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The big 2015 SMU football guide: Chad Morris and way more fun

The 128-team countdown enters the AAC and profiles a team that is almost guaranteed to improve.

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1. The end comes quickly

Last year's SMU preview centered around the line between consistency and stagnation. Under June Jones, the Mustangs had mastered the art of staying the same. In terms of F/+ ratings, there were some peaks (51st in 2011) and valleys (88th in 2013), but SMU had won either seven or eight games every year from 2009-12, and nearly did the same in 2013.

Jones has boosted SMU's profile. The Mustangs have a pretty, new stadium. 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 one time between 1985 and 2008.

It was taking a lot of energy to maintain SMU's 2009-12 pace, and I was looking at SMU's 2013 slippage in the wrong light. Instead of wondering about whether Jones would be able to engineer another breakthrough, we should have been wondering how long Jones was going to avoid collapse.

2013 was the harbinger. Yes, there were close losses, and yes, SMU nearly derailed UCF's AAC title run. But there was also a near-loss to Montana State and losses by a combined 94 points to Texas A&M, TCU, and Houston. The offense was given life by quarterback Garrett Gilbert and offensive coordinator Hal Mumme, but both left. Meanwhile, despite decent recruiting and a solid number of former three-star recruits, the defense had no ready-made playmakers.

When you run out of energy, your attention to detail slips first. Players stop developing, and you either don't notice deficiencies as quickly or can't do anything about them. And in a game with small margins for error, slippage turns into a freefall.

Jones seemed to realize it but couldn't do anything in time. After losing 45-0 to Baylor, then losing 43-6 to what turned out to be an awful North Texas, Jones resigned nine days into the 2014 season.

Tom Mason did what he could, but there was nothing Urban Meyer could have done to salvage the season. SMU rebounded from historically awful to simply bad, and the Mustangs avoided a winless campaign with a victory over UConn in the finale.

The final chapter of Jones' SMU tenure was unfortunate. He inherited a program that ranked in the 80s and 90s in F/+ and hadn't been to a bowl since 1984, and he dragged the Mustangs into the 50s and 60s and produced four consecutive bowl bids. But his final SMU team was far worse than what Phil Bennett had been producing, and while he didn't leave his successor a program worse off than the one he inherited, he didn't leave one that was much better.

2. #PonyUpTempo

When we talk about a program losing energy, we're not speaking about the style of play. We're usually talking about year-to-year momentum, recruiting, facilities upgrades, et cetera.

We don't know that new head coach Chad Morris will reestablish that. But while we wait, it doesn't hurt to play an on-field style that is as energetic as it can be.

We got to know Morris' offense well. A Texas high school head coach from 1994-2009, Morris showed up on Todd Graham's staff at Tulsa in 2010 and boosted the Golden Hurricane's offense from 71st in Off. S&P+ to 15th. He moved on to Clemson, inherited an offense that had ranked 79th, 41st, and 71st over the previous three years and jolted it to 25th, 14th, and 12th. Clemson went from averaging 7.3 wins per season from 2008-10 to 10.5 in Morris' four years.

Morris is committed to tempo über alles. He knows what to do with a mobile quarterback, and he knows the smashmouth spread.

The modern elements added by Morris include spread alignments, the forward pass, motion, and tempo. The brilliance of the triple option is that it's a self-contained concept with built-in answers for any potential problem. Morris doesn't have any single concepts quite that simple or elegant, but in general he emphasizes a similar level of soundness in his offense.

Morris could try to have a million concepts to answer a million problems. But he would rather contain multiple answers within the same concepts. He can still use diversity -- of formations, personnel groupings, or options within a play -- but focuses on fully mastering a few versatile plans of attack.

The description "basketball on grass" is apt, but in a literal sense. It captures how the offense becomes more about getting the ideal matchups and executing options, as in basketball, rather than out-guessing the opponent. The lightning tempo utilized by [Gus] Malzahn and Morris further allows for this simplicity.

Clemson's offense trailed off in 2014 thanks to severe turnover. Still, he proved all he could as a coordinator.

