The first in a series of anticipated collisions atop the American Athletic Conference standings will take place Saturday night when the Houston Cougars host the 19th-ranked SMU Mustangs.
The Cougars (6-1, 4-0) have six consecutive victories since a 38-21, season-opening loss to Texas Tech.
SMU (7-0, 3-0) throttled Tulane 55-26 on Oct. 21 and is seeking its second 8-0 start in three years after finishing the 2019 season 10-3.
Second-ranked and unbeaten Cincinnati (7-0, 3-0) lurks for the Mustangs in the chase for the conference title.
Starting with the Cougars, SMU will play three of four games on the road, concluding with a showdown at the Bearcats on Nov. 20. The long, methodical climb to national prominence requires SMU to maintain the momentum it has built thus far this season.
“That’s the kind of consistency you want in a program,” SMU coach Sonny Dykes said. “That’s kind of been our deal from the get-go. If you want to be a big-time college football program, the name of the game is consistency. You can have some good years and you can be a flash in the pan, but if you want to be the real thing, then you have to do it consistently.
“Our goal is to end the year in the Top 25, which we haven’t done. We’ve lost games late, and we can’t afford to do that this year. Our goal is to continue to move up in the rankings, but most importantly finish the season ranked.”
The recent schedule in advance of the meeting with Houston could provide the Mustangs an advantage. SMU had an open week before defeating the Green Wave on a Thursday, meaning the Mustangs will have played just one game over the three weeks before meeting Houston.
Dykes has taken precise measures to keep his players rested and sharp during that stretch.
“This time of the year, I think it’s really important to get your football team as fresh as you can,” he said. “It’s such a grind, and any chance you have an opportunity to get a day or two of rest, you want to take advantage of it.”
Conversely, the Cougars endured a bit of an ordeal last Saturday against East Carolina. Inclement weather delayed kickoff several hours, and then the Cougars needed overtime to win 31-24. Given the circumstances, and the underrated quality of the Pirates’ defense, it’s no surprise that Houston scuffled offensively.
“I knew they were good on defense,” Houston coach Dana Holgorsen said. “I knew that we were going to have problems with some of their stuff. I’ve got to figure some stuff out on offense. There’s no mistake about that.”
Houston will have quarterback Clayton Tune, who ranks second in the AAC and 14th nationally with a 69.1 completion percentage, available against SMU despite a lingering hamstring injury. His presence should help Holgorsen advance his goal of improved play on offense, but given the stakes for both teams, the Cougars realize that even more will be required on Saturday.
“How we played offensively is not good enough,” Holgorsen said. “If we play like that against SMU, we’re going to have some problems.”
–Field Level Media