By: chalifour.eric | 5/5/12, 11:32 AM EDT
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C-USA West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: June Jones, 24-28 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: June Jones | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tom Mason
The Run ’n’ Shoot offense favored by June Jones always starts with the quarterback, which makes things a tad hairy when the man expected to take control of that offense isn’t arriving until June. Texas transfer Garrett Gilbert will almost certainly be the No. 1 guy come fall (Conner Preston ran things in the spring), and he will be learning not only Jones’ system, but also some tweaks added from former Houston offensive coordinator Jason Phillips, who was in charge of the Cougars’ prolific passing offense the past two years. Gilbert’s numbers at Texas were not promising (13 TDs, 23 INTs, 57 percent completions), but he was a 5-star recruit coming out of high school. He will have two years of eligibility with the Mustangs.
Gilbert will be working with five new starters along the offensive line, which again spells some early season trouble on the offensive side of the ball. Fortunately, the skill positions are, well, skilled. Running back Zach Line returns from a foot injury he suffered late last season and is looking for his third straight 1,200-yard season.
Jones is pleased with his wide receiver corps, led by Darius Johnson and Der’rikk Thompson. If Gilbert adapts to the scheme and the line is able to come together, the receivers will put up big numbers.
Ironically, it has been the defense, not the offense, that has improved every season under offensive guru Jones, and this may be his best unit yet. The Mustangs have progressed in the national total defense rankings from 118th to 84th to 40th to 27th since Jones took over, and this unit returns six starters and features some NFL talent.
The linebacking corps is loaded with experience, with Taylor Reed (inside) and Ja’Gared Davis (weak side) drawing the highest praise from Jones. “They will both be big-time players at the next level,” says the coach.
The Mustangs lack experience on the defensive line, but end Margus Hunt appears ready to take off after his three-sack performance in SMU’s bowl win over Pittsburgh, and former starter Kevin Grenier returns for his senior season after missing 2011 due to injury.
The secondary will miss All-C-USA first-teamer Richard Crawford, but cornerback Kenneth Acker and safety Ryan Smith are ready to lead a unit that was very steady last season.
Mike Loftus becomes the full-time placekicker after handling kickoffs last year, and Matt Stone will punt again after putting 16 of his 56 punts inside the opponent’s 20.
Jones says he is happy with the progress of the program, which has been to three straight bowl games. As for this season, he says a fourth straight bowl is the goal, though he admits that early in the season, “we’ll be a rebuilding team, but I think we’ll rebuild pretty fast because we’re going to be pretty good on defense.” Jones has yet to put up the pinball offensive numbers he did at Hawaii, though his teams have set several SMU passing records in his tenure. To him, it boils down to the quarterback, and that is an unknown entering the season.
“Until you get one of those quarterbacks that can shoot the lights out, you’ll float around in the top 20 or 25 in passing,” Jones says. “When you get one of those quarterbacks like Case Keenum, (Houston) went from No. 30 to No. 1. We’ve had good production out of the quarterbacks, but we haven’t had a great one yet.”
SMU fans are hoping Gilbert is the first.