SMU was so close to a transcendent season, but it all fell apart late and Chad Morris bolted for Arkansas to boot. Now Sonny Dykes is in charge on the Hilltop. Let's take a look back at 2017 on the Hilltop.
Conference Record: 4-4
Scoring Offense 37.8 (14th out of 130) Scoring Defense 36.7 (117th out of 130)
Points Per Play .470 (21st out of 130) Points Allowed Per Play .513 (116th out of 130)
Turnover Margin +4
But what about the good teams?
Just when you thought SMU was turning a corner, November happened. The Mustangs were 6-2 entering Thanksgiving month, including the bowl game they finished the season 1-4 with losses, in consecutive weeks, to UCF, Navy, and Memphis, the cream of the AAC crop. The one win almost wasn't as an officiating decision looked like it robbed Tulane late.
The losses to UCF, Navy, and Memphis were closer than the same losses in 2016, but when the Mustangs played the best teams in the AAC, they lost. SMU's best win? Arkansas State comes to mind, North Texas, maybe Tulane? In league, they beat a three-win UConn, a two-win Tulsa, four-win Cincinnati, and five-win Tulane.
SMU is improved, but they'll need to start beating the upper half their conference slate to show real progress.
The Emergence of Ben Hicks
The trend line for Ben Hicks is moving in the right direction. Forget what you saw in the bowl game, or at least try to, Hick is on the verge of becoming an elite quarterback. He finished 2016 on a high note with two 300 yard games and three 60% or better passing days. After a slow start in 2017, Hicks completed 60% of his passes in league and ended his seasons as a top 20 passer in yards, yards per game, and touchdown passes.
We suspect that no matter where Chad Morris goes, an explosive offense will follow. We also suspect that a Cottonelle soft defense will follow him as well. That's a foreshadowing Arkansas, don't say we didn't warn you. The Mustangs could score with just about anyone, but SMU was the rusty screen door of the AAC defensively.
For as gifted as SMU's offense was, any letdown and the Mustangs were behind the eight ball. Gifted players like Justin Lawler and Jordan Wyatt performed well, but Van Malone's unit couldn't be counted on to make stops at critical moments. Perhaps that changes under new coach Sonny Dykes, but given his track record at Cal, don't bet on it.
What Pieces are in Place?
Ben Hicks took a significant leap in his efficiency this season. While there's still room for improvement, his 3,569 passing yards and 33 touchdowns give Dykes a known commodity at quarterback.
Assuming Courtland Sutton goes to the NFL, SMU still has some very good receiving options for Dykes' air raid. Trey Quinn caught 114 passes and might have the capacity for even more. James Proche is dynamic with the ball in his hands.
If everyone comes back, the Mustangs have three talented running backs in Xavier Jones, Braeden West, and Ke'Mon Freeman. Jones rushed for a thousand yards while West and Freeman each surpassed the 500-yard mark.
Defensively Mikial Onu emerged in the secondary with 105 tackles. His confidence and communication skills give the next coaching staff someone to build around on the back end.
Jordan Wyatt joins Onu in the secondary. He'll miss at least part of the offseason while recovering from knee surgery. Wyatt has great ball skills and a nose for the end zone. The entire Mustang secondary two-deep returns and most are sophomores or freshman.
Delontae Scott is a tall, rangy defensive end who started to make plays this season in his first extended action.
What Pieces are missing?
SMU needs help on the interior of their defensive line. The Mustangs allowed over five yards a pop on the ground, and they lose Mason Gentry and J.T. Williams inside.
The Mustangs need to try to replace Courtland Sutton with another bigger target. Quinn and Proche are nice, but they're both on the smaller side. We've been hearing about Alex Honey for a couple of years now, but the sophomore hasn't produced to match the hype. Kevin Thomas checks in at 6-2, but he caught one pass in 2017.
The Mustangs lose Evan Brown at center along with his 47 career starts. The Mustangs will be breaking in a new signal caller on the offensive line.
All Justin Lawler did was finish second on the team in tackles from his defensive end position and put up 15.5 tackles for loss including nine sacks. SMU will miss the senior from Pottsboro.
Sonny Dykes has his work cut out for him, but he's also got a pretty good foundation of talent to build on.
|Levon Livingston||OL||Corsicana JC||6'7"||285||✔️||⭑⭑⭑||5.7|
|Trevor Denbow||DB||Corsicana JC||6'1"||215||✔️||⭑⭑⭑||5.6|
|William Brown||QB||Rosenberg, TX||6'3"||177||✔️||⭑⭑⭑||5.5|
|TaMerik Williams||RB||Angelton, TX||6'0"||195||✔️||⭑⭑⭑||5.5|
|Preston Ellison||LB||Odessa, TX||6'3"||195||✔️||⭑⭑||5.4|
|Terry Keys III||DB||Dickinson, TX||6'0"||165||✔️||⭑⭑||5.4|
|Nick Dennis||OL||Corsicana JC||6'4"||315||✔️||⭑⭑||5.3|
|David Priebe||TE||Waco, TX||6'7"||220||⭑⭑⭑||5.6|
|Christian Jones||DT||Cypress, TX||6'5"||275||⭑⭑⭑||5.6|
|Cameron Phillips||DB||Houston, TX||6'2"||178||⭑⭑⭑||5.6|
|Keitha Jones||ATH||Port Arthur, TX||6'2"||190||⭑⭑⭑||5.5|
|Max Yarbrough||OL||Friendswood, TX||6'4"||286||⭑⭑⭑||5.5|
|Jake Syptak||OL||The Woodlands, TX||6'5"||270||⭑⭑⭑||5.5|
|Jimmy Phillips Jr||ATH||Mesquite, TX||6'3"||190||⭑⭑⭑||5.5|
|Marcus Mosley||DB||Colleyville, TX||6'1"||175||⭑⭑⭑||5.5|
|Dylan Horton||DB||Frisco, TX||6'4"||202||⭑⭑||5.4|
|Terrance Newman||DT||Duncanville, TX||5'11"||285||⭑⭑||5.4|
|Kemon Smith||DT||Slidell, LA||6'2"||285||⭑⭑||5.4|
|Jaylon Thomas||OL||Lubbock, TX||6'4"||285||⭑⭑||5.4|
|Jalen Rispress||LB||Fort Worth, TX||6'0"||184||⭑⭑||5.3|
SMU delved into the JC ranks for three Corsicana JC products which should help quickly, including two massive offensive linemen.
Christian Jones from Cy Woods is the type of big body that should help the Mustangs down the road.
At nearly 6-5, William Brown from Lamar Consolidated has a nice pocket presence at quarterback.
The 2o18 Slate
Dykes doesn't get any favors out of the box, SMU opens with the Hippogriff bowl at North Texas before welcoming TCU to Ford Stadium. Then they head off to the big house for a road date with Michigan before ending their non-conference vs. Houston Baptist.