Here’s what to expect this football season

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Chad Morris
Photo credit: Getty Images

Sept. 2: vs. Stephen F. Austin

Stephen F. Austin is an FCS opponent that SMU has played before. The two teams last met in 2012, when the Mustangs won 52-0. This year should be more of the same.

The Lumberjacks had a tumultuous offseason after going 5-6 in 2016, bringing in five new coaches and changing their defensive set to a 3-3-5. Offensively, Stephen F. Austin boasts former TCU QB Sawyer Foster as its signal caller. With an experienced quarterback, SFA could put some points up against the Mustangs defense, but it likely will not be enough for the Lumberjacks to pull off an upset.

Prediction—52-24 SMU

Sept. 9: vs. North Texas

Some call the annual North Texas-SMU football game a rivalry. On paper, it may look that way. The two teams are less than an hour apart and compete for the same recruits. Historically, it’s largely been a one-sided affair.

In 36 matchups, North Texas has beaten SMU five times and tied them once. To put it simply, SMU doesn’t hate North Texas, but North Texas hates SMU.

After a brief glimmer of hope following a 2014 season that saw the Mean Green beat SMU 43-6 en route to a 9-4 season, UNT football has returned to its normal state of mediocrity.

The Mean Green was 5-8 last season and return quarterback Mason Fine, who played well before injuring his shoulder midway through the season. Still UNT’s defense will be questionable. The unit lost several key starters from a 2016 team that gave up 32.6 points per game. SMU’s offensive firepower will just be too much for the Mean Green to overcome.

Prediction—45-28 SMU

Sept. 16: at TCU

The Mustangs fell flat in the second half of the 2016 edition of The Battle of the Iron Skillet. Down just 6-3 at the half, SMU surrendered 27 second-half points to lose 33-3 on its home turf.

This year could be closer, however. SMU will be much improved on offense and defense, and will have more depth to be able to keep up with TCU’s speed. Van Malone showed he could game plan around explosive offensive attacks last season in games against USF and Houston; if he does this year, the Mustangs could come out on top.

Still, it will be a hard task for SMU. TCU is bigger, faster and stronger on both sides of the football. They return most of their starters from last year’s squad and should compete for the Big 12 title. Expect the Mustangs to fall short in this one.

Prediction—42-31 TCU

Sept. 23: vs. Arkansas State

Since 2011, the Red Wolves have featured four head coaches. Blake Anderson, named head coach in 2014, has led the team to back-to-back bowl games.

Last year, they went 8-5 and beat UCF in the Cure Bowl. But questions rise going into the 2017 season. They return several key players at the skill positions but lack experience on the offensive line.

The defense returns just four starters. The Red Wolves should lack the cohesion that comes with several games played, and the Mustangs will catch them at just the right time in the season.

Arkansas State will put up some points, but the Mustangs will put up more. Arkansas State’s inexperienced defense will not be enough for SMU’s high-powered attack.

Prediction—SMU 41-24

Sept. 30: vs. UConn

Ever since the Big East broke up, UConn football has fallen on hard times.

They have not had a winning season since 2010 and have already fired two coaches in that time span. But this offseason, they brought back Randy Edsall, who was at the helm when UConn was one of the better football teams in the Northeast during the late 2000s.

Time will tell if the hire will pay off, but it’s safe to say that this year will be a transition year for the Huskies. The team will be running new schemes, but may not have the athletes to be successful.

This matchup could be competitive in the future, but not likely so this season.

Prediction—SMU 38-14

Oct. 7: at Houston

Like UConn, Houston will have a new man at the helm in 2017. The much-ballyhooed Tom Herman is off to Texas, leaving Houston with its former offensive coordinator Major Applewhite as the new head man.

But the team returns plenty of starters, and will boast former Texas A&M standout Kyle Allen at quarterback. Defensive lineman Ed Oliver will look to build on a stellar freshman season that saw him record 23 tackles for loss.

