NCF Nation: Bo Levi Mitchell
Here’s a look at the strongest and weakest positions for SMU this spring:
Strongest position: Quarterback
Key returners: Sophomore Kyle Padron (67.1 completion percentage, 1,922 yards, 10 touchdowns)
Key departures: Sophomore Bo Levi Mitchell (56 completion percentage, 1,725 yards, 12 touchdowns)
The skinny: Kyle Padron stepped in last year after Bo Levi Mitchell went down with injury. He led the Mustangs to their first bowl game since 1984 and set a school record for passing against Nevada in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. Mitchell transferred earlier this year and Padron will go into the spring as the starter. But he’ll face some tough competition from New Mexico State transfer J.J. McDermott, who is eligible after sitting out last year. Coach June Jones said he’s also looking forward to true freshman Stephen Kaiser arriving on campus in the fall.
Weakest position: Running back
Key returners: Sophomore Zach Line (49 carries, 189 yards, seven touchdowns)
Key departures: Shawnbrey McNeal (236 carries, 1,188, 12 touchdowns)
The skinny: Jones knew there was a possibility that leading rusher Shawnbrey McNeal could leave early for the NFL, but he wasn’t really prepared to see it happen. McNeal was June Jones’ first 1,000-yard rusher and was going to be an integral piece toward continuing the Mustangs success. Jones said he’d have to play incoming freshmen running backs Darryl Fields and Kevin Pope to fill out the depth behind returner Zach Line.
These are NOT my preseason rankings.
There are several teams that have a lot of returners and fewer questions to answer. There are other teams that have talent, but are still looking for some key pieces. This is a reflection of how those teams stack up. Again, these are NOT my preseason rankings.
1. Boise State: The only loss bigger than cornerback Kyle Wilson is the loss of defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. The Broncos did make a quick hire from within to keep up the continuity, which should help with the transition into spring football. The offense is totally intact and this team should be working on refining the good thing it already has going.
2. TCU: The Horned Frogs proved last year that they don’t rebuild, they reload. They lost a lot of defensive players that were supposed to hamper the team this year, but actually did little to slow it down. Even though TCU loses defensive stars Jerry Hughes and Daryl Washington, there are quality guys waiting and TCU should be able to pick up right where it left off.
3. Utah: The Utes had a huge signing day, especially nabbing some key junior college players who will be able to come in and help right away. Jordan Wynn is the undisputed starting quarterback, which should make this spring a lot more productive than the last one. The defense has a few question marks, but has several players that can step in seamlessly.
4. SMU: Coach June Jones likes working with young players and he’ll have a whole host of them this spring. However, unlike last year, Jones has a quality season on which to build and a lot of young experience with which to build it. The quarterback battle should be interesting with Kyle Padron, New Mexico State transfer J.J. McDermott, and incoming freshman Stephen Kaiser, and they need to find a new starting running back, but overall this team should be looking toward a nine or 10-win season.
5. Navy: Quarterback Ricky Dobbs will likely miss the spring as he recovers from knee surgery, which might not be a bad thing for the Midshipmen. Dobbs was their primary source of scoring last season, and the spring will force the Mids to find other players to become offensive weapons. This Navy teams doesn’t lose much and should continue to be a tough group.
6. Air Force: Coach Troy Calhoun flirted with Tennessee and defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter is gone, but many of the players from last season's young team return. Losing DeRuyter is a huge hit since the defense was the anchor of the team, but with former co-defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt assuming fulltime coordinator duties, it should be an easy transition this spring.
7. Houston: The Cougars need to spend this spring working on the defense, which should be a transition with new defensive coordinator Brian Stewart. Luckily for Stewart, he’s got a young and talented group with which to work, it just needs some direction. Offensively, the Cougars should be roughly the same despite a new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Both have been in the program, and they return almost all of their offensive players.
8. BYU: Why are the Cougars so low? It’s not because I hate BYU (though some of you will dispute that), it’s because the Cougars have a lot of key questions to answer this spring. The most pressing is at quarterback, but offensive production is also going to be a question mark. Tight end was the most productive position on the team last season, and both of the top players at that position are gone. The Cougars have to find a go-to receiver and replace all of their starters on the defensive line and in the linebacking corps. There is a lot of talent that played last season returning, though, and several missionaries coming in.
9. Middle Tennessee: Middle Tennessee returns most of its players from last season, but lost both of its coordinators. The only reason Middle Tennessee is on this list is because it broke in a new offensive coordinator in 2009 and won 10 games. The talent is still there. Quarterback Dwight Dasher returns and most of the defense remains intact. There are a couple holes to fill, but nothing that should stop this team from being as good as it was a year ago.
10. Nevada: The Wolf Pack didn’t end the season on a high note, but they return a good portion of the team that rattled off an eight game winning streak after losing their first three. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is back and the running game is deep with or without Vai Taua, who missed the bowl game because of academic issues. The defense is the weak spot on this team, but with defensive coordinator Andy Buh coming over from Stanford, the Wolf Pack should start to show some improvement.
SMU coach June Jones couldn't claim he knew freshman quarterback Kyle Padron could lead the Mustangs to an improbable win over Tulsa in his first collegiate start.
In fact, Jones admitted that he was as shocked as anyone.
“The fact that a true freshman could go into a game like that is kind of mind-boggling, to be honest,” Jones said. “It’s no different than a rookie [NFL] quarterback. Not many of them are able to execute have success at the NFL level and an 18-year-old freshman is the same way.”
Padron completed 20-of-30 passes for 354 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Mustangs to a 27-13 win over last season's Conference USA West champion, and bring the Mustangs two games away from bowl eligibility. Padron’s 354 yards were the most ever by an SMU quarterback in his first start.
