CFN Preview 2013 - SMU Mustangs
Posted Jul 21, 2013 2013 Preview - SMU Mustangs

SMU Mustangs

Preview 2013

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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: June Jones
Sixth year: 31-34
Returning Lettermen
Off. 19, Def. 22, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 18
Ten Best SMU Players
1. CB Kenneth Acker, Sr.
2. LB Randall Joyner, Sr.
3. WR Jeremy Johnson, Sr.
4. SS Jay Scott, Sr.
5. QB Garrett Gilbert, Sr.
6. RB Traylon Shead, Jr.
7. C Taylor Lasecki, Soph.
8. WR Der'rikk Thompson, Jr.
9. LB Stephon Sanders, Jr.
10. LT Ben Gottschalk, Sr.
2013 Schedule
8/30 Texas Tech
9/7 Montana State
9/21 at Texas A&M
9/28 at TCU
10/5 Rutgers
10/19 at Memphis
10/26 Temple
11/9 at Cincinnati
11/16 Connecticut
11/23 at USF
11/29 at Houston
12/7 UCF
At what point does SMU start finding mediocrity a little annoying and unacceptable?

Head coach June Jones has done a fine job in five years on the Hilltop, turning a program in disrepair into one that's appeared in four consecutive bowl games. The postseason and SMU haven't exactly been familiar bedfellows since the program was whacked with the NCAA's "Death Penalty" in 1987. Still, there's a growing undercurrent that Jones has hit a wall in Dallas, taken the program about as far as it's going to go. Maxed out.

By Jones' fifth year at Hawaii, his previous employer, he'd guided the Warriors to four seasons of at least nine wins and a lot of gaudy numbers through the air. By Year 9, he had the school playing in the Sugar Bowl. The coach has yet to win nine games at SMU. The 2012 edition, in fact, needed to rally for bowl-eligibility, though it capitalized by roughing up Fresno State in the Hawaii Bowl, 43-10. And the offense has been stale. Painfully and inexplicably stale.

The uneven performance of the Run N' Shoot, Jones' calling card, has been the central reason why the Mustangs remain in neutral. Sure, the quarterbacks still sling it all over the field, but not with nearly the same efficiency that Timmy Chang or Colt Brennan did on the islands. The fact that SMU has ranked in the top 50 nationally in total offense just once under Jones has been a shocking display of futility.

During the offseason, Jones hired assistant Hal Mumme, the venerable offensive mad scientist. Mumme will tinker with the playbook, but most of his attention will go in the direction of QB Garrett Gilbert, the underachieving Texas transfer who played poorly in his SMU debut. If the Mustangs are going to elevate beyond the ordinary in 2013, the senior quarterback will have to play far more efficiently, particularly as the program faces a tougher slate as one of the new members of the American Athletic Conference. And especially since the defense is undergoing significant changes in the front seven.

SMU is getting somewhat greedy, a great sign for a program that not long ago would have celebrated .500 seasons. But can it scratch the itch that's beginning to nag those closest to the program? Jones is poised to take his unique personality and fancy offense to what used to be the Big East, another challenge for a coach who's spent a career knocking down hurdles.

What to watch for on offense: The Mumme Returns. While there are few quick-fixes in personnel for the underachieving SMU offense, altering the coaching staff is a different story. Head coach June Jones sought out fresh ideas and some new energy when he hired Hal Mumme, the innovative offensive strategist best known for his four-year stint with Kentucky from 1997-2000. Mumme will be asked to concoct ways to maximize the potential of a passing attack that has too often fizzled in the red zone under Jones.

What to watch for on defense: Sorting out the D-line. The Mustangs are replacing all three of last season's starters, namely second-round NFL draft choice Margus Hunt. The back seven boasts talent, but you may not know it if the front wall is constantly getting manhandled. Tackle Darrian Wright and ends Andy McCleneghen and Zach Wood are the projected starters, yet none of the trio has any starting experience. The staff is cautiously excited about the upside of rookie DE Elie Nabushosi, a backup with the motor and burst of a future starter.

This team will be far better if … it finishes its drives. SMU ranked 53rd nationally in scoring a year ago, a ranking that would have been much lower had the D not produced 11 touchdowns of its own. The Mustangs spent a lot of time going up and down the field before stalling and giving PK Chase Hover a chance to pad his personal numbers. In fact, the team was a miserable 109th nationally in red-zone touchdown efficiency, a sure-fire recipe for a losing season if the futility continues.

The Schedule: The Mustangs have a nice team returning, but life outside of Conference USA is going to be far tougher with few true layups. Going against Montana State will help, but the easier games against former league foes Memphis and Houston are on the road. Getting Temple at home won't be a breeze, and good luck dealing with Cincinnati on the road or Rutgers at home. There's no Louisville to deal with, but going on the road to Texas A&M and TCU after kicking off the year against Texas Tech won't be fun, and then comes Rutgers. The Mustangs only have to leave Texas once until November and three times all year, but it's still going to be a rough run.

Best Offensive Player: Senior WR Jeremy Johnson. Johnson is the most reliable target of an otherwise inconsistent group of pass-catchers. A quarterback in high school, he's morphed into a terrific slot receiver, making a team-best 67 receptions for 679 yards and three touchdowns a season ago. Johnson gets in and out of his cuts quickly, and has the speed to exploit the seams in a defense. With just a little more help from his quarterbacks this season, he's capable of earning All-AAC honors in his debut in the conference.

Best Defensive Player: Senior CB Kenneth Acker. Not many fans know Acker … not many NFL scouts don't know him. Acker is coming off his best season in Dallas, earning a spot on the All-Conference USA Second Team. He's a terrific all-around athlete, with the instincts and the 6-0, 195-pound frame to match up well with all types of opposing receivers. The product of the Pacific Northwest made 50 tackles, three picks and a Mustang-best 15 passes defended in 2012, and played some wide receiver in the spring as well.

Key player to a successful season: Senior QB Garrett Gilbert. As long as June Jones is in charge, no position on the roster will be more important than quarterback, and it's not even close. Yeah, SMU has major concerns about both of its lines, but they pale in comparison to the concerns behind center. The Mustangs will only go as far as the passing game will carry them. And that component of the attack will sputter if Gilbert can't do markedly better than last year's 53% completion percentage and No. 12 ranking in Conference USA passing efficiency.

The season will be a success if ... the Mustangs extend their streak of bowl games to five. If SMU qualifies for a bonus game, any game, in December, it'll be a major accomplishment for the program. The 2013 schedule is arguably the toughest the school has faced since the old Southwest Conference days, including games with Texas Tech, Texas A&M, TCU, Rutgers, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF. As long as the Mustangs are able to capture one of the American Athletic Conference's automatic bowl berths, the upcoming season will be a success.

Key game: Nov. 29 at Houston. The changing of leagues through the years has eliminated a lot of rivalries for the Mustangs. This one with the Cougars, however, has endured through realignment. It's often fun and entertaining when Houston and SMU share the field, though the former is still smarting from last season's 72-42 loss in Dallas. Both schools view the postseason as a barometer of success, and this next to last game of the regular season could be pivotal in that quest for six wins.

2012 Fun Stats:
- Yards per game: SMU 367.3 – Opponents 396.1
- Fumbles lost: SMU 8 – Opponents 16
- Red-zone touchdowns: SMU 49% - Opponents 64%
- 2013 SMU Preview | 2013 SMU Offense
- 2013 SMU Defense | 2013 SMU Depth Chart