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2011 SMU Mustangs Football: Bowl Game or Bust?

2010 Record: (7-7, 6-2 in C-USA)

Head Coach: June Jones (92-64, 16-23 at SMU)

Last Bowl Game: 2010 Armed Bowl Bowl: lost to Army 16-14

2010 Pre-Season Preview


College Football Roundtable: Conference USA Edition


9/4: at Texas A&M

9/10: UTEP (2010 result: lost 28-14)

9/17: Northwestern State

9/24: at Memphis

9/30: at TCU (2010 result: lost 41-24)

10/15: UCF (2010 result: lost 17-7)

10/22: at Southern Miss

10/29:at Tulsa (2010 result: won 21-18)

11/5: Tulane (2010 result: won 31-17)

11/12: Navy (2010 result: lost 28-21)

11/19: at Houston (2010 result: lost 45-20)

11/26: Rice (2010 result: won 42-31)

2010 Offensive Statistics:

Scoring: 25.7 ppg (9th in C-USA, 74th in Nation)

Rushing Yds/Game: 138.79 yds/game (7th in C-USA, 81st in Nation)

Passing Yds/Game: 275.8 yds/game (4th in C-USA, 21st in Nation)

Total Yds/Game: 414.6 yds/game (6th in C-USA, 33rd in Nation)

2010 Defensive Statistics:

Scoring: 25.6 ppg (2nd in C-USA, 59th in Nation)

Rushing Yds/Game: 144.79 yds/game (4th in C-USA, 53th in Nation)

Passing Yds/Game: 208.1 yds/game (3rd in C-USA, 43rd in Nation)

Total Yds/Game: 352.9 yds/game (2nd in C-USA, 40th in Nation)

2010 Misc Stats:

Turnover Margin: -0.86 per game (11th in C-USA, 112th in Nation)

Penalties: 51.0 yds/game (8th in C-USA, 56th in Nation)

Returning Starters:

Offense: 10

Defense: 8

Kicker/Punter: 0

Top Returning Statistical Leaders:

Passing: QB Kyle Padron (302 of 508 for 3828 yds, 31 TD, 14 INT)

Rushing: RB Zach Line, Jr (244 for 1494, 6.1 ypc, 10 TD)

Receiving: WR Cole Beasley, Sr (87 rec for 1060 yds, 6 TD)

Tackles: LB Taylor Reed, Jr (145)

Sacks: LB Ja'Gared Davis, Jr  (8)

Interceptions: DB Richard Crawford (4)

2010 was a story of two seasons for the Mustangs and June Jones. The first was out of conference where the team really struggled going 1-3 with the only victory being over Washington State. In conference was a different story as SMU went 6-2 losing to only Houston and UTEP in the regular season.

One big area of concern is turnovers as SMU gave the ball away 12 more times than they took it away last year. In SMU's seven losses they only once won the turnover battle and that was against TCU. In the six other games they lost the turnover battle by a combined total of 12 turnovers. If SMU can do a better job managing turnovers then they could go further in CUSA this year since they return so many starters. Of course, on the other hand SMU has once again scheduled up out of conference as they will take on very formidable opponents in Texas A&M, TCU and Navy. To find out more about the 2011 SMU Mustangs we talked with sure to check out their website and also visit their message boards.

In just his third year as Head Coach June Jones took the Mustangs to the C-USA Championship Game. What does SMU need to do this year to take the next step and win that game?

The Mustangs need to do several things:

• Create more takeaways on defense. SMU generated 15 turnovers (intercepting 10 passes and recovering five of 12 fumbles) by opponents in 2010, a drop from 28 takeaways a year before. The Mustangs have a very talented defense returning in 2011, after losing just three starters — linebackers Pete Fleps and Youri Yenga, as well as cornerback Sterling Moore — from last year's unit. But the Ponies have to be as opportunistic as they were the year before. The defense should be loaded in 2011, especially with a front seven that includes DE Taylor Thompson (a 2010 All-Conference USA honoree), DE/NT Marquis Frazier, DE Margus Hunt, LBs Ja'Gared Davis and Taylor Reed, FS Chris Banjo and CB Richard Crawford, but has to be more opportunistic and/or lucky than it was in 2010.

