SMU will open the 2021 campaign seemingly on the brink of something special, with the momentum of last season setting the foundation for what could be another year of success.
The Mustangs (7-3 in 2020) will host Abilene Christian on Saturday looking to build upon their second consecutive season of seven-plus victories. SMU, which went 10-3 in 2019, is 9-1 at home over the past two seasons and returns the vast majority of its starters.
After climbing to as high as No. 16 in the AP poll last season, the Mustangs received votes in the 2021 preseason Coaches Poll. SMU comes armed with 2020 Freshman All-American Ulysses Bentley IV at running back as well as a pair of American Athletic Conference picks on their line, senior guards Hayden Howerton and Jaylon Thomas.
In fact, SMU returns all five offensive linemen who started at least nine games each last season, with Thomas and Howerton flanked by Alan Ali, Justin Osborne and Beau Morris. That, plus three of the top four receivers returning from last season, should ease the transition for Oklahoma transfer quarterback Tanner Mordecai, charged with taking over after then-senior Shane Buechele passed for 3,095 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2020.
“(Mordecai) came in and solidified that position really in the last six, seven days,” SMU coach Sonny Dykes said. “Made a move in the first part of last week and just started to look comfortable with what he was doing. He sped up his decision-making and just got really consistent. I think the thing that separated him was his experience.
“He’s an older guy who’s been around a little bit and obviously been around a really good program in Oklahoma. Tanner’s got good skills … and he’s played in big games.”
Abilene Christian (1-5 in 2020), unlike SMU, is green across its offensive line. Among the six linemen listed as returnees, only junior tackle Mitchell Melrose is an upperclassman with the remaining five all redshirt freshmen: Peyten Girty, Dylan Howerton, Truett Knox, Jacob Thielen and Wyatt Tate.
Knox, an Oklahoma State transfer, was voted as one of 10 team captains.
That inexperience up front will challenge the Wildcats early in the schedule, even with the return of redshirt freshman running back Jermiah Dobbins, who paced the team with 227 yards and five touchdowns last season. As the Wildcats strive to achieve balance offensively, much of the onus will fall on their signal-caller, with redshirt freshman Stone Earle recently named starter.
Earle won a spirited competition with redshirt sophomore Peyton Mansell, who entered last season as the starter and passed for 1,237 yards and five touchdowns over six games.
“It was a really close battle, it was very close,” Wildcats coach Adam Dorrel said. “The last scrimmage Stone definitely played better, graded out better. And if you look at that and his body of work in the spring was better, yeah, we’re going to go with him.
“Peyton has a lot of value to our team. He was the No. 1 vote-getter for team captain, so we’re going to see how things transpire. They both do things good … so there’s a plan to utilize both of their skill sets in the future and I’m excited about what they’re both doing.”
–Field Level Media