Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The once tattered SMU football program has
experienced a significant turnaround since June Jones was hired as its head
coach in 2008.
During their nearly 100 years of gridiron competition, the Mustangs have
really had only two highly successful stints -- the first coming under the
direction of coaches Ray Morrison and Madison Bell (1915-16, 1922-41, 1945-49,
163-84-30), and the second under Bobby Collins (1982-86, 43-14-1).
However, in the quarter century since, SMU has averaged just over three wins
per season and of course, has the dubious distinction of being the only
football program in collegiate history to receive the "Death Penalty" from the
NCAA for repeated rules violations, that coming in 1987.
The Ponies were put out to pasture for the 1987 and '88 seasons, and returned
the following year with an undermanned and outgunned roster. They struggled to
find their footing for the better part of the next two decades before the
administration had seen enough, and Jones was brought in to help get SMU
football back on track.
During the lean years that preceded Jones' arrival, the Mustangs earned only
one winning season and were consistently among the nation's worst teams.
During the five years since, SMU has gone a respectable 31-34 and been to four
bowl games, three of which it has won.
SMU, which won its division in Conference USA twice (2009-10), hasn't claimed
an outright or shared conference crown since 1984 (Southwest Conference), but
Jones is hoping that all changes now that his team has made the jump to the
newly-named American Athletic Conference.
He knows it won't be easy, but the coach looks forward to the challenges that
"We're excited about being in this conference," Jones said at the inaugural
AAC Media Day earlier this week. "I think the level of play is a step up from
what SMU has been involved with Conference USA, and I believe that we're going
to have to play some pretty good football to be competitive at this level."
In a league where the majority of teams have their signal callers back for
another go, quarterback Garrett Gilbert's continued development will be the
key to the Mustangs' success. The recent hiring of former Kentucky and New
Mexico State head coach Hal Mumme as offensive coordinator should help in that
regard, but it's Jones' influence most that will likely dictate just how high
Gilbert threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 15 TDs last season, but he completed
only 53 percent of his passes and was picked off 15 times. Losing former
standouts Zach Line (277 carries, 1,278 yards, 13 TDs) and Darius Johnson (64
receptions, 787 yards, 5 TDs) hurts, but the return of leading receiver Jeremy
Johnson (67 receptions, 679 yards, 3 TDs) should help assure a level of
continuity. Jones has also done a nice job of recruiting, as there are a
number of talented players ready to make their mark as well.
"We have I think five or six guys back on offense. And with our quarterback
back, and a year under his belt, he'll be much, much improved, and I like what
I see so far in the offseason of their work ethic."
SMU averaged more than 30 ppg in 2012, helping it go 7-6 overall and 5-3 in C-
USA. The team's Achilles' heel however, was on the defensive side of the ball
as the Mustangs were routinely torched through the air to the tune of 278.2
ypg and 27 TDs, ranking the unit 109th of the 120 FBS teams charted.
Despite that poor showing, Jones is genuinely excited about the prospects for
his defense this season.
"We got a lot of good young players. We've lost six or seven guys on defense.
But we have some young kids that are very talented that I think are going to
be good defensive players."
SMU was picked by the media to finish eighth in the first American Athletic
Conference preseason poll, but if Jones, Gilbert and company have their way,
the Mustangs are hoping they can blaze a trail that eventually leads to league
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