It’s the Battle for the Iron Skillet, which means that spreads don’t matter. Gary Patterson calls this a “50-50” game, because you know you’re always going to get SMU’s best shot.
We, too, are getting someone’s best shot, as I sat down to chat with Nicholas Armstrong of Underdog Dynasty to get the scoop on SMU’s team this season. Check out Nicholas’ excellent answers below.
Jamie Plunkett: Sonny Dykes was a somewhat surprise of a hire for SMU, and his regime has gotten off to a bumpy start. How are SMU fans feeling about the Dykes hire?
Nicholas Armstrong: From what I hear, SMU fans still like the Sonny Dykes hire. The embarrassing Frisco Bowl loss was widely believed to not be the start of his SMU career. Many fans applauded him in wanting to be there to coach his new team and see what he had to work with. I even think that SMU fans, while they may not be happy to hear this, kind of expected this year to be a down year. UNT had a great season last year and now SMU plays TCU, Michigan, and Navy consecutively before getting an FCS opponent. Combine the tough schedule with losing two of your top receivers and you get a rough start to the year. There is still potential for this year to be a success, but the margin of error is very small.
JP: Ben Hicks is looking to build off a solid sophomore season, but started off slowly against North Texas. What are the expectations for him this season, and how would you grade his performance against UNT?
NA: As I mentioned earlier, losing your top two targets is typically a recipe for disaster. However, the expectations around Ben Hicks are quite high. Some would consider him in the Top 5 QB’s in the AAC that brings leadership to this squad. He is also playing with a chip on his shoulder after last year’s bowl performance.
In the Sonny Dyke’s Air-Raid offense, I would expect Ben Hicks to have similar numbers to last year. He is going to drop back 30 plus times a game and be right around 50% completion rate, throwing for over 3,000 yards. The games will look uglier early on, and start to become more crisp as he gets comfortable in the offense. As far as grading Hick’s game against UNT, I would say he deserves a C-C+. He found his groove towards the end of the game, but I know Hicks can perform better than what he showed against UNT.
JP: Courtland Sutton is in the NFL now, another in a long line of SMU receivers to make it to the league. Who is being called on to fill his shoes this year?
NA: Well the most direct answer is the returning receiver James Proche. He was Ben Hicks deep threat last year and will continue to be this year. Whenever Courtland Sutton and Trey Quinn were having trouble getting involved, Hicks had his security blanket in Proche. I am expecting a big year from him as his targets will continue to rise, especially in these big games against TCU and Michigan.
JP: Defensively, SMU gave up over 500 yards of offense to North Texas in week one, including 444 yards through the air. Is the secondary a significant weak spot for this defense, or did they just have a bad first game?
NA: I wouldn’t say that the secondary is necessarily bad, however they’re not exceptional either. I think the reason for the large amount of passing yards against the defense is the new scheme in place. New defensive coordinator Kevin Kane is working in his 4-3-4 defensive scheme compared to last years 3-3-5. SMU is sacrificing an extra DB in order to bring more pressure, an area on defense that is a little deeper than the secondary. After Jordan Wyatt and Mikial Onu, the rest of the secondary is kind of in the air. Overall, the secondary is not that bad, but I would expect TCU to be throwing a lot and trying to find holes in the secondary.
JP: What’s the expectation for SMU this season, with regards to record/conference play?
NA: Overall, SMU is expected to be at least a contender in the West. They’re no where near the favorites, but they do have a fighting chance. However, after watching the game against UNT, I have lost faith that the team is going to contend in a tough division though. I said in my season preview that 6-6 or 7-5 are reasonable expectations for this team. Anything past that should be a blessing.
JP: Lastly, what’s your prediction for Friday night’s game?
NA: Last year was a little easier for me to guess the score of the game as I knew a little more about TCU than this year. My best guess is that TCU wins big, but not as big as what they desire. I think both teams score early, but by the third quarter, TCU has a comfy lead. They will pull their starters out and SMU will score a couple more times. Give me a TCU win 45-20.