Over the next few weeks, as we anxiously await football to return to our lives, we will be doing a quick look at the teams on Baylor's schedule this year. We start off with the first opponent for the Baylor Bears, the SMU Mustangs, who come to Waco September 1st. Southern Methodist is coming off of an 8-5 season with a bowl win against Pittsburg in the BBVA Compass Bowl. The 8 wins ties the most they have had since the 1980s.
SMU is led by 5th year Head Coach June Jones. Coach Jones has reenergized the Mustang program, and has taken them to bowl games in the last 3 seasons. Jones had a rather interesting off season this year, with him reportedly accepting the Arizona State head coach position, and then Arizona State breaking it off during the final negotiations. Coach Jones then came back to SMU, despite some criticism, with the Sun Devils finally settling on Todd Graham to take over their program.
Conference Membership- Conference USA Member since 2005, leaving for Big East for 2013 season in ALL sports
Coach- June Jones, 5th year, 24-28 overall, 17-15 conference
Spring Practice Dates- April 2nd through April 28th
Major Forums- www.smu.scout.com and www.ponyfans.com
Offense: Returning starters- 2
The Mustangs lose their entire starting offensive line from their bowl game, including highly regarded Josh LeRibeus. In fact, they are losing 6 of the 10 players in their 2-deep depth chart. They are also losing two of their starting wide receivers and their starting quarterback. Their offense is definitely in transition this year.
However, the cupboard isn't bare for the offensive genius June Jones. He is returning his two best skill position players in battering ram running back Zach Line and top wide receiver Darius Johnson. Those two players scored a combined 25 touchdowns last year for the Mustangs.
Both Johnson and Line are not going to be participating in spring practice though. Johnson, along with star linebacker Taylor Reed, was asked not to participate in practice this spring. "You got to take care of business, not just football," Jones told a reporter, declining to elaborate on what led to the players being disciplined. "They're our two best players." Johnson and Reed are expected back, however when they will be back is unknown.
Zach Line underwent shoulder surgery in February, his second surgery in the offseason. "I separated (the shoulder) against Northwestern State," Line said. "I tore the AC (acromioclavicular) joint (at the top of the shoulder) in there. It was supposed to start feeling better, but it didn't. So I started getting a small cortisone shot to get me through games, and wore that Kevlar padding in my shoulder pads." Line also underwent surgery for a torn tendon in his toe.
The senior to be finished with over 1200 yards rushing last season and is one of the better running backs in the country at getting tough yards. He is built like a linebacker, but has good enough speed and does a good job of working with his blockers. Unfortunately for him, his blockers are going to be completely different this year. It will be interesting to see how the Mustangs handle this massive overhaul on the offensive line.
Outside of the obvious questions in the trenches for SMU, the big worry for Mustang fans is who will be taking snaps for them this year. J.J. McDermott came in last year during their opening game against Texas A&M. With returning starter Kyle Padron struggling, McDermott came in and stabilized the position. Padron started all of 2010, and had good numbers throughout his sophomore season (3,828 passing yards, 31 TD, 14 Int). But when you start 9-20 with 3 interceptions during your junior season, you are not long for the field. Padron decided to transfer this off-season to get a much needed fresh start, so Coach Jones will be looking for a new starter this year.
The big name in the QB race is a familiar one to Baylor fans. Garrett Gilbert, the former University of Texas starter, looks to be eligible to play immediately. However, he will not be able to participate in spring practice until he finished his degree at UT. At this point, he could be in Dallas any day now, but no one really knows when he will arrive. Competing with Gilbert are three very inexperienced quarterbacks. Stephen Kaiser, Conner Preston and Garrett Krstich are all going to be getting their first major reps in practice. It sounds like Preston might be the favorite at this early stage, but there is a long way to go.
Defense: Returning Starters- 7
The defense for the mustangs returns a lot of key players. The star on that side of the ball is the aforementioned Taylor Reed. Reed was a 2nd team CUSA all-conference last year along with teammate Ja'Gared Davis. The two seniors to be lead a very good linebacker group.
The Mustangs also have some talent coming back on the defensive line with Torian Pittman and Margus Hunt both expected to start. Pittman is a returning starter at nose tackle, and gives them a good presence on the inside. Hunt is a giant of a man, at 6-8, 295 and getting bigger. He played at defensive end last year and made an impact on special teams. He is an extraordinary field goal blocker, but has yet to really learn to be an impact defensive player. If he gets it, watch out.
The secondary returns 2 starters in Ryan Smith and Kenneth Acker. They have some good depth here with a few athletes to come in for the departed seniors. They will miss Chris Banjo and Richard Crawford, but they have the athletes to keep improving their secondary.
The Mustangs defense has improved every year under June Jones, but it would be a mistake to call this a great unit. While they have gotten better, they were still pretty average at times last year, especially against the great offenses they played. They gave up 38 points to Tulsa and 37 points to Houston. In the opener they lost 46-14 against Texas A&M.
The Mustangs tried to address this in the offseason with recruiting. Their top 4 recruits this year were all on the defensive side of the ball. Damien Neroes, Prescott Line, A.J. Justice and Shakiel Randolph will all help at the linebacker or safety position. Though the amount of playing time they actual see this year has yet to really be determined, SMU is starting to get better athletes on both sides of the ball.