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The big 2014 SMU football preview: Mustangs stay the same, remain interesting

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

SMU has been basically the same team for most of the last five years, and despite some key players/coaches leaving, should be pretty similar again in 2014. Does June Jones have a big run in him at some point?

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1. Never dull

Not including his first year on the job, a Year 0 experience if ever one existed, June Jones has basically put the same product on the field every year in his time at SMU. Between 2009 and 2013, Jones' SMU offense has ranked between 61st and 79th in Off. F/+ four times, and his defense has ranked between 41st and 57th in Def. F/+ four times. And for what it's worth, his special teams unit has been routinely poor, ranking between 81st and 115th four times.

Considering where SMU was before Jones arrived -- one winning season since its late-1980s death penalty, no bowls since 1984, an 18-52 record under predecessor Phil Bennett -- this level of general mediocrity, this nearly perfectly average play, could be considered a very good thing. Jones has boosted SMU's profile, the Mustangs have a pretty new stadium, and they have won either seven or eight games for four of the last five seasons. They won three bowls between 1949 and 2008, and they've won three since 2009.

At the same time, this reeks of stagnation, and if you stay at the same level for long enough, you risk falling into Glen Mason Territory, in which you raise a fanbase's expectations, then fail to ever exceed them. Eventually fans get bored with seven wins, even if they didn't experience seven wins even one time between 1985 and 2008.

Fear of Glen Mason Territory might exist for other coaches, but June Jones seems to thrive at doing nothing as expected. Following a slight step backwards (to 5-7 and 84th in the F/+ rankings) in 2013, Jones actually got a contract extension. And while the quality of the product hasn't changed much since 2009, one cannot say that SMU is ever, EVER boring. SMU very nearly lost to Montana State and very nearly beat UCF in 2013. The Mustangs allowed 49 points to Temple and won, and they scored 52 points against Rutgers and lost. They scored 16 points against USF and won, and they allowed 17 to UCF and lost. In all, SMU played seven games decided by 10 or fewer points, and while the Mustangs wasn't particularly good in 2013, they were imminently watchable.

I mean, come on.

In 2014, despite the loss of starting quarterback Garrett Gilbert, SMU should take a step forward overall ... right back to where the Mustangs resided between 2009 and 2012. There's certainly enough talent here to reach another bowl, but I can't say there's a lot of hope for surpassing the seven- or eight-win level. But hey, as long as the Mustangs are entertaining again, maybe that's okay.

2013 Schedule & Results

Record: 5-7 | Adj. Record: 5-7 | Final F/+ Rk: 84
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L 5-gm Adj. Avg.
30-Aug Texas Tech 43 23-41 L 29.7 - 28.5 W
7-Sep Montana State N/A 31-30 W 28.3 - 35.0 L
21-Sep at Texas A&M 23 13-42 L 20.3 - 29.0 L
28-Sep at TCU 44 17-48 L 20.1 - 33.6 L
5-Oct Rutgers 91 52-55 L 29.2 - 34.3 L -6.6
19-Oct at Memphis 83 34-29 W 32.0 - 28.2 W -6.1
26-Oct Temple 98 59-49 W 43.3 - 44.1 L -4.9
9-Nov at Cincinnati 64 25-28 L 50.6 - 29.8 W 1.0
16-Nov Connecticut 93 38-21 W 36.4 - 33.5 W 4.3
23-Nov at South Florida 99 16-6 W 17.7 - 33.3 L 2.2
29-Nov at Houston 46 0-34 L 14.1 - 22.0 L -0.1
7-Dec Central Florida 21 13-17 L 23.6 - 23.6 W 0.0
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk Spec. Tms. Rk
F/+ -2.8% 71 -3.4% 79 -3.4% 115
Points Per Game 26.8 76 33.3 100
Adj. Points Per Game 28.8 60 31.2 95

2. Three seasons

One other not-so-boring aspect of SMU's 2013 season: the Mustangs were a different team from month to month.

Adj. Points Per Game (first 5 games): Opponent 32.1, SMU 25.5 (minus-6.6)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 4 games): SMU 40.6, Opponent 33.9 (plus-6.7)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 3 games): Opponent 26.3, SMU 18.5 (minus-7.8)

In September, SMU was below average offensively and defensively and got blown out by three different top-50 teams. Texas Tech, Texas A&M, and TCU beat the Mustangs by an average score of 44-18, and only a comeback win over Montana State prevented an 0-4 start.

