DISASTER IN FRISCO

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – The SMU football team laid a rotten egg in the team’s first bowl appearance in five years.  The Mustangs turned the ball over six times, including two “pick sixes”, to hand the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs a 51-10 dominating victory in the first DXL Frisco Bowl.  Both teams finished the year with 7-6 records.

The Mustangs came in as four point favorites on the betting line looking to cap off the 2017 season with an eighth win.  It was new head coach Sonny Dykes’ first game, and the team wanted to make him a winner as well as send out the seniors with a win to capture momentum for next season.  On the field though, the dream didn’t come true.

Louisiana Tech quarterback J’mar Smith completed 15 of 23 passes, including three for touchdowns, for 216 yards to spearhead the Bulldogs’ offense.

The Mustangs turned the ball over five times in the first half, as Louisiana Tech took a 42-10 lead to the halftime locker room.  Tres Quinn scored the Mustangs’ lone touchdown.  SMU QB Ben Hicks completed 19 of 33 passes for just 127 yards.

In retrospect, the shellacking at the hands (paws?) of the Bulldogs was probably inevitable.  Once the regular season ended November 25, the speculation whirled that head coach Chad Morris would be offered a head coaching job from a school in one of the power five conferences.

It turned out to be Arkansas, and the uncertainty was far from over once Morris left.  Players are really closer to their position coaches, and Morris ended up taking almost the entire offensive assistants.  G. J. Kinne, a graduate assistant, was the Mustangs’ offensive coordinator for the bowl game.

The uncertainty is far from over for the players though.  Many of the assistant coaching positions are still to be filled.  Many are wondering not only who their new position coach will be and how they will fit in a new offense and most probably a new defense too.  There is no chance that defensive coordinator Van Malone returns in that position.

The day of the bowl game was not a total loss for the program.  The signing date for football players was moved up to December 20.  The Mustangs had accumulated 19 verbal committments before Morris left for Arkansas.  Three de-committed immediately when he took the new job.

It was thought to be a reasonable recruiting class, though 247 Sports projected it to be ranked in the 70′s.  The question was thought to be whether Dykes could keep it together as many of the other 16 verbal commits were taking a wait and see attitude.

Instead, Dykes pulled a big rabbit out of the hat on signing day.  Levon Livingston, a 6′-7″, 275 pound offensive lineman, surprisingly signed with the Mustangs.  He was a highly regarded prospect with offers from schools such as Texas.  He undoubtedly will be the starting left tackle next season.  He’s the type of signing that can attract better recruits, a definite program changer.

Dykes ended up signing seven recruits over the 72 hour signing period that began December 20.  Two others – Nick Dennis, a 6′-4″ 315 offensive guard, and Trevor Denbow, a 6′-1″ 220 pound linebacker, also signed out of Navarro Junior College.

With the early signing period now closed, Dykes’ number one priority is filling out his coaching staff.  In his introductory press conference, he stated that defensive coordinator would be a high priority.  “For us to win a conference championship, and that’s our intent, we’ve got to become a great defensive football team.”

He has about seven weeks to fill out his recruiting class.  It’s inevitable that some players currently in the program will transfer.  The players will begin learning Dykes’ “Air Brigade” offense, which isn’t drastically different from what Mustang fans saw with Chad Morris as head coach.

There is much to do to prepare the team for an even better record in 2018; but for sure, Dykes takes over far more talent than Morris did prior to the 2015 season.  Mustang fans should have every expectation of the program continuing to improve, rather than take a step back initially.

NOTABLE:

*     Courtland Sutton made official what everyone assumed would happen.  He wrote a “good-bye” letter to SMU two days after the bowl game declaring for the NFL draft instead of returning for his final year of eligibility.  Sutton graduated after the fall semester with a degree in sports management.  “The relationships I have built, and the experiences I have had are absolutely priceless,” Sutton said in the letter.

*     John Stephen Jones, the grandson of Dallas Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones, quarterbacked the Highland Park Scots to the school’s second consecutive state football championship last Friday.  Jones has received sholarship offers from both Arkansas and SMU.

END OF AN ERA

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – The Chad Morris era as SMU’s head football coach came to an end last week when Morris accepted the position of head football coach at the University of Arkansas.  Morris just completed his third season on the Hilltop after four years as offensive coordinator at Clemson.  He has a 14-22 record overall as the team has shown improvement over the previous season in all three years.  This year’s team finished the regular season at 7-5 and will play Louisiana Tech in the DXL Frisco Bowl on December 20.

This week SMU moved quickly to hire Daniel “Sonny” Dykes To repl Morris.  Dykes, the son of former Texas Tech head coach Spike Dykes, has been the head football coach at California and Louisiana Tech for seven seasons combined.  He took over a 3-8 team at Louisiana Tech and was 22-15 in his three years there including a WAC championship.  He then went to the Cal Bears, where his record was19-30.  He was fired after the 2016 season largely because of his pursuit of other head coaching jobs such as Baylor and Virginia.  This past season, he was on Gary Patterson’s TCU staff.

Jeff Traylor, the assistant Head Coach and Running backs coach was immediately named interim head coach when Morris departed.  Traylor is thought to be the other candidate for the job that was seriously considered.  His background was similar to Morris’s with 13 seasons as the head coach at Gilmer high school in East Texas.  He moved into college coaching three years ago as an assistant for Charley Strong at Texas.  This season was his first year at SMU.

Traylor has a very likeable personaltiy, but his college coaching experience was limited  to just three seasons and did not include being a coordinator.  SMU Athletic Director Rick Hart apparently chose Dykes’ experience in the college ranks over the promising Traylor.  Traylor was scheduled to coach the Mustangs in the Frisco Bowl next week, but when he was passed over for the head coaching job, he bolted to join Morris in Fayetteville.  Dykes will now coach SMU in the bowl game.

