There are a few interesting subplots going into Saturday’s unofficial alphabet bowl – TCU at SMU at Gerald Ford Stadium in Dallas.
This is a rivalry for Dallas-area supremacy with TCU headquartered in nearby Forth Worth. The campuses are 41 miles apart.
A big difference in their standing is that TCU is in the Big 12 and SMU would certainly want to be. If there is more conference realignment, SMU and Memphis are the two teams in the American Athletic Conference who likely would draw the most interest.
For this game, the No. 1 storyline is the return of Sonny Dykes, 41 miles from his previous stint at SMU. Dykes was the coach at SMU the previous four seasons, where the highlight of his tenure was a Boca Raton Bowl berth in 2019. That’s not exactly the type of highlight one would put on the top of a resume, but in Dykes’ defense, there was also some awfully bad luck.
In each of the previous two seasons, SMU earned bowl berths, only to have them canceled by COVID issues. Last year’s Fenway Bowl in Boston was canceled when Virginia had too many COVID cases on its roster. In 2020 SMU’s Frisco Bowl game with UTSA was also canceled due to COVID issues with the Mustangs.
Even, however, if those bowl games were played, Dykes wasn’t brought to SMU for postseason trips to places like Frisco, Texas or Boston.
SMU, not just in Dykes tenure but since it has been in the American Athletic Conference, has been a disappointment. Since the advent of the AAC championship game in 2015, nine teams played at least once in the AAC title game. SMU wasn’t one of those teams.
So Dykes didn’t exactly leave with a sterling list of accomplishments, but he is in the Big 12 and that is considered upward mobility.
Now Dykes has TCU at 2-0 heading into the game with the 2-1 Mustangs.
Yet, we really don’t know a lot about the Horned Frogs. TCU opened with a 38-13 win over a Colorado team that has been called “the worst P5 team in the country” by respected college football writer Stewart Mandel of The Athletic.
The next week, TCU beat FCS Tarleton, 59-17.
Then in a bit of odd scheduling, the Horned Frogs had their lone bye of the season after the second game.
Now it’s on to SMU (2-1), who is coming off a 34-27 loss at Maryland despite the fact that the winning Terrapins were called for 15 penalties.
(On a side note, one would have to say it was a pretty good weekend for the quarterbacking Tagovailoa brothers in the state of Maryland. The Terrapins’ Taulia Tagovailoa completed 17 of 23 for 214 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions while rushing for 51 yards against SMU. His brother Tua Tagovailoa completed 36 of 50 for 469 yards, six touchdowns, and two interceptions in the Miami Dolphins’ wild 42-38 comeback win at Baltimore).
This one is expected to be close, with SMU an early 1.5-point favorite according to BetMGM.
Again, it’s really difficult to tell much by statistics since both teams haven’t exactly played a killer schedule to date.
SMU opened with a 48-10 win at North Texas and followed that up with a 45-16 victory against FCS Lamar. So it’s tough to analyze the stats, but here is a bold statement – the difference will likely be turnovers.
(Bet you haven’t heard that one before).
Against Maryland, SMU committed three turnovers, two interceptions by Tanner Mordecai, and a fumble. Maryland had two turnovers, both fumbles. Mordecai has thrown 10 touchdown passes and three interceptions in the three games. SMU fans should hope that Mordecai can find Moochie Dixon in the end zone so they can see tweets like this.
On the other side, TCU quarterback Max Duggan has thrown five touchdown passes (all against Tarleton) and no interceptions.
What is known is that SMU would like to beat its former head coach – what team wouldn’t? So that could give the Mustangs an emotional edge. So should the fact that SMU would like to show others that it belongs in a P5 conference so the Mustangs should have the proverbial chip on their shoulder.
Playing at home and not having to travel 41 miles could be a factor, although we doubt it.
Either way, this should be a great game, for local bragging rights and everything else.
One other piece of motivation – TCU would like nothing better than to enjoy a win on its long bus ride home.