Stagnant early play against Rutgers turned into an explosive late-game run to force overtime, however, and in the five games from Rutgers to UConn, SMU averaged 6.6 yards per play and 42 points per game. The defense stayed about the same, but after the Rutgers loss, SMU won four of five to get back to .500 overall. And then Garrett Gilbert got hurt, and the offense completely vanished. The defense stiffened, but it didn't matter, and SMU lost its last two games.

The response of SMU's offense to Gilbert's injury wasn't particularly encouraging, of course. But Jones and a new offensive coordinator will have their choice of four different former three-star quarterbacks to lead the way in 2014. Last year's backup, Neal Burcham, is the favorite for the job, but he'll have to perform well to keep it.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.14 66 IsoPPP+ 98.7 68
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 41.5% 75 Succ. Rt. + 99.3 67
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 34.2 122 Def. FP+ 94.4 111
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.0 85 Redzone S&P+ 89.8 97
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 28.8 ACTUAL 24 -4.8
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 41 67 68 53
RUSHING 119 74 98 113
PASSING 8 77 56 20
Standard Downs 46 55 38
Passing Downs 98 83 112
Q1 Rk 75 1st Down Rk 39
Q2 Rk 80 2nd Down Rk 90
Q3 Rk 30 3rd Down Rk 71
Q4 Rk 57

3. A short marriage

It lasted only one year, unfortunately. June Jones' hiring of Air Raid founder Hal Mumme as offensive coordinator produced some fun interviews and some "what does this mean?" guesswork, but the marriage ended when Mumme, apparently itching to get back into the head coaching ranks, took the job at NAIA's Bellhaven.

So what did this marriage produce? Here was my guess in last year's preview:

In terms of the product on the field, it probably doesn't mean much. The air raid is an efficiency attack, content with forcing the defense to give up something, then taking whatever it gives. The run and shoot might have a bit more vertical capability, but not really. If there's a difference, add a few percentage points of completion percentage, subtract a little bit of yards per completion, and watch the average stay about the same. Regardless, SMU will pass. A lot. Just like it did last year.

That was more or less right. Garrett Gilbert's per-completion average fell from 10.9 yards to 10.5, but his completion rate surged from 53 percent to 67, his interception rate fell from 3.0 percent to 1.4, and his sack rate fell from 6.1 percent to 4.7. The return of three of his top four targets from 2012 probably didn't hurt that, but the Jones-Mumme pairing certainly improved Gilbert's draft stock at the end of the day. Now it appears Jason Phillips, hired as a co-coordinator a couple of years ago, will play a larger role. (Regardless, SMU will pass. A lot. Just like it did last year.)

4. The art of finishing drives

Pass-first, spread offenses are often given the "can't finish drives" stigma, and the reputation isn't always accurate. But it was pretty darn accurate for SMU last year. The Mustangs were in the top 70 in terms of both Success Rate+ (efficiency) and IsoPPP+ (explosiveness), but they were barely in the top 100 in terms of red zone averages. They averaged only 4.0 points per trip inside the 40 last year, and that's just not good enough. If the new quarterback is a step backwards from Gilbert but SMU is able to more fully take advantage of the opportunities it has, that might be a wash. Improved depth at running back, where underwhelming sophomore Prescott Line and junior K.C. Niemchi return and are joined by star freshman (and big dude) Daniel Gresham could help in that regard.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Garrett Gilbert 335 504 3528 21 7 66.5% 25 4.7% 6.4
Neal Burcham 6'3, 207 So. 3 stars (5.5) 64 109 556 2 4 58.7% 11 9.2% 4.1
Conner Preston 6'0, 193 Jr. 3 stars (5.5)
Kolney Cassel 6'2, 205 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)
Darrell Colbert 5'11, 189 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
Opp.
Rate
Prescott Line RB 6'0, 233 So. 3 stars (5.5) 90 332 3 3.7 1.9 34.4%
Garrett Gilbert QB 58 418 6 7.2 6.7 48.3%
K.C. Nlemchi RB 6'1, 220 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 51 238 1 4.7 5.2 39.2%
Traylon Shead RB 51 197 3 3.9 2.9 29.4%
Kevin Pope LB 5'10, 225 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 17 89 0 5.2 5.8 41.2%
JaBryce Taylor WR 5 72 0 14.4 7.9 100.0%
Collin LaGasse WR 5'11, 197 So. 3 stars (5.5) 4 14 0 3.5 7.1 25.0%
Daniel Gresham RB 5'10, 237 Fr. 3 stars (5.7)




Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Jeremy Johnson WR-Y 159 112 1112 70.4% 26.8% 65.3% 7.0 -185 7.2 122.0
Darius Joseph WR-H 6'0, 195 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 143 103 808 72.0% 24.1% 72.5% 5.7 -372 5.3 88.6
Keenan Holman WR-Z 104 67 1037 64.4% 17.5% 68.3% 10.0 226 10.2 113.8
Der'rikk Thompson WR-X 5'11, 190 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 68 32 459 47.1% 11.4% 67.9% 6.8 0 6.8 50.4
Stephen Nelson WR-H 6'0, 185 Sr. NR 19 13 111 68.4% 3.2% 61.5% 5.8 -42 6.4 12.2
K.C. Nlemchi RB 6'1, 220 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 18 16 99 88.9% 3.0% 81.3% 5.5 -68 5.0 10.9
JaBryce Taylor WR-X 13 7 127 53.8% 2.2% 42.9% 9.8 34 15.3 13.9
Prescott Line RB 6'0, 233 So. 3 stars (5.5) 12 11 56 91.7% 2.0% 77.8% 4.7 -57 5.5 6.1
Collin LaGasse WR 5'11, 197 So. 3 stars (5.5) 11 9 50 81.8% 1.9% 80.0% 4.5 -47 4.4 5.5
Deion Sanders, Jr. WR 5'7, 180 So. 2 stars (5.4) 11 7 45 63.6% 1.9% 72.7% 4.1 -40 4.6 4.9
Jeremiah Gaines WR-Y 6'2, 235 So. 3 stars (5.6) 9 6 57 66.7% 1.5% 57.1% 6.3 -14 6.7 6.3
Traylon Shead RB 7 6 26 85.7% 1.2% 71.4% 3.7 -38 2.9 2.9
Arrius Holleman WR 6'3, 220 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 6 2 20 33.3% 1.0% 0.0% 3.3 -16 2.2 2.2
Nate Halverson WR 5'11, 178 So. 2 stars (5.4)
Cedric Lancaster WR 5'8, 165 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Everett Dickerson WR 6'0, 205 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Shelby Walker WR 6'0, 147 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)
Jordan Ingram WR 5'10, 156 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)

5. Taking advantage of Texas

You can credit the birth of the spread offense to a lot of different fathers in a lot of different states. But there's no question that its upbringing has taken place mostly in the state of Texas, where high schools quickly caught on and adapted. The state produces a wealth of three-star (or better) quarterbacks, running backs, and receivers in a given year, and if you're SMU, you don't have much excuse for not landing some of them.

Over the last couple of years, SMU has indeed landed some of them. The Mustangs boast four former three-star quarterbacks, three three-star running backs, and seven three-star receivers. Now they just have to start playing like it. Gresham comes with a lot of expectations at running back, but so did three-star Texas transfer Traylon Shead, and that didn't work out very well. Meanwhile, with last year's most consistent (Jeremy Johnson) and explosive (Keenan Holman) targets gone from the passing game, it wouldn't be a bad idea for some of these three-star candidates to step up. Evidently redshirt freshman Cedric Lancaster had a lovely spring, for whatever that's worth.

Of course, improvement at the skill positions might just be offset by regression up front. The SMU line was a relative strength, but of the seven players who finished the season with starting experience, four are gone. SMU will be breaking in a pair of new starting guards but could be stable at tackle (especially if former track star and current "Next Margus Hunt" Bo Antunovic is a fast learner), which is certainly a decent thing for a pass-first (and pass-second) offense.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 101 2.61 3.03 38.7% 77.3% 20.8% 84.1 4.4% 9.7%
Rank 65 111 84 74 14 83 87 59 102
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Career Starts Honors/Notes
Taylor Lasecki C 6'3, 296 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 25
Ben Gottschalk LG 24
Kris Weeks RT 6'5, 310 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 13
Ben Hughes RG 10
Chauncey Briggs LT 6'5, 295 So. 2 stars (5.4) 8
Sam Rice LG 6
Thomas Ashcraft RT 1
Christian Chamagua LT 6'6, 295 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0
Daniel McCarty RG 6'4, 285 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0
Travis Fister OL 6'3, 270 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)
Bo Antunovic OL 6'6, 270 Jr. NR
Braylon Hyder OL 6'2, 303 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.05 22 IsoPPP+ 110.2 20
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 47.6% 107 Succ. Rt. + 86.8 108
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 28.5 101 Off. FP+ 95.5 101
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.2 68 Redzone S&P+ 87.0 96
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 23.3 ACTUAL 17.0 -6.3
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 73 93 108 76
RUSHING 31 91 113 93
PASSING 115 91 96 62
Standard Downs 107 121 45
Passing Downs 27 32 21
Q1 Rk 100 1st Down Rk 110
Q2 Rk 72 2nd Down Rk 40
Q3 Rk 88 3rd Down Rk 78
Q4 Rk 63

