2010 NCAA Football Preview: SMU Mustangs

2009 Record: 8-5 (6-2 in C-USA)
2009 Bowl: Hawaii Bowl (beat Nevada 45-10)
Final 2009 AP Ranking: Not Ranked
Head Coach: June Jones (9-16 at SMU, 85-57 All-Time)
Non-Conference Schedule: at Texas Tech (9/5), Washington State (9/18), TCU (9/24), at Navy (10/16)

2009 Offensive Statistics
Scoring: 29.2 points per game (5th in C-USA)
Rushing Yards/Game: 109 (10th in C-USA)
Passing Yards/Game: 282 (2nd in C-USA)
Total Yards/Game: 391 (6th in C-USA)

2009 Defensive Statistics
Scoring: 27.6 points per game (6th in C-USA)
Rushing Yards/Game: 166 (7th in C-USA)
Passing Yards/Game: 230 (3rd in C-USA)
Total Yards/Game: 397 (6th in C-USA)

2009 Misc Stats
Turnover Margin: +0.15 per game (6th in C-USA)
Penalties: 63 yards per game (8th in C-USA)

Returning Starters
Offense: 8
Defense: 7
Kicker/Punter: 2

Top Returning Statistical Leaders
Passing: QB Kyle Padron, Soph (135 of 201 for 1922 yds, 10 TD, 4 INT, 274 ypg)
Rushing: QB Zach Line, Soph (49 carries for 189 yds, 7 TD, 3.8 ypc)
Receiving: WR Aldrick Robinson, Sr (47 rec, 800 yds, 5 TD, 3.6 rec/game, 17 ypc)
Receiving: WR Terrance Wilkerson, Jr (42 rec, 527 yds, 4 TD, 3.2 rec/game)
Receiving: WR Cole Beasley, Jr (40 rec, 493 yds, 3 TD, 3.1 rec/game)
Tackles: FS Chris Banjo, Jr (86); LB Pete Fleps, Sr (83)
Sacks: DE Taylor Thompson, Jr (5.5)
Interceptions: CB Robert Mojica, Soph (2)

2010 Pre-Season Rankings
Athlon Sports: #69
Sporting News: #67

2010 Pre-Season C-USA Prediction:
Athlon Sports: #2 in C-USA West
Phil Steele: #2 in C-USA West (tie with Tulsa)

2010 Pre-Season Bowl Prediction:
Athlon Sports: Dallas Football Classic (vs. Purdue)
Phil Steele: Hawaii Bowl (vs. Hawaii)

June Jones went 1-11 in his first year at SMU but rebounded nicely last year by going 8-5 and leading SMU to a bowl victory over Nevada. SMU loses just 13 lettermen this year so they look to be in a good position to equal or succeed their 2009 finish.To find out more about SMU we talked with Ponyfans.com, the #1 SMU fansite.

What are the major strengths and biggest weaknesses of the team?

1. Coaching: June Jones has had something of a Midas touch wherever he has been. He lifted a long-dormant Hawaii program to new heights during his tenure on the islands, and in just his second year in Dallas, he led the Mustangs to their first bowl game in 25 years. Jones is renowned as an offensive genius, and rightly so, but his most important gift might be that of master psychologist. He and his staff have changed the culture around a program that had had just one winning season in the previous two decades. Jones believes in positive reinforcement and has instilled a new level of accountability in his team, from freshmen to fifth-year seniors.

2. Quarterback Kyle Padron: With exactly six starts on his college résumé, Padron already is one of the clear-cut leaders on the team. He has a 5-1 record as a starter and set an SMU single-game record with 460 passing yards in the Hawaii Bowl ... and was named the game's Most Valuable Player. His passer rating of 159.9 was the fifth-highest mark in the nation.

3. Defensive ends: Starters Taylor Thompson and Marquis Frazier completely changed the effectiveness of the defense last year, playing solidly against the run and the pass. Coupled with backup Margus Hunt — who, in his first year of playing football came within one of the all-time NCAA record for blocked kicks in a single season — the Mustangs have the best trio of defensive ends in more than 20 years.

4. Offensive tackles Kelvin Beachum, Jr. and J.T. Brooks: the bookends of the Mustangs' offensive line are big, athletic and technically solid. Beachum earns more accolades, but by the end of the 2009 season, Brooks was the offensive line's best player. These two were key reasons why Padron barely got any pressure at all in the Hawaii Bowl.

1. Depth: Since Jones' arrival, the Ponies have collected some quality starters, but are dangerously thin at many positions.

2. Uncertainty in the running game: transfer Shawnbrey McNeal was a pleasant surprise last year, running for more yards than any back June Jones has ever coached in college, but he is in San Diego now, trying to make the Chargers as a free agent. Chris Butler, Zach Line, Bryce Lunday and Ryan Moczygemba return, but many expect a pair of true freshmen, Kevin Pope and Darryl Fields, to compete for significant playing time — if not a starting role — right away.