Now we find out if he's also a good head coach. He has said and done all the right things, and lord knows he should find more than enough pieces to complement his spread offense in the birthplace of the spread, but being a successful college head coach requires a specific set of skills, and we never know who doesn't possess those.

It should be fun finding out, though.

2014 Schedule & Results

Record: 1-11 | Adj. Record: 1-11 | Final F/+ Rk: 127
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
31-Aug at Baylor 10 0-45 L 4% -42.0 0%
6-Sep at North Texas 125 6-43 L 9% -31.4 0%
20-Sep Texas A&M 42 6-58 L 1% -54.2 0%
27-Sep TCU 6 0-56 L 9% -31.4 0%
4-Oct at East Carolina 61 24-45 L 32% -10.9 1%
18-Oct Cincinnati 47 3-41 L 10% -30.4 0%
25-Oct Memphis 41 10-48 L 16% -23.7 0%
8-Nov at Tulsa 117 28-38 L 21% -18.9 17%
15-Nov South Florida 123 13-14 L 35% -8.7 28%
22-Nov at Central Florida 60 7-53 L 5% -39.2 0%
28-Nov Houston 73 9-35 L 25% -16.0 1%
6-Dec at Connecticut 119 27-20 W 55% 3.1 73%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 15.5 123 34.7 105
Points Per Game 11.1 128 41.3 127

3. Technically, it got better

The SMU of September was as bad as any college team has been in recent times. A brutal schedule didn't help -- the Mustangs faced Baylor, Texas A&M, and TCU before October 1 -- but only opponents' mercy kept them as close on the scoreboard as they were ... and they were not close on the scoreboard.

It got better, though!

  • Average Percentile Performance (first 4 games): 6% (average score: Opp 51, SMU 3)
  • Average Percentile Performance (next 4 games): 20% (average score: Opp 43, SMU 16)
  • Average Percentile Performance (last 4 games): 30% (average score: Opp 31, SMU 14)

By November, SMU was playing at something approximating a top-90 or top-100 level. The Mustangs still lost to bad teams (Tulsa, USF) and got smoked by UCF, but a) improvement is improvement, whether you're good or not, and b) SMU played well in the finale. That's something, right?

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.70 124 IsoPPP+ 75.3 121
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 35.8% 118 Succ. Rt. + 86.3 117
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 37.1 128 Def. FP+ 92.9 127
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 2.9 127 Redzone S&P+ 88.8 98
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 26.6 ACTUAL 30 +3.4
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 127 119 115 121
RUSHING 121 78 77 74
PASSING 114 127 122 127
Standard Downs 111 104 115
Passing Downs 123 118 120
Q1 Rk 126 1st Down Rk 126
Q2 Rk 113 2nd Down Rk 128
Q3 Rk 126 3rd Down Rk 126
Q4 Rk 92

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Matt Davis 6'0, 209 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9452 89 164 855 3 5 54.3% 19 10.4% 4.1
Garrett Krstich 6'3, 215 Sr. NR NR 99 181 855 2 7 54.7% 15 7.7% 4.1
Neal Burcham 6'3, 213 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8405 27 48 158 0 2 56.3% 6 11.1% 2.0
Kolney Cassel
15 37 156 1 0 40.5% 0 0.0% 4.2
Darrel Colbert, Jr. 5'11, 196 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8242








Ben Hicks 6'2, 200 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8560








4. Who leads?

How quickly can a new staff change the relationship between potential and production? Because while SMU's personnel seems to have the former (at least, if you think recruiting rankings hold merit, and they do), there's almost none of the latter.

Four SMU quarterbacks threw at least 37 passes. Three return, and two boasted strong recruiting rankings in high school. All of them stunk. Matt Davis, a former four-star Texas A&M signee, showed the most potential, rushing for 8.1 yards per (non-sack) carry and producing passing stats that were at least no worse than anybody else's. But of the four QBs, none averaged more than 4.2 yards per pass attempt. (Anything under about 6.0 is pretty bad; 4.2 is horrendous.)

