The Mustangs are 2-0 to start Conference USA play, but they won’t get their real test until Saturday night at Ford Stadium against Tulsa.
SMU (3-2) beat UAB (5-7, 4-4 C-USA last year), and Rice (2-10, 2-6 C-USA last year). But this week they get a team that always competes for the West title.
Last season the Hurricane went just 5-7 and lost six in a row, but in 2008 they won C-USA West with an overall record of 10-2 including a win against SMU in Dallas. The Mustangs are 11-6 all time against Tulsa, but the series is split at 3-3 in the past six meetings.
SMU has not won a conference title since they shared the Southwest Conference Championship in 1984. Last season they tied with Houston for the best record in the West, but Houston defeated SMU and was the representative in the C-USA Championship game.
This year, with injuries to both of Houston’s quarterbacks (Case Keenum and backup Cotton Turner), the Mustangs are poised to compete for a conference title. But Houston will still be a force in the conference, and the Mustangs will want to win every C-USA game to make sure they aren’t left out of the conference picture again this year.
The Tulsa matchup begins a stretch of three games that will shape the rest of SMU’s season. The Mustangs have conference games against Tulsa and Houston at home, with a trip to Navy in between. The focus is definitely on winning a conference championship, and possibly going undefeated in C-USA play, but the game against Navy can show where SMU stands on a national level.
The Hurricane (3-2) are coming off their first conference win of the season, defeating Memphis 48-7 on the road last week. Tulsa is led by quarterback G.J. Kinne, who has thrown for 1,420 yards and 13 touchdowns already this season. Tulsa also provides a balanced running attack with five rushers over 100 yards, including Kinne. Leading the way is sophomore running back Alex Singleton with 215 yards and three touchdowns.
The Hurricane average 507.8 yards a game (eighth in the country), are 20th in passing yards, 21st in rushing yards, and 12th in points scored with almost 40 a game. Some of those numbers are slightly inflated as Tulsa racked up 539 yards against Central Arkansas and 447 yards against a weak Memphis team. But it does show that the Tulsa offense has the ability to make plays, gain yards, and put points on the board.
This is not a “must win” game for the Mustangs, but it could provide the confidence and momentum leading up to bigger games. SMU has to fine tune some issues if they want to win the West, and Tulsa is not a pushover.
SMU has converted only 29 percent of third down conversions this season. The Mustangs have also been outscored 28-14 in the first quarter. While they have only lost three of them, the team has fumbled the ball eight times already this season to go along with four interceptions. The offense doesn’t seem to click at times, and the defense seems to let up late with a lead. Those are things head coach June Jones is going to have to work on with his young Mustangs, but if he can, SMU will be a force to be reckoned with.