NCF Nation: Kenneth Acker

SMU season preview

August, 16, 2013
Today we're looking at Southern Methodist University, which is being picked to finish near the bottom of the rankings in The American Athletic Conference's inaugural season.

Coach: June Jones (107-75 career, 31-34 at SMU)

2012 record: 7-6

Key losses: RB Zach Line, WR Darius Johnson, LB Taylor Reed

[+] EnlargeGarrett Gilbert
AP Photo/Michael SullivanQuarterback Garrett Gilbert returns as the Mustangs' leading rusher -- averaging 3.7 yards per carry last season.
Key returnees: QB Garrett Gilbert, LB Randall Joyner, CB Kenneth Acker

Newcomer to watch: DB Shakiel Randolph

Biggest games in 2013: at Texas A&M (Sept. 21), at TCU (Sept. 28)

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: The Mustangs will be looking for somebody to replace Line in the running game this year. Amassing 1,278 yards and 13 touchdowns as the main rushing threat last season, Line was crucial to the SMU offense that gave Gilbert the ability to be a dual-threat -- running for eight touchdowns and passing for 15. Gilbert won’t be able to do it all this season, so the Mustangs could be looking to Line’s little brother, Prescott Line, to carry some of the responsibility.

Forecast: While SMU has the benefit of not having to play AAC-favorite Louisville in the regular season, it plays three Texas heavyweights in the nonconference schedule. Opening with Texas Tech on a Friday night, the Mustangs travel to Texas A&M and TCU in back-to-back weeks in September. SMU has tallied four consecutive winning seasons and has played in four consecutive bowl games, but the first half of the Mustangs’ schedule might be too ambitious with Rutgers waiting as the first American Athletic game on the schedule. SMU is picked to finish eighth in the conference.

Like several teams in the American Athletic, the Mustangs are rebuilding on defense, having to work with a new group of defensive linemen. But four starters return in the secondary, including Acker, who was named to the watch list for the Jim Thorpe Award that goes to the nation’s top defensive back. Acker had 13 interceptions and 12 pass breakups last season. Joyner and Stephon Sanders are the returning starting linebackers.

Offensively, SMU fits the American Athletic trend of teams having an established quarterback. Gilbert was on Jones’ radar when he was just a recruit committed to Texas because Jones had a relationship to Gilbert’s father. When Texas wasn’t the right fit for Gilbert, Jones welcomed him.

“It’s a plus for him that he's involved at SMU now and doing what he's doing,” Jones said. “I noticed last year by middle of the season he was finally starting to get a little bit of his confidence back. I think he took it upon his shoulders to compete and win maybe three, four games through the end that just was him, and even though we did it a little bit different than we normally do it, which normally doing it is passing the football. He was a very good runner. We inserted some things into the game plan to allow him to do some things that he does very well. And he gained a lot of confidence both in the passing game just from doing that.”

Big East spring game previews

April, 19, 2013
Nine of 10 Big East teams will be through with spring practices come Monday, with Rutgers serving as the outlier. With UConn, Temple and SMU all gearing up for their annual spring games this Saturday, here's a peek at what to look for.

Fans in attendance for the noon start at Rentschler Field should keep an eye on how the offense moves under new coordinator T.J. Weist. The Huskies ranked 118th in total offense last year as coordinator George DeLeone was stripped of his duties, though he remains the offensive line coach. But the squad returns all five starters up front to protect incumbent quarterback Chandler Whitmer, as well as top running back Lyle McCombs, as the unit will look to keep pace with a defense that was nothing short of outstanding last season but is down a few stars who will hear their names called next weekend in New York.

Hank Hughes is the new man in charge of the defense, and he has Yawin Smallwood back to anchor a unit that has said goodbye to Sio Moore, Jory Johnson, Trevardo Williams and Blidi Wreh-Wilson. The Huskies boast plenty of potential in the middle with linebackers Graham Stewart, Ryan Donohue, Jefferson Ashiru and Omaine Stephens -- but that is just potential, for now.

UConn needs answers on both sides of the ball if it hopes to improve off head coach Paul Pasqualoni's consecutive 5-7 seasons.

The Mustangs will have an open practice at 9 a.m. local time at Pettus Practice Field, with many current and former players signing autographs afterward. There will be an NFL Punt, Pass and Kick competition afterward for kids ages 6 through eighth grade.

The Mustangs are intriguing, first and foremost, because they brought Hal Mumme aboard as their assistant head coach and passing game coordinator. Pairing the Air Raid curator with head coach June Jones and his run 'n' shoot pedigree is a fascinating experiment in and of itself.

Kenneth Acker, who is coming off a second-team All-Conference USA season in the secondary, is another experiment this spring, with the staff splitting the cornerback wide to catch some passes with the offense.

Defensively, the Mustangs are replacing a bulk of their production from last season, with Margus Hunt, Ja'Gared Davis and Taylor Reed all gone. Kevin Pope and Robert Seals must step up at linebacker.

Head coach Matt Rhule's first spring will feature live kicking and punting, normal scoring and 15-minute quarters. Who will eventually emerge as quarterback, however, is another matter. Juice Granger and Thomas Rumer will see action on the Cherry squad, which is coached by defensive coordinator Phil Snow, while Chris Coyer and Connor Reilly will take reps for the White team, coached by offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield.

Reilly has thrived under the pro-style attack, ascending to No. 1 on a depth chart that was expected to see Coyer and Granger fight for the top spot. Coyer has seen time as an H-back in practice, but Rhule said he will remain under center. Kevin Newsome, out with a shoulder injury, has been moved to H-back.

Reigning conference freshman of the year Tyler Matakevich leads a defense that struggled across the board last season, while Levi Brown and Sean Daniels are the big guys up front worth keeping an eye on.

The live kicking and punting part of Saturday's 1 p.m. contest at Edberg-Olson Hall is worth noting in that the Owls need to replace Brandon McManus, who held the school records for field goals made and punting average.