In the 100 days leading up to the kickoff of the college football season on Saturday, Aug. 25, HERO Sports is ranking the top 100 teams in the FBS. Each day, starting May 17 and ending Aug. 24, a new team is revealed in the HERO Sports Top 100.
[divider]RANKINGS: Top 100 FBS Teams for 2018
TRIVIA: Daily CFB Trivia Question
MORE: Best FBS Player for Each Jersey Number
MORE: Best FCS Player for Each Jersey Number[divider]
No. 84 SMU
SMU was going places under Chad Morris. The momentum took a huge hit when Morris left for Arkansas.
Still, Morris turned the program from a cesspool of problems into a fringe AAC contender on the verge of entering the national picture. Even with the departures of Courtland Sutton, Trey Quinn and Justin Lawler, Sonny Dykes has a good foundation as they enter a critical transition season.
2017 Record: 7-5 (4-4, American)
With seven wins, SMU improved their win total for the third straight season for just the second time in the last 35 years. While the Mustangs showed considerable improvement in 2016, it finally felt like the program was truly back in 2017.
They ran over the TCU defense and trailed the Horned Frogs by one score entering the fourth quarterback, lost to UCF and Navy by a combined 10 points and, most importantly, had the high-end talent and depth to compete in every game (except the 41-point blowout in the bowl game).
It could've been better with an upset of TCU and/or UCF but it still a hugely successful season for a program on the rise.
Head Coach: Sonny Dykes (1st Year)
Sonny Dykes is technically entering his second season as head coach because he coached that ugly bowl loss but this is really his first season.
I think SMU could've done better than Sonny Dykes but he makes a lot of sense. Chad Morris did a phenomenal job rebuilding this program from the mess it was when June Jones left to a fringe conference contender. A better hire, like another up-and-comer, could leverage a strong year or two into a Power Five job. Dykes may not be that person. While it's never wise to rule out coaching departures, Dykes has been around the block and Dallas might be the final destination.
“Growing up as a kid, I was an SMU fan," the Texas native said at his introductory press conference. "My dad was a college football coach and a high school football coach, and we moved around a lot. When you do that, you have to develop an affinity for a university. SMU became my program."
WR Trey Quinn, WR Courtland Sutton, C Evan Brown, DE Justin Lawler
SMU lost some legit stars. Trey Quinn, Courtland Sutton and their 182 receptions, 2,321 yards and 25 touchdowns are gone, as is four-year starter Evan Brown and defensive end Justin Lawler.
Quinn was often a security blanket for quarterback Ben Hicks and Sutton was his home-run hitter and red-zone target who averaged one touchdown per six receptions over his career.
Returning Offensive Players
QB Ben Hicks, RB Xavier Jones, RB Ke'Mon Freeman, RB Braeden West, WR James Proche, WR Myron Galliard, WR Tyler Page, OT Chad Pursley, G Hayden Howerton
Sonny Dykes hired former UConn, Auburn and Arkansas State assistant Rhett Lashlee as his offensive coordinator. And Lashlee is gifted a two-year starter at quarterback in Ben Hicks.
While there were whispers that Hicks might be challenged for the starting spot, nothing happened in spring camp to suggest the job isn't 100 percent his after a strong junior year. Now Hicks swaps Morris' power-spread offense for Dykes and Lashlee's Air Raid system.
"I think, to me, it's more high-percentage throws," Hicks said of the differences. "It's not as much backyard football. The offense seems more detailed and descriptive. You know where you're going with the ball sooner than I feel like the last couple years I was playing more backyard football."
For a team that lost two receivers to the NFL, SMU is in very good shape. The depth isn't there but they have talent. James Proche ran past defenses last year on his way to a 20-yards-per-catch average, as did Myron Galliard but in very limited action (nine receptions). The guy to watch is Tyler Page, a 6-foot, 185-pound sophomore who played quarterback in high school. He only had one catch in eight appearances but was one of Hicks' favorite targets in spring practice.
A lot of Power Five teams would love to have SMU's backfield. They have three upperclassmen who complement each other perfectly. Braeden West (below) is a former Houston commit who flipped to SMU before signing day in 2015. He averaged 7.8 yards per carry last year and took some snaps at receiver in the spring.
None of the three are huge backs but Xavier Jones and Ke'Mon Freeman are a little bigger and move the chains methodically.
The offensive line is line by fifth-year senior tackle Chad Pursley and sophomore guard Hayden Howerton, a starter for half of last season.
Returning Defensive Players
DE Tyeson Neals, DE Delontae Scott, DT Pono Davis, LB Kyran Mitchell, CB Jordan Wyatt, CB Christian Davis, S Rodney Clemons, S Mikal Onu,
New defensive coordinator Kevin Kane is installing a 4-3-4 system that he ran most recently at Northern Illinois. And even if it takes a year to get everyone comfortable, the defense can't possibly be worse than last year when they couldn't stop a sloth in a snowstorm.
Of SMU's five All-AAC selections, corner Jordan Wyatt is the only returnee. The senior missed their bowl game with a knee injury (and surgery) and spring practice. He is one of four returning starters in the secondary.
"Units that made progress, I think you look at the back end," Dykes said after spring practice. "We got a lot better on the back end. We needed to improve our tackling back there and just our approach mentally. I think our communication vastly improved there."
"They're definitely approaching it with an attack mindset," Wyatt said of his observations of SMU's new defense. "Coach Kane came in, his word was attack and that's what he stood by. You can definitely see it in the practices, how much more aggressive we are attacking the football. We're just trying to develop that mindset that we got to be aggressive and we got to be physical every play."
The unit made many big plays that should've been drive-altering. They ranked 30th nationally in sacks, 38th in tackles for loss and 37th in forced turnovers. The problem: The big plays weren't drive-altering. They allowed a 43-percent conversion rate on third downs and gave up five yards per rushing attempt and more than 14 yards per pass completion.
Linebacker Kyran Mitchell is back after somehow not earning All-AAC honors despite registering 15.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Up front, Delontae Scott and Tyeson Neals are tasked with replacing Justin Lawler's disruption (15.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks).
RB TaMerik Williams, WR Judah Bell, OT Levon Livingston, LB Richard Moore
As if SMU wasn't already loaded in the backfield, true freshman TaMerik Williams, a 6-foot, 195-pound three-star recruit, is ready for immediate playing time.
Richard Moore is eligible after sitting out last season following his transfer from Texas A&M, where he had 68 tackles over 19 appearances. The junior was reportedly terrific in spring camp and will start on the outside.
"I was glad to see some linebackers start to step up and be a little bit more consistent. I think Richard Moore is somebody that probably has made some major improvement. Started out a little rusty, having to sit out last year," Dykes said.
Elsewhere, true freshman receiver Judah Bell had a strong spring and JUCO transfer Levon Livingston is battling for a starting spot.
SMU's opener at North Texas is one of the best games of Week 1. Do not overlook what could be darn fun game in Denton.
They leave the state only once in the first five weeks and play five of seven games at home from mid-September through mid-November, including three straight.
|Saturday, Sept. 1||at North Texas|
|Friday, Sept. 7||vs. TCU|
|Saturday, Sept. 15||at Michigan|
|Saturday, Sept. 22||vs. Navy|
|Saturday, Sept. 29||vs. Houston Baptist|
|Saturday, Oct. 6||at UCF|
|Saturday, Oct. 20||at Tulane|
|Saturday, Oct. 27||vs. Cincinnati|
|Saturday, Nov. 3||vs. Houston|
|Saturday, Nov. 10||at UConn|
|Friday, Nov. 16||vs. Memphis|
|Saturday, Nov. 24||at Tulsa|