It was important for SMU to move quickly to replace Morris, and they did.  The signing date for football recruits was moved up to December 20 this year from the traditional first Wednesday in February.  SMU had nineteen verbal committments.  A handful renewed their commitment to make good on their intentions to sign with SMU even with Morris moving on.  Three de-committed last weekend.

Dykes’ task is to retain as many of the verbal commits as possible, and assembling a coaching staff quickly will assist greatly.  Players really have more kinship with their position coach than to the head coach.  Hopefully for Mustang fans, Dykes will be able to salvage this year’s recruiting class.

“We are going to hit the road recruiting,” Dykes said Tuesday when introduced at a press conference, “probably in the next couple minutes.”  Dykes, like Morris, is known for his strong ties with high school football coaches in Texas.

Morris has proven to be an energetic recruiter since his arrival at SMU.  He certainly has a great offensive mind, as this year’s team finished 13th in the nation in average yards of total offense per game, and the team scored 41 points per game.  Receivers Trey Quinn and Courtland Sutton have already been named to All-American teams.  Both likely will leave the program early for the NFL draft next spring. It’s been an exciting offense to watch.

For sure Morris leaves the program in much better shape than when he arrived before the 2015 season.  Dykes definitely inherits far better talent than Morris did.  Dykes is known as a high powered offensive coach, so the exciting scoring machine that Mustangs have come to expect should continue.  The task for Dykes, if he is to advance the program, is to develop a better defensive unit.

The Morris era ended last week, but Mustangs have every reason to believe the program will continue to improve with the start of the Dykes era.

NOTABLE:

*     SMU will start construction of an indoor practice facility in 2018.  SMU President R. Gerald Turner said during the Dykes introductory press conference that 80% of the funds required to construct the facility had been raised, which is the threshhold to start construction.  The ground breaking is expected sometime in March.

 

 

 

IMPRESSIONS OF BASKETBALL

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – The SMU Men’s basketall team blew out UT-Rio Grande Valley to finish November with a 6-2 record.  The Mustangs were a perfect 5-0 at Moody Coliseum, extending their home winning streak to 27 games.  They went 1-2 in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament in the Bahamas.

In home games, there was never a question as to the outcome.  None of the opponents were capable of beating SMU.  The Mustangs margin of victory was more than 10 points in all five.

The three games in the Bahamas were close.  Oddly, the underdog on the betting line for all three games won.  The Mustangs beat then number two ranked Arizona by six points and lost by three to Northern Iowa and by two to Western Kentucky.

The Mustangs were disappointed they didn’t win a second game, but if they were to win only one, they picked the right one.  SMU has never beaten a team ranked number one, and has only once previously beaten a team ranked second in the nation.  They beat Louisville, led by All-Americans Butch Beard and Wes Unseld, in the 1967 NCAA Tournament back in the days of Denny Holman and Bob Begert.

It’s still amazing the Mustangs beat Arizona.  Coaches often point to shooting percentage as the determining stat.  The Mustangs shot 31.4%, while Arizona 46.8%.  SMU won despite the disparity in shooting percentage largely because of turnovers.  Arizona turned it over 20 times to only eight for SMU.  That led to the Mustangs taking 23 more shots (70-47).

Hats off to Head Coach Tim Jankovich.  Arizona is a really big team led by 7′-1″ Deandre Ayton, who could easily be the number one pick in next year’s NBA draft.  Jankovich countered Ayton by going with a smaller, quicker lineup for much of the second half that created the turnovers.

ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla tweeted after the game, “Hard to win 30 and be underrated, but @coachJankSMU lost 3 pros & has young team & beats Arizona.  Great coach.”

By the numbers, the Mustangs lead the American Athletic Conference and are fifth in the nation in scoring defense at 56.5 points allowed per game.  67 points are the most any opponent has managed to score.  The Mustangs also lead the conference in turnover margin at plus 4.2 per game.

Offensively, SMU averages 74.3 points per game and is averaging 17.5 assists per game.  Three Mustangs are scoring in double digits.  Shake Milton, the preseason pick for conference Player of the Year, leads the way with 18.3 points per game.  He has scored in the 20′s three times and is deadly at the free throw line, where he has hit 42 of 47 attempts.

Junior Jarrey Foster is next averaging 14.9 points.  Three times he has hit his career high of 19 points in a game.  Freshman Ethan Chargois is the third double digit scorer at 12.5 points per game.  He is the only Mustang, besides Milton, to crack the 20 point mark, which he has done twice.

The other two starters are averaging close to double digits.  Ben Emelogu is averaging 9.9 points per game with some strong three point shooting.  He is hitting 54.3% of his long rangers, which leads the conference.  Whitt is averaging 9.1 points per game after setting his career high against UT-RGV with 18 points.  Whitt also leads the conference with 5.4 assists per game.

The starting lineup that Jankovich envisioned before the season began included his three returning scolarship players from last year’s team – Milton, Foster and Emelogu.  Whitt sat out last year, per the transfer rules, but was able to practice with the team.  He was slotted for a fourth starting spot.  Akoy Agau, the 6′-9″ center that transferred from Georgetown, was plugged in to be the fifth.  That left a bench of four scholarship freshmen.  Chargois and Everett Ray are inside players, and William Douglas and Elijah Landrum are guards.

Unfortunately, Agau has suffered from an infection and has not been able to practice to any great extent.  He has made very brief appearances in the last three games, but is a long way from being healthy and in shape to play starter minutes.

