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SMU is going to be crazy-fun, dangerous, and probably about 4-8 in 2016

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Chad Morris' first SMU squad was absurdly young on offense and constantly banged up on defense. With experience and better health, the Mustangs are going to scare a lot of teams in 2016 (but might not actually beat many of them).

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.

1. Year Zero in the books

When a program is wooing you for its head coaching job, a bottoming-out season can almost become attractive.

Former Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, who had allegedly spurned advances from a few schools through the years, finally made the jump to head coach. He chose an SMU program that struggled for most of its post-death penalty period, managed a few years of consistency under June Jones, then completely fell apart.

Morris likely saw a program with an infinite recruiting base, a location friendly to his style of spread offense (i.e. a place in Texas), and a chance to get closer to home -- the Texas A&M grad was head coach in five different locations within the state before joining Todd Graham's Tulsa staff in 2010, then Dabo Swinney's Clemson staff in 2011.

He also probably saw the freedom to do whatever the heck he wanted to do with the program out of the gates.

As happened at UCF with George O'Leary in 2015, SMU swiftly collapsed in 2014 under June Jones. One day, you wake up and you've lost your edge like a set of keys. After averaging seven wins per season from 2009-13 -- miraculous consistency from a program that didn't win seven games between 1985 and 2008 -- Jones and SMU plummeted to 1-11. It was so obvious Jones was done that he didn't beat around the bush: He resigned just two games (losses to Baylor and North Texas by a combined 88-6) into the season.

When the program's caretaker stops taking care of the program, things can fall apart in a heartbeat. But Morris took on a job that allowed him even more freedom than he might have gotten under normal circumstances. He had guys change position. He ran some off. Others left of their own volition.

He also engineered some improvement. The win total rose only from one to two, but the Mustangs jumped from 124th in overall S&P+ to 104th; the defense was absolutely dreadful, but a young offense made up the difference. SMU scored at least 21 points in nine games and at least 37 in four. That those four games resulted in a 1-3 record tells you all you need to know about the state of the program. But it's conceivable that the nightmarish 2014 season actually allowed Morris to build SMU in his image a little more quickly than it otherwise might have happened.

So now what? Reason for optimism remains ... on one side of the ball. The offense returns quarterback Matt Davis, the top two running backs, the top eight pass targets (five WRs, a tight end, and two RBs), and the offensive line returns seven players who started at least one game last year. All good things! Meanwhile, the defensive line is rebuilding, and it's not evident that there's enough talent in the back seven to assure defensive improvement. (Better injuries luck would probably help.)

SMU could become a slightly better, more extreme version of what we saw in 2015.

Morris signed a deep 2016 recruiting class with quite a bit of upside in the trenches and appears to be quickly fleshing out the depth chart. In a conference quickly becoming known for hiring offensive dynamos -- Tom Herman at Houston, Willie Fritz at Tulane, Phillip Montgomery at Tulsa, and now Mike Norvell at Memphis, Scott Frost at UCF, and Scottie Montgomery at ECU -- much is expected of Morris, the man who helped to transform Clemson into a national power. But with 2014 still pretty close in the rear view, he'll probably be given some more patience before results are expected.

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 2-10 | Adj. Record: 2-10 | Final F/+ Rk: 106 | Final S&P+ Rk: 104
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
4-Sep Baylor 14 21-56 L 17% 0% -8.8 +1.0
12-Sep North Texas 126 31-13 W 75% 99% +10.2 +13.5
19-Sep at TCU 19 37-56 L 18% 0% +18.0 +18.5
26-Sep James Madison N/A 45-48 L 24% 17% -11.5
3-Oct East Carolina 73 23-49 L 12% 0% -17.3 -20.5
8-Oct at Houston 26 28-49 L 26% 1% -4.8 +4.5
24-Oct at South Florida 44 14-38 L 20% 0% -7.1 -12.5
31-Oct Tulsa 95 31-40 L 46% 40% -1.2 -5.5
6-Nov Temple 45 40-60 L 25% 2% -3.3 -6.0
14-Nov at Navy 21 14-55 L 15% 0% -12.4 -19.5
21-Nov Tulane 119 49-21 W 84% 99% +22.7 +25.0
28-Nov at Memphis 41 0-63 L 1% 0% -42.7 -41.5

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 27.1 79 39.2 119
Points Per Game 27.8 73 45.7 127

2. Diminishing returns

That SMU began the season averaging 34 points per game while losing three of four was remarkable. Despite a slight Week 1 injury, Matt Davis was leading a solid-looking offense, but the defense was getting torched in an almost inconceivable way. Baylor and TCU combined for 112 points, each averaging more than 10 yards per play; James Madison, led by now-Texas State coach Everett Withers, averaged 8.6. Even by the standards of your run-of-the-mill awful defense, those are staggering numbers.

