All along, the goal for the 2009 SMU football team was to reach its first bowl game in 25 years. Now that they have achieved their goal, the Mustangs (7-5) can look forward to their next challenge: winning the bowl game.
However, it will be no simple feat. The Mustangs are set to play the University of Nevada, Reno, and true to their name, the Wolfpack (8-4) like to run. Nevada is the No. 1 ranked rushing offense in the country and boasts three 1,000-yard rushers, a first in NCAA history. In contrast, SMU running back, Shawnbrey McNeal, is the first SMU rusher to eclipse 1,000-yards in six years.
“Having played Nevada, Reno many times while I was at Hawaii, I have a great deal of respect for Coach Ault and his program,” SMU head coach Junes Jones said. “Their rushing attack will pose a stiff challenge, but we’re really looking forward to the game.”
The Wolfpack started off the season slowly, losing their first three games, before they stormed back to win their next eight to challenge Boise State Broncos for the Western Athletic Conference Championship. Although Nevada was unable to defeat the Broncos, they still put up a strong fight to finish their final game, 44-33.
But, Nevada will be without two of their top rushers: senior RB Luke Lippincott (1,034 yards) has a turf toe injury and junior RB Vai Taua (1,345 yards) who has been ruled academically ineligible for the bowl game. That still leaves scrambling quarterback, junior Colin Kaepernick (1,160 yards) and whatever backups Nevada head coach Chris Ault has up his sleeves.
“They’re not going to change what they do,” Jones said. “Somebody has a chance to be a star. I’m sure they have one of those guys waiting to get in there. Sometimes, through adversity, teams rally up and play hard.”
The Mustangs have faced plenty of adversity over the past 25 years. Before clinching a guaranteed bowl berth with their win over Tulane in the final game of the regular season, SMU had the fourth-longest bowl drought in the nation.
Also, after going 1-11 the last two seasons, the Mustangs posted the biggest turnaround in the nation this season by going 7-5. Still, this season is not over yet, and it is only fitting that SMU play their first bowl in 25 years at the Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl, which was the site of SMU’s last bowl game.
The SMU v. Nevada game has all the potential to be a thrilling shootout between the Mustangs’ aerial show and the Wolfpacks’ powerful running game. Neither team has a particularly strong defense: SMU’s run defense is ranked No. 88 and its pass defense is ranked No. 82. However, as if to balance the scales, Nevada’s pass defense is atrocious, ranking second-to-last in the nation. The question does not seem to be which team will be able to stop the other’s potent offense, but which team’s offense will be able to shred the other team’s defense.
This squad of Mustangs will be playing in the biggest game thus far of their football careers. The current spread is Nevada by 14 points. However, SMU’s entire season has come by overcoming the odds.
The Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl is televised on ESPN at 7 p.m. CST on Dec. 24.