Over the last four seasons, SMU has been a competitive team in the American Athletic Conference, going 32-16. Now the Mustangs hope to take the next step.
Since the AAC instituted a championship game in 2015, SMU has yet to make an appearance. That could all change this season.
SMU is searching for its first conference title since earning a share of the Southwest Conference title with Houston in 1984. Second-year coach Rhett Lashlee has stated how important it is for his team to win a conference championship.
Lashlaee isn’t predicting a conference title, but he feels that the Mustangs can be competitive.
So do others.
The Mustangs were selected third in the AAC preseason media poll and received three of the 34 first-place votes.
Last season, the Mustangs were 7-6 overall and 5-3 in league play, tied for fourth in the AAC. The season ended with a 24-23 loss to BYU in the New Mexico Bowl. With an offense that should be among the best in the conference, the Mustangs must show defensive improvement to contend in the new-look 14-team AAC.
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SMU Football’s AAC Title Odds
SMU has the second-best odds to win the AAC at +300, via BetMGM.
SMU’s Over/Under Win Total
SMU’s win total Over/Under is 8.5, with Under 8.5 at -120 and Over 8.5 at +100.
SMU’s Football Schedule
9/2 vs Louisiana Tech
9/9 at Oklahoma
9/16 vs Prairie View A&M
9/23 at TCU
9/30 vs Charlotte
10/12 at East Carolina
10/20 at Temple
10/28 vs Tulsa
11/4 at Rice
11/10 vs North Texas
11/18 at Memphis
11/25 vs Navy
Bold indicates AAC contests.
Key SMU Football Returners
2022 All-AAC 2nd Team
OL Justin Osborne
DL Elijah Chatman
Preston Stone Ready To Take Control of SMU’s Offense
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Preston Stone, a Dallas native, will be running the offense. Last season, Stone was the backup for Tanner Mordecal, who is now at Wisconsin. In one start last season during a 45-34 win at Tulsa, Stone completed 11 of 17 passes for 219 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions.
A key will be replacing receiver Rashee Rice, a second-round draft pick of the Kansas City Chiefs and first-team all-AAC selection. Junior Jordan Kerley is the leading returning receiver with 37 receptions for 588 yards and six touchdowns last season. He came on strong at the end of the year with 22 receptions for 296 yards and three touchdowns in his final four games.
Senior running back Tyler Lavine was the leading rusher last year with 642 yards and 10 touchdowns. He should still be a big part of the offense, but senior Jaylon Knighton, a transfer from Miami, should have a prominent role. He is among several transfers from Miami, where Lashlee was the offensive coordinator before being named head coach at SMU. Knighton rushed for 423 yards and a touchdown last year for the Hurricanes.
Senior left tackle Marcus Bryant is an NFL prospect and one of three returning offensive line starters. Also back is senior guard Justin Osborne, a second-team All-AAC choice last year and a 2023 HERO Sports G5 Preseason All-American, and senior center Branson Hickman.
Jonathan McGill Making A Quick First Impression For SMU’s Defense
One of the defensive leaders figures to be safety Jonathan McGill, a graduate transfer from Stanford. McGill had seven pass breakups, one interception, and 51 tackles last season for the Cardinal. In an earlier interview with HERO Sports, Lashlee said how much of an instant impact McGill has made on the defense.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that the defense needs to be significantly improved for the Mustangs to contend. They allowed 33.8 points per game, which was 10th in the 11-team AAC.
Senior defensive end Nelson Paul is the Mustangs’ leading returning tackler with 44. He also had nine tackles for loss and five sacks. Senior defensive tackle Elijah Chatman is expected to play a major role. The HERO Sports G5 Preseason All-American had 39 tackles, including four tackles for loss and three sacks.
Classmate Brandon Crossley returns after recording 43 tackles last season.
Two transfers, senior defensive end Elijah Roberts and junior linebacker Ahmad Walker are expected to be big contributors. Roberts had nine tackles in eight games last season for Miami. Walker had 63 tackles, 11 TFLs, and four sacks for Liberty.
Senior Bryan Massey should team up with McGill to give the Mustangs solid play at safety. Massey contributed 40 tackles and one pass breakup.
SMU Football Season Prediction
SMU will win the AAC and will win at least eight games.
The Mustangs get a little bit of a break in the schedule. They don’t have to face the teams that earned the top two preseason spots in the media poll, No. 1 and defending champion Tulane and No. 2 UTSA.
Still, there are plenty of challenges in the schedule, especially having to visit Memphis on Nov. 18 in a game that could have championship implications for both teams. One thing that should get the Mustangs ready is a challenging non-league schedule that includes a visit to Oklahoma, and later, an hour’s drive to playoff finalist TCU in the battle of the Iron Skillet.
That should prepare the Mustangs for the rigors of the AAC. There is no doubt that SMU should top last season’s record and this team is good enough to win the AAC. Anything short of a title game appearance will likely be disappointing in Dallas.