After SMU’s 38-16 beatdown of the Cougars last season, Houston will be out for revenge. It will be close, but the Cougars will prove too much for the Mustangs.

Prediction—Houston 31-24

Oct. 21: at Cincinnati

If the Mustangs want to make a bowl game in 2017, then Cincinnati will be a must-win game. It comes before a four-game stretch against some of the American Athletic Conference’s elite teams.

SMU should have four wins going into this game, and a fifth would be huge. Cincinnati could very well represent that fifth win. The Bearcats only return 10 starters from a squad that went 4-8 last season and have a new man at the helm in former Ohio State assistant Luke Fickell.

Experience will be Cincinnati’s downfall in the 2017 season, and that will hurt them against the Mustangs.

Prediction—SMU 45-34

Oct. 27: vs. Tulsa

Tulsa will be the start of a brutal four-game stretch that will make or break SMU’s season. The Golden Hurricane went 10-3 and beat Central Michigan by 45 points in its bowl game in 2016, but barely beat SMU when the two teams met last October.

This season should be much of the same for Tulsa. They will have an offense that will put up points despite being led by a new quarterback in Chad President.

Their defense will be stout, despite losing a few players at linebacker. This game should be a close one, but I think SMU will squeakout the win at home.

Prediction—SMU 52-Tulsa 49

Nov. 4: vs. UCF

In Scott Frost’s first year as the head coach at UCF, he took a floundering program and led it to a six-win season that landed UCF in a bowl game.

While UCF may have lost in the bowl, they have plenty of reasons to be excited heading into the 2017 season. They boast a high-powered offense that returns key players at receiver and running back. Several important players return on defense, including linebacker Shaquem Griffin.

But the offense must show that it have gelled as a team in order to be successful, and they must have a quarterback that can run Frost’s up-tempo system. This is another swing game for SMU.

As it stands right now, I’d give the Mustangs the advantage. If UCF’s offense can get it going though, they could be a force to be reckoned with.

Prediction—SMU 35-28

Nov. 11: at Navy

Perhaps appropriately, SMU will spend Veterans Day fighting it out on the gridiron against a service academy.

Navy ravaged the Mustangs last year, slicing through the SMU defense en route to a 75-31 victory. This year, however, the Midshipmen could be facing a rebuilding year.

Their quarterback and best receiver graduated, and the defense, which was mediocre last season, lost five starters. Still, Navy has made a habit of winning year-in and year-out, regardless of how many starters they return.

It’s a well-run program that SMU has struggled against. The Mustangs last beat the Midshipmen in 1998, when many of their players were infants. Navy’s triple option will once again prove to be too much for the Mustang defense, and the winning streak will go on yet another season.

Prediction: Navy 35-21

Nov. 18: at Memphis

Over the last three years, Memphis has won 27 games. In that span, a once-dormant program in a talent-rich part of the country has emerged to become one of the AAC’s premier teams.

Look for the Tigers to continue their recent streak this season. They return starting quarterback Riley Ferguson and wide receiver Anthony Miller, who challenges Courtland Sutton for the best receiver in the conference.

The defense, which struggled a bit last season, is more experienced and better suited for success. The Tigers should be a very good team in 2017, and it will be hard for the Mustangs to compete with that level of talent.

Prediction—Memphis 48-31

Nov. 25: vs. Tulane

SMU’s final win of 2016 came at Tulane after the Mustangs mounted a furious comeback to win 35-31 in New Orleans. After an eight-loss season last year, the Green Wave should be much improved under second-year coach Willie Fritz.

One player to watch for Tulane this season will be quarterback Jonathan Banks Jr., a Kansas State transfer. Last season, Green Wave quarterbacks only completed 42 percent of their passes, which was one of the lowest totals in the nation.

Their defense, 31st in the country last season, should again be good, but if the offense can’t get things going then Tulane will struggle yet again. While SMU may not be able to put up a ton of points on the Green Wave, it should still get a win in its final regular season game.

Prediction: SMU 31-17

Predicted Record: 8-4 (5-3 in AAC play)

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