SMU Mustangs 2016 Preview and Prediction


#101 SMU Mustangs



American Athletic West PREDICTION


HEAD COACH: Chad Morris, 2-10 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Joe Craddock | DEF. COORDINATOR: Van Malone

The Chad Morris era at SMU did not get off to the quick start many were hoping for. The Mustangs endured an eight-game losing streak and finished their 2015 campaign with just one more victory (2) than they had in '14. There's still plenty of reason for optimism, however, as SMU's offense in particular could take a big step forward this season with experienced playmakers returning.

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Previewing SMU’s Offense for 2016 

Chad Morris’ power spread depends on the running game to be successful. The Mustangs showed marked improvement last year with the addition of freshman backs Xavier Jones and Braeden West. That said, quarterback Matt Davis led the team in rushing again. Jones ran for 634 yards and 10 TDs, the most in school history by a freshman, and West provided 468 yards from scrimmage. 

But for SMU to resemble Morris’ old Clemson offenses, or at least compete with the top teams in the American Athletic Conference, the Mustangs are in dire need of stronger play up front. After all, what’s a power spread without power?

Davis is a dangerous dual-threat quarterback whose biggest weakness is trying to do too much. In his first season under Morris, he made smarter decisions, which resulted in a lower interception rate. 

The offense improved with 6'4" receiver Courtland Sutton providing the deep threat and highlight-reel catches. Sutton, who had 49 receptions for 862 yards and nine TDs in his first season, often drew double coverage. But the Mustangs couldn’t exploit the advantage, as no other wideout had more than 25 catches. 

To keep moving the chains and reduce the pressure on Davis, the Ponies need to convert short-yardage plays. The line was often overmatched and pushed back in those situations. With constant shuffling up front, pass protection was jeopardized and fourth-and-short was a gamble.

Consistency on the line is vital. Senior Chauncey Briggs should be better with a year of experience in the new system. 

Previewing SMU’s Defense for 2016

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Lack of depth took its toll on the defense last year with injuries forcing many young players to be thrown in the fire. The secondary was so thin that seldom-used receivers Deion Sanders Jr. and Cedric Lancaster switched to cornerback for depth.

Morris says that four of the five incoming defensive linemen could play this fall. Twins Delontae and Michael Scott are among the young players who have flashed strong potential. Zelt Minor is running out of time to make the big impact expected of him. But there are plenty of openings up front with the departures of Zach Wood, Andrew McCleneghen, Cameron Smith and Robert Seals. Ends Justin Lawler and Jarvis Pruitt, along with nose tackle Mason Gentry, have the most experience.

The Mustangs have some strong young linebackers to replace departing starters Caleb Tuiasosopo and Jonathan Yenga. As a redshirt freshman, Kyran Mitchell worked his way into the starting lineup but suffered a season-ending injury in the eighth game, finishing with 40 tackles. And R.C. Cox took over the Star hybrid linebacker spot. 

Jordan Wyatt played both safety positions as a redshirt freshman last year, and William Jeanlys started at cornerback. A.J. Justice (safety) and Jesse Montgomery (cornerback) are expected to compete for starting positions. Horace Richardson has the most talent and experience at cornerback.

Related: Athlon's 2016 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing SMU’s Specialists for 2016 

Braeden West established himself as the key kickoff return man, averaging 23.5 yards with an 80-yard score. Expect speedy receiver James Proche to be added to the mix. He’s dangerous in the open field. Josh Williams could handle both punting and kicking duties.

Final Analysis 

SMU could be a force offensively with the potential to be among the top 25 units nationally if holes are filled up front. The young Mustangs played their best against their toughest opponents last year, staying with Baylor and TCU until the fourth quarter. But their confidence eroded en route to a 2–10 season. SMU could actually compete for a bowl game if the defense surpasses expectations, but that is one big “if” for a team that ranked 119th in total defense in 2015.