August 15, 2016

TROY, Ala. (AP) The Troy Trojans enter Phase 2 of Neal Brown's bid to restore the program to Sun Belt Conference contention once again leaning heavily on an improving defense and quarterback Brandon Silvers.

They're trying to make strides from Brown's 4-8 debut season that included several close losses to Sun Belt opponents.

''We're a more confident team,'' Brown said. ''They know what to expect now. There were so many firsts and so many unknowns last year going into the year with myself and the new coaching staff. We're a better football team. Now, we've got to go out and show it.''

The Trojans haven't had a winning season since 2010, when their run of five straight league titles ended.

A defense that was one of the nation's worst two years ago yielded 63 fewer yards per game last season, and figures to be the team's strength again.

The Trojans are picked to finish fifth in the Sun Belt (tied with Louisiana-Lafayette). They're led by Silvers, a 23-game starter in his first two seasons, and two preseason all-conference picks, defensive end Rashad Dillard and left tackle Antonio Garcia.

An unproven group of receivers and uncertain tailback situation mean the offense might need time to hit its stride.

''We're going to have to be a team that's built on defense early,'' Brown said. ''Our defense is going to have to carry us early as we evolve offensively.''

KEY GAMES: Oct. 20 at South Alabama, Nov. 12 Appalachian State; Dec. 3 at Georgia Southern.

SEASON OPENER: The Trojans open with Austin Peay on Sept. 3 before visiting Clemson and Heisman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson.

BACKFIELD: Jordan Chunn and Andre Flakes are the leading candidates to replace tailback Brandon Burks, who got most of the carries last season. Flakes was the backup in 2015 while Chunn topped 1,000 yards combined in his first two years but missed most of last season with an injury.

JUNIOR'S ADDITION: The Trojans added defensive end Junior Gnonkonde, a graduate transfer who was recruited to North Carolina by Troy defensive coordinator Vic Koenning. The 6-foot-4, 260-pounder had 97 tackles during his career in Chapel Hill. ''We're going to put him on the front of the bus so he gets off first,'' Koenning said.

PREDICTION: The Trojans are picked to finish fifth in the Sun Belt, along with Louisiana-Lafayette. A .500 record or better wouldn't be a big surprise.

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