Davis emerged from spring ball as the likely starter, fending off well-regarded freshman Ben Hicks. (Neal Burcham, another of last year's starters, missed most of 2014 with an elbow injury, then tore his ACL in February.) And in theory, Davis has tools Morris will know how to employ. His mobility is a strength, and Morris will likely give him a lot of easy pitches to the sidelines.

June Jones' passing game was never particularly efficient, and that should change under Morris. But Davis' talent is unclear, and while his receivers come in all shapes, sizes, and degrees of athleticism, SMU's success will be derived from whether they're actually any good.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Matt Davis QB 6'0, 209 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9452 89 721 4 8.1 6.0 59.6% 8 5
Prescott Line RB 6'0, 235 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8245 78 256 4 3.3 2.5 23.1% 1 0
K.C. Nlemchi RB 6'0, 214 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8200 47 149 1 3.2 4.4 23.4% 1 1
Kevin Pope RB
34 105 0 3.1 2.5 23.5% 2 1
Garrett Krstich QB 6'3, 215 Sr. NR NR 25 142 0 5.7 3.4 52.0% 3 2
Luke Seeker RB 5'11, 200 Sr. NR NR 24 75 0 3.1 3.5 16.7% 0 0
Darius Durall RB 5'9, 185 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7611 12 -2 0 -0.2 3.9 8.3% 1 1
Daniel Gresham RB 5'10, 228 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8662
Xavier Jones RB 5'10, 180 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8026
Braeden West RB 5'10, 170 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7793







Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Darius Joseph WR-Y 5'11, 202 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7891 86 54 379 62.8% 21.1% 52.3% 4.4 -277 4.4 39.9
Der'rikk Thompson WR-X
71 31 512 43.7% 17.4% 54.9% 7.2 104 7.2 53.9
Stephen Nelson WR-Z
41 28 200 68.3% 10.0% 53.7% 4.9 -135 4.9 21.1
Deion Sanders, Jr. WR-H 5'7, 174 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7829 35 23 188 65.7% 8.6% 65.7% 5.4 -89 5.5 19.8
Nate Halverson WR 5'10, 185 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7859 28 17 165 60.7% 6.9% 39.3% 5.9 -43 5.1 17.4
K.C. Nlemchi RB 6'0, 214 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8200 20 16 131 80.0% 4.9% 65.0% 6.6 -55 6.4 13.8
Cedric Lancaster WR-X 5'9, 169 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8094 20 12 93 60.0% 4.9% 60.0% 4.7 -54 4.6 9.8
Prescott Line RB 6'0, 235 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8245 17 10 41 58.8% 4.2% 41.2% 2.4 -82 2.7 4.3
Shelby Walker WR-H 6'0, 165 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8277 16 7 68 43.8% 3.9% 43.8% 4.3 -24 4.2 7.2
Jeremiah Gaines TE 6'2, 240 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8610 15 4 97 26.7% 3.7% 53.3% 6.5 36 6.2 10.2
Ryheem Malone WR-Y 5'8, 172 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7611 14 5 37 35.7% 3.4% 64.3% 2.6 -33 2.7 3.9
Kevin Pope RB NR 13 8 26 61.5% 3.2% 69.2% 2.0 -72 2.2 2.7
Daijuan Stewart WR-H NR 10 5 32 50.0% 2.5% 40.0% 3.2 -32 3.1 3.4
Darius Durall RB 5'9, 185 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7611 6 4 15 66.7% 1.5% 50.0% 2.5 -33 2.1 1.6
Luke Seeker RB 5'11, 200 Sr. NR NR 5 3 6 60.0% 1.2% 20.0% 1.2 -31 1.1 0.6
Aaron Stafford WR NR 3 1 6 33.3% 0.7% 66.7% 2.0 -8 1.7 0.6
Courtland Sutton WR 6'4, 215 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8326 2 2 27 100.0% 0.5% 100.0% 13.5 4 NR 2.8
Arrius Holleman WR 6'3, 215 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7000

5. Who catches?

We know Darius Joseph can be an efficient piece in the right system; he caught 103 balls with a 72 percent catch rate in 2013. We know Deion Sanders Jr. has a return man's skill set and could be a fun weapon out of the slot. We knowredshirt freshman Courtland Sutton had a nice spring and brings a solid recruiting pedigree.