6. Bend-don't-break to an extreme

The SMU offense improved in 2013, but the overall product still fell because of regression in defense and special teams. SMU's top-55 defense fell to 79th in Def. F/+ following the loss of not only star end Margus Hunt but also most of the rest of the front seven. The new defense simply bent far too much for a bend-don't-break approach to work. SMU fell from ninth in Rushing S&P+ to 91st, mainly because while the Mustangs did a pretty good job of minimizing big plays (especially through the air), opponents could carve out five- to seven-yard gains on the ground whenever they wanted to. SMU ranked 113th in Rushing Success Rate+ and 121st in Standard Downs Success Rate+. That's not going to cut it.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 95.7 2.88 3.17 41.7% 64.2% 20.3% 89.3 3.6% 7.7%
Rank 77 50 52 92 44 46 82 88 46
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Zach Wood DE 6'3, 258 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 12 37.0 5.4% 6.0 1.0 0 1 2 0
Beau Barnes DE 6'5, 241 Sr. NR 12 36.5 5.4% 13.0 5.0 1 2 1 0
Darrian Wright NT 6'2, 280 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 12 19.5 2.9% 2.5 1.5 0 0 0 0
Elie Nabushosi DE 6'4, 262 So. 2 stars (5.4) 12 11.5 1.7% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Zelt Minor DE 6'3, 275 So. 3 stars (5.6) 6 6.5 1.0% 1.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Cameron Smith DE 6'2, 248 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 11 6.5 1.0% 3.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Andrew McCleneghen DE 6'6, 262 Jr. NR 12 6.0 0.9% 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Nick Reed NT 6'1, 296 So. 2 stars (5.3) 6 3.5 0.5% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Jarvis Pruitt DE 6'3, 252 So. 2 stars (5.4) 10 2.5 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jarrett Spencer DE 6'4, 255 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 1 1.5 0.2% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Gareth Riley-Ayers NT 5'11, 276 Jr. NR 4 1.5 0.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Justin Lawler DE 6'4, 240 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)
Mason Gentry DE 6'7, 255 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)






Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Randall Joyner BUCK 10 73.5 10.8% 5.0 1.0 1 2 3 0
Kevin Pope MIKE 5'10, 225 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 11 69.0 10.1% 10.5 3.5 0 4 1 1
Stephon Sanders SAM 6'3, 250 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 12 66.5 9.8% 13.5 3.5 1 1 2 0
Jonathan Yenga WILL 6'2, 215 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 12 39.0 5.7% 11.0 6.0 0 1 1 0
Robert Seals WILL 6'3, 225 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 12 21.5 3.2% 3.0 2.0 0 0 0 0
Brandon Henderson LB 11 11.5 1.7% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Jordan Miller LB 6'3, 222 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 9 8.5 1.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
John Bordano BUCK 6'2, 235 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 12 8.0 1.2% 1.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Derek Longoria SAM 6'2, 230 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 9 5.0 0.7% 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Jackson Mitchell LB 6'0, 215 So. NR 7 2.5 0.4% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Lincoln Richard LB 4 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Nick Horton LB 6'3, 215 So. 2 stars (5.4)
Carlos Carroll LB 6'3, 213 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)
Caleb Tuiasosopo LB 6'2, 252 Jr. NR
Anthony Rhone LB 6'0, 210 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)






7. A lot to like about the front seven

The good news is that youth turns into experience. SMU returns basically every single defensive lineman and nine of the top 11 tacklers at linebacker. Of the five playeres who logged at least 10 tackles for loss last year, all five return, including solid pass rushers Beau Barnes and Jonathan Yenga and solid run stuffers Kevin Pope and Stephon Sanders. Experience should help quite a bit, as might a little bit of new blood. SMU should be strong when it comes to making big plays; this year, though, they need to be better at preventing the mundane ones.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jay Scott SS 12 48.5 7.1% 4 0 2 7 1 0
Kenneth Acker CB 12 42.0 6.2% 2.5 1 3 13 0 0
Chris Parks CB 11 35.0 5.1% 5 0 0 3 1 0
Hayden Greenbauer FS 6'0, 205 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 6 33.5 4.9% 2.5 0 1 2 0 0
Shakiel Randolph FS 6'5, 201 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 11 28.5 4.2% 1 0 0 3 0 0
Ajee Montes CB 5'11, 187 So. 2 stars (5.2) 12 18.0 2.6% 0 0 1 0 0 0
JR Richardson CB 5'9, 182 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 10 6.0 0.9% 0 0 0 2 0 0
Horace Richardson DB 6'0, 190 So. 3 stars (5.5) 8 5.0 0.7% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Troy Castle DB 6'0, 200 Jr. NR 12 3.5 0.5% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Darrion Richardson SS 6'0, 195 So. 2 stars (5.4) 6 3.0 0.4% 1 0 1 0 0 0
A.J. Justice FS 6'2, 202 So. 3 stars (5.5) 4 2.5 0.4% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Trey Washington DB 6'0, 160 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)
J'Marcus Rhodes DB 6'0, 180 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)
Courtland Sutton S 6'3, 201 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)






