The Clemson Tigers faced a handful of stiff challenges on their way to the 2016 college football season’s national championship. One came from the Troy Trojans, who in Week 2, took the Tigers to the wire in a 30-24 decision at Death Valley.
“They threw a lot of things we hadn’t seen during film,” Clemson cornerback Cordrea Tankersley said after the game.
Watch the Trojans on film now, and there’s a whole lot to see — starting with quarterback Brandon Silvers.
Silvers captained Troy through a breakout 2016 season, completing almost 64 percent of his pass attempts for 3,180 yards and 23 touchdowns. He was a first-team all-Sun Belt Conference quarterback, and is expected to earn the 2017 preseason honor.
As a team, Troy earned its first Top 25 ranking in program history and finished 10-3 — its best record since joining the FBS in 2001.
Yes, Silvers and the Troy Trojans threw a lot at college football that few saw coming a season ago, but the quarterback wants to accomplish more in 2017.
“We all want to win a Sun Belt championship,” Silvers said. “So that’s what we’ve been striving for.”
For as many milestones as Troy reached in 2016 and as many heads as the Trojans probably turned, Silvers said certain goals alluded them. One was that conference title, which Appalachian State claimed.
Extending their stay in the Top 25, should the 2017 Trojans find a way to repeat that feat, is another.
“In the years I’ve been here, it’s the closest team I’ve been on,” Silvers said. “A lot of us have been playing together two or three years. I think that makes a big difference.”
It’s a sentiment Troy head coach Neal Brown echoes, saying, “There’s no replacement for experience.”
Plenty of it exists on the Troy offense, where Brown notes all the key producers from 2016 return.
Now that Brown has two full seasons of head coaching experience at Troy, his return is important, too. For those players Silvers mentioned with two and three years together, they’ve developed in Brown’s system — one rooted in former Troy head coach Larry Blakeney’s legendary program.
Blakeney led Troy (previously Troy State) as a Division I-AA powerhouse in the 1990s, then oversaw a successful transition to FBS. Brown worked as the Trojans offensive coordinator for two seasons under Blakeney, both of which culminated in Sun Belt championships.
During those two seasons — 2008 and 2009 — Troy’s offenses ranked No. 26 and No. 16 in scoring, and No. 33 and No. 4 in passing yards.
Quarterback Levi Brown left the program after playing in Neal Brown’s offense and writing his name in the Troy record book.
When the latter returned six years later, he inherited a team quarterbacked by a youngster who already was setting records of his own. Silvers’ 70.5 percent completion rate in 2014 broke the freshman record previously held by Oklahoma Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford.
But something about Silvers impressed Brown more than his statistical output: the quarterback’s dedication to improving.
“When I worked with him for the first time in the spring of ’15, he was a guy who was talented, had a lot of potential, that was accurate with the football and didn’t know a whole lot; didn’t know how to prepare his mind or body,” Brown recalled. “Now, over the course of 2 1/2 years — and not anything we’ve done as a staff, but what he’s done individually — he’s matured.
“He’s matured from a kid to a grown man,” Brown added. “If you look at him as far as senior quarterbacks, I like our guy as much as anybody in the country.”
Stacking up against the nation’s best helps fuel Silvers in his continued effort to improve and develop into an NFL draft choice.
A 3-star prospect out of Gulf Shores High School in Orange Beach, Ala., Silvers flew under the radar as a recruit.
“It’s always motivated me from the start,” he said. “I thought I was one of the top quarterbacks in the country to come out (of high school), but I just didn’t get that nod to go to a bigger school. I can’t do nothing about it now. I’m at Troy, and that’s all I’m worried about.”
Silvers has made good on his opportunity at Troy. He’s carried on a family legacy within the program — his uncle, Carey Christensen, quarterbacked Troy State’s 1984 Division II national championship team — and enters his final season with a few records in reach.
He’s 27 touchdowns shy of tying Corey Robinson for most career passing scores. With 11 rushing touchdowns and 54 passing scores in his career, Silvers is already the most prolific dual-threat quarterback in Troy’s history.
And, in 2017, he’ll lead a Troy team that is armed with the knowledge it can stand toe-to-toe with the nation’s best.
“We have that confidence we can go wherever, play whoever and go compete with them,” he said.
Just ask the defending national champions.