There is no denying coach June Jones has already done wonders at SMU. In three short seasons, he has turned around a program left for dead, taking it to two straight bowl appearances and a first-ever Conference USA championship game appearance.
But Jones, known as a master rebuilder, realizes there is plenty of room left to grow. This comment from national signing day really stuck out:
With adding these kids, and when we add another class next year, I’ll be disappointed if we don’t make a run like we did in Hawaii or like TCU has done. We’ve built a really good foundation, and we’re in pretty good shape to do some neat things.
The big question is whether SMU can become the next TCU. If so, then how long could that take?
Jones has the experience of leading a BCS program. In his first season at Hawaii in 1999, he took a winless team to a 9-4 record and a bowl appearance. In the five years before his arrival, Hawaii combined for 12 wins, no players drafted and no bowl game appearances. That 1999 season started an upward trend that culminated with an appearance in the Sugar Bowl in 2007, his final season with the Warriors before leaving for SMU.
It took nine seasons for Hawaii to get to a BCS game. I am betting Jones has a much shorter time frame with the Mustangs. For starters, he is in one of the most fertile recruiting areas in the nation. It is much easier to recruit to Dallas than to Honolulu. Indeed, he has pulled in back-to-back recruiting class with talent in spades, featuring players from Texas, California and Louisiana.
Both featured 11 three-star recruits as rated by ESPN. This class has been touted as his best yet, because Jones was able to get some players away from automatic qualifying conference schools. Defensive end Davon Moreland chose SMU over what seems to be the entire Pac-12: USC, Oregon, California, Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon State, Washington and Texas.
This class only helps add depth, something Jones has been eager to build and the one area he consistently has said is still missing from making this team a BCS contender. It was heavy on the offensive and defensive lines, at skill positions and in the defensive backfield, all areas of need. The skill players and defensive backs have the best chances at playing early, but there already is a solid group returning.
Conference USA has never had a team make a BCS game. If any school has the potential to become that BCS buster, it is SMU, especially since Boise State will be the only year-in, year-out non-AQ contender left standing following 2011. Jones can coach. He can recruit. Conference USA is winnable. The nonconference schedule should do enough to get SMU notice, with games in the future against AQ teams TCU, Texas Tech, Texas A&M and Baylor.
With the expectations Jones has laid out, it is clear anything less than a BCS appearance would be a disappointment. Going 7-6 last season may have felt like a letdown, but remember Jones is very early in the rebuilding process. Making it to the C-USA title game was definite progress.
Jones has his timetable. Now we have to wait and see if he gets to where he wants to go.