Agau’s absence has opened the door for Chargois and Ray.  Chargois grabbed the bull by the horns, scoring 14 points with nine rebounds in the first game.  He continues to start and gets the lion’s share of the inside minutes, but both have shown tremendous poise and presence.  Jankovich says that Chargois grew late, so was a guard as a youngster and has guard skills.  He is especially proficient at shooting the three ball, which makes him a matchup nightmare for opponents

Emelogu talked about the dimension Chargois brings to the game, “He can shoot the ball.  He can score in bunches. After the Arizona game, we started calling him ‘microwave’.  He can heat up the game scoring the ball so much.  He brings a very tough matchup for opposing teams, because he can pop it for a three.”

The Agau injury may have been a blessing in disguise.

Douglas and Landrum seem to improve literally every game.  The big scores against lesser teams has made a good number of minutes available – quality minutes on the floor with the team’s leading players, not just throwaway minutes when the bench is cleared late in games.  Consequently, all four freshmen have their feet solidly on the ground.

Certainly, many fans thought after losing three NBA quality players from last year’s team that this edition of the Mustangs would take a step back from the last four years of winning at least 25 games.  Not so fast!  The four upper class veterans are playing to their expected level.  Agau will at some point be healthy enough to be a significent contributor.  The freshmen are solidly in the playing rotation.  Jahmal McMurray, another transfer who is a very good player, will be eligible to play later this month.  No decision has been finalized on McMurray as to whether he’ll play this season or red shirt to give him two more full years of eligibility, but as good as this team is shaping up to be, he likely plays.

A year ago, the Mustangs were 4-3 in November.  At that point, there were definitely thoughts among close followers of the team that the Mustangs would be fortunate to make the NIT.  Last year’s team was in many ways similar to this year’s team.  They were missing three All-Conference quality players, including one All-American – Nic Moore, Jordan Tolbert and Markus Kennedy.  Much of November was making the new players mesh.  We all know how last year worked out.  The Mustangs lost just two more games after that 4-3 start and set the school record for wins in a season.

That’s not to suggest that this team will do the same.  However, this team has more depth than last year’s.  It’s very talented.  Mustang fans should fully expect this year’s team to contend for the AAC championship and make the NCAA Tournament.

There is perhaps no more important stretch of the schedule than the next two games.  The Mustangs host Southern Cal Saturday, and travel to Ft. Worth to play TCU next Tuesday in their first pure road game of the season.  The Trojans are 14th in the AP and 18th in the Coaches poll, while TCU is 23rd in the AP.  It’s a great opportunity for these Mustangs to start December with wins that will make a difference when the NCAA selection committee finalizes the field next March.

There is for sure excitement for the USC game.  It’s the highlight of the non-conference Moody schedule.  The Trojans accounted for two of last year’s five losses including the one that eliminated them from the NCAA Tournament.

“They’re a very difficult team to prepare for,” Jankovich said.  “We’re almost a whole new team.  They’re their same whole same team.  It’s certainly not a rematch. They’re all back, and we’ve got three guys back.”

The Trojans return eight of their first nine players from last year.  It’s definitely a game the Mustangs badly want to avenge last year’s two losses.  Emelogu speaks for all the players when he said, “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t amped up more for this game than other games.”

As for the team itself after the first month of play, Jankovich added, “(I’m feeling) very good.  I’m really pleased.  I like our progress.  I think we’re much better today than we were a month ago.  Hopefully, a month from now we’ll be saying we’re a much better team a month from now.  I’ll be surprised if we don’t just keep walking up the stairs.”

Larry Brown built a culture with the SMU program based on playing tough defense, sharing and taking care of the ball.  He always said it would be nice to rebound too.  That mind-set has been passed down from players like Nic Moore to Milton and Foster, who have in turn passed it down to this year’s freshmen.  It’s a formula for not only a great season, but a great program year after year.

NOTABLE:

*     A survey of six Las Vegas betting lines Saturday morning have the Mustangs favored to beat USC by 2-1/2 to 4 points.

 

ON TO THE BOWL

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – The SMU Mustangs football team completed the regular season with a 41-38 win over Tulane last Saturday afternoon before a Ford Stadium crowd of 14,209.  The Mustangs’ offense was again steller hitting their average points per game.  The defense muddled through most of the game, but kept the Green Wave from scoring on their final two possessions to secure the win.

The game came down to the very last play.  SMU re-took the lead with a 50 yard touchdown drive that took five minutes off the clock.  The Green Wave got the ball back with 2:16 remaining, and quickly drove into the red zone.  A pass interfenrence call put Tulane on the SMU one yard line.  On third and one with nine seconds remaining, the Green Wave said “no” to a field goal that would tie the score and send the game to overtime and opted instead to go for the win.

Quarterback Jonathan Banks took the snap in the shotgun formation and ran around right end.  Junior linebacker Kyran Mitchell made the tackle for SMU very close to the goal line.  The controversial referee’s call spotted the ball just short of a touchdown, and the video review did not overturn the call.  That was the game as time expired on the play.

SMU finishes 7-5 for the regular season, including 6-1 at home and 4-4 in conference.  The Mustangs will learn next Sunday, December 3, which bowl they will be heading off to play.  Tulane finished at 5-7.  The stop at the goal line ended their season, unless they sneak in as a 5-7 team based on academics.

SMU quarterback Ben Hicks had another big day completing 24 of 33 passes for 375 yards and four touchdowns.  He now sits in a tie atop the SMU record book in touchdown passes completed with 51 in just two seasons.  The 32 he threw this year are the most thrown in a season by an SMU quarterback.  He threw for more than 3,000 yard this season and is third in SMU career passing yardage with 6,372 yards.

Courtland Sutton went over the 1,000 yard mark in receiving yardage by racking up 107 yards on six catches.  It was the 14th 100-yard game of his career.  Sutton is a junior eligibility-wise, but plans to make himself available for next spring’s NFL draft.  It is speculated that he will be a first round pick.

