Sunday, April 17, 2011

The SMU Mustangs Are No Longer The Red-Headed Stepchild

The SMU Mustangs have always been the forgotten football team in the Dallas/Ft Worth metroplex. When people talk about college football in the state of Texas, SMU is normally one of the last teams to be mentioned after the likes of Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, TCU, and possibly even Baylor.

They are the red-headed step child of Texas Division-I football.

Now, with June Jones at the helm, that seems to be changing with every season that goes by. Maybe Jones isn't entirely the person to credit for the team's success, but he would seem to be the obvious choice.

After the "death penalty" was levied against SMU's football program by the NCAA for repeated violations, it's taken them the better part of two decades to finally start seeing a change in the winds. Finally, the football program is starting to come around and starting to see some sort of success.

Granted, it's small at this point but it's progress.

From 1987 to the finish of the 2007 season, the Mustangs finished with just one winning season.

When Jones was hired it seemed like things still weren't going to change after they finished the 2008 season with a 1-11 record.

One season later SMU improved dramatically, finishing the 2009 season with a 8-5 record and a share of the Conference USA Western Division Championship with Houston Cougars. That season also marked the first time in 25 years the school would be invited to a post season bowl game.

Against the Nevada Wolfpack of the Western Athletic Conference, the Mustangs put on an offensive show, blowing out the team from Reno, 45-10.

In 2010, the Mustangs wouldn't have the same kind of success they saw one season earlier, finishing with a 7-7 record including a hard fought 16-14 loss to the Army Black Knights in the Armed Forces Bowl.

After back-to-back successful seasons, at least in the eyes of SMU, they seem to be going in the right direction. Sure 7-7 wouldn't be a "good" season in anyone else's eyes, it's something Jones and the Mustangs' coaching staff to build on.

Quarterback Kyle Padron will enter his junior season with more experience after having been the starter for his entire sophomore season, showing flashes of brilliance and ability to be one of the top quarterbacks in the conference if he isn't there already.

Padron threw for 3,828 yards and 31 touchdown passes in 2010 including five 300-yard passing games and five games of three or more touchdown passes. Not bad for a first year starter, right?

Also returning for the 2011 season will be fullback Zach Line who led the entire conference with 1,465 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. Having a guy like that behind Padron makes for an effective one-two punch for the Mustangs.

Guys like Padron and Line shows the kind of players Jones is recruiting. Slowly but surely, he's building something in Dallas that fans will start to pay attention to. While it's a tad premature to talk about whether or not he'll be able to duplicate what he was able to do as the head coach at Hawaii, Jones has already done what other coaches have failed to do, produce a winner at Southern Methodist University.

It's going to take the program another few years to build themselves into a contender year in and year out. They have the right head coach, they have the right coaching staff, but it's going to take the right mix of players to finally put everything together.

The Houston Cougars no longer have golden-armed Case Keenum and without him, their offense is not going to be the high powered unit we have all gotten used to seeing.

The Mustangs have improved hand over foot and while they haven't done enough to put themselves on the national map, they are going to be improved enough to make noise in their own conference in 2011 and beyond.

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