The good news is that the defense stabilized, at least for a little while. But the offensive output diminished at the same time.

  • First 4 games:
    Average percentile performance: 34% (~top 85) | Yards per play: Opp 8.3, SMU 5.9 | Average score: Opp 43.3, SMU 33.5
  • Last 8 games:
    Average percentile performance: 29% (~top 90) | Yards per play: Opp 6.4, SMU 5.0 | Average score: Opp 46.9, SMU 24.9

We can only take "the defense stabilized" so far when the Mustangs allowed at least 55 points in three of their last four games of the year. But it does appear that offensive failure had something to do with those numbers. SMU had little to offer against the Navy and Memphis defenses (combined: 14 points, 2.9 yards per play, and a minus-5 turnover margin), and its own D had no chance. Combined with injuries and constant defensive shuffling, the defense had less than no chance.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.31 41 IsoPPP+ 97.5 82
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 39.9% 89 Succ. Rt. + 96.5 85
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 34.0 123 Def. FP+ 32.3 113
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.7 47 Redzone S&P+ 111.3 31
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 26.5 ACTUAL 25 -1.5
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 76 85 85 82
RUSHING 74 59 63 49
PASSING 70 93 100 84
Standard Downs 84 98 71
Passing Downs 78 62 84
Q1 Rk 79 1st Down Rk 107
Q2 Rk 80 2nd Down Rk 95
Q3 Rk 94 3rd Down Rk 82
Q4 Rk 93

3. Improvement with youth

It can sometimes be instructive to look at how an offense took shape when it was at its best; that gives you a pretty clear glimpse at the vision of the offense, what it's supposed to do. For the season, SMU's offense spread opponents out and forced solo tackles, operated at a higher-than-average pace (but probably not as fast a pace as you think), ran the ball at a decent clip and passed pretty poorly.

In its three best games, however, the run was better than decent. Against TCU, James Madison and Tulane (the three games in which the Mustangs averaged more than 6 yards per play), the run not only dominated but set up deeper passing.

In these three games, Matt Davis rushed 42 times (not including sacks) for 359 yards and five touchdowns. Running backs Braeden West and Xavier Jones, both freshmen, carried 69 times for 363 yards (5.3 per carry) and caught 17 passes for 138 yards (8.1 per catch). Meanwhile, the receivers got open deep. Courtland Sutton, also a freshman, caught 14 passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns. Then-sophomore Ryheem Malone and Kevin Thomas combined for 10 catches and 175 yards. Shelby Walker had two for 50. Davis took some sacks in the process, but the combination of efficienct running and big-play passing was enticing.

In theory, we should see more and more of that in the future. Davis is a senior, as is occasional big-play tight end Jeremiah Gaines. But Jones, West, Sutton, Thomas, and slot receiver Xavier Castille (five catches for 44 yards in these three games, 23 for 254 overall) are all sophomores, Malone and Walker juniors. For that matter, only two of the seven returning linemen with starting experience are seniors.

With this amount of youth, it makes sense that the glimpses of offensive brilliance were fleeting last year. But they did exist.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Matt Davis 6'0, 211 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9452 183 336 2263 16 7 54.5% 39 10.4% 5.3
Darrel Colbert, Jr. 5'11, 214 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8242 15 21 203 1 0 71.4% 3 12.5% 7.7
Ben Hicks 6'1, 214 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8560








4. Davis' final act

Matt Davis took over the SMU offense late in 2014 and showed flashes of the kind of excitement you expect from a Morris quarterback. He completed 68 percent of his passes against Tulsa and USF, and he rushed for 372 yards against Tulsa and UConn. He came out of the gates rushing for 240 yards against Baylor and North Texas, and through six games his passer rating was 144.4. That would have ranked a decent 34th in the country over a full season.

The output diminished drastically down the stretch, however. While the run game had its moments against Temple and Tulane, Davis' passer rating over the final six games was a dismal 97.1, which would have ranked well outside of the top 100.

On paper, Davis seems perfect for what Morris wants to do with the football. He is a wonderful run threat with the capability of completing over 60 percent of his passes with few picks. He's always going to be the type who takes a few too many sacks in the name of looking for plays to make, but you can live with that if he is otherwise efficient.

That SMU is 3-21 since Davis became eligible probably isn't what the former four-star Texas A&M signee had in mind. But in his senior season, he'll at least have a supporting cast that is infinitely more experienced. Jones and West probably won't fumble as much (their 10 combined fumbles were crippling), Sutton could be ready for a star turn, and efficiency options like Malone, Castille, and the running backs should be able to deliver a bit more in the shorter passing game.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Xavier Jones RB 5'10, 195 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8026 151 632 10 4.2 4.4 34.4% 5 2
Matt Davis QB 6'0, 211 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9452 148 1038 10 7.0 7.2 51.4% 11 7
Braeden West RB 5'10, 166 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7793 62 326 2 5.3 5.3 37.1% 5 3
Prescott Line RB 60 186 1 3.1 3.2 21.7% 0 0
Darrel Colbert, Jr. QB 5'11, 214 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8242 27 83 0 3.1 2.1 33.3% 1 1
Darius Durall RB 4 24 0 6.0 3.5 50.0% 0 0
Jordan Carmouche RB 6'0, 216 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8650
Aphonso Thomas RB 6'0, 195 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8438







Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Courtland Sutton WR 6'4, 224 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8326 90 50 899 55.6% 26.0% 10.0 50.0% 46.7% 2.08
Xavier Castille WR 5'11, 204 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8322 41 23 254 56.1% 11.8% 6.2 56.1% 39.0% 1.46
Jeremiah Gaines TE 6'2, 255 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8610 38 16 249 42.1% 11.0% 6.6 47.4% 34.2% 1.85
Ryheem Malone WR 5'9, 181 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7611 36 23 258 63.9% 10.4% 7.2 58.3% 44.4% 1.45
Xavier Jones RB 5'10, 195 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8026 35 29 246 82.9% 10.1% 7.0 62.9% 45.7% 1.31
Kevin Thomas WR 6'2, 187 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8545 29 14 194 48.3% 8.4% 6.7 62.1% 34.5% 2.07
Shelby Walker WR 6'0, 160 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8277 20 11 170 55.0% 5.8% 8.5 45.0% 50.0% 1.55
Braeden West RB 5'10,1 66 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7793 19 13 142 68.4% 5.5% 7.5 47.4% 36.8% 1.93
Darius Joseph WR 12 8 132 66.7% 3.5% 11.0 33.3% 58.3% 1.77
Prescott Line RB
8 6 51 75.0% 2.3% 6.4 25.0% 50.0% 1.06
Derek Longoria TE 6 4 31 66.7% 1.7% 5.2 66.7% 50.0% 0.79
Darius Durall RB
4 3 14 75.0% 1.2% 3.5 50.0% 25.0% 1.24
James Proche WR 5'11, 185 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8672
Hunter Herndon TE 6'4, 236 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8333
Alex Honey WR 6'4, 198 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7941
Brandon Benson WR 6'1, 186 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8440
Ryan Becker TE 6'5, 230 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8445
Corey Rau TE 6'4, 248 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8149
Joshua Shelmire WR 6'2, 180 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.9724

5. Rapid turnover

Heading into 2015, SMU returned its two leading rushers (Prescott Line and K.C. Niemchi), who had combined for 125 carries and 26 receptions in 2014. Meanwhile, the four leading returning wideouts were Darius Joseph, Deion Sanders Jr., Nate Halverson, and Cedric Lancaster. They had combined for 106 catches.

In 2015, Line and Niemchi carried the ball 60 times and caught six passes. Sanders and Lancaster moved to defense, and Joseph and Halverson caught a combined eight passes.

Morris moved his own guys in at a startling pace -- again, something you get away with more easily when the season before you arrived was so dismal. That the offensive averages improved with freshmen leading the way at both running back and wideout was all sorts of encouraging and probably helped to alleviate what could have been serious chemistry issues.

The skill position corps was so young in 2015 that it will still be young in 2016, especially if players like freshman running back Jordan Carmouche and redshirt freshman receivers and spring game stars James Proche and Alex Honey are able to make an early mark. The upside here is obvious, but the quickness with which the younger players are able to reach some level of maturity and consistency will likely determine the team's ceiling for 2016.

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 102.8 2.71 3.69 38.7% 60.5% 19.7% 60.4 7.3% 11.8%
Rank 59 96 25 72 102 75 124 109 120
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Taylor Lasecki C 12 48
Kris Weeks RT 12 37
Chauncey Briggs LT 6'6, 298 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7951 4 23
Evan Brown RG 6'3, 307 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8111 12 22
Daniel McCarty LG 6'3, 277 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8032 1 10
Chad Pursley LT 6'4, 280 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7948 9 9
Braylon Hyder LG 6'2, 327 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8191 6 6
Nick Natour LG 6'4, 285 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7533 3 3
William Barns LG 6'2, 285 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7948 1 2
Travis Fister C 6'2, 264 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8124 0 0
Bryce Wilds OL 6'7, 307 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8026

Marcus McNeil OL 6'3, 315 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7995

Jacob Todora OL 6'4, 260 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8351

Braxton Webb OL 6'5, 274 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8234

Kadarius Smith OL 6'3, 275 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8198

Harrison Barton OL 6'3, 275 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7955


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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.43 116 IsoPPP+ 76.9 126
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 49.1% 124 Succ. Rt. + 86.7 116
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 28.5 102 Off. FP+ 30.2 58
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 5.3 126 Redzone S&P+ 82.8 124
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 15.0 ACTUAL 15.0 +0.0
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 119 126 116 126
RUSHING 124 125 120 125
PASSING 89 120 94 123
Standard Downs 128 115 128
Passing Downs 103 111 96
Q1 Rk 102 1st Down Rk 116
Q2 Rk 125 2nd Down Rk 128
Q3 Rk 118 3rd Down Rk 108
Q4 Rk 117

6. Opponents chose to run (but could do whatever they wanted)

SMU allowed 81 gains of 20-plus yards in 2015, 121st in the country. The Mustangs also allowed a success rate of 49.1 percent, 124th. Believe it or not, a bend-and-break defense doesn't tend to work very well.

Former Oklahoma State defensive backs coach Van Malone found very little to work with from week to week in his first year as defensive coordinator. (He and Morris connected during Morris' one year at Tulsa.) Plus, he had to deal with having a different lineup just about every week. Of his top eight linemen, only three played in all 12 games. It was the same story at linebacker (three of eight), and it was even worse at defensive back (two of nine).

When you've got minimal proven talent to begin with, and what you've got can't stay on the field, you're going to probably stink on defense. And stink, SMU did. The pass defense had efficient moments but gave up a ton of big plays, and the run defense was an outright sieve, one of the four worst in the country according to S&P+.

Between the wretchedness of the run defense and the fact that opponents usually had the lead (and were potentially milking clock to keep SMU's offense off of the field), opponents ran a lot on SMU. A LOT.

At first glance, it might be the same case in 2016. For starters, the offense should improve again, increasing opponent desire to keep it off of the field. Beyond that, though, the Mustangs must replace three of their top four linemen, including active tackle Zach Wood, one of the few true play-makers.

It helps that a lot of guys got experience last year, and between a lot of redshirt freshmen, true freshmen, and JUCO tackle JT Williams, it's possible that depth and athleticism will improve. But you never want to count on youth for improvement. You end up disappointed a lot.

