Photo by Vladimir Cherry/SMU athletics
With Shane Buechele deciding it’s time for him to move on to the NFL, the quarterback position is open for SMU.
So what are the Mustangs’ options for 2021?
Shane Buechele’s departure leaves a hole for the Mustang offense which had been prolific with him at the helm. With Buechele as quarterback, the Mustangs ranked eighth and 11th nationally in yards per game in 2019 and 2020, respectively. In 23 total games as a Mustang, he posted extraordinary numbers including 7,024 passing yards, a 63.9% completion rate, 57 passing touchdowns, and an incredible touchdown-to-interception ratio of nearly 3.6.
Perhaps the most notable stat in Buechele’s college career is that he’s the active leader in career passing yards, barring a 385-yard or better performance from Texas’ Sam Ehlinger in the Alamo Bowl against Colorado.
That is a tall task for the veteran quarterback for the Longhorns. Ehlinger has only eclipsed that number three times in 45 career appearances.
Options for Who’s Got Next?
Fans of the Mustangs are understandably excited for the arrival of 4-star recruit, Preston Stone. But that does not necessarily mean that Stone will be handed the keys to the offense as a true freshman. The competition has become even more stiff as Tanner Mordecai has decided he is transferring to SMU from Oklahoma.
For awhile, it looked like there were several potential options, but that number has dwindled with Mordecai’s reported decision. Realistically, there are currently three potential options for who could start Week 1 against Abilene Christian in 2021.
Here they are in order from least to most likely:
3. Derek Green
Son of 11-year NFL veteran and 2-time Pro Bowler Trent Green, Derek Green is a former walk-on. Once the fourth-stringer, Green found himself as SMU’s backup late this season. All it took was for Will Brown to change positions and Terrance Gipson to enter the transfer portal. He was also responsible for what is perhaps the best hold to win a game that we’ve ever seen.
The concern with Green is that he’s thrown a total of three career passes, with one being an interception. The coaching staff has spoken highly of him in the past about his preparedness and their trust in his ability to assume the role of starter if necessary. If the staff determines Stone or Mordecai aren’t ready, Green will get the job — at least as a stopgap.
The only instances where we’d likely see Green being the most ready is with some sort of COVID-19 issue(s) — one that would force the NCAA, the AAC, or SMU to shorten or eliminate spring practices altogether.
2. Tanner Mordecai
Something one would’ve expected head coach Sonny Dykes and offensive coordinator Garrett Riley to want from a transfer quarterback would be playing experience. However, Mordecai has not thrown more than eight passes against an FBS team in a game yet.
The issue of experience was at least part of the reason that the SMU staff was not all that interested in adding Ja’Quinden Jackson, the former Texas 4-star. Adding Mordecai comes as something of a surprise.
He did spend the last three seasons under the coaching of Lincoln Riley, Garrett’s older brother. Add in that Mordecai is from Waco, an area that SMU was lacking a big recruit, and it’s not a shock that the Mustangs are giving him an opportunity. It is a little concerning that they’ve chosen to add Mordecai, who comes with three years of eligibility.
Stone technically comes in with five years of eligibility, and it’s unlikely that he planned on sitting for three years when he chose SMU. Since 247Sports started tracking all-time recruits in 2000, Mordecai would be SMU’s second-best commit. The problem for Mordecai is that Stone is the highest ranked commit in SMU history.
1. Preston Stone
Coach Dykes compared Stone’s ability to catch on quick to that of Jared Goff, the No. 1 overall NFL draft pick that he once coached at California. Stone had offers to go to a whole host of schools, including three of the four College Football Playoff semifinalists for 2020 and six of the top 10 teams in the final College Football Playoff rankings for 2020.
But the two-time state champ decided to stay home and committed to SMU. As previously mentioned, Stone is SMU’s highest ever ranked recruit, and it’s not even close.
There’s going to be a learning curve going from the private school level to SMU’s competition. Hopefully, there can be spring camps that will start getting him up to speed. Where he seems to be strongest is in terms of intangibles, which should create some optimism about his ability to adapt to FBS competition.
In all likelihood, there will be some growing pains, but there will also be flashes of what’s to come. Even with the addition of Mordecai, Stone’s ceiling is higher and worth investing the playing time now.
The quarterback battle between Stone and Mordecai is going to be one of the best Group of 5 quarterback battles. How often are multiple 4-stars in a quarterback battle at a G5 school? The short answer: not very.
Although it lost Buechele and ended on a two-game skid, there are a lot of reasons to be excited about SMU football. Even after such a disappointing ending to the season, it’s somehow undeniable that SMU has left fans with a hopeful feeling for the new year.