2012 SMU Preview – The Last Roundup
SMU DE Margus Hunt
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - SMU Mustangs
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By Richard Cirminiello
Now that the Mustangs have been to three straight bowl games for the first time in more than a quarter-century, the team is looking for new achievements and new heights to scale.
Head coach: June Jones
Fifth year: 24-28
Off. 10, Def. 22, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 20
Ten Best SMU Players
1. RB Zach Line, Sr.
2. LB Ja'Gared Davis, Sr.
3. WR Darius Johnson, Sr.
4. LB Taylor Reed, Sr.
5. DE Margus Hunt, Sr.
6. QB Garrett Gilbert, Jr.
7. DT Torlan Pittman, Jr.
8. WR Der'rikk Thompson, Soph.
9. LB Cameron Rogers, Jr.
10. RG Blake McJunkin, Sr.
Sep. 2 at Baylor
Sep. 8 Stephen F. Austin
Sep. 15 Texas A&M
Sep. 22 OPEN DATE
Sep. 29 TCU
Oct. 6 at UTEP
Oct. 13 at Tulane
Oct. 18 Houston
Oct. 27 Memphis
Nov. 3 at UCF
Nov. 10 Southern Miss
Nov. 17 at Rice
Nov. 24 Tulsa
The price of success is always a higher bar. Head coach June Jones has done a miraculous job over the course of four years, breathing life into a squad that not long ago was being fitted for a toe tag. Now that SMU has reached a point that postseason games are the norm, and that quality recruits are no longer off limits, it can start shooting for goals that would have been off limits just a few seasons back.
From the first week of December to the first week of January, it was particularly evident that this was a very different Mustangs program. In the span of just five weeks, they held on to Jones, who darn near wound up in Tempe, joined the Big East Conference and whipped Pitt, 28-6, in the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham. These are indeed heady times on the Hilltop.
SMU's goal in 2012 will be to remain among Conference USA's most competitive programs, while building a tailwind as it begins preparation for a new league. Reaching its goal, however, will hinge on the development of a quarterback, which has proved surprisingly elusive during Jones' first four years. The 2011 starter, J.J. McDermott, has graduated, and wasn't very especially crisp anyway. Potential successor Kyle Padron has since transferred to Eastern Washington. The Mustangs are staring at the possibility of employing a rookie under center. Or are they?
Headed north from Austin is Garrett Gilbert, the one-time five-star recruit of Texas who never quite made it as a Longhorn. If Gilbert is able to resuscitate his career, look out. Jones is having success at SMU without his usual support from behind center. Just imagine what he might be able to achieve if his quarterback is able to truly maximize all of the weapons in the coach's Run & Shoot attack. It's a thought plenty of Mustangs fans are having, as the quarterback prepares to compete for the job in the summer.
What to watch for on offense: Ton & Shoot. The Mustangs aren't just balanced on offense. They're powerful and downright assertive on the ground, testament to June Jones' ability to adapt to the talent surrounding him. In Zach Line and Rishaad Wimbley, SMU has at its disposal nearly 500 pounds of muscle with which to soften defenses between the tackles. The pair is going to form an ideal counter to the quick-hitting passing style, keeping defenses off balance, and unable to target one specific segment of the offensive attack.
What to watch for on defense: The Hunt for notoriety. Prepare to get an earful regarding Mustangs DE Margus Hunt, who's on the verge of becoming a household name at least in Conference USA circles. The Estonian product, who arrived in Dallas on a track & field scholarship, has done well since taking up football a few years ago. Now that the 6-8, 275-pound gifted athlete has mastered blocking kicks on special teams, he's bucking to become a more productive pass rusher as well. If his bowl game performance versus Pitt, five tackles and three sacks, is a harbinger of things to come, Hunt could have NFL scouts flocking to SMU in the fall.
This team will be far better if … it improves its turnover margin: The sequel. For two consecutive years, the Mustangs have been able to survive on the field, despite being utterly careless with the ball. In 2010, the team was 111th nationally in turnover margin. In 2011, it slumped to dead last out of 120 programs, creating just 16 takeaways, yet coughing it up 32 times. Flipping those numbers would have a monumentally positive effect on a program that's looking to break through barriers in 2012.
The Schedule: The Mustangs will know where they stand in the reloading process on offense early on with a trip to Baylor. And then comes the run with three home games in a road and five of the next seven at Ford Stadium. However, a 1-3 start is possible with Texas A&M and TCU to deal with. On the plus side, the West race doesn't look too bad with Houston and Tulsa - the only teams able to battle SMU for the division - at home. Playing UCF from the East is bad enough, and the game is on the road before getting another bad break by having to deal with Southern Miss the following week. However, getting Memphis from the East is a
Best Offensive Player: Senior RB Zach Line. A most unlikely star for the Mustangs, Line has gone from a lightly-recruited linebacker from the state of Michigan to one of the country's premier running backs. A 6-1, 230-pound downhill runner with just enough wiggle to dodge tacklers, he has motored for 2,907 yards and 34 touchdowns since beginning his career as a short-yardage specialist. When he suffered a season-ending toe injury last November, he was among the nation's leading rushers, a role he'll be looking to reprise in September.
Best Defensive Player: Senior LB Ja'Gared Davis. While Davis lines up at linebacker, he serves multiple functions for the Mustangs D. One of the program's best combinations of size and speed, the 6-1, 235-pounder is especially dangerous cutting loose on the blitz. From his weakside position, he contributed 83 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, two picks and eight pass breakups in 2011, en route to being named All-Conference USA for a second straight time. Davis' range and ability to shed blockers put him in a position to impose his will all over the field.
Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Garrett Gilbert. Yeah, he's yet to even matriculate, let alone throw a pass for his new team, but there's no denying that Gilbert is capable of being a difference-maker for the program, the kind of player who helps carry a program to a new plateau of success. The Mustangs don't often attract a player of Gilbert's caliber or background. Heck, this is the same kid who almost willed Texas back as a rookie in the 2010 BCS National Championship Game loss to Alabama. He could be the shepherd who helps guide SMU into a new era of prosperity, beginning in 2012.
The season will be a success if ... the Mustangs win the West in their final year in Conference USA. Okay, so not copping the division won't exactly qualify as a failure, but it is there for the taking. Houston won't be as formidable as in recent years, and Tulsa must visit Ford Stadium in the regular season finale. Playing for a league title on the first weekend of December would give SMU the propulsion it needs before heading off to the Big East Conference.
Key game: Nov. 24 vs. Tulsa. While it would be premature to dismiss Houston in the West Division race, the regular season finale in Dallas is sure to go a long way to determining one-half of the dance card a week later versus the East winner. The Mustangs took it on the chin last Oct. 29 in Tulsa, 38-7, and will be looking to exact some revenge on their visitors. The game could also be an intriguing battle of former ballyhooed Big 12 recruits, former Texas QB Garrett Gilbert vs. one-time Nebraska blue-chip QB Cody Green.
2011 Fun Stats:
- Yards per catch: SMU 12.7 – Opponents 10.1
- Interceptions thrown: SMU 19 – Opponents 6
- Red-zone touchdowns: SMU 60% - Opponents 49%
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