SMU Football Preseason Awards: Big Play Specialists

Prior to the start of the 2022 college football season, we’re going to spotlight 24 SMU players as preseason award winners. At the end of the season, we’ll reflect on each of the picks and see how we did.

There are six categories: True Freshmen, Transfers, Unsung Heroes, Big Play Specialists, Most Improved, and MVPs. Each award will recognize two offensive players and two defensive players.

We continue with the fourth part of our series: Big Play Specialists.

When the dust is settled, who are the guys that we look at and go, “when SMU needed a spark, they made the plays needed”?

Honorable Mentions

Receiver Teddy Knox ran a 10.4 100-meter dash in high school. While that is faster than both of the offensive players on this list, he has much less playing experience. If Knox ends up leading the team or conference in yards per reception, it shouldn’t come as a surprise.

4. Brandon Crossley, DB

In 10 games in 2020, Crossley finished with four interceptions. That led the AAC and was eighth in the country. He also added 21 tackles, five passes defended, and two tackles for loss. His 2021 season was a little less dynamic, finishing with 25 tackles and one pass defended.

When the Mustangs needed a big play in 2020, Crossley always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. Now experiencing his fourth defensive coordinator in as many seasons, Scott Symons should do a better job of putting him in a position to succeed.

3. Kelvontay Dixon, WR

In 2021, SMU did not seem to throw the ball deep very often. At some points, the discourse among fans even became, “can Tanner Mordecai not throw the deep ball?”

Mordecai can sling the deep ball. With head coach Rhett Lashlee back on the headset, we should see that. Comparing the last Lashlee year with the first Garrett Riley year, Shane Buechele threw passes of at least 20 yards nearly twice as often with Lashlee.

What’s more, the frequency of 20-plus-yard passes for Buechele and Mordecai were almost identical in the two seasons that Riley called plays for the Mustangs. Not throwing deep wasn’t a Mordecai issue — it was a Coach Riley issue.

Mordecai actually had a better touchdown-to-interception ratio, as well as a better passer rating on throws of 20 yards or longer.

So why all of this setup for Texas transfer Kelvontay Dixon? Because Dixon is a certified burner, and burners get open deep.

As a high schooler, Dixon ran a 10.71 100-meter dash. That sort of speed will be useful to an offense that hopefully throws the ball deep more.

2. Jordan Kerley, WR

Everything said about Mordecai and the deep pass above applies for Kerley, too.

Between the deep dagger touchdown against TCU and the long go-ahead touchdown that would prove decisive against Navy, Kerley was a walking big play in 2021.

Kerley’s 197 receiving yards in 2021 is third most of returning receivers, and his 16.4 yards per reception is the highest for returning receivers with at least 10 catches last season. Not only is it the highest for returning receivers, but the second highest is more than four yards lower. Roderick Daniels Jr. averaged 12.3 yards per catch last season to finish second.

1. Bryan Massey, S/KR

Massey was the first person considered for this award, and was really the catalyst for making the category.

The main reason for him making the list is as a kick returner. Massey started returning kicks in Week 5 last season and never looked back. He finished first in the AAC and fifth in the country in kick return yards. And that’s with just 20 returns all season.

Massey probably finishes third in the country in total kick return yards if the Fenway Bowl was not canceled.

2021 was not a good indicator for any of the defensive backs, thanks to the one or no safety man-to-man looks that left the defense vulnerable. A guy with as much athleticism as Massey also benefits on this list for his potential contributions at safety.

In 2021, he finished with 29 tackles, six passes defended, 1.5 tackles for loss, and an interception in just two starts.

Now that the defense will hopefully use more than one safety at least some of the time, a guy like Massey should have plenty of opportunity to showcase his range and athleticism on that side of the ball, too.