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Two-a-days: AAC football team previews

SMU converted LB Kevin Pope (3) is expected to join the Mustangs' tailback rotation this fall.


SMU converted LB Kevin Pope (3) is expected to join the Mustangs' tailback rotation this fall.



Over the next couple of weeks, we offer a summer glimpse of every American Athletic Conference football team except USF, on whom we keep an eye 24/7. Today: SMU and Temple



Coach: June Jones (seventh season at SMU, 36-41; 16th collegiate season overall, 112-82)

2013 record: 5-7 (4-4 in AAC)

Starters returning/lost: 13/11. SMU returns five offensive and eight defensive starters.

Schedule's toughest stretch: In a three-weekend stretch (Sept. 20-Oct. 4), the Mustangs host Texas A&M and TCU, then open conference play at East Carolina.

Top priority in August: Reps, and plenty of them, for the new offensive faces. The Mustangs must replace fifth-year senior QB Garrett Gilbert and a pair of 1,000-yard receivers. Six-foot-3 sophomore Neal Burcham is the heir apparent at quarterback after starting the last two games of 2013 (losses to Houston and UCF). Additionally, Jones must find a dependable tailback or two -- converted LB Kevin Pope is in the mix -- and try to forge some cohesion up front. Three starting linemen return from a unit that allowed 38 sacks in 2013.

One name likely to roll off Mel Kiper's tongue: SMU has three projected starters named Richardson (none are related) in the secondary, but we'll go with S Shakiel Randolph based on his physical upside (6-5, 201). With a bit more bulk, Randolph could evolve into a force in a Mustangs defensive backfield that struggled mightily in '13.

If the Mustangs were a classic WWE wrestler, they would be: Leaping Lanny Poffo, who later re-invented himself as "The Genius." SMU's offense, like Poffo's acrobatics and pre-match poems disparaging his opponents, can be crowd-pleasing for a while but will result in few victories in '14.

Off the rack (what the magazines are saying): The Mustangs came close to playing in their fifth straight bowl game despite a porous defense and virtually no running game in 2013. But they face even tougher obstacles with a new quarterback, a patchwork line and no proven running back. Best-case scenario, the defense plays over its head, buying some time for Burcham to develop, and the incoming class is better than advertised. - Athlon

Audible: "Offensively we're a lot faster, I think, as a group. Skill-wise we're adding some young kids that are incoming freshman that I think will compete right away. ... I think we'll be pretty talented, just young." - Jones

December plans: The Mustangs should be able to catch most of the SMU basketball team's non-conference slate. A second consecutive sub-.500 season is likely, but '15 could be special.


Coach: Matt Rhule (second season, 2-10)

2013 record: 2-10 (1-7 AAC)

Starters returning/lost: 14/11. The Owls return six offensive and seven defensive starters, and a specialist.

Schedule's toughest stretch: In a 16-day midseason span, the Owls travel to Houston and UCF, and host East Carolina.

Top priority in August: Continued development. Sophomore QB P.J. Walker (6-foot-1, 200 pounds), who started the final seven games and finished with more than 2,300 yards, should be complemented by some more promising young talent this season. Rhule's recruiting class ranked among the top four in the conference.

One name likely to roll off Mel Kiper's tongue: Some NFL employer is bound to have a job for junior WLB Tyler Matakevich (6-1, 230), who led the nation with 105 solo tackles last season and represents the Owls' defensive heartbeat.

If the Owls were a classic WWE wrestler, they would be: Any well-liked jobber -- Jim Powers, Paul Roma, etc. -- who toiled nightly and brandished some bona fide talent, but fell excruciatingly shy of reaching the next stratosphere. Four of the Owls' defeats were by three or fewer points last season.

Off the rack (what the magazines are saying): The Owls were on the cusp of getting victories last year and gaining confidence early would help the young team. Outscoring teams may be the route to success, with the Temple defense still having work left to improve on last year's performance, which ranked 108th nationally. -- Sporting News

Audible: "I think we were a team last year that showed glimpses of a bright future. We played a lot of young kids. We had the lead or were tied for the lead in the fourth quarter the last six games of the year, and we're still young. We only have three scholarship seniors heading into (this) season. We don't make predictions other than I know we're gonna be a lot better than we were last year." -- Rhule

December plans: A lot of hours sipping on Starbucks in the frigid Philadelphia winter, agonizing over how close they came to bowl eligibility. Temple will be improved in '14, but fall just shy of .500.

[Last modified: Monday, June 16, 2014 12:13pm]


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