Thanks to the NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility for the past football season, nearly every team in the nation can claim to have multiple starters returning.
Troy is among those with 21 coming back, including its quarterback — but the Trojans aren’t standing pat at the game’s most important position.
Missouri transfer Taylor Powell was named the Trojans starter last week in a battle that went down to the wire. He will start the season opener against Southern at Veterans Memorial Stadium at 6 p.m. Saturday in Troy, Alabama.
Powell, a graduate transfer with two seasons of eligibility, edged out sophomore Gunnar Watson, who threw for a respectable 2,141 yards and 16 touchdowns as the Trojans went 5-6 last fall.
Powell backed up Drew Lock and Kelly Bryant at Missouri but did not play last season. He has played in nine games, completing 35 of 76 passes for 431 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
Troy coach Chip Lindsey likes the competition that produced Powell as the starter and gave the position depth it didn’t have last season.
“We had a quarterback competition in the spring like any other position,” said Lindsey, a former offensive coordinator at Auburn. “Both played well; competition is good for everybody. Those two guys are veterans that have played some. We went into 2020 with no experience at QB. It was good to get Taylor, the competition when through the summer all the way to a week ago. You have to pick somebody, they were both close.”
Powell, a 6-foot-2, 210-pounder from Fayetteville, Arkansas, started one game in 2019 against Georgia. He completed 10 of 22 passes for 84 yards. He said the competition was intense and fair.
“It was a close battle; Gunnar and I really pushed each other,” Powell said. “He’s one of my closest friends. That relationship will always stay solid. I’ve been able to ask him stuff about the offense. It’s been a healthy competition.”
Powell didn’t wait until showing up on the practice field to win his teammates over. He walked in and set a tone for preparation with long hours of film study, which made a deep impression.
“Taylor is an exceptional leader, the most prepared person I’ve ever seen in my life,” Troy center Dylan Bradshaw said. “Four or five hours of film a day, outside of meetings. He’s the master of preparation. He’s put his heart and soul into it and gained our trust. He’s worked on his relationship with all us starters and even the backups. He and Gunnar are a lot alike.”
Said Powell: “Guys make fun of me for how much film I watch and coffee I drink. As the quarterback, you have to be the guy who knows what’s going on. First guy in and last guy out. In junior high I was doing the same routine. That’s who I am.”
Lindsey said naming Powell the starter doesn’t mean Trojan fans have seen the last of Watson, who had some injury issues last season.
“Like any other position, you have to play well to keep your position,” Lindsey said. “We expect (Powell) to do that. The good thing is we’ve got a guy like Gunnar with experience as a backup.”