Looking at the schedule who will be the first major test and why?

Texas Tech — the easy answer is because it's the next (and first) game on the schedule. The Red Raiders are facing a philosophical change as the players Mike Leach recruited try to master the system new coach Tommy Tuberville teaches, so the Ponies are catching them at the right time — first game out of the chute. But while SMU is closing the gap on the talent difference, Tech still has more size, speed and depth. An upset isn't out of the question, but an SMU victory would still be just that: an upset.

What team on the schedule do you fear the most?

One trademark of a June Jones-coached team seems to be an absolute absence of fear. SMU lost a lot of talent from last year's team, but the players and coaches seem positive their system will work better and better as the talent and depth improve and the players get more and more familiar with the intricacies and nuances of the offensive and defensive systems. If a team has to be picked, TCU is the easy answer after its run into the top 10 last year, but many of the Mustangs came out of that game feeling encouraged by the fact that SMU hung tough with the Frogs for more than half the game in a torrential downpour, and openly speculated about what might have happened had an interception that would have led to a sure touchdown not been dropped (with SMU already ahead, 7-0). Whether the Mustangs could have beaten TCU last year if they had gone up 14-0 never will be known, but the general feeling is that the difference in talent is far smaller than it was in years past.

Who is the best player on your team that nobody talks about?

Wide receiver Cole Beasley was largely overshadowed last year behind receiving leader Emmanuel Sanders, who was drafted in the third round by the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Aldrick Robinson, the Ponies' top returning target who finished second on the team last year with 47 receptions and whose elite speed helped him lead the team with an average of 17.0 yards per reception. But Beasley quietly finished fourth on the team with 40 receptions for 493 yards and reached the end zone three times. He is an exceptional athlete with deceptive speed who has improved his strength considerably with increased effort in the weight room over the offseason.

Who is the best offensive player on the team?

It's hard to name someone with just under seven career games, but when an injury forced Padron into the starting lineup last year, the SMU offense changed. The true freshman played with the poise of a veteran, moved the offense efficiently, protected the ball and made plays with both his arm and his feet.

Who is the most impactful defensive player on the team?

Cornerback Sterling Moore is another who spent last season overshadowed by teammates, but he is the most physical corner on the team, and maybe in Conference USA. He's not a pure sprinter, but is very strong pressing at the line of scrimmage, has exceptional technique and can go up and fight much bigger receivers for high passes.

What player(s) needs to step up this year in order for the team to reach its full capability?

A running back — any running back. Whether it's one of the veterans or one of the incoming freshmen, someone has to provide balance in the offense. The Run-and-Shoot is known as a passing offense, but Jones said repeatedly last year that it was McNeal's presence as a viable running threat that allowed the passing game to thrive. When he ran effectively, the defense had to play the run honestly, thereby creating more room downfield for the passing game.

Who is the top offensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

Kevin Pope and Darryl Fields — running back is a position at which a newcomer can make an early impact because of sheer athletic ability, and both will be given an opportunity to compete early. If they can handle the protection assignments that are required in Jones's offense, either could get a chance to play.

Who is the top defensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

JUCO cornerback Richard Crawford is fast and athletic, and comes from a pass-happy league in California. Longtime SMU starter Bryan McCann is in camp with the Dallas Cowboys, and two of the youngsters expected to compete for McCann's spot aren't back this year. The team needs Crawford to come in ready to play right away.

Gut feeling on the teams final record at the end of the regular season and what makes this a successful season in your eyes?

6-6 — the Mustangs lost a small senior class, but that class included a lot of key performers, including WR Sanders, SS Rock Dennis, CB McCann and C Mitch Enright. Jones and his staff are building the program the right way, stockpiling young talent, but while that talent base grows, the Mustangs will call on a lot of young players to fill key roles.

Make sure to check out Ponyfans.com and also visit their message boards

Previous Conference USA Previews
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Next Up: Virginia Tech Hokies

2010 Previews
ACC- Boston College Eagles, Florida State Seminoles, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Maryland Terrapins
Big 12- Kansas State Wildcats, Missouri Tigers, Texas Tech Red Raiders
Big East- Cincinnati Bearcats, Pittsburgh Panthers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, USF Bulls, West Virginia Mountaineers
Big Ten- Illinois Fighting Illini, Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Northwestern Wildcats, Purdue Boilermakers
MAC- Ball State Cardinals, Bowling Green Falcons, Buffalo Bulls, Central Michigan Chippewas, Temple Owls, Toledo Rockets
MWC- Colorado State Rams, UNLV Rebels, Utah Utes
Pac-10- Arizona State Sun Devils, Oregon Ducks, USC Trojans, Washington Huskies
SEC- Auburn Tigers, Kentucky Wildcats, Mississippi Rebels, South Carolina Gamecocks, Vanderbilt Commodores
Sun Belt- Troy Trojans
WAC- New Mexico State Aggies

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