SMU Mustangs are 2011's non-BCS sleeper
I'm filing this week's mailbag from chilly Indianapolis, where I'm covering the NFL combine. Let's get right to it.
From @akosnitzky: I know it's only spring, but who do you see as the sleeper team to make it to a BCS game this year?
My picks for a sleeper to get to a BCS bowl game and a sleeper to make the BCS title game follow different guidelines. The latter, to me, usually comes from a pool of teams that figure to be in the preseason top 15 or top 20. The former doesn't even crack the top 25.
The UCF Knights, who finished the year very strong and return the Conference USA Freshman of the Year in quarterback Jeff Godfrey, were going to be my pick. However, they do lose a lot of good players on defense, including top defensive lineman Bruce Miller.
So instead of going with UCF, I'll throw out an even bigger dark horse to watch in 2011: the SMU Mustangs. This is a team that is going to be really interesting to keep an eye on.
June Jones, who went 1-11 in his first season there then 8-5 two seasons ago and 7-7 in 2010, has a talented, maturing bunch coming back, with 18 starters returning. The entire offensive line returns, as does the defensive line. Better still, Jones' triggerman, Kyle Padron, the latest Southlake Carroll quarterback product, is back for his third season in Jones' quarterback-friendly system. The 6-foot-4 junior completed 59 percent of his passes for 3,828 yards in 2010 and boasted an impressive 31:14 TD:INT ratio.
The best thing that happened for SMU last season was the emergence of a ground attack. The Mustangs averaged nearly five yards per carry, which is almost a full yard more than they did in 2009. Rising junior Zach Line, a 235-pounder with nimble feet, had a breakout year. The Michigan native ran for almost 1,500 yards, and in non-league games, which included matchups versus the TCU Horned Frogs and teams from the Big 12 and Pac-10, he averaged almost eight yards per rush.
On defense, big-play linebacker Ja'Gared Davis (15 TFLs, 9 sacks) is also back. Plus, Jones just landed a class that had 11 three-star recruits, led by Los Angeles-area defensive end Davon Moreland, who picked the Mustangs over basically half of the Pac-12.
If I'm going to be realistic, this is probably more like a 10-2-caliber team that falls a bit short of a BCS bowl berth. However, the Mustangs definitely have a shot at being this year's BCS-buster.