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SMU Season Preview: Double the wins, double the fun

It will likely be another tough year for coach Chad Morris and the Mustangs, but better than last year

Baylor v SMU Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Grab your nose, close your eyes and choke down the bitter medicine of last season. Yes, it’s the second dose in two years, but it has to be done.

All right, you did it. So let’s move on.

This is going to be a positive preview, dammit!

Because really, it couldn’t get worse than last year, could it? Well, technically it could. It could get worse in exactly two ways (2014 record: 1-11), but we’re not going there.

Now, let’s see what the second year of the Chad Morris era has in store for us…

The Offense (last season’s good news)

There is still a lot of youth on this side of the ball and that youth will continue to go through the expected growing pains, but at least it got a ton of experience last year

The unit averaged roughly 28 points, 165 rushing yards and 218 passing yards per game. 382 Yards per game isn’t bad, but it was only good enough to finish No. 8 in the AAC and No. 76 nationally.

SMU’s starting QB, TE and two WRs are back. The Mustangs have two more WRs and two running backs who contributed last year and will be relied on for larger roles this season.

Last year they were young and inexperienced. This year they’re young but experienced.

And it all begins with do-everything quarterback Matt Davis, who returns for his senior season. He threw for 2,263 yards and 16 touchdowns and ran for 761 and 10 TDs last year.

The one-time Texas A&M commit has won just three games in his collegiate career. Most predictions give the Mustangs four wins this year. It sure would be nice to get the guy double-digit victories before he rides off into the sunset, but the odds are stacked against it.

Either way, we’ll probably have to start using #DoItForDavis this season.

SMU v TCU Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Once again, he’ll need to carry a heavy load this year, but if his chemistry improves with sophomore standout WR Courtland Sutton, fellow sophomores Xavier Castillo and Kevin Thomas, junior Shelby Walker and senior Ryheem Malone, then those passing numbers could skyrocket.

Could Davis add another 1,000 yards to last year’s total? Quite possibly.

If he forms a three-headed monster in the backfield with sophomore running backs Xavier Jones and Braeden West, can they improve SMU’s per-game average to 200 yards per contest? Very likely.

And in Chad Morris’s spread offense, success depends on the run. If the team can increase its rushing output, which will enhance its passing attack, then it will build upon a foundation that was pretty good last season.

Scoring 28-35 points per game will keep them in a lot of games.

The potential is there. It’s definitely attainable.

But, as with last year, the outcome will then come down to the defense.

The Defense (last season’s bad news; this season’s hopefully-not-as-bad news)

Youth, injuries and a lack of overall talent made the unit the weakest link in a chain that wasn’t very strong to begin with. It’s painful to say, but it’s the truth.

By the end of last season, the defense had a national rank of No. 119. Yes, that’s still out of 128. It gave up nearly 46 points and more than 500 yards per game.

But again, let’s focus more on what might be possible this year and less on what happened last year. The problem is, it’s pretty hard to tell what might happen this year.

If the defense had allowed even half of the points it gave up per game last year, SMU would have been 7-5 with wins over TCU and Houston. Obviously, that suggestion is just a talking point. It’s not a real, credible theory based on scientific study.

It’s a place to start. The point is, the offense has proven that it can score with the best of them. If the defense can reduce its points allowed per game by even 10, it will give the Mustangs a fighting chance to win three or four more games.

Junior defensive end Justin Lawler is the returning leader in tackles (64) and sacks (5) and he will have to seriously lead the defense.

The linebacking corp will feature three new starters, but one — Kyran Mitchell — had broken into the starting lineup last year and racked up 40 tackles before suffering a season-ending injury in the eighth game. He will be a redshirt sophomore this season and hopefully he can return to full strength very soon.

The Schedule/Predictions

Look, if SMU can jump from 2-10 in Morris’s first year to 4-8 in his second, the Mustangs have doubled their win total in two seasons. If they can somehow go 5-7, they’re potentially one year away from bowl eligibility.

Yes, we’re still talking about losing seasons, but it’s all relative.

Just two years ago, SMU was arguably the worst team in the FBS. If it’s in a bowl game four years later, that’s fantastic. It will be proof of momentum and a program that is genuinely headed in the right direction. It will boost enthusiasm (and hopefully donations) (though hopefully not directly into the athletes’ pockets).

So where could the four wins come from that seem to be the consensus total for 2016? It’s a little hard to tell because there has been so much turnover on some of the other teams in the AAC, but we’ll target a few possibilities:

Sept. 3 at North Texas — WIN

Sept. 10 at Baylor — LOSS

Sept. 17 Liberty — WIN

Sept. 19 at TCU — LOSS

** They’re already 2-2, right? That ain’t bad.

Oct. 1 at Temple — LOSS (but it will be close and provide room for optimism)

Oct. 7 at Tulsa — LOSS (but even closer than Temple)

Oct. 22 Houston — LOSS

Oct. 29 at Tulane — WIN

Nov. 5 Memphis — WIN (upset alert; Memphis has a new coach and new QB)

Nov. 12 at East Carolina — WIN (EC is predicted to be an AAC bottom-four team, too … so why not?)

Nov. 19 South Florida — LOSS

Nov. 26 Navy — LOSS (Navy replaces 10 of 11 starters on offense, but by this point in the season, the Midshipmen might be able to bludgeon SMU into submission)

Ha!!! Five wins. Bet you didn’t see that coming (neither will anyone else).