Brought to you by: Big Shucks
By Zach Walker
I wanted to wait until all of the American conference schools had their head coaching positions locked down before having this thing go out. Temple hired Florida defensive coordinator Geoff Collins to replace Matt Rhule, for the “Cherry” on top of the AAC. The conference got slightly easier when Willie Taggart left for Oregon, then the Bulls of USF went and hired Charlie Strong to pair with Quinton Flowers and Marlon Mack, and that bubble burst. The American has serious competition all over, especially with Major Applewhite sliding into Houston. Then, there was the arrhythmia caused by the swirling rumors of Chad Morris leaving for Baylor after the big loss to Navy. The country learned then where Morris’ allegiances lie, and it’s in Texas, but it isn’t Baylor, he’s got his eyes set higher, and I’ll assume he’ll stick around the Hilltop until the job that he wants opens up.
There’s really no way of looking at the 2016 season for the Mustangs’ as an unparalleled success. The program lost their incumbent starter at quarterback in the second game of the season, their primary running back in the first game, and had a chance at a bowl bid throughout the entire final stretch of the season. Realistically, either a completion or a tackle against Tulsa, season could still be going on. I don’t know what the hell the deal was during homecoming against Memphis, but that was truly the season’s low point. I don’t want to hear about the Navy game. The Navy game is a loss for the Mustangs, until they really get better play from their linebackers, the Navy game is an automatic loss, unless the Mustangs just come out as amped and motivated as they possibly can.
The Mustangs’ aren’t going to be favored to win their division in the American, they won’t be fighting for a New Year’s six berth either. But, they will be a better team than they were this year and that’s an incredible feat. And it’s all going to be on the quarterback. Chad Morris recruited Ben Hicks out of Waco’s Midway high school, and likely was going to groom him for this coming 2017 season to be the starter. Instead, Matt Davis goes down, and Hicks gets thrown into the fire. Hicks started rough, like a carbureted engine in the cold. Hicks was a nervous passer in the pocket for his first couple of games, really visually intimidated in the redzone, afraid to commit to his convictions. I believe the hit that he took against Temple, where a fully accelerating Owl painted Hicks in a shade of pain so intense, that it changed Hicks’ game. He was a different animal after that hit. The yards and miles that Chad Morris got out of Hicks earlier than planned will pay huge going forward into Hicks’ command of the offense.
Braeden West was thrust into the primary back this season, with Xavier Jones going down in the opener, then officially after the Temple game. West was an absolute stud this season. He finished the season with over one thousand yards, off of a couple more carries than two hundred, and had six rushing touchdowns. West has great vision, and coupled with his eyes is his ability to flatten himself like a cat, and shoot through narrow gaps then get back on the gas. The introduction of Ke’Mon Freeman as the big, pounding back was certainly a welcome addition. I’ll admit, the play calling became pretty predictable when Freeman entered the game during the back half of the season, it was clearly a running play, but still Freeman was a major weapon. The rest of the weapons for the Mustangs all grew alongside Ben Hicks. Courtland Sutton is a monster beast. I really don’t know how much further I really need to elaborate on his status. He’s coming back for his junior year, which is a great decision for him and SMU together. Sutton will ball out in his junior year, then become the first SMU first round draft pick since 1986. James Proche is a supreme complimentary weapon to Sutton. He showcased his versatility and his ability over this season. Hicks loved to use him in the intermediate range of throws, and proved to be a great threat with incredible ability to adjust to the ball in the air, and great hands too. Xavier Castille was another great inside weapon for Hicks. It sucks that SMU never really took full advantage of Jeremiah Gaines, as I really believe he could have been an epic mismatch with his smooth route running, sneaky speed, and solid hands. The offensive line, which was a true roller coaster all season. They won’t return Dan McCarty or Chauncey Briggs. I hope they can get some great production out of Bryce Wilds, the kid from Freeport, who was in Hicks’ recruiting class and was a highly sought after recruit in his class.
I wish I knew where the defense would be going into 2017. They are graduating quite a few players that had significant playing time. Jarvis Pruitt, Deon Green, and Zelt Minor in the trenches all won’t be back. But, the huge loss is safety Darrion Millines and cornerback Horace Richardson. They’ll still have beef, bulk, and skill on defense for next season with some of the studs that aren’t graduating in 2016, but replacing Millines and Richardson is going to be a massive offseason task. Though, replacing Horace Richardson with Jordan Wyatt is the easy solution, replacing Millines is going to be a real pain. They’ll return Justin Lawler and Mason Gentry for some upfront beef, but I’d really like to see the Scott’s take that next step. Delontae and Michael Scott were redshirt freshmen this season, and if I can remember Michael got a sack this year. The future of the defense is still very bright because they retained Van Malone as defensive coordinator. They’re going to need to get some step up from some guys, William Jeanlys and Rodney Clemons spring immediately to mind.
The Mustangs of 2017 just need some consistency, string some attitude together to get wins to flow, not have to pump it from the earth’s core. The Mustangs still have Chad Morris, and that’s the important thing, that means consistency throughout the offseason.