SMU offensive coordinator Garrett Riley was set to take over the offense at Appalachian State, which finished the year No. 20 in the College Football Playoff rankings and was on the edge of a New Year’s Six bowl. However, the allure of coaching one of the nation’s best offenses in his home state of Texas was hard to pass up.
"I wasn't going to leave just to leave,” Riley said. “It had to check all the boxes. It was a chance to come back to Texas and be part of a program that has had some lows in the past, but is now a program that is trending upwards."
Don’t expect the offense to change too much from the blend of air raid and Auburn power-spread run principles that helped SMU win 10 games a year ago. However, Riley’s watchful eye will add some wrinkles to a successful unit.
He steps into a strong situation with the Ponies, and it starts under center. Quarterback Shane Buechele exploded during a breakout junior season on the Hilltop, throwing for 3,929 yards and 34 touchdowns, including legendary performances against TCU, Memphis and Temple.
The returning talent around him should still be elite, even with the loss of James Proche. Receiver Reggie Roberson averaged more than 100 yards per game before getting hurt. He’ll be an NFL draft pick in 2021. Tight end Kylen Granson will play on Sundays too. Rashee Rice showed No. 2 receiver ability as a true freshman, and there’s plenty of talent in the last two recruiting classes too.
Running back is a big question mark after losing nearly 1,800 yards of senior rushing. Expect second-year players TJ McDaniel and Ulysses Bentley to split carries. Playing behind four returning starters on the offensive line will help that unit come along quickly.
SMU finished the 2019 season ranked top 10 in both total and scoring offense. With all the consistency coming back, repeating that feat should be an expectation.
“With all the success that this team had, how do you make it just a little bit better?” Riley said. “I think it’s continuing to do a lot of what they did a year ago and trying to put your own spin on it.”
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