Trey Quinn caught six passes for 139 yards, as he too went over the 1,000 yard mark for the season.  He may well join Sutton in volunteering early for the NFL draft.

Xavier Jones rushed for 38 yards on nine carries to scootch over the 1,000 yard mark at 1,019.

So the bottom line for the SMU offense is a quarterback that threw for more than 3,000 yards, two receivers that caught passes for more than 1,000 yards each, and 1,000 yard rusher.  No wonder they averaged 40 points per game.

The coaching carousel as predicted was rapidly spinning after this weekend’s games.  In the “Power Five” conferences, coaches were axed at Texas A&M, Arkansas, Nebraska and Arizona State by Monday afternoon.  Gary Anderson resigned at Oregon State.  The vacancies at UCLA, Florida and Mississippi have been filled, though Dan Mullin opened up the Mississippi State job when he hopped to Florida. Tennessee thought they had a new coach - Greg Schiano, but alumni protests forced the administration to rescind their offer.

At this point, Chad Morris has not been seriously linked to any of the Power Five vacancies, though he is supposed to meet with Tennesse officials on Wednesday.

The two hot names among non-power five head coaches are Scott Frost at Central Florida and Mike Norvill at Memphis.  Frost is likely to get the Nebraska job, the school where he played in the 90′s.  Frost and Norvill face each other this Saturday in the American Athletic Conference championship game.

The Texas Tech job would have probably been the best fit for Morris with his Texas high school coaching ties for recruiting, but Tech is bringing Cliff Kingsbury back after the Red Raiders upset Texas this past weekend.

MEN’S SOCCER:  The SMU Men’s Soccer season came to an end Saturday evening in Cary, North Carolina.   The Mustangs were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament when they lost to North Carolina 2-0 to end their season at 17-3-1.

NOTABLE:

*     The Mustangs wore solid black uniforms against Tulane – black pants and jerseys with red numbers and red helmets for the first time.

 

TO COACH OR NOT TO COACH

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

The SMU football team lost to Memphis last Saturday 66-45.  The offense obviously showed up, but the defense simply could not come up with the stops needed to win.  Memphis scorched the Mustangs’ defense for the embarassing total of 664 total yards.  It was a balanced attack as they put up 333 rushing yards and 331 passing yards.

SMU scored the first 10 points, but Memphis answered with 24 points on their next four possessions, and the Mustangs never got closer than seven points over the balance of the game.  The loss was SMU’s third in a row and sank their season record to 6-5, and their conference record to 3-4, with a game remaining in the regular season.

This Saturday, the Mustangs host Tulane on Senior Day.  17 SMU seniors will be playing their final home game.  The Green Wave is 5-6, so needs the win to gain bowl eligibility.  They are fresh off a home win over Houston, so come into the game with momentum, as well as motivation.

SMU wants to end their three game losing streak and take some momentum to their bowl game.  Certainly, all three games on the current losing streak were against good teams.  Two were ranked and the other was ranked earlier in the season.  Two were on the road.

For sure this season represents progress for the program even with the current losing streak.  They are bowl eligible for the first time since 2012, and wins in Saturday’s game and the bowl game would make the final record 8-5, which is a quantum leap forward from last season’s 5-6.  The Mustangs still have much to play for.

The coaching carousel is going to spin at warp speed after Saturday’s games.  There are already a number of vacant head coaching positions in power five conferences including Florida, Tennessee, Ole Miss, and U.C.L.A.  More are rumored to become vacant soon, like Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Arkansas.  Also, the football recruiting signing date has moved up to December 20 from the first Wednesday in February.  Schools will want to get a coach in place quickly after this weekend’s games so that the new coach can have impact on this year’s recruiting class.

Chad Morris has been mentioned as a candidate for almost every position that has already become vacant.  He has done nothing to discourage the speculation, and even some players have mentioned that it has become a distraction to the team.  Morris, who was plucked from Clemson where he was offensive coordinator, has a keen game offensive mind.  This year’s team is averaging 40 points per game.  Certainly, he has the program moving in the right direction.

SMU has stretched to keep Morris in the fold.  Morris’s salary exceeds $2 million annually, making him the highest paid head coach in any conference besides the power five.  He also makes more than many coaches in power five conferences.   He is afforded a handsome lifestyle with a Highland Park residence.

Morris definitely pursed the Baylor job when it was available last year.  In so doing, he alienated some SMU supporters.  Baylor has significant problems from the previous regime that are still to be addressed.  If he was that adamant about taking the Baylor job with all the problems they are facing, he surely will want to jump this year if an opportunity presents itself.

Mustang fans should know quickly with the expected flurry of activity next week.  If Morris does leave, it’s assumed he will depart immediately for his new job and not coach SMU in their bowl game.  It’s entirely possible that this Saturday’s game against Tulane will be his last as head coach of SMU.

As for a replacement, early speculation has SMU looking within.  Offensive coordinator Joe Craddock is a candidate, but he came with Morris from Clemson and may well join him if he leaves.  Jeff Traylor, the running backs coach, is the other name mentioned among the current staff.  Stay tuned.

MEN’S SOCCER:  The NCAA did not do the Mustangs any favors in seeding the tournament.  48 teams are selected.  16 get first round byes, while the other 32 play each other with the 16 winners facing a team that had a bye.  The Mustangs were ranked 10th in the nation at season’s end, so expected to be one of the 16 teams receiving first round byes.  They weren’t.

They played a first round game last week beating Central Arkansas to advance.  The win earned them a trip to Georgetown, the 14 seed.  They beat the Hoyas 2-1 last Sunday afternoon in double overtime to advance to the third round.  They will face three seed North Carolina on Saturday at 6:00 PM (Eastern) in Cary, North Carolina.

