The year is 1987. It’s a cool Texas February morning during the heat of your second semester in the school year. You wake up in your residence (likely a dorm) and traverse campus similarly to how you would any other day: get ready for classes, eat breakfast in the dining hall and finish up on any last minute assignments (if you actually happen to pay attention in class).
Your stretch towards evening remains the same as the day prior. That is, until you hear the treacherous news of a seismic shift in your school’s athletic program: no more football.
No more football? What do you mean no more football? After all, you were only here to play football. That was the purpose. Football was your life. Your future.
For a single college football big name program - SMU - that statement made of nightmare fuel reached reality in the 1987 school year. No more chances at competing for a national championship. No more playing against rivals. No more football team, AT ALL.
The SMU Mustangs have since moved on from their judgement day nearly 35 years ago. They’re a relatively decent program, void of controversy and falters (for the most part). But times are a bit different compared to the “glory days” of one of CFB’s most hated programs.
National championship contention? Gone. Southwest Conference relevancy? Gone. Playing regional schools nearly every week? Definitely gone (Haha).
SMU currently finds itself relegated to non autonomy level in the American Athletic. They’re in a conference that spans from the City of Brotherly Love to the shadow of Norman, Oklahoma, in Tulsa. And while the Mustangs would likely prefer to return the “olden days,” they have some emerging rivalries - including one in its infancy with Cincinnati - that bring some intrigue to the table.
Like many of Cincinnati’s other AAC rivals, SMU qualifies as a relatively unfamiliar face at Nippert. The Mustangs and Bearcats have faced off on five occasions with UC leading the series 4-1. SMU’s only triumph came in a 31-28 victory during the 2017 college football season.
SMU 2020 Season in Review
The good news: Two straight plus .500 campaigns in the AAC have elevated the death penalty-stricken school towards national relevancy once more. The 2020 season made way for a 7-3 showing in which the Mustangs finished towards the top of the AAC. They actually began last year on a 5-0 stretch and were penciled in to play UC in a likely conference championship matchup.
The bad news: A tough late season showing - including a pivotal 28-24 loss against Tulsa - robbed them of their goals in dramatic fashion. Among the other disappointments were SMU’s pair of rivalry games against TCU and Houston receiving cancellations and the Mustangs failing to participate in a bowl game.
Being from Texas, it’s no surprise that SMU owns a stereotypical Big 12-like team. A loaded offense, lots of points and a less than stellar defense.
The former of the two sides averaged 500 yards and 39 points per game thanks to QB Shane Buechele. He’s gone now, but the Mustangs do return and bring in plenty of talent.
Rashee Rice and Reggie Roberson lead the way as the big names to know in the receiver core. Rice registered 48 receptions for 683 yards and five touchdowns through 2020. On the other hand, Robertson, who enters his fifth year of eligibility this season, tallied 22 receptions, 474 yards and five TD’s.
SMU’s run game sources from the third year veteran Ulysses Bentley. The 5-foot-10, 184 pound Houston native carried the rock for 913 yards and and 11 scores. He’s aided at the position by Tre Siggers, an 85 carry, 458 yard worthy North Texas transfer. The Lone Star State native gives a bit more experience to the core as an incoming senior.
The SMU defense is… well, unsurprisingly not as productive as the offense.
(You could say the exact same thing about Cincinnati’s main rival, UCF.)
The veterans are certainly there - SMU returns nine starters - but imminently not the success. 36 points were allowed on average in the final six duels of the season, including 52 against East Carolina to close out the season.
Enter Jim Leavitt, former Mustangs player and South Florida head coach from 1997 to 2009. He returns to his Alma Mater as the all important new defensive coordinator. He’ll be tasked with keeping a strong sophomore (Safety Chace Cromartie and Cornerback Brandon Crossley) led secondary, well… strong and improving a defensive front in stopping the run game.
So, what’s the final consensus?
SMU should be a similar remnant on the schedule to that of UCF. Challenging-especially offensively - but not possessing the proper needs in order to defeat Cincinnati.
The problem for the program comes at the experience of the Bearcats’ top ten defense. How can one expect a young and uncertain quarterback core to navigate the rough waters of UC’s secondary? Or the receivers to get past the likes of top corner Ahmad “Sauce” Garner?
The answer: they don’t. The Mustangs, despite all the improvement, still lack a fully complete team. And while HC Sonny Dykes deserves all the credit for building upon SMU’s offense, his efforts simply aren’t enough to avoid a barrage on the other side of the football.
Score prediction: Cincinnati 31, SMU 17
SMU Season Preview
SMU in all likelihood remains on par with their success from the last two seasons in 2021. The offense will remain the strong suit, the defense decent and the schedule somewhat challenging. Their most arduous matchups on the road are set to take place against Louisiana Tech, TCU, Houston, Memphis and Cincinnati, although they do host UCF at home as well. Expect a competitive season with a few close bumps along the away.
Opponents ranked from most to least challenging: 1. Cincinnati, 2. UCF, 3. TCU, 4. Memphis, 5. Houston, 6. Louisiana Tech, 7. Tulsa, 8. Tulane, 9. Navy, 10. USF, 11. North Texas, 12. Abilene Christian
Final Prediction: 9-3, losses to Cincinnati, UCF and TCU