Team: SMU Mustangs
2014 record: 1-11 (1-7 AAC)
Recap: It only goes up from here. It has to.
Through the first four games of the 2014 season, SMU was outscored 202-12. No, that’s not a joke—and it was enough for former head coach June Jones to resign by Week 2, following a 43-6 loss to a North Texas team that would end up winning two games in the C-USA. Interim coach Tom Mason held it together the best he could, finding ways to compete against Tulsa and USF, before riding off into the sunset with a win at UConn in the season finale.
No one can argue, though, that this was by far the worst football team in the county, and undoubtedly SMU’s worst product since that 0-12 team back in 2003. But despite the utter display of complete incompetency, the Mustangs have a few things to look forward to in 2015, starting with a fresh new look under former Clemson offensive coordinator and new head coach Chad Morris.
Key player: Matt Davis, RS Jr., QB
Davis was the conclusion of a revolving door at the quarterback position that featured four different players under center last season, as he started the final five games. Davis, a former four-star recruit and the No. 4-ranked dual-threat for the class of 2012, is a much better fit under Morris’ smash-mouth spread offense, which is predicated on a power run and pushing the ball downfield. It’s going to take a few years before we start seeing similar results to that explosive Clemson offense, but Davis gives SMU a foot in the door in Year 1.
Biggest strength: Offensive line*
*We have to remember that this team lost 11 games by an average of 33.6 last season. That is, in kind words, not good. But if we’re talking about the best thing about a bad team, it’s the offensive line (right now), which returns every player from last year’s two-deep and has the 6th-most career starts in college football. Take it with a grain of salt, because experience doesn’t always mean improvement—but in this case, it’s a positive to build from.
Biggest weakness: Pretty much everything else
To reiterate, SMU finished as CBS Sports’ worst team in college football. That’s 128th out of 128 teams for you math geniuses. It scored 11.1 points per game, which ranked dead last. It was tied for 126th in points allowed with 41.3. Go ahead and look at any major stat category, and the Mustangs were at the very bottom. There are good players on this team, but until there’s a visual, it’s hard to say where exactly vast improvement will come from. (But it will.)
Most important game: vs. North Texas (Sept. 12)
Really, anything that’s deemed winnable could be placed here—though there’s not a ton to choose from—but this could serve as some sweet revenge and a great start to the Morris era.
Best-case scenario: 6-6 (4-4)
Put yourself in the players’ shoes: Get your face stomped in the first two games of the season and have your coach—your leader—quit on you. There’s a chance you could have some bitter feelings and become disinterested. I think there’s more talent on this roster than most give credit for, and Morris is going to find a way to squeeze every ounce of it during this stage of the rebuild process. Can SMU contend with Baylor, TCU, and the AAC heavyweights? No. But it will have the opportunity to beat teams that are on a similar playing field, and there are quite a few of those in this conference.
Worst-case scenario: 1-11 (0-8)
I don’t think I need to do much more explaining; sometimes when a coach is given the responsibility to reinvent a football program, he needs to press the reset button and take a step back before moving forward (see: Bob Diaco). Just because Morris had so much success scoring points on ACC defenses doesn’t mean it will work with SMU right away, and there’s no saying how long it will take for the defense to adjust to an aggressive 4-2-5.
Early prediction: 3-9 (1-7)
A few months ago, I predicted SMU to be the most improved team in the country this upcoming season. And while I may have jumped the gun a bit by saying a bowl berth is more than likely, I still stand by the general thought. You can expect some major growing pains from time to time, thanks to a complete renovation of culture, scheme, terminology, and everyday approach. But make no mistake—these Mustangs will be fun to watch, and could already be much better than we think.