FACTS & STATS: Site: Floyd Casey Stadium (50,000) -- Waco, Texas. Television: FSN. Home Record: SMU 0-0, Baylor 0-0. Away Record: SMU 0-0, Baylor 0-0. Neutral Record: SMU 0-0, Baylor 0-0. Conference Record: SMU 0-0, Baylor 0-0. Series Record: SMU leads, 36-35-7.
GAME NOTES: The SMU Mustangs seek their first win in a road opener since 1986 as they square off with in-state rival Baylor at Floyd Casey Stadium on Sunday night.
Coach June Jones came up short of his third Conference USA West Division crown in 2011, but the Mustangs downed Pittsburgh, 28-6, in the BBVA Compass Bowl to finish with an 8-5 record. SMU struggled against the C-USA's elite, but that could change in the program's final year in the league before it departs for the Big East in 2013. Jones has been a very effective coach since pushing through a 1-11 inaugural season in 2008 and has led the Mustangs to bowl games in each of the past three years.
Baylor's Art Briles is coming off his best season since becoming the team's head coach in 2008 as he guided Robert Griffin III and the Bears to a 10-3 record that was capped off by an Alamo Bowl victory. Baylor experienced its first-ever Heisman Trophy winner and its first 10-win team since 1980. The Bears come into 2012 on a six-game winning streak, which is the third longest in the nation. Baylor is 3-1 in season openers far during the Art Briles era.
SMU and Baylor have not met since the Bears downed the Mustangs, 28-23, in the 2005 season opener. SMU holds a slim 36-35-7 lead in the all-time series with its former Southwest Conference foe. However, the Mustangs have lost their last nine contests versus Baylor.
The Mustangs might have struck gold when former Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert decided to transfer to SMU. The junior started as a freshman for the Longhorns in 2010, but Texas finished with a 5-7 record. He then missed the majority of 2011 after undergoing shoulder surgery. Despite his lack of success at Texas, Gilbert's outstanding high school career made him an interesting addition to the Mustangs' roster. A change of scenery which is accompanied by the spread offense of June Jones could lead to big things for the quarterback, just as it did for Colt Brennan at Hawaii.
Gilbert will have pressure taken off of him by the powerful Zach Line. The Mustangs' fullback led the C-USA and ranked seventh in the NCAA with 122.4 yards per game last season before a foot injury ended his year early.
SMU returns its leading wideout Darius Johnson (1,118 yards, eight TDs) from 2011 who will be complemented by Jeremy Johnson. Darius Johnson has earned the MVP award in both the 2010 and 2011 bowl game wins. Jeremy Johnson showed off his big play ability when he made the game-winning touchdown grab in overtime to upset TCU last season.
The Mustangs are not going to be a a one-trick pony in 2012. The defensive unit that finished second in the C-USA in total defense (340.0 ypg) last year returns some key players. Defensive end Margus Hunt is on the radar of multiple NFL scouts due to his imposing 6-foot-8, 295-pound frame, paired with incredible athleticism.
SMU returns four starting linebackers, two of which were second-team all- conference players in 2011. Ja'Gared Davis and Taylor Reed are both poised for huge senior years. The Mustangs' secondary is also sound with Chris Parks and Kenneth Acker starting at the cornerback positions.
Baylor will be led this season by senior QB Nick Florence. While he is not a superstar like Griffin was during his career, Florence has the skill, confidence, and drive to lead Baylor to victories. The offensive line that returned three starters should be able to give Florence adequate time to get comfortable.
The Bears' rushing attack finished 10th nationally with 235.6 yards per game last season will now rely on senior halfback Jerred Salubi for production. Baylor has a few quality options at wide receiver in Terrance Williams, Lanear Sampson, and Tevin Reese.
Despite losing a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, Baylor's main concern is on the defensive side of the ball after surrendering a school record 6,350 yards last season. Eight starters return from that lineup, including the entire secondary. Safety Sam Holl and cornerback K.J. Morton were both named to the preseason all-Big 12 team.
The Baylor defense did rack up 29 takeaways (16 interceptions, 13 fumbles) and had at least one in each game in 2011. The senior defensive end tandem of Terrance Lloyd and Gary Mason is expected to apply constant pressure to keep the turnovers coming.
SMU really could make a statement early in the season if it can manage to take down its in-state rival. Baylor's offense has too many skill players to account for and its defense has shown the ability to come up with big plays when needed. The Mustangs will need a huge performance out of Gilbert to steal one on the road.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Baylor 38, SMU 30Game Date and Time
Sunday, September 2nd, 6:30 p.m. (et)