New SMU coach Rhett Lashlee inherits a team capable of making plenty of noise in the American Athletic Conference in 2022. The Mustangs return 12 starters off a squad that went 8-4 last season, including quarterback Tanner Mordecai, receiver Rashee Rice and defensive linemen DeVere Levelston and Elijah Chatman. The home schedule presents opportunities for SMU to surprise in Lashlee's debut, as Houston, Cincinnati and TCU all visit Gerald J. Ford Stadium.
Previewing SMU's Offense for 2022
In his first season at SMU, Tanner Mordecai led the AAC with 3,628 yards passing, and his 39 touchdowns ranked fifth nationally. But those numbers did not guarantee him the starting job over redshirt freshman Preston Stone. New head coach Rhett Lashlee is banking on both quarterbacks improving through competition, although Mordecai will be hard to unseat.
The receiver corps lost breakaway threats Danny Gray and Reggie Roberson Jr., who declared for the NFL Draft. Rashee Rice, the team leader in receptions with 64, figures to be the main target. Transfers Beau Corrales from North Carolina, Jake Bailey from Rice and Kelvontay Dixon from Texas will provide depth and experience.
The offensive line, which showed improvement last season, will get major help from transfers Joe Bissinger from Virginia and Owen Condon from Georgia. The Mustangs allowed only 16 sacks, a remarkable number considering their 468 passes. Tre Siggers, who rushed for 727 yards and nine TDs, returns along with strong short-yardage back Tyler Lavine.
The offense will not be dramatically different under Lashlee. The most noticeable changes will be a faster pace and more intermediate and long throws.
Previewing SMU's Defense for 2022
SMU was strong up front, allowing only 3.8 yards per rush and posting 27 sacks. Many of the main contributors return, including DeVere Levelston and Turner Coxe, who combined for 12.5 sacks.
Improving the secondary is the team's biggest challenge. The unit placed pressure on the offense by surrendering big plays and failing to create momentum with turnovers. Opponents averaged 278.1 yards passing per game and 8.3 yards per attempt.
New defensive coordinator Scott Symons has employed a 4-2-5 scheme. Symons hopes to take advantage of SMU's speed to create a more aggressive attack.
One wrinkle in the 4-2-5 is the nickel back, which in theory should help SMU's coverage and turnover production. Freshman Pierre Goree (6'1", 220) from nearby Duncanville seems the perfect fit for this hybrid position.
Previewing SMU's Specialists for 2022
Collin Rogers, one of the nation’s best high school kickers, will be a welcome addition. He chose SMU over offers from Georgia, Florida State and Ole Miss. Brendan Hall, 6'8", 230, averaged 41.7 yards per punt with a long of 67 yards and nine inside the 20.
Transition years can be tough. But having served as offensive coordinator under Sonny Dykes in 2018 and 2019, Lashlee has firsthand knowledge of what it takes to succeed on the Hilltop. He recruited about half of SMU's current roster. His familiarity with the program should make the first-year transition smoother than most.
The schedule is favorable with TCU and AAC opponents Houston and Cincinnati at home. If the Mustangs can avoid the late-season swoons of the previous regime, they could notch eight or nine wins and a bowl berth.