The Mustangs’ record is 17-2-1.  That’s the most wins for the program since 2006.

 

HEARTBREAK IN ANNAPOLIS

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

The Navy Midshipmen kicked a field goal as time ran out Saturday to beat SMU 43-40.  SMU played their worst half of football in the first half to fall behind 34-11; but they stormed back into the game with three third quarter touchdowns to get within eight points at 40-32.  They finally tied the game with 3:32 left in regulation and appeared headed for overtime, before Navy drove 78 yards to the SMU one yard line to set up the game winning kick.

Both teams are 3-3 in conference play.  The third conference loss eliminates the Mustangs’ chances of winning the West Division and advancing the the Conference Championship game.  SMU fell to 6-4 for the season, while Navy gained bowl eligibility with their sixth win overall against three losses.

The Ponies simply could not stop Navy’s running game.  The Midshipmen tallied 559 yards of total offense, all of which was rushing yardage.  They threw just one pass which was intercepted.  Navy averaged 7.8 yards per carry.  With all the running plays, Navy dominated the time of possession 38:23 to 21:37.

Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry did the lion’s share of the damage.  He ran the ball 33 times for 286 net yards and scored four touchdownS.  Running back Anthony Gargiulo also set a career high of 145 rushing yards on 15 carries.

Navy scored two touchdowns in the first quarter and three more in the second.  SMU answered with one touchdown, after which the extra point was missed, one field goal, and a run back of a blocked extra point attempt by Navy that put two points on the board.  The Mustangs’ effort was lackluster at best, and Head Coach Chad Morris was reportedly furious with his team and let them know at halftime.

SMU took the second half kickoff and drove 77 yards in nine plays for a touchdown.  It took just six plays to drive 70 yards for a touchdown on their second possession of the quarter.  Navy answered with a 60 yard TD drive, but SMU finished off the quarter with another touchdown on their last possession of the quarter.  It was game on at 40-32 heading to the fourth quarter.

SMU finally tied the game with 3:32 left.  Courtland Sutton scored the touchdown on a 29 yard pass, and Trey Quinn caught the pass for the two-point conversion.

Offensively, the Mustangs rushed for 165 net yards with Xavier Jones leading the way with 106 yards.  Jones scored the Mustangs’ only rushing touchdown of the day.  Ben Hicks completed 16 of 29 passes (55%) for 361 yards.  Courtland Sutton led the receiving corps with seven catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns.  Trey Quinn and James Proche also caught touchdown passes.

The Mustangs’ schedule only gets tougher next week.  They travel to Memphis for an 11:00 AM (Central) kickoff against the Tigers, who are ranked 18th and 17th in the two major polls this week.  ESPN News will televise the game.

NOTABLE:

*     Sad to report the passing of Coach George McMillion last Tuesday from natural causes.  Coach Mac won seven individual championships and two Southwest Conference Swimming Championships (1953 & 1954) as a student-athlete at SMU.  He was Red Barr’s assistant swimmiing coach for 14 years and took over SMU’s program when Barr retired.  SMU swim teams finished in the top 10 in the nation in 14 of the 17 seasons he was head coach.  He was inducted into the Southwest Conference Hall of Fame in 2014.  SMU’s new natatorium is named in remembrance of him – the Barr-McMillion Natatorium.

*     Offensive Records:  Ben Hicks now ranks second in SMU history with 43 touchdown passes.  His 5,779 career pasing yards rank sixth, and 452 completions are fifth.  Courtland Sutton passed the 3,000 yard mark in receiving yardage with 3,010, which is third in SMU history.  He has at least one reception in 34 consecutive games.

*     The SMU Men’s basketball team opened the season 2-0 this weekend with wins over the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Louisiana – Monroe.  Junior Shake Milton scored 52 points and was named American Athletic Conference Player of the Week.  Freshman Ethan Chargois scored 38 points and grabbed 17 rebounds and was named AAC Rookie of the Week.

*.    The SMU Men’s soccer team beat Central Florida Sunday 2-1 in overtime to win the AAC post-season conference tournament and secure an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

*     The SMU Equestrian team is up to fourth in the nation with a perfect 5-0 record after winning the Crown Materson’s Farm Invitational Championship.

CLOSE; BUT NO CIGAR

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – SMU had the opportunity to take a giant step forward with their football program Saturday night when they faced the ranked Central Florida Knights.  The Mustangs played a competitive game.  Both teams had opportunities and both teams made mistakes.  In the end though, UCF prevailed 31-24.

The Knights stay undefeated at 8-0 for the season and 5-0 in conference play.  They lead 4-1 South Florida in the East Division.  SMU dropped to 6-3 overall after suffering their first home loss of the year.  Their conference record is 3-2, and they trail first place Memphis in the West Division by 1-1/2 games (one in the loss column).

SMU struck first with a spectacular 86 yard touchdown pass to James Proche.  Proche is a very talented receiver that has been somewhat lost in the hype over Courtland Sutton and Trey Quinn.  On this night though, Proche had one of the best days in his career as he caught seven passes for 173 yards, his career high.  It was the second consecutive game in which he has gone over the 100 yard mark in receiving.

UCF came back late in the first quarter with a six play, 95 yard drive to tie the game.  The tie didn’t last long as Gabriel Davis caught an 80 yard touchdown pass early in the second quarter to put the Knights ahead 14-7.  Jordan Wyatt cashed in an interception for a touchdown at the 7:19 mark to tie the game.  However, UCF took a 21-14 lead to the halftime locker room by completing an 85 yard drive.

