SMU defeated No. 13 Baylor on Oct. 11, 1986, to improve their record to 4-1 as they sought a rebound from the previous year's 6-5 mark, which followed three straight seasons with at least 10 wins. The win pushed SMU into a tie for 20th in the AP poll — which at the time was the final spot in the poll — and guaranteed an eighth straight season with an appearance in the AP poll.
A week later, the Mustangs beat Houston and climbed to No. 18 in the Week 7 AP rankings, though they dropped out a week later after a loss at Texas, their first of three consecutive losses. Thirty-three years later, SMU is still seeking a return to the AP poll. It's the fifth-longest active drought in the FBS.
On Feb. 25, 1987, following months of reports and investigations into, among other things, a slush fund used for illegal payments to student-athletes, the NCAA announced the cancellation of SMU's 1987 season. Two months later, the school canceled the 1988 season. In 1989 and the years that followed, SMU was never close to cracking the AP rankings. They won 59 games over the next 20 seasons, the lowest among full-time FBS programs over that time, and had a winning percentage of .268, also the lowest among FBS programs. They failed to win more than three games in 12 of those 20 seasons and didn't receive votes in the AP top 25 until Week 5 of the 2011 season.
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Success has ebbed and flowed since 2011. Currently, after wins over Arkansas State and North Texas for their first 2-0 start since 2009, it's flowing again. They host Texas State in Week 3 and visit TCU in Week 4 in search of their first 4-0 start since 1983.
"I think anytime you get off to a good start and you're having some success, it's encouraging and people get excited, but it's like anything else, you've got to keep moving forward," second-year SMU head coach Sonny Dykes said this week. "It's like I told our players the other day, we got to make sure we remember why we're 2-0 and against two pretty good opponents is because we've worried about the right things and we've paid attention to details and all the little things that allow you to be successful."
And while SMU is still miles away from their first AP appearance in 33 years, the Mustangs are at least within sniffing distance of a notable, if arbitrary, accomplishment.