Head Coach Sonny Dykes has done a solid job of turning the program around at SMU. Before his arrival, the SMU Mustangs had not had a ten-win season in decades—but they got one in his second full season (2019). While 2020 was not a bad season (7-3), fans wanted more. Will they get it in 2021?
If the offense can replicate the kind of success it had last season (494.5 total yards and 38.6 points a game), the Mustangs are certainly going to be fun to watch. With most of the starting unit coming back, it very well might.
But they will have to replace one crucial piece to the puzzle — quarterback Shane Buechele. Enter Oklahoma transfer, Tanner Mordecai. Mordecai won the QB battle with Preston Stone and will get the nod to start the season.
However, Mordecai will not have to win games on his own. SMU returns all five starters on the offensive line, Ulysses Bentley will pace the run game, and the talent at tight end and wide receiver are excellent. All the pieces are there, but can offensive coordinator Garrett Riley get the most out of Mordecai?
However, even if Mordecai can get the offense on track, if the defense does not play better than last year, the Mustangs will be lucky to cover the over on their win total (6.5 games at DraftKings). Last year’s unit struggled to stop opposing offenses from running or throwing the ball.
Consequently, they also struggled to keep teams out of the end zone (30.9 points/game allowed; 75th).
But with nine returning starters, there will be experience and talent for new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt to work with. Delano Robinson and Trevor Denbow will lead the way at linebacker. Turner Coxe, Gary Wiley, and Elijah Chatman will give offensive lines fits in the trenches.
Three starters return in the secondary, which will also have former Florida recruit Jahari Rogers, helping out.
So, the potential is certainly there on the defensive side of the ball, too. But what can fans reasonably expect of the Mustangs? Can they win ten games again or maybe the conference for the first time?
Oddsmakers do not seem to have a lot of confidence in the Mustangs winning the conference. At DraftKings, SMU has the seventh-best odds of winning the AAC +2500. Cincinnati is the favorite at -200, followed by UCF (+400), Memphis (+900), Tulsa (+900), Houston (+1000), and Tulane (+2200).
As for their win total (6.5 games), oddsmakers appear to be leaning towards the over getting covered (-140) than the under (+120).
Winning the conference will be a challenge with so many good teams in the conference. But with their potential on both sides of the ball, there is value in betting on SMU to win the AAC. It is safe to consider them a solid dark horse candidate to win the conference this season.