Season Preview: SMU

Opening Statement

SMU went out and got Sonny. 

The wayward west Texan, lost in the wilds of California came back home to take over the Mustang program after Chad Morris jumped at the first Power 5 job that flirted with him. Morris, by the way, will find the going in the SEC West as difficult as Dykes found it was for Cal to win in the PAC 12 North, but everyone has to learn their lessons. Hard lessons. 

The Ponies are better for having hired Morris, he brought them out of the June Jones give up pit and made them respectable. It's up to Dykes to take them to the top of AAC West. That project might take a season or two, but Sonny knows how to win at this level and knows how to recruit the state. 

Dykes brought in Rhett Lashlee to run the Mustang offense. Lashlee cut his teeth under Auburn's Gus Malzahn but spent last year in self-imposed exile in Connecticut. Lashlee should bring more of a ground and pound philosophy to Dykes' Air Raid, but the Mustangs will throw it a bunch. Perhaps they'll be more physical than they were under Morris, but points will still be aplenty in Dallas. 

We'll start with the quarterback, as one should, and that means looking at Ben Hicks - the guy everyone wanted to replace but who's now a serviceable college QB. Hicks continues to progress from a guy who looked overwhelmed in early 2016 to a guy who could hold his own, to a guy who was a reason SMU won games in 2017. The show is now his as he moves out of the shadow of Courtland Sutton and Trey Quinn. No more security blankets. 

Rafe Peavy gives SMU a senior backup quarterback who shouldn't miss many beats if called upon. The Mustangs would rather redshirt William Brown, meaning they'll provide Austin Upshaw every chance to crack the depth chart. 

 Ke'Mon Freeman -   Cooper Neill (Getty Images North America)

Ke'Mon Freeman -  Cooper Neill (Getty Images North America)

The Mustangs return almost all their carries from 2017 and running back might be the deepest position on the team. Xavier Jones rushed for a thousand yards last season after recovering from a knee injury. Ke'Mon Freeman is a very talented piece as well who would be a feature back in most programs. Braeden West is electric with the ball in his hands, Dykes used him at receiver a bit during the spring, but the bottom line is SMU has to get him the ball in space, regardless of position. 

Simply stated, Courtland Sutton and Trey Quinn aren't walking through that door anymore. James Proche is the most productive returnee. He'll pair with a bunch of guys who are long on potential, short on production. Armani Glaspie is a TCU transfer who's eligible this season and should contribute along with Tyler Page who put together a nice spring. Myron Galliard averaged 18.7 yards a catch last year. We've been waiting on Alex Honey to arrive for a couple of seasons now, so we'll chalk him up as well. 

C.J. Sanders transferred to the Hilltop from Notre Dame. Brian Kelly used him almost exclusively as a return man, something he does very well, but Sanders can be a rotation receiver at SMU. 

Few teams that throw the ball with the frequency of SMU can pin their offensive woes on the receiver position. These guys will catch footballs, and they'll have a lot of chances to do so. We just have to wait and see who the next men up are. 

The offensive line should be a strength as well; Chad Pursley started every game at left tackle last season after missing 2016 with an injury. Bryce Wilds started eleven at right tackle. Nick Natour started at left guard for seven games before a knee injury cut his season short. Jacob Todora is a swingman who played guard and tackle last season.

Wilds, Todora, and Natour were both limited in the spring due to injury, leaving the team with just seven scholarship lineman for practice. That opened the door for newcomers like Levon Livingston, a long, athletic JC tackle. Nick Dennis, another JC lineman, will get a shot to start at the other guard position. Hayden Howerton played at center in the spring at Alan Ali will get a look at guard. 

That group has to gel in fall camp, as injuries prevented them from doing so in April. 

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SMU must replace one of the better defensive linemen to come through the University in a decade-plus as Justin Lawler moves onto the NFL. His production will be tough to replicate, but SMU has some nice young players on the roster. 

Delontae Scott is on the All Hotel Lobby Team at 6-5, and nearly 270 pounds. Scott started playing up his measurables last season, and he's a potential breakout player in 2018. At the other end position, Tyeson Neals made three starts. The Mustang auditioned some options during the spring including Neals, Turner Coxe, a redshirt freshman from Highland Park, and George Ranch redshirt Toby Ndukwe. Ndukwe might be the best of the bunch, but he'll need to add weight or learn to fly. 

Inside Pono Davis and Demerick Gary return. Davis is built like an old school one technique and Gary is flexible enough to move outside if necessary. Chris Biggurs is experienced if unproven hand and Ken McLaurin, at 320, is the biggest of the bunch. Patrick Jones and Harrison Loveless will also get the chance to work in.

 Richard Moore -  Rose Baca (The Dallas Morning News)

Richard Moore - Rose Baca (The Dallas Morning News)

SMU could use another fire hydrant in the middle of the defense, but they have enough options to mix and match a very competent rotation. 

At linebacker Anthony Rhone and Kyrian Mitchell were ok last season, Mitchell returns, but SMU needs a playmaker at backer. Enter Richard Moore from Texas A&M, who will start inside, just like he did at A&M as a true freshman. The Mustangs also added Trevor Denbow from Corsicana JC, and he'll have a shot to get on the field early. 

The Mustangs have some depth in Jordan Williams and Shane Hailey. 

Jordan Wyatt is a ballhawk and probably the best corner in the AAC. He sat out the spring recovering from two surgeries, but if he's healthy, he's a massive help to the defensive efforts. Christian Davis and Eric Sutton saw action at corner in 2017, and they'll both see plenty of work this season. They'll also get picked on a bunch. 

At safety Mikial Onu and Rodney Clemons are back at safety. Onu was a revelation last year leading the team with 105 tackles. Elijah McQueen will get a look at well. He played well this spring. After that, depth is an issue. Kevin Johnson is undersized but can cover ground. 

Specialists

The Mustangs will break in a new kicker in Kevin Robledo. He made the only kick he attempted last season, so he's technically on a hot streak. 40% of his kickoffs went for touchbacks. Aussie Jamie Sackville averaged 40 yards per punt last season. 

Sanders, the Notre Dame transfer, is a game-breaking return man. 

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Ben Hicks - Quarterback

Controversial? Maybe. But Hicks is seasoned now, and his trajectory continues to go up. 

Xavier Jones - Running back

Jones averaged almost six yards a carry in coming back from a knee injury in 2016. He should put together back to back 1,000-yard seasons. 

Richard Moore - Linebacker

Moore is everywhere. He'll get into the backfield and get his nose into the tackle box. He's seen live action in the SEC and comes from one of the best high school programs in the state. 

Jordan Wyatt - Cornerback

Wyatt finds the ball and then finds the end zone. If he's healthy, he's one of the best in the business. 

Mikial Onu - Safety

Onu made SMU fans forget about the ultra-productive Darrion Millines with 105 tackles, two picks, seven pass breakups and a forced fumble. 

The Schedule

SMU Schedule.png

Best Case:

SMU survives a brutal September, handling North Texas in the process, and beats Willie Fritz' Green Wave on the road. If they can pick off Houston again, the Mustangs could get to eight wins. 8-4.

Worst Case:

The losses of Sutton, Quinn, and Lawler is too much, and the September schedule puts them into a funk, including Navy's flexbone. 5-7.

Closing Statement

This team will be dangerous in 2018, scary enough to deal with most of the AAC. They aren't quite ready to handle the elite programs like UCF and Memphis, but that time is coming. Dykes already has a top 40 class coming together, historical recruiting for post-SWC SMU, and he has a track record of winning. Outside of Berkeley.

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