SMU Mustangs: CFN College Football Preview 2021

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College Football News Preview 2021: Previewing, predicting, and looking ahead to the SMU season with what you need to know.

Contact/Follow @ColFootballNews & @PeteFiutak

– What You Need To Know: Offense | Defense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
SMU Schedule Analysis
– SMU Mustangs Previews
2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015

2020 Record: 7-3 overall, 4-3 in AAC
Head Coach: Sonny Dykes, 4th year, 23-14 overall
2020 CFN Final Ranking: 64
2020 CFN Preview Ranking: 88
2019 CFN Final Ranking: 28

SMU Mustangs College Football Preview 2021: Offense

The offense keeps on rolling. Head coach Sonny Dykes and offensive coordinator Garrett Riley found the groove last year with the attack averaging close to 500 yards and 39 points per game. There’s balance, consistency, and enough explosion keep things moving in a variety of ways.

Eight starters are back, but two are gone off the offensive line and QB Shane Buechele has to be replaced. Neither area is much of a concern, with the quarterback situation full of strong options.

Preston Stone was a huge recruit who might push for the gig right away, sophomore Derek Green is coming off a strong spring, and Oklahoma transfer Tanner Mordecai could take the job and run away with it. It’s a good situation, but it’ll take a little more time.

The receiving corps is terrific. All-star tight end Kylen Granson is done, but the Mustangs are bringing in three outstanding options in the transfer portal, starting with Grant Calcaterra who caught 41 passes and scored nine times at Oklahoma.

The top three wide receivers are back, led by top target Rashee Rice coming off a 48-catch season, and with Reggie Roberson averaging close to 22 yards per grab.

The passing game might be splashy, but the running backs put up huge numbers in this attack. Ulysses Bentley has 1,000-yard back potential and should push for double-digit touchdowns again – he ran for 11 last season – but he won’t carry the load alone with Tre Siggers coming in from North Texas.

They’ll all work behind a decent offensive line that knows how to get the job done. It’s not going to blast away, but the group of veterans – all five starters are expected to be back – know how to work within the system. Tackle Jaylon Thomas and guard Hayden Howerton are two of the best in the American Athletic Conference.

– What You Need To Know: Defense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
SMU Schedule Analysis

NEXT: SMU Mustangs College Football Preview 2021: Defense

4. SMU Mustangs College Football Preview 2021: Defense

The D wasn’t that bad, but it wasn’t consistent enough and it struggled over the second half of the year. In comes defensive coordinator extraordinaire Jim Leavitt to change all of that.

The pass rush was already fine, but the run D has to be stronger and there need to be more big plays. With nine starters returning and some strong transfers coming in, the new DC will have some fun.

The linebacking corps is interesting and versatile. Richard McBryde is gone from the middle, but Delano Robinson is an all-around playmaker and lading tackler on the outside, and Trevor Denbow can bring a little pop no matter where he plays. It helps to have a good defensive front to work behind, and SMU’s is full of talent and experience.

The end combination of Turner Coxe and Gary Wiley will start to do even more under Leavitt, and there’s size and options in the rotation on the inside around rising star Elijah Chatman on the nose.

The secondary was going to be good before, and now it gets a whole lot more interesting with former Florida star recruit Jahari Rogers coming in to help out corner. The other three starters are back in the secondary, and that doesn’t even include Brandon Crossley who led the team with four picks.

– What You Need To Know: Offense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
SMU Schedule Analysis

NEXT: SMU Mustangs College Football Preview 2021: Top Players

SMU Mustangs College Football Preview 2021: Top Players

Best SMU Mustangs Offensive Player

RB Ulysses Bentley, RFr.
The starting quarterback will end up being the main man for the attack, but Bentley will be the steadying force. The offense makes statistical stars out of the running backs. Xavier Jones ripped off over 3,400 yards and 45 touchdowns in his career, and last year Bentley took over averaging over five yards per carry with 913 yards and 11 scores with 21 catches.

2. OT Jaylon Thomas, Jr.
3. OG Hayden Howerton, Sr.
4. QB Tanner Mordecai, Soph.
5. WR Rashee Rice, Soph.


SMU Football Schedule 2021, Analysis

Best SMU Mustangs Defensive Player

DT Elijah Chatman, Soph.
The defense is loaded with veteran playmakers and potential all-stars if everything goes right, and it all starts around the anchor on the nose. The 6-0, 272-pounder might not be a massive Coke machine who sits on the inside, but he’s great at getting into the backfield with 25 tackles and three sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss.

2. DE Turner Coxe, Sr.
3. LB Delano Robinson, Sr.
4. S Chace Cromartie, Soph.
5. CB Brandon Crossley, Soph.

Top Incoming SMU Mustangs Transfer

QB Tanner Mordecai, Soph.
Former North Texas RB Tre Siggers is right there, a slew of tight ends will make an impact, and the kicking situation went from great to even better with the addition of Blake Mazza – more on that later.