We know there are four other receivers who were deemed three-star recruits by either Rivals or the 247Sports Composite.

And we know that Davis can make plays with his feet, and that running backs Prescott Line, K.C. Niemchi, and 2014 star recruit Daniel Gresham bring girth.

We also know that the potential is theoretical. In theory, it could be strong, and in theory, Morris and offensive coordinator Joe Craddock (Morris' graduate assistant at Clemson) should be able to figure out how to employ them. But it takes a leap of faith; these players were either on the sidelines in 2014 or doing no damage on the field.

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 109.8 3.14 3.11 35.4% 71.9% 18.8% 65.0 9.6% 6.9%
Rank 36 39 84 100 32 60 122 124 55
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
Taylor Lasecki C 6'2, 294 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8000 36
Kris Weeks RT 6'5, 314 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8057 25
Chauncey Briggs LT 6'6, 310 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7951 19
Evan Brown RG 6'3, 300 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8111 10
Daniel McCarty LG 6'3, 284 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8032 9
Seaver Myers LT 6'5, 306 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8559 5
William Barns C 6'1, 284 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7948 1
Christian Chamagua RT 6'5, 290 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7908 1
Travis Fister OL 6'2, 270 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8124 0
Braylon Hyder OL 6'2, 335 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8191
Bryce Wilds OL 6'7, 305 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8026
Marcus McNeil OL 6'3, 300 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7995

6. You can build around this line

Relatively -- and we're speaking quite relatively here -- the offensive line was an SMU strength. It wasn't particularly good, but SMU did rank 36th in Adj. Line Yards, 32nd in Power Success Rate, 60th in Stuff Rate, and 55th in Passing Downs Sack Rate. When you compare these stats to those of the offense as a whole, they're magnificent.

Considering the line returns everybody from last year's two-deep, including three-year starting center Taylor Lasecki and eight players with starting experience (106 career starts), this could move from "relative strength" to "strength." And if Davis (or the quarterback of choice) has a clean pocket, Morris should figure out how to get the ball to playmakers.

This probably won't be a good offense, but the combination of Morris and competence at quarterback and offensive line should result in significant improvement.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.98 121 IsoPPP+ 74.9 125
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 49.5% 124 Succ. Rt. + 82.0 124
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 27.4 119 Off. FP+ 100.0 65
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.6 92 Redzone S&P+ 85.5 120
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 15.9 ACTUAL 16.0 +0.1
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 122 125 124 125
RUSHING 117 120 120 122
PASSING 109 127 122 124
Standard Downs 124 123 124
Passing Downs 119 114 119
Q1 Rk 113 1st Down Rk 112
Q2 Rk 126 2nd Down Rk 104
Q3 Rk 72 3rd Down Rk 127
Q4 Rk 101

7. Insanely bad

Van Malone spent the last three seasons at the helm of a mean Oklahoma State secondary. He has been an FBS defensive backs coach since 2004 -- mostly with teams known for up-tempo spread offenses -- and he coached with Morris at Tulsa in 2010. He will likely bring the same type of mentality to this defense that Phil Bennett has at Baylor: be aggressive and efficient and try to force turnovers.

Greedy defenses are natural complements to up-tempo offenses; if you can break serve a few times, it doesn't matter if you are giving up big plays along the way.

We don't know how long it will take Malone to find weapons on this defense. Lord knows there weren't any impressive pieces on last year's D, a horrific unit that redefined the concept of "relative strengths."

SMU's defense ranked 35th in Def. S&P+ in 2012. It fell in 2013 following the loss of Margus Hunt and other difference-makers, then the bottom fell out. The pass rush was the closest thing to a strength, as it was only bad and not one of the nation's worst, but the secondary couldn't stop anybody, and the run defense was indeed one of the nation's worst.

