BTP: Coming off of a tough year last season, Troy opens with a brutal non-conference start, with a road game against the Pack and another road game at Wisconsin in two of its first three games. Then, there's a road game in Starkville against Mississippi State in October. Quite the welcoming party for new coach Neal Brown, eh?
JW: Such is life in the Sun Belt where budgets have to be made somehow. At least for Troy, the N.C. State game is the first contest in a home-and-home swap, and the Mississippi State game is the final game in a two-for-one swap. Getting home games against Power 5 teams can be tough and usually involve paying the pied piper at some point.
BTP: Will there be any major changes to the offensive and defensive schemes under the new coach? Or is he planning to keep things as close to how they were under Larry Blakeney?
JW: Offensively, there's not too much that is different. Troy began running the spread almost a decade ago when it hired Tony Franklin as an offensive coordinator. Neal Brown worked under Franklin and eventually became Troy's offensive coordinator for two years. Troy's passing stats ranked in the top-20 both of those years, and Brown kept several members of the offensive staff that had kept on the Franklin tradition even after he left. The one difference I think you might see with Brown calling the plays is a bit more experimentation and a few more gambles.
Defensively, this unit has been beaten down by almost a half-decade of poor performances. With former North Carolina defensive coordinator Vic Koenning returning to Troy -- where he had some of his best successes -- you can't tell this defense has been terrible the last few years, at least by mentality. They play with energy and edge. Koenning admitted he lost his way a bit at UNC, and last year's stats would be indicative of that. I think, though, Koenning is having the most fun he has had in awhile, and at least mentally, the defense is better. Scheme-wise I think the playbook is simpler than it has been, which frees the athletes to make some plays.
BTP: With the start of the new season, what are some areas that Troy is looking to improve upon?
JW: The right side of the offensive line is brand new, including starting true freshman Deontae Crumitie at right guard. That side will have to jell and get better quickly. They have talented wide receivers but need more consistency from them, especially for an offense that needs to find some big plays. Defensively, I think that have very talented playmakers on that side of the ball, but the entire cornerback corps is rebuilt and plenty of freshmen will play. That side will have to develop some depth over time.
BTP: Who do you see as being Troy's most important player in order for the Trojans have success against NC State?
JW: On paper, the Wolfpack defense looks pretty salty. The one weakness -- maybe -- is some youth on the defensive line. Troy's best offensive weapon is running back Brandon Burks, who could really be the best Sun Belt running back if he gets enough touches. If the Troy offense can establish the run with Burks and his capable backup Jordan Chunn, they will have success.
BTP: As a fellow Adidas school, I'm glad Troy too has been spared from some of the awful Adidas uniform designs that have been happening lately (like Louisville's evil cardinal helmet). In fact, I'd argue that Troy's is one of the better designs Adidas has done lately, particularly that matte helmet. What inspired the redesign?
JW: I'm not sure what inspired it, but I think it was a collaboration between former athletics director John Hartwell, Neal Brown and Adidas. Brown said gear and grub recruit athletes, so the fresh new uniforms are a part of that process. The silver ones were used once last season, but the cardinal and white have some significant changes. The best part is the addition of new helmets (matte cardinal and chrome) along with a switch to the "Power T" logo. The logo is a lot cleaner than the old Troy shield, which was almost a decade old.
BTP: Any predictions for the outcome of the game Saturday?
JW: If Troy can establish the run, they will hang around with the Pack for awhile. The defense is salty enough to make some plays and keep N.C. State from really exploding. But if depth on defense is a concern, which it is for Troy, playing in a game with up-tempo offenses will be tough. N.C. State will pull away late.
Many thanks for Jeremy for taking the time to email back and forth with me. Make sure to give him a follow on Twitter @DEwiseTrojan.