The quarterback gig is hardly settled, but at the very least the addition of Mordecai upped the overall level of the group. If the former Oklahoma Sooner doesn’t start, that means someone else stepped up in a big way to win the job. He didn’t get a whole lot of work for the Sooners, but he hit 71% of his passes for 639 yards and four scores – averaging over nine yards per pass – in his limited time.

– What You Need To Know: Offense | Defense
Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
SMU Schedule Analysis

NEXT: SMU Mustangs College Football Preview 2021: Keys To The Season

SMU Mustangs College Football Preview 2021: Keys To The Season

SMU Mustangs Biggest Key: Offense

Hit 300 passing yards. It’s a Sonny Dykes offense, so it’s going to throw the ball around. The running game has been great since he took over, but the efficiency and effectiveness of the passing attack is the biggest indicator of success.

Against FBS teams – there wasn’t any need to wing it around in the blowout win over Stephen F. Austin – SMU was 6-1 when it threw for 300 yards or more and 0-2 when it didn’t. The one loss to East Carolina came when the D went kaput.

Even more than the yards is the completion percentage. In the two losses to Tulsa and Cincinnati, SMU was under 60%. Those were the only two FBS games it was under the mark. It’s 1-4 in its last five games when not hitting 60%.

Speaking of that East Carolina game …

SMU Mustangs Biggest Key: Defense

Don’t give up 300 passing yards – or rushing. This might be a high-powered offensive team, but it also likes to keep control of the pace. That’s hard to do when the D is getting lit up.

SMU lost three games last year. One was to Cincinnati when allowing more than 300 rushing yards, and the other two were against Tulsa and East Carolina when it got hit for well over 300 yards through the air. North Texas was the outlier – giving up 305 passing yards – but the Mean Green defense was at a whole other level of awful.

The team is 2-4 in the last six games it gave up 300 passing yards. On the plus side, outside of North Texas, there aren’t any dangerous passing teams on the slate until November.

SMU Mustangs Key Player To A Successful Season

PK Blake Mazza, Sr.
The Mustangs have several big transfers coming in, but in a drive-for-show-putt-for-dough sort of way, locking up the kicker situation was vital. SMU didn’t just replace First Team All-AAC PK Chris Naggar – who nailed 17-of-21 field goals last year – it might have upgraded.

Mazza was money for Washington State – we want credit for Money Mazza, by the way, if that sticks – hitting 34-of-40 field goals in three seasons and 127 of his 133 extra point attempts.

SMU Mustangs Key Game To The 2021 Season

UCF, Nov. 13
The date against Memphis the week before is more important to the West race, but the Mustangs have one home game in the storm of a brutal four game run of at Houston, at Memphis, UCF and at Cincinnati. They could take the West by winning at least two of those, but lose at home to the Knights and there’s a problem.

SMU is 0-5 in the last five games against UCF since winning in 2011.

SMU Schedule Breakdown & Analysis

2020 SMU Mustangs Fun Stats

– 4th Down Conversions: Opponents 13-of-22 (59%) – SMU 7-of-18 (39%)
– Passing Yards: SMU 3,180 – Opponents 2,419
– Average Yards Per Play: SMU 6.6 – Opponents 5.6

NEXT: SMU Mustangs College Football Preview 2021: What Will Happen, Season Prediction

SMU Mustangs College Football Preview 2021: What Will Happen, Season Prediction

SMU has been right on the verge of being really, really good.

The offense has been fun, the numbers have been there, and the program has become stable with 17 wins over the last two seasons.

However, there’s been a whole lot of winning over a whole lot of mediocre teams.

Beating Memphis last season was great, and taking out TCU in 2019 was fun – even if the Horned Frogs were lousy two years ago – but the team hasn’t been able to come up with that one giant win at the right time to be in the mix with UCF, Cincinnati, and Memphis as a true contender for the American Athletic Conference title.

It’s the fourth year under Sonny Dykes, and he might just have the puzzle put together to do something special.

He’s got the experience returning with 17 starters back, and even the big holes that need to be filled – quarterback, kicker, tight end – were taken care of in the transfer portal.

Set The SMU Mustangs Regular Season Win Total At … 8

The addition of Jim Leavitt as defensive coordinator was huge, the return of the top receivers, offensive linemen, and defensive front four was big, and the talent level has been upped in a big way to make SMU a true player.

There’s still going to be offensive pizzazz, and now there’s going to be a defense to go along with it.

However …

Abilene Christian, North Texas, USF, Tulane and Tulsa are all must-win home games for a team this good. The Mustangs need to take down Louisiana Tech on the road and can’t slip against Navy because …

The other road games – TCU, Houston, Memphis, Cincinnati, and a home date with UCF.

This year’s team should be strong enough to take down one of those games, and maybe two. But this year – even more than the last two – SMU is a team that has to be feared by the other big boys.

– What You Need To Know: Offense | Defense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
SMU Schedule Analysis