SMU Football Predictions
SMU was able to win the Conference USA West in 2010 with a 6-2 conference mark. They would end up losing to UCF in the Conference Championship Game and later fall to Army in the Armed Forces Bowl to finish up at 7-7 overall. Even though the Mustangs had 18 starters returning for the 2011 campaign, it didn’t seem likely they would be able to defend their division title with Houston getting back quarterback Case Keenum. As expected, SMU didn’t surprise. The Mustangs wound up going just 8-5, but did finish the year with an impressive 28-6 win over Pittsburgh in the Compass Bowl. They would finish 3rd in the West at 5-3, but each of their three losses weren’t close. They lost by 24 at Southern Miss, 31 at Tulsa and 30 at Houston.
Head coach June Jones can’t exactly be happy with how poorly his team played against the top competition. It doesn’t figure to get any easier in 2012, as the Mustangs have just 10 starters (3 offense, 7 defense) coming back. This still figures to be one of the top teams in C-USA, but a lot is going to have to go right for them to get back on top the West. Let’s take a look at what SMU will send to the field on both sides of the ball
The Mustangs lose starting quarterback J.J. McDermott, who surprisingly replaced Kyle Patron early last season. McDermott threw for 3,421 yards and 17 touchdowns, but his 16 interceptions really kept the offense from reaching their full potential. The expectation is for Texas transfer Garrett Gilbert to come in and start right away. Gilbert had his ups and downs in three seasons with the Longhorns, but he has the potential to shine against a much weaker conference.
One of the things I think that really hurt Gilbert at Texas, was their lack of a premier running back. That won’t be the case in his first season at SMU. The Mustangs return 1st Team All-C-USA running back Zack Line, who led the conference with 1,224 yards and 17 touchdowns. Line averaged an impressive 5.9 yards per carry on 208 attempts.
Gilbert will also benefit from the return of senior wide out Darius Johnson, who led the Mustangs with 1,118 yards and eight touchdowns on 79 receptions. Johnson is without question one of the top wide receivers in the conference. While SMU loses Cole Beasley (88 catches, 1,040 yards) and Terrance Wilkerson (44 catches, 561 yards), they are excited to see what sophomore Der’rikk Thompson (30 catches, 411 yards, 3 TDs) can do in a bigger role.
The only thing that really concerns me with the Mustangs on this side of the ball, is an offensive line that has to replace all five starters. The only player with legit starting experience is senior Blake McJunkin (25 career starts), who was forced to use a medical red-shirt after suffering a season ending injury in the first game. To give you an idea of just how inexperienced this unit is compared to last year. SMU had a NCAA-best 158 career starts coming back in 2011. This year they have just 34.
Last year the Mustangs had arguably the top defensive line in the conference, as they held their C-USA foes to just 98 ypg on the ground. With the loss of 1st Team All-C-USA defensive end Taylor Thompson (44 tackles, 8 sacks) and 2nd Team All-C-USA defensive tackle Marquis Frazier (46 tackles, 3.5 sacks), it’s going to be hard for SMU to maintain those rush numbers in 2012. They bring back senior nose tackle Torlan Pittman, but the player to keep an eye on is senior defensive end Margus Hunt, who has really matured over the years. Hunt first year of organized football came in 2009, as he originally came to SMU to be on the track team.
While the Mustangs lose two key pieces up front on the defensive line, they are absolutely loaded at linebacker. SMU returns a pair of 2nd Team All-C-USA linebackers in Taylor Reed (team-best 101 tackles, 4 sacks) and Ja”Gared Davis (83 tackles, 5.5 sacks), plus they get back starting strong-side linebacker Stephon Sanders and BUCK linebacker Cameron Rogers.
A couple more starters will have to be replaced in the secondary, as the Mustangs lose two-time 1st Team C-USA corner Richard Crawford and talented free safety Chris Banjo. They get back strong safety Ryan Smith and corner Kenneth Acker and are expected to start junior college transfer Daniel Roundtree at free safety. Even though this unit isn’t as strong as what they had in 2011, I think they will put up better numbers with all four starters coming back at linebacker.
Conference USA Prediction – 3rd West Division
The fact that I have SMU picked to finish 3rd, lets you know just how strong the West is at the top. I have both Tulsa and Houston rated slightly ahead of the Mustangs. A lot of people are going to look at SMU’s schedule and see they get both Houston and Tulsa at home and wonder how I picked them to finish behind both teams. It all comes down to the lack of experience on the offensive line. While everyone pays attention to what skill players are coming back, none of that matters if you can’t keep the opposing team out of your backfield. Another thing you have to consider is SMU has to play both UCF and Southern Miss out of the East, while both Houston and Tulsa only draw one of the top three teams from the other division.
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