The SMU Mustangs are rolling the dice on homecoming happiness in 2015 with Football Championship Subdivision opponent James Madison University.
Sometimes it is hard for a struggling team to pick out a suitable homecoming opponent. It would be nice if it was an attractive and winnable game. But, Southern Methodist University is coming off a brutal season in 2014 in which the Mustangs went 1-11. Additionally, June Jones resigned early in the season. SMU was a total disaster in the first half of last season, with the Mustangs being blow-out fodder for the likes of TCU, Baylor, and Texas A&M. In the second half of the season there were more blow-outs, but there were a couple of bright spots, too.
SMU played South Florida tough in Dallas, led the whole game, basically until the last play, and suffered a one point loss, 14-13. This is a typical way in which struggling teams lose because they have not yet gotten over the hump, and steep learning curve, of finding out how to win. A measure of redemption was finally achieved in the very last game of the year, a road game at Connecticut, where SMU won, 27-20. At least the season ended on a positive note.
The Mustangs looked overmatched even against teams like North Texas where they lost at the home of the Mean Green, 43-6. Games against Baylor, TCU, Texas A&M, and UCF were name the score type of affairs.
Enter a new head man with Texas ties, Chad Morris, fresh off offensive coordinator duties at Clemson which featured a high-speed spread. Morris wants to go hurry-up, no huddle, on offense at SMU. The Mustang’s defense last year was a sieve. Needless to say, Morris has his work cut out for him. The Ponies have been scheduling tough non-conference games against Power Five competition from the state of Texas. That continues with TCU and Baylor on the schedule again this year. You can’t schedule much tougher than that. Heck, that looks like a possible national semifinal or even final. The American Athletic Conference is quality football, too, in the Group of Five. There are not many easy wins in the AAC and there is former conference history between many of these teams to add to the mix.
That brings us to the James Madison game. SMU has picked this battle as the homecoming game on September 26th. Not only is it homecoming, but 2015 marks the 100 year anniversary of the founding of SMU on The Hilltop in Dallas. So it is a very special homecoming, indeed. Unfortunately, for little black pony mascot, Peruna, and all his big brothers and sisters, this Centennial Celebration game features many of the ingredients present in FCS upsets against Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Number one is a struggling team coming off a very rough season. Number two is a brand new coach which means brand new systems which means the personnel may not yet be a good fit. And, most importantly, number three, is a high-quality FCS team, a well-oiled football machine, that made the FCS playoffs last year out of the tough Colonial Athletic Association. Sure, the Dukes are from the next lower division, but these kind of games bite woebegone FBS outfits year after year. James Madison was 9-4 overall, and 6-2 in the conference, last year. Perhaps, the offensive transition for SMU, personnel-wise, will not be as problematic as some when there is a coaching change, considering Jones had been one of the pioneers of the spread offense movement with the run and shoot offense. But upgrades are needed on both sides of the ball and, really, the only way left is up. One thing SMU does have going for them in this game is that it is the fourth game of the season, so there is time to get it together. That is if they do not get beaten up too badly by their first three opponents, Baylor and North Texas, at home, and at TCU. That Texas trio combined to outscore SMU 144-6 last year. Whoa, Nellie! And, in the quest for the national title, TCU and Baylor could be thinking style points, too. Things could get ugly. Four of SMU’s first five games are at home in the friendly confines of Gerald J. Ford Stadium. But, again, with Baylor as a home opener, and TCU as a first road game, the scheduling gods have done SMU no favors. Nary a tune-up game in sight, there. Anyway, JMU will also have played three games before traveling to Big D, all at home. Additionally, the Dukes will have added incentive in the form of this being their big FBS game of the season. The Dukes feature All-American candidate Vad Lee at quarterback. The senior finished fourth in voting for the Walter Payton Award last season which honors the top offensive player in the FCS.
I am not saying James Madison will win this game, but it is very possible. If SMU wins, it will probably be a squeaker. This is a very dangerous game for the Mustangs. But a tight game could be a good thing, if only that it would be a good game for the homecoming and centennial festivities. A blow-out going the other way, though, would be a disaster for SMU.
The days of Doak Walker, Don Meredith, Jerry LeVias, and the Pony Express, to name but a few illustrious Mustangs of the past, might be a distant memory at the present. However, those 100 years have seen a ton of great football from the Mustangs of Mockingbird Lane. The great thing about football, and sports in general, is that every season brings new hope. A new hope that springs eternal like the green grasses of north Texas. I can just see Peruna now, nose held high in the air, catching the breeze. Yep, little fella, what you’re sniffing is change in the air and, hopefully for you, and all your Mustang buddies, that smell is mighty sweet.