Youth and injuries can explain part of this -- there were three freshmen and three sophomores among last year's top nine linemen, and quite a few linebackers and defensive backs missed time with injury -- but SMU had the fifth-worst Success Rate+ and fourth-worst IsoPPP+ ranking in the country. Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad.

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 72.2 3.66 4.15 44.4% 67.9% 12.6% 72 2.5% 6.0%
Rank 128 127 126 119 68 126 107 114 90
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Zach Wood DE 6'3, 260 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8104 12 29.0 4.0% 6.0 4.0 0 0 0 1
Mason Gentry DE 6'6, 292 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8256 12 28.5 3.9% 2.0 2.0 0 0 0 0
Darrian Wright NT
12 19.5 2.7% 2.5 0.0 0 0 1 0
Justin Lawler DE 6'3, 254 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7901 12 17.5 2.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Andrew McCleneghen NT 6'5, 265 Sr. NR NR 12 17.0 2.3% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Zelt Minor DE 6'2, 282 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8387 8 9.0 1.2% 2.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Jarvis Pruitt DE 6'3, 254 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7959 10 7.5 1.0% 1.0 0.5 0 0 0 0
Spencer Hollie DE 6'4, 340 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8052 7 6.0 0.8% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Elie Nabushosi DE 6'3, 255 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8227 6 5.0 0.7% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Cameron Smith DE 6'2, 249 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8057 11 5.0 0.7% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Michael Scott DE 6'4, 220 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8381
Chris Biggurs DT 6'3, 245 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8217
Hunter Thedford DE 6'7, 225 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7979
Delontae Scott DE 6'5, 200 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7893







Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Stephon Sanders SLB
12 56.5 7.8% 8.0 2.5 0 3 0 0
Jonathan Yenga MLB 6'1, 220 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8457 12 49.0 6.8% 4.5 2.0 0 3 0 0
Kevin Pope BUCK
11 38.0 5.2% 2.0 1.0 0 2 2 0
Robert Seals WLB 6'3, 240 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7819 12 34.5 4.8% 5.5 1.0 0 1 1 0
John Bordano BUCK
11 33.5 4.6% 2.0 1.0 1 1 1 0
Cameron Nwosu MLB
12 17.5 2.4% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Derek Longoria SLB 6'1, 232 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7000 12 14.0 1.9% 1.0 0.0 0 1 2 0
Caleb Tuiasosopo BUCK 6'2, 246 Sr. NR NR 11 13.0 1.8% 1.0 0.0 0 1 1 0
Beau Barnes WLB
11 12.5 1.7% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jackson Mitchell LB 6'0, 215 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7644 12 11.5 1.6% 1.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Jordan Miller LB
11 10.5 1.5% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Nick Horton BUCK 6'2, 245 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) NR 6 8.0 1.1% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Anthony Rhone LB 6'0, 225 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7859 12 7.5 1.0% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
RC Cox LB 6'1, 215 So. NR NR 5 2.5 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Dylan Dickman LB 6'0, 222 So. NR NR 1 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Carlos Carroll LB 6'2, 230 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8219 3 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Inoke Ngalo LB 5'11, 225 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8187
Jordon Williams LB 6'1, 195 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7926
Mitchell Kaufman LB 6'3, 217 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7826

8. Injuries + garbage time = everybody plays!

Seven linemen, 13 linebackers, and nine defensive backs made at least 7.5 tackles last year. And of those 29, 21 return, including all but one lineman and defensive back. There is turnover at linebacker, but that's where the most people got playing time.

This is a young coaching staff. Malone graduated from Houston in 2002, linebackers coach Archie McDaniel from Texas A&M in 2005, and secondary coach Jess Loepp from Central Oklahoma in 2000. Only defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt has major experience. Morris went for hungry over seasoned, and while that can work (the quintessential example: Jim Harbaugh's Stanford staff), there might be a bit of a learning curve.