But Padron’s heroics last week have not guaranteed him a start for this week. Padron was filling in for injured starter Bo Levi Mitchell, who suffered a sprain to his throwing shoulder and a slightly torn labrum. Jones said doctor have yet to clear Mitchell and Tuesday was the first day he’s practiced since the injury two weeks ago against Houston.
“[Mitchell] threw today, but he was still in some pain,” Jones said. “We’re going to prepare Kyle to start, but I will wait until gameday to see how [Mitchell] is and what the doctor says.”
While pulling Padron’s redshirt for a game and a half of work -- he played half of the Houston game after Mitchell was injured -- is not ideal, Jones said he told Padron that this might be the situation.
“I told him before the season that he was not going to redshirt, that if something happened that he was going to be first in,” Jones said. “He had to get himself ready to go. I was just glad that he had a little practice time before we pulled the trigger on that thing.”
Padron emergence is unbelievable since he played sparingly in high school. Padron was behind starter Riley Dodge (North Texas' current starter) for much of a varsity career at Southlake Carroll (Southlake, Texas). When Padron did get to play as a senior, he played just five games before suffering a broken hand in the sixth contest.
But Jones, who has had a history of coaching offensively dynamic quarterbacks, saw something in Padron and rolled the dice.
“No one really knew who Kyle Padron was because into his senior year he’d never gotten into a game, never played,” Jones said. “We had him in a football camp and we had invited all the top quarterbacks in the area to come to that camp. Dan Morrison, my quarterbacks coach, and I evaluated them and we thought Kyle was the best one of that group. Of course we didn’t have a film to look at. We’d never seen the kid play. We just took a chance.”
That chance could be the difference between the Mustangs first bowl berth since 1984 or another disappointing season.
“If he had to play right away, he would have been lost,” Jones asid. “But he’s been here five or six weeks and been taking the reps in practice and getting better every day. Now, you learn on the job. He’s gotten to play the last two weeks and he had his best practice [Tuesday] that I’ve seen him throw just because he played in two games.
“He’s a leader, he’s a great kid. He’s tall and he can run a little bit. He got a really, really bright future.”
Tulsa isn’t in panic mode yet.
Despite a devastating loss to UTEP this week, which dropped the Golden Hurricane into a four-way tie for first place in Conference USA West instead of an outright lead, coach Todd Graham isn’t ready to panic.
He’s been in this situation before.
In 2007, the Golden Hurricane lost to Oklahoma in the nonconference season and lost to UTEP in the second game of the conference schedule. However, the team rallied to win Conference USA West and earn a spot in the conference championship.
“Our goal of being the Conference USA champion is still intact,” Graham said. “In 2007, it's kind of eerie. It's the exact same scenario. We had just lost to Oklahoma and got beat by UTEP where we mismanaged the clock.
“When that happens, you bring it on yourself and rightfully so. You get a lot of negative. We're 4-3. That's where we are at right now. What that team and that staff were able to do was rally the troops. That's what we did and we won out. That's what you have to do now.”
Rallying is something Tulsa has gotten used to. In each of the past two seasons, the Golden Hurricane have had to notch big wins to win the West Division title.
This week’s turnaround attempt comes against a much-improved SMU team that will be eager to get back in the win column after losing to Houston last week.
SMU starting quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell suffered a slight tear in the labrum of his separated left shoulder in the Houston game and could miss this week's contest. Freshman Kyle Padron will start is Mitchell can’t go. He alternated with Braden Smith against Houston and completed 11-of-16 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown.
Graham knows this game is a must-win for his team especially since the Mustangs are part of a four-way tie of teams at 2-1 in conference play. Also, Houston, which plays the Golden Hurricane next week, has a tough road game against Southern Miss.
And then there’s UTEP. The Miners are also 2-1, but they hold the tiebreaker with wins over Tulsa and Houston.
“The margin of error is small,” Graham said. “What we have to do is just focus on the next game. Our guys have a great confidence and belief in each other. This team has been there before. We have an experienced staff and experienced players and I have a great belief in them. We have to go to work and get a win over SMU and then we go to the next one.”
Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson
SMU sophomore quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell has lost 21 pounds during the past couple weeks while nursing an ulcer, which SMU originally thought was an intestinal virus.
“He was finally eating last Thursday for the first time in about two weeks,” coach June Jones said. “He was struggling through, but didn't miss anything. He was able to hold food down last Thursday, so we'll give him a couple of weeks to gain it back.”
Mitchell is currently on medication for the ulcer and is not expected to miss Saturday’s game against TCU.
Mitchell is in his second season as starter. He ranks eighth in the country in total offense completing 91-of-149 passes for 979 yards and six touchdowns. However, he’s also thrown eight interceptions, which is tied for the most among starters with BYU’s Max Hall, Tennessee’s Jonathan Crompton and San Diego State’s Ryan Lindley.
Last season, Mitchell led the nation with 23 interceptions.
Jones said Mitchell’s illness is not an excuse for his lack of ball security.
“Playing the position of quarterback, you've got to deal with all that,” Jones said. “Doesn't matter if it's mental or physical -- both -- that's part of the job description. Everybody's got to do it if you want to play quarterback in D-I or quarterback in the NFL. You've got to fight through all that stuff.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
I've already received a bunch of letters from readers -- and not just from Baylor fans -- wondering what Phil Steele was smoking when he picked another freshman quarterback in front of Baylor's Robert Griffin for his first-team freshman All-America team.
Steele's magazine is a must-buy for me every season and I find myself checking his Web site regularly for updates. This guy knows his stuff and I'm not going to argue with his choice of Kellen Moore of Boise State in front of Griffin.
But I will place the statistics of the freshmen quarterbacks who ranked among the top 75 nationally in pass efficiency and let you make your own determination.
I think Steele was right, although Griffin makes a strong argument.
I'm curious what the readers think.