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2020 college football preseason preview: SMU Mustangs

A team that broke all kinds of records for transfers is back in 2020. Can they keep the winning formula going?

Shane Buechele of the Southern Methodist Mustangs throws against the Tulane Green Wave at Gerald J. Ford Stadium on November 30, 2019 in Dallas, Texas. Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

What you hear from college football coaches all the time is how much they hate the transfer portal. How it makes their jobs harder. How when the players have agency, they tend not to listen as much, and just leave when things get difficult.

But where other coaches found a headache, SMU and Sonny Dykes found a market inefficiency and opportunity. They took 16 transfers in 2019 alone, and those players helped turn around a culture. Last year the Mustangs had their first 10-win season since 1984, three years before they got the most infamous death penalty in NCAA history. And it’s the kind of forward thinking that will have them in contention for the American Conference championship in 2020.

SMU Mustangs Stats Breakdown

Full VIC breakdown

VIC Sheet explanation

Preseason Win Total From DraftKings

Over/under: 7.5 wins

Over -121

Under +100

Key Stats

  • Quarterback Shane Buechele returns after a terrific 2019: 3,929 yards in 13 games yards with a 8.0 yards per attempt, and 34 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. The Texas transfer added 161 yards rushing and two TD’s on the ground as well.
  • SMU is the case study for how to take advantage of the transfer market as a G5 team in modern college football. Though their actual recruiting class in 2020 was 81st, their overall Team Talent rating is 64th. And that’s due to bringing home plenty of Texas players that want to leave the P5 programs where they started.
  • 64% of players return in 2020, and seven starters on offense. But the key might be getting back over 40 offensive linemen starts. The line and Buechele should combine for a nice system if the skill athletes are there.
  • SP+ Preseason Rank: Overall 56, Offense 29, Defense 94.


Team (2020 Preseason SP+ ranking)

* AAC Conference Game

@ Texas St (123)

vs. Stephen F. Austin (FCS)

@ N. Texas (111)

vs. TCU (36)

vs. Memphis* (22)

@ Tulane* (73)

vs. Cincinnati* (34)

vs. Navy* (55)

@ Temple* (72)

@ Tulsa* (88)

vs. Houston* (63)

@ ECU* (96)

Analysis, Prediction

Sonny Dykes is heading towards the Mount Rushmore of Air Raid coaches with the success he’s had at Louisiana Tech and now SMU. Both programs could generously be describes as moribund upon his arrival, but he turned them around quickly. It didn’t work out at Cal, but the outside stresses on that particular Pac-12 job are numerous. He’s a really good coach.

Buechele is the real deal, and the system SMU has in place will make finding skill athletes that can contribute right away much easier. T.J. McDaniel and Reggie Roberson are ready now and can play, and they’ll continue to add in the portal as well.

The question for this team will be the defense: can they stop anyone? If so, this team can compete for the AAC title. They’re thin on the defensive line especially, but there’s still time to add pieces there. And we’re sure Dykes is looking.

With three cupcakes out-of-conference, plus a TCU team they beat last year, you’ll need 5-3 in the league at worst to go over on wins here. Temple, Tulsa, and ECU are all on this schedule, and those should be wins for sure. This is an easy over for a team that will have a better chance to hit double-digit wins again before they take in seven or less.

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