But if Malone and company want to be aggressive, they might have a few pieces: end Zach Wood had four sacks, linebackers Jonathan Yenga and Robert Seals combined for 10 tackles for loss and four pass break-ups, and safety Darrion Richardson combined three tackles for loss with five passes defensed. Plus, youngsters and reserves like cornerback Jesse Montgomery and end Zelt Minor hinted at potential. And the incoming recruiting class might produce a couple of early contributors.

Still, almost none of these players was successful in an SMU uniform last year. This will take a while.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Hayden Greenbauer SS
12 63.5 8.8% 2 0 1 0 0 0
Darrion Richardson FS 6'0, 203 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8079 12 56.5 7.8% 3 1 1 4 1 0
Horace Richardson CB 6'0, 202 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7900 9 25.0 3.5% 1 0 2 3 0 0
Ajee Montes CB 5'11, 205 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7968 6 22.5 3.1% 0.5 0 0 1 0 0
JR Richardson CB 5'10, 186 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7844 9 16.5 2.3% 1 0 0 2 0 0
Jesse Montgomery CB 6'0, 180 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7600 11 16.5 2.3% 0 0 0 3 0 0
Troy Castle CB 5'11, 205 Sr. NR NR 12 14.5 2.0% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Shakiel Randolph CB 6'4, 216 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8453 9 14.0 1.9% 0 0 1 8 0 0
A.J. Justice SS 6'1, 217 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8000 12 12.5 1.7% 0.5 0 0 0 0 0
Trey Washington DB
3 3.5 0.5% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Waheed DB
6 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Jackson Koonce 6'1, 170 So. 74 40.8 3 14 14 37.8%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Cody Rademacher 33 55.9 4 1 12.1%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Cody Rademacher 12-12 6-9 66.7% 3-8 37.5%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Deion Sanders, Jr. KR 5'7, 174 Jr. 37 20.5 0
Aaron Stafford KR 9 20.1 0
Daijuan Stewart PR 9 8.3 0
Cedric Lancaster PR 5'9, 169 So. 3 -4.3 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 102
Field Goal Efficiency 115
Punt Return Efficiency 127
Kick Return Efficiency 42
Punt Efficiency 90
Kickoff Efficiency 4
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 92

9. Building around Deion Jr.

Deion Sanders Jr. wasn't incredibly explosive as a kick returner, but he was able to break past the 25-yard line on kickoffs. That's the only known positive for this special teams unit other than what appears to be a pretty good kick coverage unit.

Jackson Koonce should probably improve at punter, but we don't know much about punt returns or place-kicking. The best Morris can hope for is a unit that treads water and doesn't make things worse. And maybe a huge Sanders return or two.

2015 Schedule & Projection Factors

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent 2014 F/+ Rk
4-Sep Baylor 10
12-Sep North Texas 125
19-Sep at TCU 6
26-Sep James Madison NR
3-Oct East Carolina 61
8-Oct at Houston 73
24-Oct at South Florida 123
31-Oct Tulsa 117
6-Nov Temple 67
14-Nov at Navy 44
21-Nov Tulane 93
28-Nov at Memphis 41
Five-Year F/+ Rk -12.8% (82)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 86 / 73
2014 TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* -14 / -10.7
2014 TO Luck/Game -1.4
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 15 (8, 7)
2014 Second-order wins (difference) 1.2 (-0.2)

10. Better? Maybe. More fun? Yes.

The offense will be better and infinitely more fun. The defense won't be worse. That means SMU will be ahead of where it was for most of last year.

Even if Morris doesn't turn out to be as good a head coach as he is a coordinator, he has an energetic staff that should recruit well by AAC standards, and his own prowess should ensure some ticket sales and shootout wins here and there.

But "ahead of where it was last year" might mean an F/+ ranking in the 100s or 110s. Energy can make a difference, but I struggle to see a major turnaround.

Luckily for SMU, there are still opportunities. North Texas won't be much better, and two 2014 opponents, Tulsa and USF, have pulled off similar nosedives. When you only won one game, two wins represents improvement, and I think SMU will reach or eclipse that. Just don't set the bar higher than four.