Nicky Petrucelli previews SMU's first four non-conference games as summer practices rev up.
The SMU Mustangs have the potential to start the season off with four wins and no losses, which would set them up nicely to qualify for a bowl game for the first time since 2012--but there a few obstacles in the way. The first game the Mustangs for the upcoming season is home at Ford Stadium on Sept. 2, against the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks. Last year, the Lumberjacks finished 5 and 6 overall in the FCS, and 4 and 5 in a weak conference, the Southland conference. Last season, SFA faced Texas Tech for their one BCS opponent, and Patrick Mahomes and company did not take it easy on them. The final score was 69-17. Defensively, SFA ranked 113 out of 122 in total defense last season. So they will struggle with SMU’s fast pace, high-intensity offense. Offensively, SFA is going to have to replace quarterback Zach Conque who recently graduated. Conque basically did it all on offense. He was the Lumberjacks lead rusher, passer, and scorer, so he is going to be a tough player to replace. The Lumberjacks do have a spark on offense though if they can replace their quarterback. Tamrick Pace is a wide receiver coming off of a good freshman year for the Lumberjacks; he was named to the freshman All-American team, and was a honorable mention in the 2016 season. Pace and whoever his new quarterback should not be enough to outscore the Mustangs during a home season opener. The Mustang’s should be able to open up their season on a very positive note.
The week after, on September 9th, the Mustangs play at home again against North Texas. Now every SMU fan remembers what happened against UNT last season. Starting quarterback Matt Davis goes down with a torn ACL, leaving freshman Ben Hicks to take over for the remainder of the season. SMU did end up winning that game for the second season in a row, but fans couldn't help but question what if? Last season, UNT did find their way into Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl despite their 5-7 record, but ultimately lost to Army. Their weakness is their quarterback situation. Last season, they split time between senior Alec Morris, and Sophomore Mason Fine. Both put up less than impressive numbers, they combined for 13 interceptions and 15 touchdowns. Another problem is UNT only converted 35 percent of third downs. Defensively, they are returning their lead tackler, Kishawn McClain. Still, the Mustang’s should have another win in the books for them--a solid 2-0 start.
Week 3 is where SMU could lose some steam at the start of the season. The Mustangs have to travel to Fort Worth to take on the TCU Horned Frogs for the annual Battle for the Iron Skillet. SMU has not beaten TCU since 2011. TCU also is returning everyone they need to make a run for the Big 12 title this season. Kenny “Trill” Hill is coming back with another year of experience--and so is his entire receiving core. Shaun Nixon will be back from an ACL tear this upcoming season, Kavon Turpin and Emanuel Porter will also be 100 percent healthy at the start of the season. Defensively is where SMU can take advantage of the Horned Frogs. The TCU defense is weak against big plays, giving up 35 plays of 30-plus yards, which ranked 104th in the FBS. SMU quarterback Ben Hicks and receiver Courtland Sutton are known for their big play connections. SMU will have a challenge on their hands, but it could be a more even match than TCU is bargaining for.
SMU finishes out the first quarter of their season at home against Arkansas State. After an 0-4 start, they finished the season 7-5 and then went on to win their bowl game against AAC school UCF. Defensively, the Red Wolves are solid. They have Sun Belt conference player of the year Ja’von Rolland-Jones, who is also on the Nagurski award watch list. The Mustangs offensive line are going to have a long day with this defensive end, who racked up 13.5 sacks last season. They have play-makers on the other side of the ball, too. Tight end Blake Mack is one of the best tight ends in the country, averaging 19 yards per catch. He had three touchdowns last season, and can also block exceptionally well. The Mustangs are going to have their hands full the entire game, but if they can pull this one out, they'll be right on track to easy bowl eligibility.