For years coaches and players have repeated the mantra, “take the season one game at a time” over and over again. But this year the SMU Mustangs’ season could come down to one game.
It can be circled on the calendar for many different reasons; it is SMU’s homecoming game, it is against a divisional opponent, it is against a Top 25 team. However, the main reason it should be circled is because it is the game standing between the Mustangs and possibly hosting the Conference USA championship game.
The only other C-USA challenge the Mustangs will face is the season finale at East Carolina. But if the Mustangs run the table in the conference, including the win against Houston, that game will probably be for home field advantage in the championship.
SMU has already defeated UAB, and other conference opponents such as Rice, Tulane, and Marshall shouldn’t be much of a challenge for SMU this season. Other divisional opponents; UTEP and Tulsa could be a bit of a challenge, but should the Mustangs win they would be on their way to competing for the conference title just two years after back-to-back seasons of no conference wins.
There have been plenty of struggles for SMU football becoming relevant again after the Death Penalty in 1987. They went winless in 2003, and after things were looking up during a 6-6 2006 season they finished 1-11 in each of the following seasons. Then it happened, it all came together in 2009.
The Mustangs went 6-2 in C-USA and finished second, to Houston, in the West division. The other loss was to Marshall, in West Virginia and the Mustangs lost by just three points. This season SMU will play the same 8 conference opponents, switching away games for home and vice versa.
Last season the Mustangs were kings of winning the close games. The six conference wins were won by an average of 5.8 points a game. This season, with a 21-point win against UAB, and being 23-point favorites to defeat Washington State this weekend the Mustangs are looking raise their margin of victory this year.
When the Mustangs face Houston they will already have one test out of the way, Tulsa, and will be three games into conference play. Yes, it is only two weeks into the season and one game into conference play, but this team has the potential to play for the conference title. The defense will have to play a little better, and the offense, especially quarterback Kyle Padron, needs to get in a rhythm, but with the early season games out of the way the Mustangs should be ready against the Cougars.
The thing the Mustangs will have to do to beat Houston, is keep Case Keenum under wraps. Keenum has thrown for over 5,000 yards in each of the past two seasons with 5,671 last year. We haven’t gotten a good look at Keenum yet this season. He played just one half in Houston’s stomping of Texas State, and left in the third quarter against UTEP with an apparent concussion. His status for this week’s game against UCLA is unknown, and one would imagine that by October the concussion in week two wouldn’t even be an issue, but it is possible that it could have a lasting effect on the Heisman Trophy candidate’s season.
So while the Mustangs will look to take it one game at a time this season, there is one game that should be circled on fans’ calendars; Oct. 23 at Ford Stadium, SMU v. Houston.