8. A void in the backfield

Kenneth Acker was an aggressive presence in a secondary asked to be rather conservative. That he and fellow starter Chris Parkers are gone, along with play-making safety Jay Scott, is disconcerting. Improvement among the front seven should lead to better efficiency, but that will only mean so much if the secondary is giving up more big plays. Sophomores like Ajee Montes, Horace Richardson, and Darrion Richardson all got decent playing time at one point or another because of injuries (of the defensive backs with at least 5.0 tackles, only three played in all 12 games), so that will help, but Acker, Parks, and Scott were the only proven play-makers. Without them, this unit is a question mark.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Mike Loftus 6'1, 200 Sr. 32 40.2 4 4 3 21.9%
Chase Hover 24 35.4 1 8 6 58.3%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Mike Loftus 6'1, 200 Sr. 53 61.4 20 0 37.7%
Chase Hover 4 44.0 0 0 0.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Chase Hover 33-35 13-15 86.7% 5-6 83.3%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Deion Sanders, Jr. KR 5'7, 180 So. 18 20.6 0
JaBryce Taylor KR 6'2, 205 So. 17 18.2 0
JaBryce Taylor PR 6'2, 205 So. 7 13.9 1
Kenneth Acker PR 5 2.6 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 115
Field Goal Efficiency 35
Punt Return Efficiency 103
Kick Return Efficiency 96
Punt Efficiency 123
Kickoff Efficiency 96
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 19

9. Special teams: crapshoot

Special teams are maddening. It impacts about 10-15 percent of a given game's outcome, and you really just have no idea if you're in good shape here or not. With Mike Loftus punting in 2012, SMU ranked 39th in Punt Efficiency; Loftus returned in 2013, and SMU ranked 123rd. Kenneth Acker averaged 14.0 yards per punt return in 2012 and 2.6 in 2013. And on the flipside, Chase Hover went from making 79% of his sub-40 field goals and 30% of those beyond 40, to making 87 and 83 percent, respectively. You often don't really know whether you've got a good special teams unit or not ahead of time. SMU did in 2012, and with most of the same cast of characters, SMU very much did not in 2013. And hey, guess what: a lot of the cast (sans Hover) returns in 2014! Go ahead and figure out what that means and get back to me.

2014 Schedule & Projection Factors

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
31-Aug at Baylor 25
6-Sep at North Texas 94
20-Sep Texas A&M 7
27-Sep TCU 27
4-Oct at East Carolina 72
18-Oct Cincinnati 54
25-Oct Memphis 95
8-Nov at Tulsa 64
15-Nov South Florida 77
22-Nov at Central Florida 24
28-Nov Houston 41
6-Dec at Connecticut 86
Five-Year F/+ Rk -3.9% (69)
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 77
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* -7 / -5.6
TO Luck/Game -0.6
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 13 (6, 7)

10. Does Jones have another run in him?

With an improved front seven and perhaps a deeper overall skill position unit, it's certainly not hard to talk yourself into SMU rounding into shape just enough to fall back into the No. 60-80 range to which the Mustangs have grown accustomed. And it's not hard to look at the schedule, see likely losses against Baylor, Texas A&M, TCU, and UCF, and find potential wins in most other places.

In other words, it's not hard to see basically a repeat of the 2009-12 seasons (and err on the side of "maybe slightly worse").

Again, when you consider where SMU was for more than two decades, it's hard to scoff at 6-8 wins and mostly average quality. But does Jones have a bigger run in him at some point? If so, it could potentially come in the 2015-16 window, when the offense is immensely experienced (there will be a ton of sophomores and juniors on display this year) and the defense still has some potential play-makers. But that's still a year or two away. This year will be pretty familiar. And hey, if that means more ridiculous finishes and tight games, then from a general entertainment standpoint, that's just fine.

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