TROY, Alabama — The Troy Trojans' attempt to end their postseason drought will have to continue without one of the most prolific passing combinations in program history.
The Trojans must replace all-time leading passer Corey Robinson and Eric Thomas, the No. 3 receiver in school history. Troy hasn't been to a bowl game since capturing its fifth consecutive Sun Belt Conference title in 2010 and is picked to finish fourth this season.
"I don't know about everybody else but I'm hungry," said coach Larry Blakeney, entering his 24th season at Troy. "I think the league has improved, maybe caught up to us. We were pretty good there for a while and won a bunch of conference games. Then all of a sudden, a lot of money going into coaches and facilities and recruiting, and everybody sort of leveled us out.
"We've tried to manufacture a plan that gives us a chance to get back to a championship calibre level. It won't be easy and it's not been easy."
The Trojans did finish 6-6 last season after two straight losing seasons.
Junior college transfer Dontreal Pruitt and redshirt freshman Brandon Silvers are vying to replace Robinson, who passed for 13,477 yards and 81 touchdowns during his career. Dual-threat backup Deon Anthony, who played in most games, is also gone.
Pruitt led East Mississippi Community College to a junior college national title after passing for 3,939 yards and 45 touchdowns against just seven interceptions.
The Trojans spread the wealth around in the passing game, with 18 players recording catches last season. Bryan Holmes leads the returnees after catching 40 passes for 676 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
The defense sustained more attrition with only five starters returning.
The Trojans host defending ACC Coastal Division champion Duke on Sept. 6 and visit Georgia on Sept. 20.
Here are five things to watch in Troy's season:
DEFENSIVE STRIDES: Second-year defensive coordinator Wayne Bolt is still trying to improve a defense that ranked 112th nationally in yards allowed last season. The Trojans must replace their two leading tacklers. Defensive end Tyler Roberts is a preseason All-Sun Belt pick after recording 5.5 sacks.
REMEMBERING GARNER: Troy's helmets will be adorned with Jadarius Garner's No. 55. It's a tribute to a former teammate who was found dead on a Mississippi highway early this year. "Our kids loved that kid," Blakeney said.
SPLITTING CARRIES: The Trojans return three of their top four rushers, minus only Anthony. Brandon Burks ran for 675 yards and caught 36 passes. Jordan Chunn rushed for 514 yards and 14 touchdowns while Khary Franklin gained 103 yards.
BLAKENEY'S MILESTONE: Only Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer has been at his current FBS school longer than the 66-year-old Blakeney. His 175-104-1 record puts him one win away from tying Auburn's Ralph "Shug" Jordan (25 years) as the third-winningest coach in state history, behind Tuskegee's Cleve Abbott (203 wins) and Alabama's Paul "Bear" Bryant (223).
RIVALRY OPENER: The Trojans open Aug. 30 at in-state rival UAB, led by new coach Bill Clark. The last four meetings include two one-point games and last year's 34-31 Troy win in overtime. "UAB is a different football team right now, I think, than they have ever been," Blakeney said.