to beat last year, outside of a scare against Texas State. And, even though they don’t get to dodge Arkansas State like they did last year, they do get the Red Wolves at home. They also get Georgia Southern and App at home. The only really challenging road game they should play is at Louisiana.

The difference between Troy and Georgia Southern, per OAYP, is not that big, but when you take their respective schedule into account, if anyone is going to knock App State off the SBC throne, it’s the Trojans.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: jim@espncoastal.com Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP