By Zach Walker
Needless to say, change was a welcomed sight of the Hilltop. After the second straight blowout handed to the Mustangs, June Jones resigned as the head football coach, leaving defensive coordinator Tom Mason, to pick up the pieces of bruised egos of battered men. The team would go on to lose every game until the finale against Connecticut, where the team truly won for the coach. The job that Coach Mason did was a great job that no one will ever credit him with, keeping the team motivated, prepped, and ready for the next game. And loss and loss, some blowouts, some surprisingly competitive, some (USF) heartbreaking, he’d have the team ready for the next week’s opponent.
New coaches, new talent and new expectations.
In comes Chad Morris, a former Texas high school football championship winning coach and Clemson’s offensive coordinator. He’s coached some strong players, and some NFL draft picks. First round wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins (Houston) and Sammy Watkins (Buffalo) were both from Morris’ offenses. But now he’s coming into a team with a lot of question marks at a lot positions. At quarterback, he’ll likely go will the starter from last season, Matt Davis, a dual threat quarterback cut slightly of the same mold of one of Morris’ former players, Tajh Boyd, a pass-first dual threat, who was also six foot flat. Matt Davis is going to show some real progression of his pocket awareness for this team to be successful. Behind him, Garrett Krstich, who played in a few games last season, and Ben Hicks, a prized signing out of high school.
The running game is likely going to have a higher priority with the ditching of the run-and-shoot offense. Prescott Line looked very solid in the spring game, and looked very relaxed in his runs. They have a new sledgehammer in Daniel Gresham, a sub-six back with 225 pounds of punch behind him. And rounding out, Darius Durall and K.C. Nlemchi. I don’t know how much more the Mustangs are going to run the ball, but my guess is that it’s going to be at least 20 team rushes a game, which would be a welcomed sight, being able to play a little more of the clock control game than in seasons past. The wide receivers are a strong bunch, led by Darius Joseph in his final season. After his sophomore season of 100+ catches, he was nowhere rear that number in 2014, with only 54 catches, not bad, but for a pass happy offense, that’s just not where he was supposed to be. With a good season, Joseph could start to get swirling draft talks because of his frame, high catch output, and strong route running ability, and I believe he could be an NFL team’s draft steal. On the outside they have a freshman, Courtland Sutton, a six foot four inch, 215 pound tower on the outside, who caught two touchdowns in the first half of the spring game and looked to have Davis’ eye in his hands on nearly every snap. The third option is the one I’ve been pining for, Jeremiah Gaines. Built like an H-Back from Morris’ Clemson days, Dwayne Allen (Colts), Gaines has good size, not great; a solid build, tough hands, and stealthy speed.
I’m a tight end fanatic, and I expect nothing short of 40 catches this season from Gaines, because Davis is going to learn quickly that Gaines is going to be in the best spot when the game starts to get dicey. The three other regular rotation receivers are Shelby Walker, Nate Halverson, and kick returner Deion Sanders Junior. But where this team is going to live and die is in the trenches with their offensive line. The line consisting of Chauncey Briggs, Taylor Reich, Taylor Lasecki, Daniel McCarty, and Kris Weeks, all have to be better. They’ve given up a lot of sacks in the past, and haven’t gotten the best push in the ground game. They have a bad problem with false starts and compiling penalties in bad situations. They must come together as a unit, because if they play all season, the way they did in the spring game, it’s going to be a long season for Matt Davis and the rest of the offense.
Lots of familiar faces on the defense. Along the defensive front are some solid bigs. Zach Wood, Mason Gentry, Andrew McCleneghen, Zelt Minor, and Justin Lawler, are all going to bring the heat off the line. The linebackers are going to have to fill the spots of Stephon Sanders and Kevin Pope, but they have some pretty darn good players to try. Robert Seals really played well throughout last year, and Jonathan Yenga has been a rock for a few seasons. The rotation of backers is pretty deep. Nick Horton is likely going to grab the third linebacker, then there is Caleb Tuiasosopo, Derek Longoria, and freshman Kyran Mitchell, another spring game standout. The Mustangs have a pretty well experienced secondary, I feel that the heartbeat of the defense is going to be how well big Shakiel Randolph can make strides as the starting safety. But he’ll have familiar faces around him, the Richardson’s, Darrion, JR, and Horace, all of which aren’t related but all have played together for at least last season. Ajee Montes and A.J. Justice are going to round out the main rotation of defensive backs. Jackson Koonce is going to have to work on his consistency as a punter, because at times last season, he’d hit a terrible punt that really put the defense on their heels, the kicking needs to get better too. I don’t know for certain if Michael Armstrong or Daniel Chaparro will be taking the field goal duties, but overall the special teams just need to sharpen up.
