Brian O’Donnell, Sports Editor:
Thursday night’s matchup between the Houston Cougars and SMU Mustangs is a critical game for both teams. Houston is coming off of a 38-24 conference win against Tulsa while the Mustangs are looking to recover from a disappointing 49-23 conference loss to East Carolina.
Late last season, the Cougars defeated SMU 35-9 in route to an 8-5 record and a bowl win. For SMU, last year’s loss came as no surprise for a team that started the season 0-11 and barely got a win in the last game.
Houston has started this year strong, with wins over Tennessee Tech, Louisville, Texas State and Tulsa. The Cougars enter this week with a 4-0 record. They rank No. 4 in total offense in the nation, racking up 6.97 yards per play, and No. 8 in rushing defense, giving up only 2.45 yards per attempt.
The offense is led by junior quarterback Greg Ward Jr. He has had a good season up to this point, accounting for 15 touchdowns and only throwing one interception. Having rushed for 90 yards or more in all four games this season, he is the team’s leading rusher and definitely a duel threat to the SMU defense.
A trio of running backs have accounted for six touchdowns and the rest of the 1,223 yards on the ground for this seventh ranked rushing offense. The rushing attack could have a big day against an SMU defense that has given up nearly 300 yards per game on the ground.
Houston’s new head coach Tom Herman highlighted the importance of Thursday’s game.
“For us, this is a really big game because we run into these guys in just about everything we do from exposure, to media market, to you name it,” Herman said, “We want to make sure we have bragging rights for the entire year in the great state of Texas.”
SMU did not begin the season the way they would have liked. After losses to two top 5 teams and a win over North Texas in between, the Mustangs were where they were expected to be. However, a last-minute loss to FCS opponent James Madison ruined the mood on the Hilltop. Last week’s blown 23-7 lead only added to the disappointment.
The Mustangs seem dangerously close to a tipping point. Though they have looked better than last season, the losses are still piling up. They desperately need an upset win over Houston to get their season back on track and revive some hope of progress.
PREDICTION: Houston 42 – SMU 28
Breck Spencer, Associate Sports Editor:
SMU football faces a tough task this Thursday against the University of Houston. Coming off of back-to-back losses, it’s difficult to see the Mustangs suddenly bouncing back and picking up the win against the undefeated Cougars.
It’s worth noting, however, that the Mustangs’ schedule has been noticeably more difficult than the Cougars’, who are yet to play a ranked opponent. While this slightly deflates the importance of their record, an undefeated team is impressive, regardless of the schedule.
It should be emphasized that this is a rebuilding period for SMU. Each week the young team gains more experience and more maturity, which should generate some optimism for the future. This year, in only five games, the Mustangs have already put more points on the board than they did during the entire season last year.
The defense has also shown noticeable improvement, highlighted by two interceptions last week against ECU. Unfortunately for SMU, improvement doesn’t equate to victory, at least not in the short term.
I think that Houston will win this game, but not without a fight from the Mustangs. SMU will continue to show growth and improvement but Houston will come away with the victory.
PREDICTION: Houston 24 – SMU 21