In the second half, SMU cut the lead to four points with a 16 play drive that disappointingly ended with a field goal instead of a touchdown.  The Knights answered quickly with a two play, 75 yard touchdown drive that took just 1:11 off the clock.  UCF led at that point 28-17, their largest lead of the game.  The Mustangs closed out the third quarter with an 11 play 93 yard touchdown drive that again cut the lead to four points at 28-24.

The Knights shut out the Mustangs in the fourth quarter and added a field goal for the final 31-24 score.

The Mustangs played a very good game.  Considering the quality of the competition, it may be their best game of the year.  The team knew what was on the line, and Head Coach Chad Morris told Dallas Morning News beat writer Adam Grosbard after the game, ‘There’s a locker room full of hurt kids right now.”

SMU quarterback Ben Hicks completed 27 of 51 passes (52.9%) for 283 yards and one touchdown.  The Mustangs rushed for 206 yards led by Xavier Jones with 84.  Braedon West chipped in with 55 more, and the duo was joined by Hicks, who also rushed for 55 yards, his career high.

Trey Quinn caught 11 more passes, but they accounted for just 47 yards.  He’s now averaging 10 catches per game, which leads the nation.  Courtland Sutton caught five balls for 46 yards as the Mustangs racked up 283 net passing yards on the night.

As for the standings, SMU needs to win their final three games to win the West.  The opponents are 3-3 Navy, 5-1 Memphis, both of which are road games, and 1-4 Tulane at home.  If they manage to win all three, they will win the West either in a two way tie with Memphis or a three way tie with Memphis and Houston.

In the East Division, Central Florida and South Florida face each other on Novermber 24 with the likelihood that the winner goes to the championship game.  Central Florida is ranked 14th and South Florida is ranked 22nd in this week’s AP poll.

SMU travels to Annapolis, Maryland this Saturday to play Navy.  Game time is 3:30 PM (Eastern)/2:30 PM (Central), and the game will be televised on the CBS Sports Network.  Navy is reeling as they have lost three straight games to fall to 5-3 for the season and 3-3 in conference play.  The Midshipmen were ranked in the Top 25 prior to the losing streak.

Navy presents tremendous problems for the Mustangs.  They rely almost entirely on the run, and the Mustangs have not defended the running game well.  Central Florida ran for 203 yards Saturday, the third consecutive game that SMU’s opponent rushed for more than 200 yards.  Quite frankly, the tackling has been poor.  Navy has been installed as a 4.5 point favorite.  This is the last home game of the season for Navy, and it is their ”Senior Night”.

NOTABLE:

*     The Mustangs allowed Central Florida to gain an average of nine yards on first down, but the Knights converted just four of 15 third down plays (26.7%) into first downs.  SMU drew just four penalties in the game, down from seven and 11 in the previous two games.

*     Despite the loss, the Dallas Morning News moved SMU up to fifth in their tanking of the 12 Division I (FBS) Texas teams.

*     SMU ranks fifth in the nation in turnover margin with a plus 12.

*     The SMU basketball teams open play this Friday at Moody Coliseum.  The Women’s team plays Nichols State at 11:30 AM, while the men face the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) at 7:00 PM.  The Men’s team won both its closed scrimmages 71-68 over Texas and 80-65 at Colorado.

*     The SMU Men’s Soccer team clinched the conference championship over the weekend with a 1-0 win over Connecticut.  They are ranked 12th in the nation and will host the conference tournament next week.

WINNING UGLY

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – The SMU Mustangs played a poor game Friday night, but managed to pull out a 38-34 win over the Tulsa Golden Hurricane.  The Hurricane seemingly ran at will against the Ponies’ defense, hit some long passes, and led for most of the game.  Despite too many penalties, many senseless, and poor tackling; SMU came back for the win that made them bowl eligible for the first time since 2012.  The Mustangs are 6-2 on the season, and 3-1 in conference play with two-thirds of the season in the books.  Tulsa fell to 2-7 and 1-4.

Tulsa needed just 38 seconds to drive 42 yards for a touchdown in three plays on their first possession that gave then a 7-0 lead.  SMU answered with nine play drive to tie the game on a Tres Quinn touchdown pass..  The Hurricane answered with a second touchdown drive, going 77 yards in nine plays to end the first quarter with a 14-7 lead.

The Oklahomans struck first in the second quarter with another nine play touchdown drive that covered 76 yards.  That pushed their lead to 21-7.  The Mustangs then answered quickly.  Braedon West broke for a 75 yard touchdown run on the first play after the kickoff to cut the lead to 21-14.  It was the longest run in the last 15 years.  (Kris Briggs ran for 96 yards against Tulsa in 2002.)

The offensive game continued as both teams added a second touchdown in the quarter for 28-21 Tulsa lead at halftime.  Tulsa again put on a sustained 90 yard drive in eight plays, while SMU covered 94 yards in just three plays with Tres Quinn again scoring the touchdown on a 23 yard pass.

Mustang Head Football Coach Chad Morris told Dallas Morning News beat writer Adam Grosbard that the team was pushing too hard in the first half.  “They just wanted it so bad,” he said.

The second half was a more defensive game.  SMU stepped up to hold Tulsa to just a pair of third quarter field goals.  Ke’mon Freeman ran the last two yards to complete a 61 yard, seven play touchdown drive that brought the Mustangs to within six at 34-28 after three quarters.

With about 13-1/2 minutes left in the game, SMU scored a TD that coupled with the extra point gave the Mustangs their first lead of the game at 35-34.  Four minutes later, the Ponies added a field goal and held off the Hurricane over the rest of the game to finish with the win.

It was another big day for the SMU offense.  They racked up 581 total yards (366 passing and 228 rushing).  Ben Hicks completed 19 of 32 (59%) for 338 yards and two touchdowns.  Braedon West led the Mustangs’ rushing attack with 89 yards on just two carries.  Xavier Jones added 77.