• The Ponies need to establish a new deep threat at wide receiver. For the second consecutive year, SMU had a receiver chosen in the NFL (Emmanuel Sanders in 2009 by the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Aldrick Robinson in 2010 by the Washington Redskins), and while the Mustangs have lots of experience returning in 2011 — veterans Cole Beasley, Brad Haynes and Darius Johnson have a combined 56 starts on their resumes — none is the speedy deep threat Robinson was. Keenan Holman came on at the end of his freshman season last year and has the size and speed to make teams honor the deep ball, but he is so versatile the SMU coaches want to use him in a number of ways. One candidate to stretch defenses will be blazing redshirt freshman Der'Rikk Thompson.

• SMU needs to solidify its special teams. Matt Szymanski handled the majority of the punting and placekicking duties last year, but he graduated. New special teams coach Frank Gansz, Jr., takes over a group that includes redshirt freshman Mike Loftus as the early leader for both jobs, but he will not go unchallenged. Similarly, Gansz must sort through a group of candidates to return kickoffs and punts. Crawford was the team's top punt returner in 2010, averaging 9.2 yards per return, but the Ponies need more explosiveness at that spot. Freshman Darryl Fields had 32 kickoff returns — more than the combined total (24) of eight other players who returned at least one — but the Mustangs failed to return a single punt or kickoff for a score, so there should be ample competition during preseason workouts.

• The passing game needs to be more consistent. QB Kyle Padron set expectations for his sophomore year at an impossibly high level after virtually pitching a perfect game in SMU's rout of Nevada in the 2009 Hawaii Bowl at the end of his sophomore year. In 2010, he established new SMU single-season records for touchdown passes (31) and passing yards (3,828), but often spoke after games about some plays that were "left on the field." Head coach June Jones's Run-and-Shoot offense is based in part on the quarterback and receivers making the same reads and adjustments, so if the quarterback and receiver make different reads of what a defense is doing, chances are the pass will miss by a lot. Sometimes an incomplete pass is the result of a poor throw, and other times it is a result of a receiver being in the wrong place; for SMU last season, it was a little of both. Padron's pass efficiency rating (137.4) was third-best among Conference USA starters, but he has said throughout the offseason that his biggest goal is improved consistency. If he can achieve that, the offense should put up more yardage and points — perhaps a lot more.

Most people know the name Kyle Padron. Who are the other guys on the Mustangs to look out for this year?

• RB Zach Line: as a sophomore, the first-team All-Conference USA honoree ran for 1,494 yards, 449 more than Tulane's Orleans Dwarka, who finished second in the conference. There was considerable concern that Shawnbrey McNeal's early departure to the NFL (he now is on the Washington Redskins' practice squad) would leave the Ponies without a legitimate running threat, but the 1,188 rushing yards McNeal had in 2009 were more than 300 yards fewer than Line's total in 2010. Line's production trailed only Eric Dickerson's 1,617 yards in 1982, and his 2010 average of 6.1 yards per carry deflated the idea that he was little more than a blocker and short-yardage specialist.

• LBs Taylor Reed and Ja'Gared Davis: Reed stepped into the starting MIKE spot vacated by former SMU star Chase Kennemer and immediately became the team's tackler, collecting 145 in 2010, including 101 solo stops (the fourth-highest total in the nation). Davis is one of the fastest — if not the fastest — linebackers in the country. He had 90 tackles in 2010, the fourth-highest total on the SMU defense. In addition, his team-high 9.0 QB sacks were second in C-USA (and the most among returning players), and his 16 tackles-for-loss also led the team, finishing fifth among C-USA defensive players.

• The offensive line: coaches and players talk about the offensive line, more than any other position group, needing experience together to develop the chemistry and timing needed to keep the QB upright and to open sufficient lanes for the running game. The SMU offensive line has grown up together — literally — with six seniors with ample starting experience coming back in August. LT Kelvin Beachum, Jr., was a first-team All-Conference USA honoree, while RT J.T. Brooks and C Blake McJunkin earned honorable mention honors. Despite sitting out the 2010 season, LG Josh LeRibeus is expected to be a candidate for all-conference honors and is considered by some be a viable pro prospect next spring.

• DE Taylor Thompson: draw up the prototypical 3-4 defensive end, and you get Thompson, a 6-5, 290-pounder with the wingspan of a pterodactyl and the speed of a tight end — the position at which he received many of his scholarship offers coming out of high school. Another first-team all-conference honoree in 2010, Thompson draws the attention of offensive lines every week, and already is on the radar of NFL scouts everywhere.

