Will the new SMU please 'pony up?'
Published: Monday, August 23, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 17:11
Only two years into his tenure, June Jones can already say, "I told you so." After winning only one game in 2008 and boasting the best turnaround in the NCAA last season (plus-seven wins), Pony fans are holding their breaths for the opener against Texas Tech Sept. 5 at the Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock.
So far, the plan has been implemented seemingly without a hitch, but can Jones continue to follow through with his promises of redemption after a quarter of a century of Mustang misery? And most importantly, as the momentum continues to build, we ask if he will step up to the challenges that lie ahead to ensure the future of our franchise and on the quality of future players that want to play on the Hilltop.
The Mustang leaders in rushing and receiving yards, Shawnbrey McNeal and Emmanuel Sanders will not be returning, but still June Jones promises victory.
Now, he's got to feel good coming off of their 8-5 Co-Conference USA Championship and the 45-10 crushing defeat of Nevada in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. But knowing that he returns 18 of 22 starters from a team that lost three games by a field goal or less shows the Mustangs are ready to ride.
Yep, Jones has his team right where he wants it. His program is now fully installed with Kyle Padron set to become the next Tommy Chang or Colt Brennan. The past seems to remain the past… at least for now… and the 25-year bowl drought seems a little more distant.
Was it a one-year blip on the radar? This season's ensemble is determined to answer that challenge, and the defense will be key to stopping the barrage of scoring threats posed by C-USA.
The offense is definitely ready. In his rookie year, sophomore quarterback Kyle Padron replaced Bo Levi Mitchell, losing just one of six starts, throwing 10 touchdowns with only four interceptions and a pass rating of 170.
In the Hawaii Bowl, he earned the MVP title by throwing 460 yards and two scores without a single turnover.
Padron's development this year will be the life of the offense, and any hiccups will affect the whole team.
The good thing is that, only one year removed from high school, he has only lost one game as a starter, and his leadership presence is contagious.
Senior WR Aldrick Robinson is also ready to have his breakout year, with 47 catches for 800 yards and five touchdowns last year, including 9 catches for 176 yards in Honolulu.
Star receivers Darius Johnson and Darryl Fields are young playmakers that will have a huge opportunity to pick up any slack early in the season.
On the defensive side of the ball, they will attempt to continue their improvement without last year's leading tackler, and with concerns at tackle and in the secondary.
However, the linebackers could be among the best in Conference USA, boasting future stars in sophomores Taylor Reed and Ja'Gared Davis. The secondary has a good start there with FS Chris Banjo and CB Sterling Moore.
Critics are raving about Defensive Coordinator Tom Mason's switch from a 4-3 to 3-4 spread in the 2009 season. SMU was far faster and more aggressive and disruptive than in recent seasons, and continuing to win has only fueled the fire.
The Mustangs were third in the league in takeaways, doing an outstanding job of making stops and getting the ball back in the hands of the prolific offense.
Concerns will be focused on the allowance of third down conversions and stopping teams in the red zone. The Mustangs were 0-2 against the top 25 offenses last year.
"Stronger as One" is this year's motto replacing the "all grit no quit" motto from last year. The schedule is set. The players and coaches are ready. The fans have followed the light.
If victory is a thing of the will, look for big things to be happening from the Mustangs in 2010.