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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.
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|
|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.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|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|
|Q1 Rk||75||1st Down Rk||39|
|Q2 Rk||80||2nd Down Rk||90|
|Q3 Rk||30||3rd Down Rk||71|
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.
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|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)|
|Prescott Line||RB||6'0, 233||So.||3 stars (5.5)||90||332||3||3.7||1.9||34.4%|
|K.C. Nlemchi||RB||6'1, 220||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||51||238||1||4.7||5.2||39.2%|
|Kevin Pope||LB||5'10, 225||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||17||89||0||5.2||5.8||41.2%|
|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)|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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.
|Taylor Lasecki||C||6'3, 296||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||25|
|Kris Weeks||RT||6'5, 310||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||13|
|Chauncey Briggs||LT||6'5, 295||So.||2 stars (5.4)||8|
|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)|
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|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|
|Q1 Rk||100||1st Down Rk||110|
|Q2 Rk||72||2nd Down Rk||40|
|Q3 Rk||88||3rd Down Rk||78|
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.
|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)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|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|
|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|
|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.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|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.
|Mike Loftus||6'1, 200||Sr.||32||40.2||4||4||3||21.9%|
|Mike Loftus||6'1, 200||Sr.||53||61.4||20||0||37.7%|
|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|
|Special Teams F/+||115|
|Field Goal Efficiency||35|
|Punt Return Efficiency||103|
|Kick Return 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
|6-Sep||at North Texas||94|
|4-Oct||at East Carolina||72|
|22-Nov||at Central Florida||24|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-3.9% (69)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||77|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-7 / -5.6|
|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.