Early recruiting returns may give SMU football a ray of hope

As the new year approaches, college football programs like Alabama, Oregon, Ohio State and Florida State are preparing for their first ever playoff in the game’s history. It’s a shot at the national championship that the SMU Mustangs sadly knew they wouldn’t have once the 2014 season began, but as the Mustang faithful must watch those teams play, they may at least have some hope for the future.

When June Jones walked away from SMU football two games into the 2014 season, many jumped on the fact that his team had the fewest Texas-based players than any other Division I program in the state. But was that a fair accusation? That number may have been the lowest at the time, but SMU did have prospects like James Proche II, a highly ranked recruit out of DeSoto, committing to them back in the summer.

Was Jones on the verge of turning things around? We may never know, but those loyal to the Ponies are hoping Chad Morris can accelerate that process. And so far, the early returns are promising.

At the moment, coaches are in what’s known as the “dead period” where they cannot meet with high school prospects until Jan. 15. But already, thanks in large part to the two weeks Morris had to visit players after taking the job before that period began, SMU’s new coach has been pulling some surprises.

One of the big ones came just a few days after the period began, when Waco Midway quarterback Ben Hicks switched commitments and announced he would come to the Mustangs. The three-star play-caller dropped his verbal commitment to Houston (that had included a plan to enroll early and signing a financial aid agreement) after that school fired coach Tony Levine and was immediately courted by Texas Tech before making his announcement to come to the Hilltop.

The shocker that Hicks will come to University Park came four days after Irving Nimitz defensive lineman Michael Scott revived his previously dropped commitment to play for SMU, joining twin brother Delonte with the Mustangs after all.

Michael could be a huge step toward improving the battered SMU defense that too many offenses shredded last season, as SMU gave up more than 40 points eight times in 2014. Morris would be getting a player ranked just outside the top 100 defensive ends in the country and 10th best in the state.

Meanwhile, Hicks would give SMU at least a quarterback for the future, even if Morris could be set for the next year or two with returner Matt Davis. What Davis and Morris need more than anything are more weapons on the field to revive an offense that only managed three touchdowns on home turf, and that could come not just in Proche but also D’erren Wilson, a top 25 receiver prospect out of Greenville that committed to SMU on Dec. 11.

In fact, of the 13 commitments the Mustangs currently have, four of them are ranked as top 10 prospects at their positions, including two in the top five.

That’s not to say SMU doesn’t have ground to make up. They are still behind TCU and UNT in recruits, with those schools having 21 and 16 commitments respectively. But the Mustangs do have more North Texas commits than the Mean Green (4) while they do trail the Horned Frogs (9).

In a way, this is the one silver lining SMU had in Jones leaving so early. By announcing a new coach with a month to go in the regular season, SMU had weeks ahead of other programs that did not see coaches depart until that same point in time. Michigan may have landed the man it wanted in Jim Harbaugh, but he’ll only have roughly two weeks after the “dead period” ends to meet with prospects before signing day, compared to the time Morris had.

All commitments remain non-binding until the athletes are allowed to sign national letters of intent, which will not happen until Feb. 4.

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