Who are some newcomers that look like they could have an immediate impact this year?

Predicting which newcomers will make an immediate impact always an inexact science, to say the least. However:

• QB Conner Preston put up monster numbers at Junipero Serra (Calif.) HS, and got a jumpstart on learning the Mustangs' Run-and-Shoot offense when he graduated in December and enrolled at SMU in January. Because of the experience he gained during the Ponies' spring workouts, in which he showed a live, accurate arm, Preston should be given every chance to compete for the backup job behind Padron.

• CB Maurice Hood was a JUCO first-team All-America at safety in each of his two seasons at Tyler (Texas) Junior College, but played the position because his team lacked safeties. His natural position — and the position SMU recruited him to play — is cornerback, and following the graduation of Sterling Moore, he'll get every chance to compete for the starting spot across from Richard Crawford. SMU defensive coaches raved about the spring performances of several returning CB, including Keith Robinson, Chris Parks and Kenneth Acker, but Hood should at least compete for playing time, if not a starting spot.

• G Dontae Levingston turned down offers from marquee programs like Oregon, Florida, Arizona and Washington to sign with SMU, and while the Ponies theoretically will roll out a starting offensive line made up entirely of seniors, Levingston has the pass-blocking ability and size to play early. Like virtually all freshman OLs, he needs to get stronger, but his ability to play either side should afford offensive line coach Adrian Klemm far more flexibility than he enjoyed in the past.

• NTs Rishaad Wimbley and Darrian Wright: if either can step in and play right away, SMU coaches could move senior Marquis Frazier back to his natural DE position. One of the top power lifters in Texas, Wimbley is extraordinarily strong, while Wright is exceptionally quick for an interior lineman and uses his hands very well to shed blockers.

• The Mustangs are deeper at LB than at any time since the 1980s, but Davon Moreland is a rare athlete who might force his way into the rotation. He will be making two adjustments — from high school to college and from DE  to playing as a standup OLB — but once he gets used to his new position, he might be difficult to keep off the field.

What is the one game on the schedule that you want to win more than any other this year?

The easy answer would be to say the TCU game; the Horned Frogs are the Ponies' cross-town rivals. The schools recruit many of the same players — and those recruiting battles are getting more closely contested as the Mustangs have appeared in back-to-back bowl games — and TCU lost a lot of 2010 seniors who have to be replaced. But the most important game inside the SMU locker room should be the Conference USA championship game. The Ponies reached the league's title game in 2010 and came up short, 17-7, against UCF. SMU has to be considered among the teams able to reach the title game again this year, and there is no team in the league so loaded with talent that the Ponies shouldn't have a legitimate chance to win it.

Conference USA looks like it will be pretty competitive this year. Who do you see as your primary competition in the conference?

UCF won the conference title in 2010 and returns a lot of players in 2011, and has to be considered the preseason favorite. Houston always fields an exceptionally fast team and expects to bring back star QB Case Keenum after his 2010 season was cut short by injury. Tulsa lost several talented seniors and coach Todd Graham, but QB G.J. Kinne gives the Golden Hurricane a chance against anyone in Conference USA.

What is your gut feeling on the final record for the 2011 season and what makes the season successful in your eyes?

SMU has followed the June Jones blueprint for improvement in his three years on the Hilltop. The Ponies played in their first bowl game in more than two decades in 2009, and made the Conference USA title game and another bowl game last year. A tough non-conference schedule that includes games at matchups with Texas A&M, TCU and Navy could represent significant hurdles, and C-USA has several teams with comparable talent, but a regular-season record of 7-5 or even 8-4 is not unreasonable.

To do so, the Mustangs will have to stay healthy, of course, and winning one or two of the non-conference games mentioned above should go a long way, in terms of national perception and on the recruiting trail. Specifically, if Padron and his receivers can iron out the kinks in the passing game, if the  defensive front seven can generate enough pressure to help significantly increase the number of takeaways and if the kicking and return games can return to the levels they were in 2009, there is no reason the Ponies can't have their second winning season in three years, get another shot in the C-USA championship game and earn their third consecutive bowl berth.

Next Preview: Ball State

2011 Team Previews

C-USA- Houston, Southern Mississippi

MAC- Bowling Green, Buffalo, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Temple, Toledo

MWC- UNLV, Wyoming

Sun Belt- FAU, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Troy, ULM

WAC- Idaho


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