James Proche joined Courtland Sutton and Tres Quinn on the receiving end of Hicks’ passes.  Sutton led with 136 receiving yards on six catches.  Quinn led with eight catches for 101 yards, and Proche was the third 100 yard receiver with 123 on four catches.

This game was extremely important to the Mustangs.  The schedule turns decidedly tougher from here.  All of the next three opponents have been ranked in the Top 25 at some point this season, and two are currently ranked.  Two of the next three games are also on the road.  While the schedule is difficult, the opportunity is great.

SMU is tied with Memphis in the loss columnin the race for the West Division title.  SMU is 3-1, while the Tigers are 4-1.  Navy and Houston are close behind at 3-2.  Ths week’s opponent – Central Florida – leads the East Division at 4-0 and is 7-0 overall.  They have the inside tract on the East Division title as they have beaten 4-1 South Florida, to hold the tie breaker.  (The East is strictly a two team race as the other four teams have losing records, both in conference and for the season.)

Saturday’s game time was set Monday at 6:15 PM (Central), and the game will be televised on ESPN2.  The Knights are ranked 14th and 15th this week in the two major polls, and are favored by 13.5 points on the early betting line.  They have the number one offense in college football.

“It’s going to be a great challenge for our team, and a gauge of our program,” Morris said on his weekly radio program on KAAM 570 AM Monday night.

The Ponies won’t be favored on the betting line in the next three games, but with their high powered offense, SMU could easily pull off an upset or two.  There’s for sure a lot of momentum with a 6-2 record.

NOTABLE:

*     SMU is 6-2 for the first time since 1984, and is 5-0 at home for the first time since 1982.

*     SMU is ninth in the nation in scoring and ninth in the nation in total offense.

*     The SMU Men’s basketball team played a “secret” scrimmage against the University of Texas at Austin.  ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla tweeted that the Mustangs won 71-68.  He noted that “underated Jarrey Foster” had 23 points, nine rebounds and four assists.

SURVIVAL IN CINCINNATI

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

SMU survived a huge threat from the Cincinnati Bearcats Saturday afternoon to pull off a 31-28 overtime win.  Cincinnati set new highs for rushing yardage and total offense this season to constantly keep the Mustangs on their heels.  In the end, two sparkling plays in overtime turned the tide for an SMU victory.

SMU goes to 5-2 for the season with the win, tying their win total for the 2016 season.  They are 2-1 in conference play and trail 3-1 Memphis by one-half game in the West Division, as Navy and Houston lost this weekend.  The loss dropped Cincinnati to 2-6 for the season and 0-4 in conference play.

“We knew that this was going to be an absolute battle,” Mustang Head Coach said on the KTCK (1310 AM and 96.7 FM) post-game interview.  “You knew this was a team that was much better than their record indicated.”

Both teams scored on their first two possessions with Cincinnati driving for 75 yards after receiving the opening kickoff.  SMU answered with a TD on their first possession and then held Cincinnati to a field goal on their second drive to trail by just three points at 10-7.  The Mustangs again drove for a touchdown on their second possession to take a 14-10 lead.

However, Cincinnati came back with another touchdown on their third possession to take the lead at 17-14.  From there, the Mustangs closed out the first half with a touchdown, while Cincinnati added a field goal to close the gap to 21-20 at intermission.

After halftime, scoring became more difficult.  Neither team scored in the third quarter.  The Mustangs seemingly dominated the period, as their time of possession was more than 11 minutes, which held Cincinnati to one possession.  On their first possession of the fourth quarter, SMU finally drove for a touchdown to put some breathing room in their lead.  Courtland Sutton caught his second touchdown pass of the game for the score, and  the Mustangs led 28-20 with about nine minutes left in the game.

It wasn’t enough though.  Cincinnati put together the game tying drive as quarterback Hayden Moore hit Devin Gray for a touchdown and did so again for the two-point conversion.  Neither team threatened in the remaining 2:22 sending the game to overtime tied at 28 apiece.

Cincy won the toss and elected to play defense.  The start of overtime could not have gone worse for SMU as a fumble and sack moved them out of field goal range to the 41.  The Mustangs had no choice with fourth and 26 but to make a Hail Mary type pass for a first down.

Quarterback Ben Hicks was chased from the pocket and barely got a pass in the air as he neared the sideline.  Somehow, a well covered Trey Quinn made a miraculous catch at the 13 to make the first down by two yards.  It is the most remarkable play of the year, and ultimately may prove to be one of the all time great plays in SMU football history.

The Mustangs again stalled, but hit the field goal for the 31-28 lead.

Big play number two in overtime came from the defense.  The Bearcats faced third and four after starting on their own 25.  SMU loaded the defensive line and put pressure on quarterback Hayden Moore, who tried to flip a short pass before falling to the ground.  SMU defensive back Kyran Mitchell snatched it out of the air for an interception that ended the game.

It was another big day for reciver Trey Quinn.  He caught 17 more passes for 186 yards.  It was Quinn’s third straight game with at least 15 catches.  No one in the FBS has done that this century.  Quinn now leads the nation with 71 catches.  On Monday, he was named Offensive Player of the Week for the American Athletic Conference.

Courtland Sutton hauled in six passes for 81 yards and two touchdowns.

Ben Hicks had another sterling performance completing 26  of 37 passes (70.3%). for 295 yards two touchdowns.

The three pronged running attack also enjoyed a big day.  Xavier Jones led the way with 80 yards on 15 carries.  Braedon West chipped in with 47 yards on 11 carries, and Ke’mon Freeman also ran for 47 yards on 15 carries.

