SMU football preview: Is Preston Stone ready to take over at quarterback?

8:00 AM on Jul 24, 2023 CDT
This story is part of a series of position-by-position previews for the 2023 SMU football season.
The SMU Mustangs enter the 2023 season with high expectations in a new-look American Athletic Conference. A big reason for the optimism is a roster filled with returning talent and fortified by highly touted transfers.
With that in mind, this series will evaluate the roster at each position, starting with quarterback.
Notable additions: Alex Padilla (Iowa transfer), Keldric Luster (freshman)
Notable subtractions: Tanner Mordecai (Wisconsin transfer)
What we know: There will be no quarterback competition this fall. Mordecai, the starter the last two seasons, reversed course on declaring for the NFL Draft and transferred to Wisconsin.
At SMU, that means it’s time for former high school All-American Preston Stone to begin his starting career. He was a prolific four-year starter at Parish Episcopal in Dallas. He had his choice of elite colleges, but the SMU legacy ultimately chose the Mustangs over Texas and others. Stone impressed in his only start against Tulsa last season, but suffered a broken collarbone before halftime.
What to WATCH: SMU head coach Rhett Lashlee has started different types of quarterbacks over the years. He’s had success coaching more traditional pocket passers, such as former SMU QB Shane Buechele, as well as mobile quarterbacks, such as Nick Marshall at Auburn and D’Eriq King — now an SMU assistant — at Miami (Fla.).
Lashlee and quarterbacks coach Jonathan Brewer believe in modeling the offense around the quarterback’s best ability, which raises the question of how different the SMU offense will look with a new starting quarterback.
The likely answer: probably not much. With Mordecai, SMU loved to go fast and push the ball downfield. In Stone’s first snap in his lone start against Tulsa, he threw a 75-yard, play-action touchdown to Rashee Rice. The spring game featured multiple deep touchdown passes from Stone to Jordan Kerley.
Stone’s scrambling ability should also be a part of the offense, but how much? He broke his collarbone scrambling last season. Could that limit his running ability? I’d imagine not, though the Mustangs’ coaching staff may recommend sliding more this season.
In non-Stone analysis, the development of Kevin Jennings is something to watch. Jennings, as is the case with most sophomores, looked a lot bigger this spring and a lot more confident and aggressive, which sometimes got him into trouble with a revamped SMU defensive line and secondary on the prowl. What Jennings did last year — coming off the bench as a true freshman and helping SMU win two games — was as impressive as it was difficult. It sparked optimism for his trajectory.
One word to describe the position: Key, as in the key to making this thing go. SMU had one of the best transfer portal classes in the country, regardless of conference. The Mustangs were also dealt a friendly conference schedule. An American Athletic Conference title game appearance is an attainable goal, and the play of the quarterback is the key to the Mustangs making it.

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