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 85.5 3.40 3.95 45.9% 72.6% 15.1% 84.5 4.7% 5.7%
Rank 121 121 125 124 102 116 93 76 96
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Justin Lawler DE 6'4, 257 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7901 12 53.5 8.3% 9.0 5.0 0 1 1 0
Zach Wood DT 10 34.0 5.3% 9.5 3.5 0 2 0 0
Andrew McCleneghen DE 12 27.0 4.2% 5.0 3.0 0 1 2 0
Robert Seals DE 11 19.0 3.0% 5.0 0.5 0 0 1 0
Jarvis Pruitt DE 6'3, 253 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7959 11 17.5 2.7% 4.5 2.0 0 0 0 0
Mason Gentry NT 6'6, 305 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8256 12 16.5 2.6% 2.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Deon Green DT 6'4, 293 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8418 10 16.0 2.5% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Zelt Minor NT 6'2, 285 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8387 9 7.5 1.2% 2.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Elie Nabushosi DE
10 4.5 0.7% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Keyfer Roberts DT 6'2, 282 So. NR NR 9 3.0 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Michael Scott DE 6'4, 248 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8381
Chris Biggurs DT 6'3, 268 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8217
Hunter Thedford DE 6'7, 239 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7979
Delontae Scott DE 6'5, 244 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7893
JT Williams DT 6'1, 295 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7885
Michael Badejo DE 6'2, 220 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8472
Ken McLaurin DT 6'2, 260 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8244
Demerick Gary DE 6'3, 245 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8222
Patrick Jones DT 6'3, 270 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7945

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jonathan Yenga WILL 12 47.5 7.4% 0.5 0.0 0 1 0 0
Kyran Mitchell STAR 6'0, 200 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7483 8 34.0 5.3% 4.5 0.0 1 0 0 0
Jackson Mitchell WILL 6'0, 223 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7644 12 32.0 5.0% 4.0 0.0 0 0 2 0
Caleb Tuiasosopo MIKE 11 29.0 4.5% 2.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
RC Cox STAR 6'1, 217 Jr. NR NR 10 27.5 4.3% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Anthony Rhone MIKE 6'0, 235 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7859 10 24.0 3.7% 0.0 0.0 1 0 0 0
Carlos Carroll STAR 6'3, 230 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8219 12 13.5 2.1% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Matt McNew MIKE 6'3, 222 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7533 8 9.5 1.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Nick Horton MIKE 6'2, 243 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7693 12 4.0 0.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Derek Longoria LB 12 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Mitchell Kaufman LB 6'3, 223 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7826
Jordon Williams LB 6'1, 208 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7926
Noah Spears LB 6'2, 200 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8178
Myles Duke LB 6'1, 185 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7971








7. A new lineup every week

One of my mantras in these previews is that injuries hurt in the present tense and help in the future tense. We could certainly see that with the SMU defense. The line indeed returns five players who recorded at least 7.5 tackles, and the linebacking corps returns six who recorded at least 9.5.

Kyran Mitchell was turning into a strong freshman play-maker before missing the last month of the season, Jackson Mitchell made some plays against the run, and others like Carlos Carroll at least hinted at some play-making potential. Malone has some experienced options, and though the LB unit doesn't feature quite as many impact newcomers as the line, it also doesn't need as many.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Darrion Richardson FS 6'0, 202 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8079 10 50.0 7.8% 2 0 1 4 1 0
Shakiel Randolph SS 12 34.0 5.3% 1.5 0 0 0 0 0
Jordan Wyatt SS 6'0, 190 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7885 11 27.5 4.3% 1 0 2 2 1 0
Horace Richardson CB 6'0, 195 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7900 7 20.0 3.1% 0 0 2 3 0 0
David Johnson CB 11 17.0 2.7% 0.5 0 1 7 0 0
Troy Castle FS 12 17.0 2.7% 0 0 0 0 0 0
William Jeanlys CB 6'2, 188 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7933 11 14.0 2.2% 0 0 0 5 1 0
Jesse Montgomery CB 6'1, 180 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7600 8 9.0 1.4% 0 0 1 1 0 0
Ajee Montes CB
5 5.5 0.9% 0 0 0 0 0 0
A.J. Justice FS
12 3.5 0.5% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Cedric Lancaster CB 5'10, 171 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8094 4 3.0 0.5% 0 0 1 0 0 0
Kevin Johnson DB 5'10, 168 So. 2 stars (5.4) NR 4 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Deion Sanders, Jr. CB 5'7, 176 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7829
Eric Sutton CB 5'10, 170 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8081
Michael Clark S 6'1, 175 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8062
Christian Davis DB 6'0, 160 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7955








8. A new lineup every week, part 2

The secondary had its moments in 2015, on three occasions holding opponents under a 95.0 passer rating (against North Texas, USF, and Tulane). Five opponents completed under 55 percent of their passes, and for the season, SMU allowed a 59.2 percent completion rate, a not-completely-awful 77th in the country. Five SMU defensive backs defensed at least four passes, and four of them are back in 2016.

