SMU has a lot of competition at the quarterback position with returning starter Garrett Gilbert, Neal Burcham having another year in the system, big transfer Austin Kent in the mix after a successful JUCO career, Conner Preston, who will try to compete for the backup role as he appeared to be pushed down the depth chart last season and Garrett Krstich, who continues to develop after a his second season.
Garrett Gilbert, 6-5, 220, Senior
Neal Burcham, 6-3, 205, RS-Freshman
Austin Kent, 6-6, 220, Sophomore
Conner Preston, 5-11 205, RS-Sophomore
Garrett Krstich, 6-3, 230, RS-Sophomore
Strengths: Arm Strength, Talent
Weakness: Lack of a definite backup
Garrett Gilbert had a rough start to his career at SMU following his transfer from Texas, but late in the season, he limited his mistakes, going the last five games of the regular season without throwing an interception. SMU fans had high expectations coming into last season, but Gilbert struggled due to decision-making and a lack of consistency from his receivers. Gilbert is the unquestioned starter going into the season and brought a new wrinkle into the Run-N-Shoot with his running ability. In the spring, expect head coach June Jones to install some new wrinkles to take advantage of this and for the first time, SMU fans may see some permanent tweaks to Jones' offense.
Gilbert will remain the starter, but the coaching staff was impressed with Neal Burcham late in the season and even though the staff did not burn his redshirt, Burcham will have every opportunity to take the backup role and push Preston down the depth chart for good. Burcham struggled early with arm strength due to his reconstructed knee but came on strong in practice late in the year.
Preston has always been questioned for his size, but the redshirt sophomore can sling the ball around pretty well even though the coaches pushed him down the depth chart it late in the year. Preston will battle like crazy to win the backup job against Burcham, but it will be interesting to see if the staff has already made their decision on Burcham being the backup. Kent is an intriguing signal caller and will be able to challenge for the starting job after Gilbert is gone. Krstich has improved but not enough to warrant consideration for the backup job.
What to Watch: The Battle for the Backup Role
SMU's biggest question mark at quarterback is the lack of a backup that is ready to take over if Gilbert goes down. Gilbert's new found style of play and lack of an experienced line could lead to him taking more hits and punishment from defenses so it is crucial for SMU's backup to be ready to go. Gilbert is tough, but the backup for SMU has to show more than what people have seen out at practice. The backup job will be up for grabs between Burcham and Preston and both have a good understanding of the SMU offense and what is expected from them. Expect Jones to give both players plenty of time and opportunities to take the backup role going into the fall.
Breakout Player: Neal Burcham
Burcham came to SMU coming off an ACL tear and everyone could tell he was not 100 percent in fall camp but as the year moved along, Burcham became stronger and more comfortable throwing the ball again. The Elite 11 MVP coming out of high school, Burcham has plenty of talent and has a solid understanding of Jones' offense going into his second year at SMU. Burcham has the opportunity to stake his claim to the backup role and put himself in position for playing time and a chance to take over after Gilbert. With his talent and knee at 100 percent, expect Burcham to show off all the skills that made him the MVP at the Elite 11 competition.
Keep an Eye On: Austin Kent
Before his freshmen season at Laney C.C. (CA), Kent committed himself to a tough workout regime at Hustle Fitness in hopes of being ready to take the starting role his freshmen season. Kent had to be forced to take days off by his trainer and had a decent season sharing playing time with three other quarterbacks, passing for over 600 yards, completing 50 percent of his passes and throwing for eight touchdowns. He has a big arm and his height obviously catches your attention. Remember, Jones recruited Kent out of high school. The question is whether Kent will be able to pick up the SMU offense and improve.
-Austin Kent will wow everyone with his combination of size and strength but will struggle picking up the offense.
- Burcham will cement himself as the backup
- There is a small chance that if Preston does not win the backup spot, he may transfer to find another opportunity even though he loves SMU
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