2006 Record: (6-6, 4-4)
Coach: Phil Bennett (17-41 at SMU, 17-41 overall)
Starters Returning: 18 (9 offense, 7 defense, 2 specialists)
Offensive Starters Lost: WR Reynaldo Pellerin, OL Darrin Johnson
Offensive Starters Returning: QB Justin Willis, RB DeMyron Martin, RB Cedrick Dorsey, WR Emmanuel Sanders, WR Columbus Givens, OL Kenard Burley, OL Sean Lobo, OL Caleb Peveto, OL Ben Poynter
Defensive Starters Lost: DT Adrian Haywood, DT Brandon Bonds, DE Justin Rogers, S Joe Strurdivant
Defensive Starters Returning: DE Cory Muse, LB Reggie Carrington, LB Tony Hawkins, LB Wilton McCray, CB Jonathan Lindley, CB Bryan McCann, S Bryce Hudman
Starting Specialists Lost: none
Starting Specialists Returning: K/P Thomas Morstead
SMU was ever so close to going bowling in 2006, but this is the year. The Mustangs have not reached a bowl since 1984, but they have not had a better team since then either. Yet, the schedule is seemingly unfair with trips to Southern Miss, Tulsa and Houston in a four week stretch.
Quarterback Justin Willis threw 26 touchdowns and six interceptions as a redshirt freshman and the hopes of a school lie in his young, injured hands. A hand injury limited Willis' work in the spring, but he is expected to be at full strength well before the season begins. Not only has the sophomore proven to be a quality passer, but he is a dangerous running threat as well. The passing attack has a few questions without receiver Bobby Chase and tight end Ryan Kennedy. Kennedy was a favorite red zone target, but Vincent Chase could pick up the slack despite limited playing time last year. With Emmanuel Sanders and Columbus Givens returning to the wide receiver corps, the unit should easily replace the production of Bobby Chase.
The Mustangs have a trio of quality backs in DeMyron Martin, James Mapp and Cedrick Dorsey. Martin was limited by injuries last year and should be able to drastically increase on his 369 rushing yards if he remains healthy. The veteran line returns four starters to help out the occasionally sputtering running game, but giving Willis time in the pocket will be their main asset.
Last year's defense was great against the run and horrible against the pass. If the newcomers on the line cannot create a decent rush and the secondary does not improve, the entire defense may be horrible. Having four-year starter Cory Muse back on the line is a good place to start, but the unit will have to get more production out of former part-time starters Charlie Berry and Patrick Handy. The linebackers are the only unit that does not have SMU fans worried. Reggie Carrington, Wilton McCray and Tony Hawkins are all returning starters and may have to do a lot of work to help the guys in front of and behind them.
The secondary is experienced, even with the loss of All-Conference safety Joe Sturdivant. Bryce Hudman and junior college transfer Rock Dennis will handle the safety spots and a trio of cornerbacks with starts under their belt are back. Bryan McCann, Jonathan Lindley and Brandon Jones were the top three corners a year ago, but they need to do a lot better this year to keep the team from being ranked last in the conference in pass defense.
The Bottom Line:
There is enough skill on the defensive side of the ball to make this a good team. Yet, the secondary did not instill any confidence of success last year even with all the help from the defensive line. Now the line is full of questions and the entire unit could simply fall apart if things do not go well. However, that is unlikely, but the defense will at least have to get back to last year's level if SMU wants to reach a bowl game.