But when you've got a different lineup every week, chances are that your communication and chemistry are lacking. On defense, that tends to create breakdowns. And since SMU allowed 15.7 yards per completion and 31 touchdown passes, I would say that there were a few breakdowns.

With stability could come improvement. The pass defense is closer to being solid than the run defense, and if a steady lineup were to emerge -- say, Horace Richardson and William Jeanlys at corner and Darrion richardson and Jordan Wyatt at safety, with players like Jesse Montgomery, Cedric Lancaster, Deion Sanders Jr., and maybe a freshman or two worked into the second string -- this could be a downright decent unit. Leading pass rusher Justin Lawler is back, too.

I'm not going to pretend this is suddenly going to become a top-40 pass defense, but it should be the least of the defense's worries.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Josh Williams 5'11, 177 So. 38 38.7 0 5 11 42.1%
Jackson Koonce 27 39.6 2 6 3 33.3%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Chad Hedlund 61 64.0 42 0 68.9%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Chad Hedlund 43-43 7-9 77.8% 1-2 50.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Braeden West KR 5'10, 166 So. 27 23.5 1
Deion Sanders, Jr. KR 5'7, 176 Sr. 15 24.8 0
Darius Joseph PR 6 3.8 0
Braeden West PR 5'10, 166 So. 5 6.4 0
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 75
Field Goal Efficiency 68
Punt Return Success Rate 28
Kick Return Success Rate 33
Punt Success Rate 126
Kickoff Success Rate 9

9. A good return game, at least

Punter Josh Williams struggled as a freshman, and SMU must replace a solid kicker in Chad Hedlund. So legs might be a concern. But at least in Braeden West and Deion Sanders Jr., the Mustangs have the return game figured out. And if there's one area of special teams SMU would benefit from being good at in 2016, it's probably kick returns. There will be quite a few of them.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep at North Texas 128 7.7 67%
10-Sep at Baylor 13 -26.6 6%
17-Sep Liberty NR 16.4 83%
23-Sep TCU 31 -12.9 23%
1-Oct at Temple 61 -13.4 22%
7-Oct at Tulsa 93 -5.2 38%
22-Oct Houston 53 -7.6 33%
29-Oct at Tulane 122 4.4 60%
5-Nov Memphis 77 -3.2 43%
12-Nov at East Carolina 78 -10.1 28%
19-Nov South Florida 41 -10.4 27%
26-Nov Navy 66 -5.6 37%
Projected wins: 4.7
Five-Year F/+ Rk -19.9% (98)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 82 / 76
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* -10 / -11.6
2015 TO Luck/Game +0.7
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 81% (97%, 65%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 2.6 (-0.6)

10. Not the schedule for a breakthrough

In the improving AAC, only four teams are projected worse than 90th in S&P+, and SMU is one of them. Of the other three, the Mustangs don't play UCF and have to play Tulsa and Tulane on the road. They also travel to Baylor, Temple, and ECU, and they are given a better than 43 percent chance of winning in only three games.

That's the bad news. The good news: Thanks mostly to returning production on the offensive side of the ball (and decent recruiting), the Mustangs themselves are projected to return to the S&P+ top 100 after two years below the surface. And it isn't hard to see the defense improving a decent amount as well. If this team can break into the 80s, then games against Tulsa on the road and Navy and Memphis at home come within reach.

I don't expect a bowl from SMU in 2016, but I would be shocked if the Mustangs don't take a pretty healthy step forward overall, and if they don't throw a serious scare into at least a couple of solid teams. Morris stripped the depth chart down to freshmen and sophomores for the most part and still engineered improvement. Now he's actually got some experience to work with.