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Five spring practice questions for the SMU Mustangs

SMU has the talent to win the conference, but a couple questions loom large.

NCAA Football: Memphis at Southern Methodist Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

There weren’t many that thought Sonny Dykes could elevate the SMU program much higher than Chad Morris and June Jones could, but he’s already done that in three years. He’s already produced the programs first 10-win season since 1984, and just brought in one of the best recruiting classes in school history. Are the Mustangs going to contend for the AAC crown? They’re right there ready to compete, but they have to answer a few questions first.

Can Preston Stone win the starting job?

Shane Buechele and his 11,000+ career passing yards (7,024 with the Mustangs) are gone, meaning SMU has a quarterback battle on their hands. Oklahoma transfer Tanner Mordecai comes in this offseason, and is the presumed favorite to win the job. Dykes also brings in four star recruit Preston Stone, a dual threat with tons of talent as a passer and a runner. Mordecai’s experience gives him the edge, but Stone should push him for the spot. The winner gets to work with a plethora of skill position talent, and they just have to learn how to distribute the ball around to everyone.

Are there enough touches to go around?

Reggie Roberson surprised many with his decision to return for another season, and he joins a group that grew up without him. Rashee Rice led the team with 683 yards and five touchdowns, Danny Gray showed off his speed at times, and Dykes also brought in Oklahoma tight end Grant Calcaterra to add to that group. At running back, Ulysses Bentley led the team and nearly eclipsed 1,000 yards. He’s reunited with TJ McDaniel and the Mustangs add North Texas transfer Tre Siggers to the mix as well. With all of that talent, it’s tough to see enough touches for everyone. SMU’s offense runs a ton of plays every game, but will they be able to keep everyone happy? One thing’s for sure, depth won’t be a concern even if they get a couple injuries.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 29 CFP Semifinal at the Orange Bowl - Alabama v Oklahoma
Calcaterra’s played in some big games, and his health could determine how good the offense is this year.
Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Can Grant Calcaterra and Reggie Roberson stay healthy?

Calcaterra retired from football due to concussions before coming back. Head injuries are so unpredictable, and there are concerns about his health for the entire season. Roberson experienced his fair share of injuries as well, including last year. What’s promising is that, despite missing most of the season, Roberson was tied for the team lead in receiving touchdowns and finished third in yards. His 21.5 yards per catch average also led the team. If he plays the entire year, SMU has a reliable deep threat for the entire season, opening the field up for Rice, Gray, and Calcaterra. If Calcaterra can stay healthy too, he gives the Mustangs an athletic tight end capable of winning any 50/50 ball.

Will the defense step up?

SMU has produced some of the best offenses in college football year in and year out. Putting points on the scoreboard hasn’t been a problem for the Mustangs, but keeping teams off of it has been a struggle. SMU hasn’t given up less than 30 points per game since 2012, when they allowed 25.7. There are some good players returning, including linebackers Delano Robinson and Trevor Denbow, but the question remains if this group can play well together. It’s tough in a conference known for offense, but it’s one thing that will determine how well this team plays in 2021.

Is this a championship caliber team?

It comes down to two things: quarterback play and defense. If Mordecai or Stone can’t figure out how to utilize the talent around them, even thought that’s highly doubtful, this won’t be a championship caliber team. We just talked about the defense, and really they don’t even need to be great. If they can find a way to be opportunistic and create turnovers, this team has a chance to win a championship. The 2017 UCF Knights defense wasn’t elite by any means, but they found ways to get the ball back to their offense enough times to win the game.