The best news for any Mustangs’ fans is that wins are coming, the needle is trending well in their favor and under Chad Morris, the outlook is extremely positive.
September 4 – Baylor Bears: Let’s not let fandom, expectations, or anything cloud us, the Mustangs are going to be at least a 20 point underdog in this game. The Bears have been, where Chad Morris is going to try and get the Mustangs to, consistent winners over the past half-decade, and their ability to reload with talent is just much easier than at SMU.
Prediction: Baylor 45 – SMU 17.
September 12 – North Texas Mean Green: The rivalry between the Mean Green and the Mustangs are going to re-ignite over the next few seasons, with their agreement to face off of a while. The Mean Green lost a few of their offensive linemen and it can be very difficult to replace those guys, and feel the gel of the unit so early in the season. I expect the Mustangs to try and pounce on the Mean Green early in this game, and try and hold them down.
Prediction: North Texas 24 – SMU 31.
September 19 – At TCU Horned Frogs: Remember what I said about Baylor, that same thing applies here, maybe even more. They might be a 35 point underdog by the time kickoff rolls around. TCU has national champion aspirations and will not overlook SMU, and claim the Iron Skillet for another year. Prediction: SMU 21 – TCU 61.
September 26 – James Madison Dukes: This is a FCS football team from Virginia, and if all goes bad, this could be the first chance for the Mustangs to get into the win column.
Prediction: James Madison 20 – SMU 35.
October 3 – East Carolina Pirates: Last season, Garrett Krstich made this game interesting, but the Pirates had Shane Carden and Justin Hardy to keep the reeling Mustangs at bay, that’s not the same story this year, but they’ll have to get around Zeek Bigger, their star linebacker.
Prediction: East Carolina 31 – SMU 35.
October 8 – At Houston Cougars: I was in the press box at Amon Carter, when this damn team get held down in the Armed Forces bowl in January, then in about seven minutes, completely ignore that they playing Pittsburgh and finished one of the greatest comebacks in college football history. Oh, and FYI, Greg Ward Jr, the ballots for MVP were taken up with eight minutes left in the game, your back Kenneth Farrow won kind of on a technicality. But those two are back and know how two find the holes, and Adrian McDonald is a ball-hawking safety for the Cougars, this game can be a shoot-out if the two offenses let their hair down and the dogs off the leash.
Prediction: SMU 38 – Houston 42.
October 24 – At USF Bulls: The players from last season know that this is a hate game, and that the Mustangs owe the Bulls for last season. The Bulls switched quarterbacks for the final drive, and he led a soul-crushing drive down the throat of every cold and damp Mustang fan at Ford Stadium.
Prediction: SMU 35 – USF 17.
October 31 – Tulsa Golden Hurricane: This was Matt Davis’ coming out game last season, except in Tulsa, the game was interesting and frustrating, with every positive Davis would do, there would either be meat left on the bone or a negative right around the corner.
Prediction: Tulsa 20 – SMU 31.
November 6 – Temple Owls: The Temple Owls weren’t a terribly effective offensive last season, and if their quarterback P.J. Walker didn’t improve from last season, and throwing sub-55 percent completions, it’s going to be another 6-6 season or maybe worse.
Prediction: Temple 17 – SMU 28.
November 14 – At Navy Midshipmen: I’ll be transparent, I love Navy football. I’m so glad they’re in a conference, and in the AAC. Their option offense is like the waves hitting the hull of an aircraft carrier. On one hand, you know they are going to hit, and there’s nothing to do about it. Its slam football, and it tests, and in a lot of ways, bullies a team’s defensive depth with a constant barrage of “which way?” runs. Kennan Reynolds has the option down to a T, and it’ll be a task and a half to neutralize that crashing Navy offense. Prediction: SMU 21 – Navy 30.
November 21 – Tulane Green Wave: Like Temple, Tulane really struggled with the ball in their hands, but unlike Temple, their defense didn’t help them out of a lot of jams. We all could see Nick Montana, son of Joe, so that could be cool.
Prediction: Tulane 14 – SMU 31.
November 28 – At Memphis Tigers: Memphis won the American last season, and are returning a lot of the players that got them there. Paxton Lynch is the size of a college defensive end and has an excitable arm. This game could very well be a very good game, but for now, I’ll take the likely SMU loss.
Prediction: SMU 24 – Memphis 34.
As I sit, I have the Mustangs at seven wins and five losses, but I’d say that it’s early, and no one knows how the ball will land, but I’d say that a .500 record isn’t completely past optimistic for the Mustangs in 2015.