It was a sloppy game for the Mustangs.  The defense didn’t look good in the first half, and there were too many penalties.  In the end though, a win is a win is a win.  This win is a sign of the progress the program is making.  The Mustangs likely would not have won this game last year.

SMU is now just one win away from bowl eligibility.  It could happen this Friday night when the Mustangs return to Ford Stadium for an 8:00 PM (Central) kickoff against Tulane.  Eric Dickerson will be the honorary SMU captain for the game, which will be televised on ESPN2.  Tulsa comes into the game with a 2-6 record for the season, which includes 1-3 in conference play.  SMU is favored by 10 points on the early betting line.  SMU holds a 13-10 edge all time against Tulsa.  The Golden Hurricane beat SMU last year in Tulsa 43-40 in overtime.

NOTABLE:

*     SMU’s scoring average is 42 points per game, which ranks seventh in the nation,

*     Courtland Sutton is tied for second nationally with nine touchdown receptions.

*     The SMU Equestrian team beat Oklahoma State this past weekend.  The Cowboys were ranked fourth in the nation.

POLLS AND PONIES

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas - Last week was an unusual week in the polls in that no teams in the AP Top 25 faced each other.  That seems highly improbable at this time of the season with most teams enmeshed in conference play, and with the polls dominated by power five conference members.  Despite no head-to-head matchups among the top teams, seven of the Top 25 lost this weekend, including four in the Top 10.

The results in the American Athletic Conference, especially in the West Division, were highly improbable.  The AAC had three teams ranked last week.  The two Florida teams – Central and South, are the top two teams in the East Division.  Both won and are ranked 20th & 20th and 16th & 13th this week in the AP and Coaches’ Polls respectively.  They will fight it out for the East Division championship.

In the West Division, number 22 Navy lost to Memphis and dropped out of the Top 25.  Memphis at 5-1 overall and 2-1 in conference play is ranked 25th in the AP and received the second most votes among teams not ranked in the Coaches’ Poll.

Houston was thought to be a front runner in the West, but they also lost this weekend to Tulsa, 45-17.  The result, as well as the margin of Tulsa’s victory are equally shocking as the Golden Hurricane came in with a 1-5 record including 0-2 in conference play.

The bottom line for the Mustangs is that with both Navy and Houston getting tagged with losses this week, SMU is tied with Navy, Memphis and Houston with one conference loss.  If the Mustangs run the table over the second half of the season, they can do no worse than finish in a tie with Houston for the top spot in the West.

Certainly the Mustangs were disappointed last week when they lost to Houston.  Houston probably has more talent, but the Ponies had opportunities and didn’t capitalize.  A win over the Cougars would have thrust the Mustangs into the conversation as being one of the top teams in the West.  However, with this week’s results, the Mustangs again have the opportunity to get into the race for the conference championship game.

The Mustangs’ schedule is decidedly tougher over the second half of the season.  They face Memphis and Navy on the road.  Central Florida should still be ranked when they come to Dallas on November 4 for the SMU’s Homecoming.  The Ponies will likely be the underdog on the betting line on those three games.  However, they are favored by 8.5 points this weekend over Cincinnati on the road, and will likely be favored in the Tulsa and Tulane games scheduled for Ford Stadium.

Winning just the three games in which the Mustangs will be favored will produce a 7-5 season, two games better than last year and good enough to qualify for a bowl game.

There isn’t much margin for error for winning the West, but with the parity in the conference, a conference record of 6-2 might even be good enough to make the championship game.

This Saturday’s game against Cincinnati is scheduled for 4:00 Eastern/3:00 Central and will be televised on ESPNU.

MEN’S BASKETBALL:  The American Athletic Conference basketball media day was held Monday in Philadelphia.  The pre-season Player of the Year was announced - Shake Milton.  If he fulfills the prophecy and is the actual Player of the Year at season’s end, it will mark the fourth consecutive year that a Mustang has garnered the award.  Semi Ojeleye was the conference Player of the Year in 2015-16, while Nic Moore won the award in both 2013-14 and 2014-15.

Milton was in Philadelphia and said about the experience of playing for SMU at Moody Coliseum, “It’s phenomenal really.  The fans, they get so hyped for us.  And we just appreciate it.  The whole city of Dallas surrounds us and gives us support.  We’re thankful every time we step on the court.  We know we’re playing in front of a packed house.”

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced the Cousy Award watch list on Monday.   The award is given to the outstanding point guard in Division I.  Shake Milton is one of 20 players on the initial watch list.  Two other guards from the American Athletic Conference are included - Connecitcut’s Jalen Adams and Wichita State’s Landry Shamet.  The list gets pared down to 10 in February.  In March, five finalists will be presented to the selection committee, and the award will be presented at ESPN’s College Basketball Awards Show in Los Angeles on Friday, April 6.

Cincinnati was selected in a close vote over new comer Wichita State to win the conference.  The Bearcats garnered seven votes to five for Wichita State.  Central Florida was picked third and SMU was picked fourth.  They were followed by Connecticut, Houston, Temple, Tulsa, Memphis, Tulane, East Carolina and South Florida.

NOTABLE:

*     Receiver Trey Quinn has joined Courtland Sutton on the watch list for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the outstanding receiver in college football.  Quinn has caught a team leading 54 passes for 587 yards and five touchdowns in the first six games.

*     Quarterback Ben Hicks has been added to the watch list for the Manning Award, given to the nation’s top quarterback.  Hicks has completed 130 passes out of 222 attempts, good for 1,672 yards and 15 touchdowns.

*     The SMU Equestrian team has risen to number five in the nation.  They beat Baylor last Saturday to stay undefeated, and they play Oklahoma State this Saturday at the Dallas Equestrian Center.