Sonny Dykes continues his thrilling offseason, and it doesn't seem like he's done just yet. The question now becomes can this team put it all together on the field? With the offense returning nearly everyone, and the defense ready to take a step forward, the Mustangs could be the surprise of the AAC with everyone's attention on Cincinnati and UCF.
3 Big Questions
1. Is this the championship year?
Sonny Dykes has SMU in position to be a championship team, but can’t quite get over the hump. In the last two seasons, his teams finished 17-6, but never sniffed the conference championship. With a loaded offense back, this could be the year they finally reach that goal.
2. Can Preston Stone win the starting quarterback job?
Oklahoma transfer Tanner Mordecai is the favorite to lead the offense, but four star quarterback Preston Stone comes to campus to compete for the job too. Stone is a dual threat, which could give him an advantage. Regardless of who wins, they'll just need to be a good distributor to the talent surrounding them.
3. Will the defense do their part?
SMU’s offenses continue to dominate their opponents and light up the scoreboard, but they have struggled to keep their foes away from the endzone too. A championship run requires either a solid defense or an opportunistic one.
Replacing a talent like Shane Buechele sets back a normal offense at least one season, but Sonny Dykes worked so hard to limit the damage his absence would create. Oklahoma transfer Tanner Mordecai battles with incoming four star freshman Preston Stone for the starting quarterback job. The winner doesn’t need to be a hero, as the talent surrounding them makes life easy.
RB Ulysses Bentley IV broke out as a freshman for the Mustangs, and they get back TJ McDaniel from injury, Tyler Lavine, and add North Texas transfer Tre Siggers. Out wide, the offense gets even scarier.
Reggie Roberson played in just five games last year, but led the team with 21.5 yards per catch, finished third in total yards (474), and tied for the team lead at five. Rashee Rice returns after leading the Mustangs in receiving, and speedster Danny Gray now has a full year of a experience under his belt. Dykes made a big splash by landing former Oklahoma transfer Grant Calcaterra to replace Kylen Granson at tight end.
The offensive line returns everyone, starting with tackles Jaylon Thomas and Beau Morris. Thomas has a future in the NFL. Hayden Howerton is an all-conference talent at guard, and Justin Osborne lines up at the other guard slot. Center Alan Ali is a veteran, meaning the only way this offense doesn’t succeed is because of the quarterback.
For as many answers as the offense has, the defense might have more questions. In a conference full of explosive offense, the defense won’t catch many breaks this year. The secondary will be experienced, led by Brandon Crossley and Ar’mani Johnson at corner. Crossley led the team in interceptions with four. Chevin Calloway and Chace Cromartie both bring back two years of experience, and that plays a huge role in the success of the secondary.
The linebackers lose a veteran in Richard McBryde, but return both Delano Robinson and Trevor Denbow. Denbow also can serve as an emergency punter, and Robinson led the team in tackles last season. Shane Hailey played a role in the rotation last year, and will get a chance to be the starter. Oregon transfer Isaac Slade-Matautia will also be in contention for a starting spot.
Up front, SMU could produce one of the best defensive lines in the conference. Turner Coxe and Gary Wiley proved the be disruptive in the backfield, with Nelson Paul filling into the rotation. Junior Aho and Elijah Chatman were solid up the middle, with Mike Williams and Will Jones behind them. SMU’s got the talent to make plays defensively, as evident by the 26 tackles for loss and nine sacks produced by the four starting offensive linemen, but thriving in this conference isn’t easy. If the defense steps up, this is easily a conference title contender.