National Treasure: SMU's Forgotten, Yet Glorious Football History

Pete Dymeck@PeteDymeckAnalyst IAugust 13, 2008

Courtesy of Pro Draft Guide

The year is 1987, and the SMU Mustangs are just five years removed from being recognized as back-to-back Division I National Champions in 1981 & 1982.  They are on trial by the NCAA and are awaiting the "Death Penalty."

Old Sparky

The Death Penalty refers to the NCAA's ability to terminate a school or university's sports program for any length of time for a repeat major violation.  The Death Penalty has only been handed down three times in collegiate sports history, with the most recent being dealt to the Southern Methodist University football program in 1987.

In 1985, the SMU Mustangs were placed on three-year probation for recruiting violations.  Previously, the 'Stangs program had been on probation a record seven times.

In 1986, reports surfaced that SMU players were still being paid by boosters.  That resulted in an investigation by the NCAA, and the result was the Death Penalty, which killed this one-time powerhouse football program.

The fallout from the Death Penalty sent shock waves not just through SMU, but their football conference as well (the Southwest Conference), which collapsed in 1996.

SMU did not field a football team until 1989.  Since their reinstatement that year, they have had only one winning season.  During that span, the Mustangs have also beaten just two ranked opponents as well.

Golden Years

Southern Methodist University won their first national title in 1935 with a 12-1 record.  They scored an eye-popping 288 points while only giving up 39 points.  In the regular season, they shut out eight of their 12 opponents, including powerful conference foes Texas and Texas A&M.

The history at SMU is rich.  They can proudly boast about the greatest quarterback in school history, Don Meredith.  Meredith was an All-American in 1958 and 1959 and would eventually get drafted in the third round of the 1960 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears.  Subsequently, the Bears traded Meredith to the Dallas Cowboys for several future draft picks.

Don Meredith may never have led the Dallas Cowboys to a Super Bowl victory, but he did make the Pro Bowl three times and was named the 1966 NFL Player of the Year.  He is famous for leading the Cowboys against the Packers in the famous "Ice Bowl" game of 1967.

If you have ever heard of the Doak Walker Award, raise your hand.  Annually, this award goes to the best college running back in the nation.  Eddie George, Ricky Williams, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Darren McFadden have all won the Doak Walker Award.

You may now ask yourself, who is Doak Walker?  He is a Pro Football Hall of Famer and former SMU Mustang running back (pictured above).  He won the 1948 Heisman Trophy Award and was named an All-American.

Walker's influence surpassed SMU and encompassed the Dallas area, as the infamous Cotton Bowl has been dubbed as "The House That Doak Built."  Doak Walker was named the fourth-best college football player in history according to ESPN.

Possibly the most well-known SMU alum is also known as one of the best NFL players to ever carry the pigskin: running back Eric Dickerson.  Dickerson was a smooth runner and comparisons to him have been made while watching film on Reggie Bush, LaDainian Tomlinson, Bo Jackson, and O.J. Simpson.

Dickerson was the ball carrier that broke Earl Campbell's Southwest Conference record for rushing yards and attempts.  He was a two-time All-American and finished third in voting for the Heisman Trophy his senior season.

Full Tilt

In 1981, SMU finished the season ranked number one by the National Championship Foundation.  In 1982, SMU was recognized as the number one team at the end of the season by the Helms Athletic Foundation.  The aforementioned statements are the reasons why SMU has been recognized as the national champions three times throughout history, despite the controversy in 1982.

The controversy in 1982 involved the Penn State Nittany Lions.  SMU finished the year as the only undefeated team in the nation.  They even beat the Pittsburgh Panthers 7-3 on New Year's Day in the Cotton Bowl.  They were denied a shot in the national championship since they tied Texas Christian in the final game of the regular season.  Still, the Mustangs remained the lone undefeated team in all of America.

In the Associated Press poll, Penn State were named as national champions, while SMU were ranked second behind them, even with a better record.  At the time, current ESPN analyst Craig James was a running back for the 'Stangs, and the Penn State-AP Poll controversy still boils his blood.

From 1980-1985, SMU had the winningest program in Division I history with a 55-14-1 record.

Like we stated earlier, SMU has been recognized by a major media outlet or foundation as national champion three times through their storied history.  We must inform you, though, that six schools were recognized as national champions in 1981.

The "official" champ on record is Clemson University, but in that year, Nebraska, Penn State, Pittsburgh, SMU, and Texas were all recognized by the cluster of media sources proclaiming national champions at the time.

The Future

What does the future hold for this storied university?  The average Joe probably never would have guessed that SMU's history would be so glamorous.

On Jan. 7, 2008, SMU announced the hiring of new head coach June Jones, who has a career record of 76-41.  Jones is the reason why Hawaii made a trip to the Sugar Bowl and Bowl Championship Series in 2007.

Can he bring glory back to the state of Texas for all Mustang fans?  With the talent around him, we could see some of those old, dusty SMU records broken.

SMU has one of the nation's most prolific passers in junior quarterback Justin Willis.  Many expect him to put up Colt Brennan-like numbers now that he is entrenched in June Jones' offense.  Willis will have a great wide receiver to throw to as well—Emmanuel Sanders.  Sanders, a junior, caught 74 receptions for 889 yards and nine scores last year.

The largest task for SMU will be rebuilding their defense.

Although success may not happen in 2008, the future is bright for the Southern Methodist Mustangs—and future years could look like the early '80s all over again.


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