2011 SMU Preview
SMU RB Zach Line
SMU RB Zach Line
Posted Jun 17, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - SMU Mustangs

SMU Mustangs

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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: June Jones
4th year: 16-23
Returning Lettermen
Off. 27, Def. 23, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 11
Ten Best SMU Players
1. RB Zach Line, Jr.
2. LT Kelvin Beachum, Sr.
3. LB Ja'Gared Davis, Jr.
4. DE Taylor Thompson, Sr.
5. LB Taylor Reed, Jr.
6. QB Kyle Padron, Jr.
7. WR Darius Johnson, Jr.
8. WR Cole Beasley, Sr.
9. FS Chris Banjo, Sr.
10. DE Margus Hunt, Jr.
2011 Schedule

Sep. 4 at Texas A&M
Sep. 10 UTEP
Sep. 17 Northwestern St
Sep. 24 at Memphis
Sep. 30 at TCU
Oct. 15 UCF
Oct. 22 at Southern Miss
Oct. 29 at Tulsa
Nov. 5 Tulane
Nov. 12 Navy
Nov. 19 at Houston
Nov. 26 Rice

Something very special is building at SMU. And it might be ready to hit a crescendo this fall.

In just three years, June Jones has been nothing short of a miracle worker, guiding the program from the depths of irrelevancy to an improbable place of prominence. In 2009, the Mustangs snapped a quarter-century bowl drought, going 8-5 and rocking Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl. A year ago, they won the Conference USA West Division, moving a step closer to an elusive league title. Fans of the school can't wait to see what the next chapter holds.

To be fair, SMU sort of went sideways in 2010, going 7-7 and playing poorly down the stretch in losses to UCF in the league title game and Army in the Armed Forces Bowl. Chalk it up to growing pains, as the Mustangs lacked the previous year's overall efficiency and big-play ability. The promising news on the Hilltop is that 18 starters are back, giving Jones the arsenal he needs to deliver the encore that didn't quite happen last fall. After building from the ground floor up, the coach has manufactured a two-deep that has no glaring weaknesses. QB Kyle Padron is set to explode in his junior year. League-leading rusher Zach Line gives the run-and-shoot ideal balance and muscle. Every starter from both lines is back for another year. Pound-for-pound, no one, not Houston, Tulsa, or UCF, has more talent in the league than SMU.

With each passing year, the dark days of the Death Penalty in the 1980s and the subsequent malaise get smaller in the rear view mirror. This is a new program with a new trajectory and a fresh outlook. SMU. Sudden Makeover University.

What to watch for on offense: Padron the interruption. In many ways, the quarterback was microcosm of the 2010 season, showing flashes of brilliance, but failing to elevate up to expectations. Too many turnovers. Not enough money plays downfield. That said, as far as sophomore slumps go, Padron didn't exactly go in reverse. The Mustangs are hoping to see a little more of the passer who shredded Nevada in the 2009 bowl game and looked like the second-coming of Colt Brennan. The talent and experience are there, but now he just needs to put it all together after hitting a plateau last fall.

What to watch for on defense: A salary run from DE Taylor Thompson. The coaching staff has been singing his praises for years, and league voters awarded him with a spot on the All-Conference USA first team. However, he hasn't quite had that breakout year that creates a buzz away from the campus. That's liable to happen this season, his final one as a Mustang. While the playmakers get most of the attention, he's one of those rare 6-6, 287-pounders who possesses the get-off and drive to be an effective pass rusher. If he plays healthier than he did in 2010, his draft grade could soar by January.

This team will be far better if … it improves its turnover margin. In 2009, SMU ranked 21st nationally in takeaways, In 2010, the Mustangs were 111th in turnover margin. That pretty much is the simplified reason why the program didn't reach all of its goals and went 7-7 a year ago. Basically, it needs to become a more efficient team, protecting the ball better and hawking it with more success. The offense, in particular, shot itself in the foot way too often, an issue that simply can't devolve into a trend.

The Schedule: The Mustangs start out with two interesting tests right away. The Texas A&M road opener will show where they stand compared to a top-shelf team, while the following week the home date against UTEP could establish the pecking order early on in the Conference USA West race. And soon after the fun really begins with a rough trip next door to face TCU followed up by an off week to prepare for a possible Conference USA title game preview against UCF. Getting the Knights along with Southern Miss from the East is rough, but it's helped by also getting a layup against Memphis. The nastiness comes late with the two big West showdowns against Houston and Tulsa on the road, but three of the final four games are at home. In all, the team leaves the state of Texas just three times.

Best Offensive Player: Junior RB Zach Line. You know you're a talented running back when you can upstage a June Jones passing game. Line came out of nowhere in 2010, succeeding Shawnbrey McNeal and winning the Conference USA rushing title with 1,494 yards and 10 touchdowns on 244 carries. The perfect power complement to the team's precision passing game, he's a 6-1, 230-pound beast in short yardage and a versatile runner who can exploit the wide lanes in opposing defenses.

Best Defensive Player: Junior LB Ja'Gared Davis. The hybrid of the Mustang defense, he's shown a devastating ability to stop the run and harass the quarterback. One of the team's best combinations of size, speed, and intensity, he rose to the All-Conference USA first team as a sophomore, making 90 tackles, and a team-best 16 stops for loss and nine sacks. The coaches will line him up in different spots, confusing offenses and putting him in a position to wreak as much havoc he possibly can on the other guys.

Key player to a successful season: Junior WR Darius Johnson. In successive years, SMU has lost game-breaking receivers to the NFL, first Emanuel Sanders and then Aldrick Robinson. It's Johnson's turn to fill the void in the passing game. Yeah, leading receiver Cole Beasley has another year of eligibility, but he's more of a possession receiver from the slot. Johnson is being asked to become the big-play guy who can stretch a defense and help open up the field for the other Mustang wide receivers.

The season will be a success if ... the Mustangs recapture their 2009 form. SMU got a little stale down the stretch last fall, showing uncharacteristic flaws on offense. The program wants to deliver a cleaner product that makes fewer mistakes and looks as if it's actually evolving on the field and in the standings. In terms of tangible results, the Mustangs have enough talent to navigate a brutal schedule and win eight games, nine with a postseason victory.

Key game: Oct. 29 at Tulsa. If the Mustangs have any hope of repeating as West Division champion, they're going to need to knock someone off on the road. And it might as well start here. Three weeks later, SMU travels to Houston and would prefer not to have that be the make-or-break game for a spot in the Conference USA title game. The Mustangs will be likely underdogs five times away from Gerald J. Ford Stadium, so they'll have to survive in at least one of them in order to reach their 2011 goals.

2010 Fun Stats:
- Yards per play: SMU 6.3 – Opponents 5.0
- Fumbles lost: SMU 13 – Opponents 5
- First quarter scoring: SMU 49 - Opponents 90

- 2011 SMU Preview | 2011 SMU Offense
- 2011 SMU Defense | 2011 SMU Depth Chart
- SMU Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006