As it stands now, the SMU Mustangs could find themselves playing in a designated New Year’s Day bowl, which would be quite an achievement for a program that is the only one in the Division I ranks to have suffered the “death penalty.”
But it is true; SMU is undefeated, ranked 15th by the Associated Press and 14th by the coaches, and they could be on track for a berth in the Cotton Bowl, which has regained its prestige, goes to the top qualifier among the “Group of 5” conferences and, as an added bonus, is played right there in the team’s backyard at AT&T Stadium (rather than the Cotton Bowl Stadium – I hope you’re following).
But there’s a roadblock here, and it comes in the form of another nationally-ranked team that will be on the other sideline. The Memphis Tigers, who have lost only to Temple, are 24th in the AP poll and 23rd in the coaches’ poll and they will attempt to upset the Mustangs’ applecart at 7:30 PM ET on Saturday night at the Liberty Bowl Stadium (where we assume the Liberty Bowl is still being played).
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Here are the college football betting numbers right now:
Memphis Tigers -6
SMU Mustangs +6
Over 71.5 points -110
Under 71.5 points -110
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SMU did not have an easy time of it a week ago Thursday, just getting by Houston 34-31. Four of their wins came by seven points or less, which would give caution to laying points with them. But the underdog role is different. Memphis drained itself a little in a 42-41 win over Tulsa last week, winning only when the Golden Hurricane missed a 29-yard field goal. The Tigers allowed 584 yards and 33 first downs in the game.
Memphis has weaponry; there is very little doubt about that. Quarterback Brady White is fifth in the nation in passing efficiency. Redshirt freshman running back Kenny Gainwell already has 979 yards. The resume isn’t so bad; after all, there are victories over Navy, Tulane and Ole Miss. And they are a two-point loss to Temple away from being undefeated.
Coach Sonny Dykes has transformed Texas transfer Shane Buechele (63.2%, 20 TD’s) into a very dangerous quarterback. And he’s got one of the most dynamic receivers in the nation in Reggie Roberson, who is averaging 18.7 yards per catch. But the Mustangs may be without Roberson, as he is battling a foot injury (at last look he was a game-time decision).
It’s interesting, however, that even though Dykes comes from a background that is steeped in the Air Raid, it doesn’t resemble the Air Raid all that much in terms of its balance. One of Dykes’ mentors, Mike Leach, runs the ball just 23.7% of the time at Washington State, but SMU actually puts it on the ground at a 55% rate. And they have gotten huge results from Xavier Jones, who’s had 884 yards and 14 touchdowns. Dykes, who is in his second year at the school, gives a lot of credit in this regard to his offensive coordinator, Rhett Lashlee, who held the same position at Auburn, and was brought aboard specifically to get the run game moving.
It’s the balance that makes the Mustangs a different kind of challenge for Memphis and allows them to go forward even if they are without Roberson. And you’re not going to get a repeat from last season, where Memphis out-rushed SMU 208-25 on the way to a 28-18 victory that contributed to keeping the ‘Stangs out of a bowl game.
Memphis has had problems stopping people once they get into the red zone. And this is one of the things you have to think about. These are two offensive-oriented teams, but amid the defensive weaknesses, is there something one team does very well?
Yes. SMU has been able to get consistent pressure on the passer, and there is no reason to believe they are not going to make things somewhat uncomfortable for White. Their pass rush has registered 36 sacks, second best in the nation, so Memphis will have a problem dealing with the edge rushers.
This may not be a bad spot to grab the points.
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