Mustangs have hope for potent offense

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Quarterback

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Ben Hicks Photo credit: SMU Athletics

Starter: Ben Hicks

Players to Watch: D.J. Gillins and Rafe Peavey

The quarterback position is a question mark for the Mustangs. There’s plenty of talent at the position, but not a lot of experience.

Ben Hicks is the only player with significant experience at the FBS level after he started 11 games for the Mustangs in 2016 following an injury to Matt Davis. It is likely that Hicks will start this season, but he will need to improve on his decision making after throwing 14 interceptions last season—11 of which came in games that SMU lost.

If he doesn’t, Rafe Peavey could supplant him as the starter. Peavey, a transfer from Arkansas, was a highly-touted recruit, but never saw playing time at Arkansas.

Peavey is running threat at the positon, something that Hicks isn’t, and could provide an extra dimension to the offense.

D.J. Gillins transferred to SMU from Pearl River Community College, where he was the No.3 ranked QB in the junior college ranks. Before that he had played at Wisconsin. A torn ACL held Gillins out of spring practice, and he is just now healthy.

Like Peavey, he is a running threat, and could see some time under center later in the season if Hicks and Peavey struggle.

Running back

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Braeden West Photo credit: SMU Athletics

Starter: Braeden West

Players to Watch: Xavier Jones and Ke’Mon Freeman

SMU returns three players who all have seen significant playing time in their college careers. Braeden West is the frontrunner to get the
most carries.

Last year, he ran for 1,036 yards and six touchdowns, pacing the Mustangs in
those categories.

Xavier Jones proved to be explosive when healthy last season. However, he only played in two games. Both are speedy, with good agility, and have big-play potential.

Ke’Mon Freeman is more of a power back — the kind who Chad Morris can pound it in between the tackles to wear down the defense. He received the bulk of his carries late last season after injuries sidelined Jones and limited West.

Jones and West could pair better with a speedy quarterback like Peavey or Gillins, while Freeman would do better if he were matched with Hicks, as SMU would have to forgo the quarterback runs in favor of a more balanced spread attack. Still, all three should see a good amount of carries — especially if Hicks or Peavey struggles to begin the year.

Wide receiver

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Courtland Sutton Photo credit: SMU Athletics
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James Proche Photo credit: SMU Athletics

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Trey Quinn Photo credit: SMU Athletics
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Raymond Epps Photo credit: SMU Athletics

Starters: Courtland Sutton, James Proche (Slot), Trey Quinn, Raymond Epps

Players to Watch: Shelby Walker, Kevin Thomas

It’s not often that SMU has a potential first-round draft pick, but they may have one this year in Courtland Sutton. The junior opted to return to SMU after a stellar sophomore campaign in which he registered 1,246 yards on 76 catches, and scored 10 touchdowns.

Going into the 2017 season, he was named a preseason All-American by Athlon Sports and number 28 on Sports Illustrated’s list of the top 100 college football players.

However, the question remains: can he live up to showcase the hype? He will surely be drawing double teams from opposing defenses. If he does, SMU will have a bevy of other talented receivers. Sophomore receiver James Proche will be one of them. Last year he caught 57 passes for 709 yards, and flashed his athleticism with several acrobatic grabs.

Trey Quinn is another receiver who could work his way into the mix for the Mustangs. A former top 100 recruit, Quinn transferred from LSU before the 2016 season. He’s not very big (just six feet tall), but he is very athletic, and could be a valuable third target for Mustang quarterbacks. Raymond Epps will start at tight end. He is a 6’5”, 235-pound grad-transfer from Arizona State. In two seasons at ASU, he recorded five catches for 65 yards.

Offensive line

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Will Hopkins Photo credit: SMU Athletics
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Nick Natour Photo credit: SMU Athletics

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Evan Brown Photo credit: SMU Athletics
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Braylon Hyder Photo credit: SMU Athletics
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Bryce Wilds Photo credit: SMU Athletics

Starters: Will Hopkins (T), Nick Natour (G), Evan Brown (C), Braylon Hyder (G), Bryce Wilds

Players to Watch: T Alan Ali, T Matthew Hunan, (Huhn) G Jacob Todora, G/T Jerry Saena

Evan Brown anchors an offensive line that returns four starters from the 2016 season. The senior center from Southlake is a four-year starter, and was named to the Remington and Outland Awards’ watch lists prior to the season, placing him as one of the top interior lineman in the country.

Surrounding him at guard are returners Nick Natour and Braylon Hyder tackles Hopkins and Wilds. Hopkins is a grad-transfer from Oregon State who saw limited playing time in three seasons there.

The interior line should be decent with the three returning starters, but tackle could be a question mark. On the bench the Mustangs have plenty of secondary options in former three-star recruits Matthew Hunan and Alan Ali, and senior Jerry Saena, who started for the team last season.

If the unit plays well, the offense should play well. If they play poorly, the team could be in for a long season.

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