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SMU Football: 2020 Mustangs Season Preview and Prediction

SMU Football: 2020 Mustangs Season Preview and Prediction

SMU Football: 2020 Mustangs Season Preview and Prediction

SMU is coming off the program's first season of double-digit victories since 1984. A high-powered offense directed by quarterback Shane Buechele led the way in 2019 and will headline the Mustangs' hopes of an American Athletic Conference title in 2020. Buechele is one of the top Group of 5 players in college football, and there's plenty of weapons at his disposal, including Reggie Roberson and tight end Kylen Granson. SMU's defense has room to improve after allowing 33.4 points a game last fall, but a favorable schedule and potent offense will keep coach Sonny Dykes' team in the mix to win the AAC.

Related: Athlon Sports' College Football Top 25 for 2020

Previewing SMU's Offense for 2020

After quarterback Shane Buechele threw for 3,929 yards and 34 touchdowns last season, SMU will simplify its high-scoring offense to give him more options. A faster pace with more quick slants and crossing patterns could enhance Buechele’s decision-making and open the field to explosive plays.

The Mustangs have been cautious not to overwork their most dangerous playmaker, wide receiver Reggie Roberson Jr. The West Virginia transfer, who averaged 18.7 yards per catch before suffering a season-ending foot injury in the eighth game last year, will take on more responsibility to fill James Proche’s shoes. Flex tight end Kylen Granson became a major threat, particularly after Roberson went down, finishing with 43 receptions for 721 yards and nine touchdowns.

A deep group of talented young wideouts will provide diverse targets for Buechele. But with the loss of Xavier Jones and Ke’Mon Freeman to graduation, the Mustangs need an inexperienced running back to become a legitimate threat. TJ McDaniel seems the most likely. He got the most opportunities as a freshman last season, rushing for 159 yards and three touchdowns against Texas State.

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Previewing SMU's Defense for 2020

SMU’s depth will be tested, especially up front. The Mustangs return ends Gary Wiley and Turner Coxe, but replacing key graduated players will be critical. Filling holes via the transfer portal has at least deepened the talent pool with experienced players. Linebacker Richard McBryde, an Auburn transfer, was granted a sixth year of eligibility after posting a team-high 99 tackles (with four sacks) last year. Cornerback Brandon Stephens, a UCLA transfer, led SMU with 12 passes defended, and Arkansas transfer Chevin Calloway will compete for a starting safety job after playing 11 games last year.

The Mustangs will also see the return of their leading tackler from 2018, linebacker Richard Moore, who was limited to three games last year because of injury. Tackle Mike Williams, a graduate transfer from Stanford, started every game for the Cardinal the past two years and is a potential leader for the young linemen who are competing for playing time.

Previewing SMU's Specialists for 2020

The Mustangs did not make a field goal longer than 38 yards and missed seven PATs and three field-goal attempts inside 30 yards. Head coach Sonny Dykes added Texas grad transfer Chris Naggar this summer to compete with sophomore Russell Roberts. He had only two field-goal attempts as a freshman last season, making one.

Final Analysis

Expectations are high after the Mustangs got a taste of national acclaim last year. Dykes has done a masterful job of getting immediate help from transfers and creating an exciting offense. SMU ranked seventh nationally in scoring (41.8 ppg) last season. The aggressive defense ranked fourth nationally in sacks and fifth in fumbles recovered.

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Sustaining momentum from that 10-win season will be critical. Despite some significant personnel losses, the Mustangs have the talent to contend for the AAC title. The schedule should help the Mustangs get things in order early with only two road games in the first five games. Their toughest games — TCU, Memphis, Cincinnati, Navy and Houston — are at home.

National Ranking: 53

(Top photo courtesy of SMU Athletics)