Last season ended in utter disappointment for the Mustangs. After getting to a bowl game for the first time since 2012, the Mustangs were stunned by Louisiana Tech. Even worse, it was Courtland Sutton’s and Trey Quinn’s last game as Mustangs. They also lost their fearless leader in Chad Morris to Arkansas. The season was very bittersweet all the way till the very end.
However, after the Frisco Bowl, the team has left 2017 in the past and are full-steam ahead in 2018 with new coach Sonny Dykes at the helm. The defining question for the Mustangs this season will be: Do the key player losses and the personnel changes affect the quality of the season SMU will have? In order to find that out, we need to break down each section of the team to see if there is any progress to be made.
The offense will be a tad different this year. While Ben Hicks is the great stabilizer of the offense, SMU loses their top two receivers with Quinn being the most productive in the nation. In addition to changes, the coaching staff has turned over. As I already highlighted, Sonny Dykes is bringing his air-raid philosophy to SMU. This will differ slightly from what Chad Morris had run so there may be an adjustment period needed for the players.
The good news, however, is that Ben Hicks is back at quarterback. This means there is a veteran to run this offense and Hicks will have an absolute chip on his shoulder seeing how last season ended. While he can be inaccurate sometimes, he plays with passion and is always one of the best players on the field. In the air-raid offense, he will get many opportunities to throw the ball. For this team, that’s a good thing.
SMU also returns its stable of running backs with Xavier Jones at the head. Jones was mentioned on the Doak Walker Preseason watch list and is really a great all-around back. Ke’Mon Freeman is the biggest of the backs and proved last year to be the big bruiser in the rushing game. Braeden West also returns as a good change of pace back and is typically good in the receiving game.
While the Mustangs will be welcoming in some new faces out wide, James Proche returns as the veteran of the wide receiver group. He has big play ability and has made that apparent against the toughest of competition. His role will absolutely increase as he leads the next wave of receivers.
Lastly, SMU’s offensive line can only get better, in my opinion. They were 43rd in the nation last year as a unit in sacks allowed. They recently signed big time JUCO transfers for the offensive line this past recruiting class as well. The foundation is there for this team at O-Line and I believe the team’s recruiting efforts will pay dividends.
While the offense may regress a tad, the defense looks even worse, from a personnel standpoint. However, there is some exciting news that may improve the Mustangs on defense too.
First, we need to address the new coaching change. Dykes brought in defensive coordinator Kevin Kane from NIU. Kane will bring his 4-3-4 defensive scheme with him, replacing SMU’s previous 4-2-5 alignment. By taking one DB out and adding an additional LB, you can expect that this defense will most likely be blitzing more often or using the additional linebacker to spy on mobile quarterbacks. It appears that getting to the quarterback will be the name of the game this year on defense.
We know that half of the DB positions will be covered well with Jordan Wyatt and Mikial Onu leading the way. They are going to get most of the attention due to the fact that they are leaders of this defense. However, the 2 other spots up for grabs are question marks. Ourlads.com, says predicts Rodney Clemons and Christian Davis will take the other two spots. This is a veteran-laden secondary that I expect will improve this upcoming year.
As far as the defensive line goes, the Mustangs lose Justin Lawler, the AAC leader in sacks, to graduation. The defensive line now will look to Tyeson Neals for the leadership Lawler contributed last season. Neals had a solid statistical year last season with last season being his first time to see the field. Neals is also projected to be joined by another solid defensive lineman in Demerick Gary. While his stats did not pop off the chart last year, he has played 20 games over the last two seasons and will help try to dominate up front with this new defense.
At linebacker, the returning starter will be Kyran Mitchell. The red-shirt linebacker will be the crew chief of the linebackers. Mitchell has been great at rushing the passer and bringing down ball carriers. He may be one of the more underrated linebackers in the AAC. The depth at this position though is not very good. Past Mitchell they might have to try out some young guys or players with little experience.
Overall, last year’s defense ranked 121st out of the 129 FBS teams. That is terrible. Despite some of the great players on this defense, they ranked towards the bottom of the FBS. This could be due to the conference’s offensive firepower. However, if SMU wants to be taken as a contender, the defense can’t do what it did last season. I’m torn between saying if the team regresses or progresses because there is no where to go but up from here, yet they lost one of their leaders on defense. Thus, let’s wait everything out a little longer and check in half way through the season.
Here is a picture of the schedule so you can follow along with my logic.
It is very possible that SMU could start out 0-4 or 1-3. They play a much improved UNT team that played for the C-USA championship game, so that is a dangerous opponent. If we are being honest, SMU most likely loses to both TCU and Michigan. Then SMU plays a tough Navy team after two tough games. They should be able to beat Houston Baptist before getting to the meat of the schedule. They will most likely lose to UCF, Houston, and Memphis. So, the other games would be an absolute toss up. Tulane is looking better and people seem to be high on Cincy for some reason. Leaving the only other definite win on the schedule being UConn. So, as you can see, the schedule isn’t very predictable when it comes into conference play.
If things go very wrong, I could see a potential 3-10 season. I personally do not think it will happen, but it is the worst case scenario if the offense does not click or the defense allows a ton of points. Overall, if you look from an optimistic point of view, SMU could finish around the 8-4 range, which is an improvement from last year’s squad. However, I don’t think that will happen either. The saying “the truth lies somewhere in the middle” is extremely applicable to this season. Overall, I think SMU is right around a 6-6 or 7-5 team, and will clinch its second consecutive bowl berth.
What do you think SMU will be able to do this season? Sound off in the comments below and please vote in the poll.
How many wins do you think SMU will have this year?
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