SMU: Mustangs Football Program On The Ropes?


With the SMU Mustangs football team in complete turmoil, questions abound regarding whether the program should just be canceled altogether.

At what point do you just throw your arms up and quit?

The SMU Mustangs fell to 1-6 on the 2015 campaign following a completely embarrassing 38-14 loss to Southern Florida on Saturday. Or maybe embarrassment isn’t the right word. Maybe this program is just outclassed by United States college football altogether.

New head coach Chad Morris had to know that this new gig wouldn’t be easy. Even despite not playing in the same muscle conference as nearby neighbors TCU, Baylor and Texas, SMU is a program that seems to be in a perpetual state of rebuilding ever since suffering the NCAA sanctioned ‘Death Penalty’ way, way back in 1987.

It’s hard to blame Morris for this mess, especially given where he came from prior to picking up where former head coach June Jones left off just over a year ago – Jones quit, by the way, following back-to-back losses against Baylor and North Texas to begin 2014.

At this time a year ago, Morris was serving as offensive coordinator at Clemson. The Tigers would finish 10-3 (6-2 ACC) last season, a mark which has paved the way for a program that presently threatens to land a spot in this season’s College Football Playoff. Currently ranked No.6 in the nation, Clemson figures to rise after handing the Miami Hurricanes their worst defeat in program history on Saturday.

Prior to Clemson, Morris built his resume extensively in the Texas high school football ranks. His combined record of 169-38 includes back-to-back 16-0 state championship seasons with Lake Travis High School as head coach in 2008 and 2009.

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Baylor head coach Art Briles had a similar run through Texas high school football, but look at the difference between the programs run by both coaches.

What gives at SMU?

The issue here is clearly a lack of talent.

I distinctly recall still living in the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex when SMU returned to action following the ‘Death Penalty’ during my senior year of high school, beginning in 1989. The Mustangs somehow ended up with a date against No.1 Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.

This wasn’t David vs. Goliath. ‘

This was more like ‘Mouse vs. King Cobra,’ a fact evidenced by the final score of 59-6.

Frankly, SMU has never been much closer than that when it comes to title contention.

The clear issue wasn’t injuries, coaching or Xs and Os on anybody’s part.

The Mustangs simply can’t get talent and it doesn’t seem to matter who running the ship on the Hilltop.

Yes, Jones was able to resurrect this program to a level of moderate competitiveness, but only to the extent that the Mustangs could reach lower-tiered bowl games.

You realize that the Mustangs have appeared in just four such games since the ‘Death Penalty?’

On the upside, the Mustangs are 3-1 in bowl games since 2009, a mark that didn’t seem to generate much momentum moving forward. SMU last went to a bowl game under Jones in 2012 when the Mustangs beat Fresno State in the Hawaii Bowl.

Since that win over the Bulldogs, SUM has gone 7-24 to date, five of those wins coming during Jones’ final full season coaching in 2013.

Right after Jones walked away from the Hilltop, Mike Hashimoto offered these stark facts faced by the SMU football program in the Dallas Morning News.

"The difference between the Power Five — the Southeastern, Big 12, Pac 12, Big Ten and Atlantic Coast conferences — and everyone else is wide and only growing. SMU is on the wrong side of that divide, and short of the Big 12 throwing SMU a rope for old times’ sake — and how does that make fiscal sense? — the deal is done."

Hashimoto is exactly right in this regard.

While TCU and Baylor were becoming Big 12 powers, SMU was doing something else. While Texas was winning a national championship a decade ago, the Mustangs were still on the wrong side of the divide.

Hope for SMU?

I just don’t see it.

Talent is required to win football games, and regardless of awards named after Doak Walker or memories of ‘The Pony Express,’ that talent isn’t coming to SMU anytime soon. Today’s up and coming football players weren’t even born the last time SMU was relevant as a national title contender – they have no idea who Eric Dickerson was. How many are aware that Dallas Cowboys receiver Cole Beasley played with the Mustangs just a few seasons ago?

Barring a serious change in conference affiliation, SMU is destined to remain a doormat on the college football stage, a distinction that perhaps some are fine with. I have an idea that others would rather shut the program down rather than serve as mere stat-boosters for the rest of the college football world.

We’ll see what Morris can come up with in remaining games against Tulsa, Temple, Navy, Tulane and Memphis.

But one has to wonder exactly what there is to gain for SMU football in the big picture.

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