Weak and strong: SMU
Strongest position: Defensive back.
Not only do the Mustangs return all their starters at defensive back, they have got plenty of talent behind those starters to form the best position on the field. Depth is so good, in fact, that top cornerback Kenneth Acker spent the spring taking reps at receiver to expand his repertoire. Acker should be one of the top receivers in the league in 2013, as he goes into his third year as the starter. Acker led the Mustangs last year with 15 passes defended and 12 pass breakups, while grabbing three interceptions. Chris Parks also is back at cornerback, and feeling much better after playing through a knee injury through a part of last season. Starting safety Jay Scott also returns, giving the Mustangs three senior starters in the secondary -- guys with a wealth of experience that should really take the lead on this defense. As for the other safety position, Shakiel Randolph returns after starting six games last year and being named to the Conference USA All-Freshman team.
Weakest position: Defensive line.
SMU is in rebuilding mode at positions across the field, as several spots have to replace key starters. But the position hit the hardest is the defensive line, which returns zero starters from a year ago. The biggest loss, of course, is defensive end Margus Hunt, a second-round NFL pick of the Cincinnati Bengals. He takes with him a team-leading eight sacks and a major pass-rush presence that is a huge priority for the Mustangs to replace. End Kevin Grenier also is gone, and so is the underrated Torlan Pittman, who manned the inside spot. Between the three of them, the Mustangs lose 92 tackles -- including 18.5 for loss. Coach June Jones believes he has some talented players ready to fill in. Darrian Wright will take over the nose tackle spot from Pittman. Zach Wood seems certain to start at one end spot; Beau Barnes and Andy McCleneghen are still competing for the other starting end job. Jones also is high on two youngsters -- true freshman Zelt Minor and redshirt freshman Elie Nabushosi. But while there may be talent, this group takes a hit in experience and size as well. How the Mustangs handle those two factors will go a long way in determining how they do in Year 1 in the AAC.
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