"We'll be a good team if we don't get our stinger bent early," says SMU coach Bobby Collins, clearly worrying about having to replace 15 starters (eight on defense) from the 1983 squad, which ended up 10-2 and No. 10 in the nation. But the Mustangs, who have put together a 31-3-1 record over the past three seasons, will be 5-0 before they play anybody. SMU opens with Louisville, North Texas State, TCU, Baylor and Houston. Stingees all.
The season doesn't get interesting, and perhaps ugly, until the Mustangs play at Texas on Oct. 27 in a game that should decide the SWC title. SMU won it in 1981 and '82, Texas (over SMU) in '83. Many Mustang boosters blame Texas for the tip-offs that launched the ongoing NCAA investigation of the SMU football program. THE LIES OF TEXAS ARE UPON YOU read SMU bumper stickers. Meanwhile, Longhorn fans add to the atmosphere of the Vitriol Bowl with bumper stickers that read SUPPORT PRO FOOTBALL: WATCH THE SMU MUSTANGS.
A more immediate problem for Collins is coping with the loss of All-America safety Russell Carter, a first-round pick of the Jets. "We don't have anyone who can control the game sideline to sideline the way Russell could," says Collins. But what Collins does have is all-conference and potential All-America outside linebacker Anthony Beverly, the leading tackier on a defense that ranked second in the nation in '83. "We're going to turn Anthony loose," says Collins. "We'll be sending our linebackers as often as we can."
Collins's penchant for sending his linebackers came to international attention last year when Japanese baseball legend Shigeo Nagashima came to SMU with a Japanese film crew to publicize the Mustangs' game with Houston in the 1983 Mirage Bowl in Tokyo. When Nagashima insisted on playing quarterback for one play, Collins showed him how to work a sprint-out pass. Collins then told the Mustang defense to go easy on the visiting star. But as Nagashima ran right, linebacker Tony Shelman—"There's always someone who doesn't get the word," says Collins—made a crunching tackle that carried Nagashima out of bounds and up against a fence. "Aw, I think Nagashima enjoyed a real football experience," says Collins. But not as much as Collins enjoys telling the story.
Collins has replaced his entire defensive line with smaller players. "We'll stunt 'em, slant 'em and shift 'em," he says of his plans to make up in finesse what the '84 line lacks in beef. The lynchpin will be sophomore noseguard Jerry Ball, who, at 6 feet and 258 pounds, is aptly nicknamed Ice Box.
The outlook brightens on offense. SMU has a pair of tailbacks who could make Pony fans forget Eric Dickerson and Craig James. Junior Reggie Dupard and sophomore Jeff Atkins combined for 2,186 yards and 16 TDs in '83. Among backs with at least 150 carries, only Heisman winner Mike Rozier and Auburn's Bo Jackson averaged more yards per carry than Dupard's 6.3, and Super Dupe's 1,249 yards rushing ranked him first in the SWC and seventh nationally. Atkins, more of a power runner, broke Earl Campbell's SWC freshman rushing mark with 937 yards. The problem is that SMU lacks a blocker to complement this duo. Fullbacks Gary Hashaway (5'11", 195 pounds) and Cobbie Morrison (6 feet, 185) are runners, not blockers.
SMU's recent success has been founded on the run, but this year's team will pass more. Junior Don King replaces four-year starter Lance McIlhenny at quarterback. He throws better than McIlhenny but lacks experience pitching the ball on the Mustangs' bread-and-butter option play. King, who'll get ample protection from an offensive line anchored by two All-SWC selections, center Chris Jackson and guard Andrew Campbell, will throw often to wide receiver Ron Morris, a potential game-breaker who had 41 catches for 688 yards last fall.
In all, if their defense matures fast enough, the Mustangs may not get their stinger bent early or late.