Ready for the big time?

Now the question is, what's next? Can the Mustangs take the next step towards the top of Conference USA and possibly into the national rankings?

INSIDE SLANT It hasn't taken head coach June Jones long to take SMU from a 1-11 mark the year before he took over to last season's 8-5 record, including a rout of Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl.

Now the question is, what's next? Can the Mustangs take the next step towards the top of Conference USA and possibly into the national rankings?

Who will replace seniors like Chase
Kennemer (pictured), Emmanuel Sanders,
and Mitch Enright?
(Photo by: Matthew Visinsky)
If so, they're going to need to find some answers this spring, with star seniors Emmanuel Sanders, Mitch Enright and Chase Kennemer among the players who won't be with the team next year.

But, SMU did have the third highest total of underclassmen starters in the FBS with 13 freshmen or sophomores on the field at the beginning of the game. That youth got the experience of winning some games, but is it ready to move up and take the heat with teams gunning for them?

Finding a receiver to take the place of Sanders -- the school's all-time leader in career catches, touchdown catches and receiving yards -- will be a key for the high-powered offense to keep up to speed.

And replacing middle linebacker Kennemer, a leader on the defense, will also be a key objective to the spring practices. Jones has himself a rising program. Now is not the time to let up on the hard work.


SPRING OBJECTIVES:With so many young starters last year -- 13 were freshmen or sophomores -- spring practice is going to be a matter of refining the offense under starter Kyle Padron, who hasn't had a spring practice yet as a starter despite already winning a bowl game MVP.

Finding a receiver that can be a gamebreaker like Emmanuel Sanders is going to be difficult, which means Padron needs to establish a chemistry with as many different receivers as possible in order to build up the team's depth at the position. Returning players at the position like Cole Beasley, Terrance Wilkerson and Aldrick Robinson all had 40 or more catches last year and will vie for playing time this season.

Linebacker is also a position of need, with leading tackler Chase Kennemer (135 tackles, 12 tackles for loss) having graduated. Starters Youri Yenga, Pete Fleps and Ja'Gared Davis all return in the Mustangs' 3-4 scheme, with the team looking at all three as possible replacements at middle linebacker for this season.

The offensive line is nearly intact, although senior Mitch Enright will be missed at center. There are a number of possible replacements, including grey-shirt freshman Ben Hughes.

Kyle Padron (Photo by: Matthew Visinsky)
BUILDING BLOCKS: For not being the starter at the beginning of last season, QB Kyle Padron sure looked like a veteran signal caller by the end of the year, when he won Hawaii Bowl MVP honors with a school-record 460 yards passing and two touchdowns. Padron is still learning the SMU offense, so having a full spring practice as the starter will certainly benefit him.

There are a number of returning starters on both sides of the ball, with the receiving corps deep despite the loss of Emmanuel Sanders. While Shawnbrey McNeal is gone, the return of Zach Line and incoming freshman Darryl Fields in the fall should provide a 1-2 punch.

Defensively, the Mustangs return a number of starters, although last year's leading tackler, LB Chase Kennemer, and the team's leader in interceptions, DB Rock Dennis, have graduated. Still, last year's unit which allowed 27.6 points per game should only get better as the young players that got time last year continue to mature and improve.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "After the season, Coach (Tom) Mason talked to me and said he thought I could help him out on defense. Then I had my end-of-the-year meeting with Coach (June) Jones, and we talked about it too. He thought it was a good idea too." -- Braden Smith told about his switch from quarterback to safety this season.


2010 OUTLOOK: The Mustangs had the best turnaround in the country last year -- going from 1-11 to 8-5 -- and now they're hoping for bigger and better things in 2010. With a great number of starters returning for SMU, there's a feeling around the team that the best is yet to come. Still, needing to replace a few key seniors -- including all-everything receiver Emmanuel Sanders -- isn't going to make things as easy as they seem. But the team's chemistry is solid and the talent and experience are there for another run to a bowl game.


DT Mike O'Guin -- The 6-2, 295-pounder enrolled in classes in January, making him available for spring practice. O'Guin will give the Mustangs another big, athletic defensive tackle who will be able to rush the passer as well as stand up strong against the run.


--Despite a pair of concussions in 2009 that ended his season early, CB Derrius Bell is still hoping for medical clearance to play again. Bell also had surgery recently to repair a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder.

--OL Joey Fontana is looking at missing the entire 2010 campaign after suffering a serious knee injury in practice prior to the Hawaii Bowl in December. Fontana tore his anterior cruciate ligament, lateral collateral ligament, posterior collateral ligament, the meniscus and the posterolateral corner in his left leg.

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