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Bearcats Opponent Previews: SMU Mustangs

SMU was a newer face on the Bearcats schedule in 2013, and they are back again in 2014 before the coming divisional split throws the scheduling up in the air for everyone in the AAC. So what do you make of a team that went 5-7 a year ago and has to replace their starting quarterback?

Cooper Neill

The good news for SMU fans is that they know who the guy is going to be, Neal Burcham. They kind of knew that before, it was Burcham who started in place of an injured Garrett Gilbert twice last year. In those games Burcham looked like a freshman, good and bad. He was dreadful in the Houston game throwing three picks looking fairly incompetent. He then followed that up with a tremendous performance in almost upsetting UCF at home. As the british would say, swings and roundabouts.

Burcham has been the guy on top of the depth chart since spring. Between that and last seasons starts means that he has had plenty of time to familiarize himself with his personnel, and there is a lot of it. Jeremy Johnson and Keenan Holman and their 2,000 plus yards are gone. But they do return Darius Joseph who was probably their most complete receiver in terms of where he was effective. Der'rick Thompson is another good one, but their is nothing proven behind them. There are a lot of talented guys behind them like Arrius Holleman, Cedric Lancaster and Everett Dickerson, but they need to step up. There are targets that will be available in this offense, they just need guys to take them.

The reason there will be targets is that June Jones has no interest in, or proficiency with the running game. Last year SMU ran the ball on just under 35 percent of their plays. One would expect that figure to be a bit higher this year with a new quarterback, and a couple of good backs in Prescot Line and K.C. Nlemchi, but it won't shift dramatically towards offensive parity. Nor should it, the Mustangs have a good pass blocking offensive line returning starters at both tackle spots in Kris Weeks and Chauncey Briggs and at the pivot with Taylor Lasecki. This still isn't a team that is going to win with the ground game.

Nor are they a team that is going to win many defensive slugfests. While the Mustangs have a ton of talent in the front seven, it is starting over in the secondary. That is problematic for a team that finished  95th in pass efficiency defense a year ago. Mind you that was with all AAC performer Kenneth Acker at one cornerback spot, and he's gone now.

Back to the front seven for a minute. All three starters on the line are back including Beau Barnes, unquestionably the best of the bunch. Darrian Wright and Zach Wood are also back as starters up front, as are the two best linebackers from a year ago. I am not a huge Stephen Sanders fan, but he is a multi year starter who has played a ton of good football which makes him an asset. I am a huge fan of Jonathan Yenga who is a terror off the edge for the Mustangs a year ago. He should be even better this year with experience. One would think that this strong front seven would be able to create more pressure on the passer this year. That would be a huge help to a secondary that is starting over. They have just one starter back in the secondary, Shakiel Richardson. Every bit of help the pass rush can give them will be like manna from heaven.

The 2014 season will probably be another tough one for the Mustangs. They are just an incredibly young team across the board. There are just five seniors who are projected to be starters this season. To me that signifies a transition year. The schedule certainly doesn't do them any favors, playing Baylor, Texas A&M and TCU before September is even finished. This season will be about getting the young guys experience and building for 2015 when all of these young guys are going to come of age, but will June Jones be there to see it?