SMU has finally joined the Power Five party, but the Mustangs earned their promotion without yet leaving a championship footprint on their soon-former league, the American Athletic Conference.
It was announced last week that SMU, along with Pac-12 alums Stanford and California would be joining the Atlantic Coast Conference for the 2024-25 school year.
Unlike fellow recent Power Five newcomers from the AAC, SMU never won a league title. In fact, the Mustangs never even reached the championship game.
SMU joined the AAC in its first season in 2013. Two years later the AAC held its first championship game.
Since that first championship game in 2015, eight different teams have made an appearance in the title contest. This was led by the three former AAC teams now competing in their first season in the Big 12 – UCF, Houston, and Cincinnati.
Those three teams combined to make eight of the 16 championship game appearances and won five of the titles.
Houston was 1-1 in championship games, winning the inaugural one in 2015 and losing to Cincinnati in the 2021 title game. UCF was 2-1 in the championship, winning in 2017 and 2018 and losing in last year’s title game to Tulane. Cincinnati won consecutive titles in 2020 and 2021 after losing in the 2019 final.
Of the other AAC teams, Memphis is 1-2 in title games, Temple is 1-1 and Tulane, after last season’s 45-28 win over UCF, is 1-0.
Navy and Tulsa also made an appearance in the title game.
That’s not to say SMU hasn’t been competitive, just not championship caliber. The Mustangs entered this year with four consecutive winning seasons. Yet nobody could say that the Mustangs were picked to join the AAC due to their dominance in the AAC.
Still, it was seen by the ACC as a favorable program and during the winter, the Pac-12 reportedly showed interest in SMU coming aboard.
SMU is in the fifth largest television market (Dallas-Fort Worth) according to Neilsen. The top four are New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia.
Of course, if market size alone was the main factor, then Temple, located in Philadelphia, would have received more consideration.
It helps to be in a big market, but SMU also has strong deep-pocketed alumni.
Within the past year, SMU broke ground on a new $100 million drive for a 192,500 square-foot end zone complex at Gerald J. Ford Stadium. Leading that effort was a $50 million commitment from Gary Weber (Class of ’58) and the Gary Weber Foundation.
SMU has also embraced the NIL world, and that has led to recent success in recruiting high school and transfer portal players. This past year, SMU was ranked the No. 1 Group of Five school and 13th overall in transfer portal team rankings by 247sports.com.
While all the financial resources haven’t led to a championship, it has upgraded the talent level and could lead to a championship this year.
SMU was the pick to win the AAC in our HERO Sports preview even though defending champion Tulane is the choice by most, including the AAC preseason poll.
Clearly, SMU is on the upswing. The Mustangs opened with a 38-14 home win over Louisiana Tech, but this week the Mustangs head to the big leagues when they visit Oklahoma, which was 73 points better than Arkansas State last week.
It used to be a big deal when the Mustangs would play a quality Power Five school. Beginning next year, it will occur regularly. For now, SMU hopes to make the most of its final chance to win a title or at least head to the championship game in the AAC.