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THURSDAY, AUGUST 23, 2007
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Trojans chasing another league title, bowl win

Tenth in a series

By John Zenor
Associated Press Writer

The Troy Trojans got a real taste of success at college football’s top level last season, and now they want more.

The Trojans are favored to repeat as Sun Belt Conference champions a season after winning their first Division I-A league title and beating Rice 41-17 in the New Orleans Bowl.

“Our No. 1 team goal is to find a way to win the league, which will be very difficult, and go to the bowl again,” Troy coach Larry Blakeney said. “Anything above that is gravy and anything below that is really unacceptable.”

The “gravy” would include a victory or two in a nonconference schedule that includes games at Arkansas, defending national champion Florida and Georgia and a high-profile visit from the Big 12’s Oklahoma State.

“We’ve got the toughest nonconference schedule probably in the country,” Blakeney said.

The Trojans are led by quarterback Omar Haugabook, who was the Sun Belt offensive player of the year in his debut season after transferring from junior college. He’ll direct a spread offense that frequently employs four-receiver sets.

Haugabook passed for 2,401 yards and 21 touchdowns last season while running for 313 yards and five TDs. He was also intercepted 17 times, however.

Haugabook’s emergence — and the offense implemented by coordinator Tony Franklin — helped the Trojans rise from 109th nationally in total offense two years ago to No. 77.

They finished 8-5 last season, doubling their win total of the previous year. The season was a big step for the Trojans, with their first bowl win — and second postseason appearance — since moving up to Division I-A in 2001.

“That was huge. It was good for our people, good for our fans, good for our recruiting,” Blakeney said. “That should make us try harder. But it puts a target on us too.”

Haugabook will have his leading rusher and receiver both back.

Kenny Cattouse ran for 810 yards last season while All-Sun Belt receiver Gary Banks had 68 catches for 603 yards and eight TDs. Running back Sean Dawkins returns after missing last season with an injury.

The biggest question mark on the offense is the line, which returns only one starter, left guard Chris Jamison. Jamison could move to left tackle.

“It is a big concern, because some of the guys haven’t ever played for us,” Blakeney said. “We’ve got some other guys that have been here that should be ready and we’ve got some young guys who probably aren’t ready who may have to provide depth.”

Defensively, the Trojans only lost three starters, but those included safety Brannon Condren, an NFL draft pick.

But the Trojans have enough depth in the secondary that they plan to use a five-defensive back package much of their time. The group includes cornerback/kick returner Leodis McKelvin and cornerback Elbert Mack, who had two interceptions in the New Orleans Bowl.

Florida State transfer Travis Ford is eligible after sitting out last season.

Plus, safety Sherrod Martin returns after sitting out last season following surgery on both shoulders.

The linebacking corps, led by Marcus Richardson, lacks experience. Richardson missed much of his junior season after breaking a collarbone tackling Georgia Tech All-American Calvin Johnson.

The line returns six players with extensive experience.

That group is led by end Kenny Mainor, who had 6.5 sacks last season,

End Shawn Todd and nose tackle Marcus Pittman also are among the returnees.

In special teams, place-kicker Greg Whibbs is back. McKelvin averaged 11.2 yards per punt return and 23.5 yards returning kicks.

The Trojans open Sept. 1 at Arkansas, the defending Southeastern Conference Western Division champion.

Troy football at a glance

  • Head coach: Larry Blakeney 128-64-1 school (17th year).

  • Last year: 8-5, 6-1 Sun Belt (first).

  • Offense: QB Omar Haugabook, the league’s offensive player of the year, is a threat to run and pass. But coaches want him to cut down on last season’s 17 interceptions. ... Leading rusher Kenny Cattouse and top receiver Gary Banks are back. ... Line returns only one starter, Chris Jamison.

  • Defense: Returns eight starters, including LB Marcus Richardson, DE Kenny Mainor and CB Leodis McKelvin. FS Sherrod Martin returns after missing last season while recovering from surgery on both shoulders.

  • Special teams: PK Greg Whibbs returns, as does return man McKelvin.

  • Key losses: C Zach Yenser, WR Smokey Hampton, WR Toris Rutledge, S Brannon Condren, DT Franklin Lloyd, LB Ryan Babb.

  • Opener: Sept. 1 at Arkansas.

  • Pivotal game: Nov. 20 Middle Tennessee.

  • Outlook: The Trojans were picked to repeat as league champions. Once again a brutal nonconference schedule could take a physical toll, with games at Arkansas, Florida and Georgia. Plus, Oklahoma State visits. The offense made big leaps last season with Haugabook’s emergence, and he and WR Gary Banks form a productive connection. Offensive line will have to develop with four new starters. Defense is deep in defensive backs and pass rushers.

    The Associated Press

    Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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