Head Coach: Chad Morris
2015 Record: 2-10
2015 Bowl: N/A
2016 Returning Starters: 8 Offense, 5 Defense
Odds to win 2017 Championship Game: +999999
Odds to win 2016 AAC Championship: +8500
Regular Season over/under: 3.5 wins
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SMU returns eight starters to its offense, including starting QB Matt Davis. That would seem like good news, but we cannot ignore the fact this is a two-win team that averaged just 27.8 points per game last season. Davis, of course, played no small part in that futility: He threw for just 188 yards per game and had 16 TDs all season. He also missed spring.
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Head coach Chad Morris is considering other options, though Davis is expected to be ready for the start of the season. Among those options are redshirt freshman Ben Hicks, who has some talent. But it is likely that Davis still starts, and it is also just as likely that SMU struggles badly again this season.
The Mustangs also bring back their No. 1 back, Xavier Jones. Jones rushed for 634 yards last season with a 4.2 yard per carry average. He also had 10 rushing TDs, which tied Davis for the team-best.
At WR, the Mustangs have Courtland Sutton who caught 49 passes for 862 yards and nine TDs. Ryheem Malone is another good option for Davis, but the OL is young and inexperienced. It does return three starters, though, including sophomore Chad Pursley who started last season as a true freshman.
Nevertheless, for a team returning so many key parts, there are few reasons to expect a drastic turnaround from last season’s struggles.
The Mustangs were not good offensively, but they were horrendous defensively. SMU ranked in the bottom-10 nationally, and that put the quash on any sort of competitive edge that the offense may have given them.
The Mustangs allowed 45.7 points per game while surrendering 502.2 yards per game. Combining the fact that the TO margin was -10, and SMU should count itself fortunate that it even won two games. One of those wins came against AAC foe Tulane, a program that has more than its own fair share of issues.
SMU was particularly poor covering the rush, where it allowed 261.2 yards per game. The wins against Tulane and North Texas were about all it could muster, and that was because both programs lack offense of any sort. The Mustangs do return five starters, including three in the secondary. Even that needs vast improvement though with SS Darrion Richardson having come up with just 53 tackles last season.
DE Justin Lawler led SMU in tackles (64) and the LB corp should be improved. RC Cox, Anthony Rhone and Jackson Mitchell all got playing time last year, though none started. Incoming freshman Jordan Carmouche is going to be counted on to be an instant impact player, whether that is reasonable or not.
The Mustangs just need a lot to happen to turn around its dreadful defense, or it may be preying on the worst of the worst to get a pair of wins— like last year.
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Josh Williams switched from punter to kicker last season. Alex Melvin, a redshirt freshman, takes over as punter. Williams hit a 37-yard field goal on his only attempt in the spring game. Melvin punted six times for with a long of 60 and two pinned inside the 20 yard line, but his average was still only 37.5 yards. RB Braeden West returned a kickoff for 80 yards for a TD last season, but it is unclear whether he will handle returns or not after being left off the depth chart in spring.
SMU opens the season with North Texas, a lowly program it did knock off last year in Week 2 by a score of 31-13. But then it faces Baylor in Week 2, before taking on Liberty and TCU in Weeks 3 and 4. Conference play begins Week 5 at Temple.
The Mustangs will have a chance to build some momentum early in the season, however unlikely it may be. But the season concludes with South Florida and Navy on Nov. 19 and Nov. 28.
SMU still has a long way to go to turn things around. HC Chad Morris expected a lot more than what his Mustangs gave him last year, and even though they return a lot of players, it is hard to call that much of a good thing considering last year’s struggles.
Prediction: 2 wins
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