TCU Horned Frogs vs SMU Mustangs Preview

Might it be remembered as the night the Dallas/Arlington metroplex truly became divided when the TCU Horned Frogs (1-0) travel crosstown to take on the SMU Mustangs (0-1) in the latest “Battle for the Iron Skillet.”

The Texas Christian vs. Southern Methodist rivalry dates to 1916, with long winning streaks had by both teams against their neighbor. New SMU head coach Sonny Dykes is thrust into the middle of the longstanding heated rivalry faced with ending a six-game losing streak to TCU. Dykes’ return to the sideline as head coach after his four-year stint with Cal (2013-16) did not go as planned in Week 1. The Mustangs could not stop North Texas quarterback Mason Fine, surrendering 444 passing yards and three touchdowns in a 46-23 loss.

The Horned Frogs opened the season in style downing FCS member Southern 55-7 using their suffocating defense to keep the Jaguars’ offense off the field. Sophomore quarterback Shawn Robinson nearly surpassed his 2017 season totals as a backup, finishing the game with 182 passing yards and three touchdowns while rushing for two more scores.

TCU at SMU

Kickoff: Friday, Sept. 7 at 8 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN2

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Three Things to Watch

1. TCU’s rushing attack

The Horned Frogs’ stable of backs should be fresh for the Mustangs. Emari Demercado led TCU with eight carries for 57 yards against Southern but returning leading rusher Darius Anderson was able to get some work in, toting the pigskin eight times for 36 yards. Another back to watch for is Sewo Olonilua. Olonilua was explosive against the overmatched Jaguars, gaining 43 yards on just five carries.

A win over SMU is needed, but the most important thing is for the offense to punish Southern on the ground, especially with Ohio State on tap for next week’s matchup at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. A delicate balance between gelling the offense and getting the backs off the field is to be had.

2. SMU’s secondary

The Mustangs’ lack of effectiveness against the pass in Week 1 was somewhat surprising with four starters back in the secondary. North Texas starts the 2018 season off as the second-leading passing squad in the FBS ranks meaning SMU statistically has the second-worst pass defense. If Robinson can maintain his 71 percent completion rate, the Mustangs are in big trouble.

On the bright side for SMU, the Mustangs only allowed 68 rushing yards against the Mean Green. Stopping TCU’s rushing attack and Robinson’s ability to pick up yards on broken plays will be a big challenge.

3. The Dykes and Ohio State effect

It is worth noting that SMU head coach Sonny Dykes spent the 2017 season as the offensive analyst for the Frogs. With his years in the game as a coach and his first-hand knowledge of the team, there is no other coach in the country better suited to beat TCU from a knowledge base… but can he? One thing that might help Dykes, is TCU looking ahead to the Buckeyes? No. 4 Ohio State hosts Rutgers in Week 2 and is perhaps looking ahead to the non-conference showdown against TCU. Dykes may have to keep his guys focused as well with a Week 3 road trip to No. 21 Michigan (0-1) looming.

Final Analysis

Former SMU head coach Chad Morris did not leave the shelves bare of talent, but the Mustangs are still in transition in a new philosophy. If they got caught sleeping on North Texas, maybe a more competitive game is to be expected on Friday?

Over the last five meetings, TCU has kept SMU at arm’s reach with the closest margin of victory being 19 points in 2015. Look for TCU to push the overall series to a 50-39-7 mark notching a seventh consecutive win in this series.

Posted in CFB, Top Fantasy Picks

Complete preview of the American Athletic Conference for 2018.

The American Athletic Conference is the top Group of 5 league and won’t lack for intrigue in 2018. UCF is back for another run at a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl, as new coach Josh Heupel hopes to pick up where Scott Frost left off last fall. The Knights should win the league in the 2018 American Athletic Conference, with Temple and USF rounding out the next tier in the East Division. The top of the West Division isn’t as clear. There’s very little separation at the top between Memphis, Houston and Navy, with Tulane and SMU also poised to play a factor in which team wins the division title.

UCF

Head coach Josh Heupel inherits an enviable situation but also some of the biggest expectations coming off last year’s perfect season and self-proclaimed “National Championship.” That said, with all the returning talent, particularly on the offensive side, UCF should be the odds-on favorite to repeat as conference champions with a good shot at returning to a New Year’s Six bowl for the third time in six years.

South Florida

Coach Charlie Strong’s first season at USF was a bumpy adjustment at times from Willie Taggart’s Gulf Coast Offense. But now there’s more of a blank slate to implement Strong’s preferred style. The running game will have increased importance, especially while a new quarterback develops.

Overall, though, USF’s prosperity will be defined by continued improvement on defense. Don’t be surprised if the Bulls find themselves in another do-or-die showdown against UCF for an AAC Division title in the regular-season finale.

Temple

Former Florida defensive coordinator Geoff Collins took over from good friend Matt Rhule, who left for Baylor after putting together back-to-back 10-win seasons — at a program that had one double-digit win season in its history. In Collins’ debut season as a head coach, he had to replace a four-year starting quarterback. In the first eight games, the Owls lost at Notre Dame, at South Florida, to Houston and in overtime at Army. Their only blemish the rest of the way was a loss to UCF. That’s something to build on. The Owls just can’t afford to lose any games that they probably shouldn’t, like they did last year against 3-9 Connecticut in South Philly. This is Collins’ team now. Expect Year 2 to be another step in the right direction.

Cincinnati

With a shortage of stars, and a coaching staff in Year 2 of a rebuilding project, a .500 record might be the best the Bearcats can hope for this season. UC has gone 8-16 during the past two years, but things appear brighter for the long term. Multiple recruiting services rated the 2018 UC class No. 1 in the AAC and tops among Group of 5 schools. “It shows us that we’re recruiting in the right way,” coach Luke Fickell says. “You continue to take those swings and you see them pay off. They’ll pay off for the next three, four or five years.”

Connecticut

The thought is that UConn will be better, with so many first-year players debuting last season and now returning, but that doesn’t mean an improved record should be expected. The Huskies aren’t quite big enough, strong enough or fast enough on either side of the line, and players at skill positions remain very raw. Barring a big surprise, UConn appears headed for an eighth straight losing season.

East Carolina

Coach Scottie Montgomery has five new coaches on staff this year, but David Blackwell is the most important of those changes, charged with salvaging a defense that was often defenseless last year. There’s some young talent among the sophomores and redshirt freshmen that can up the ante — on both sides of the ball — for the Pirates, who might finally have some wind in their sails again.

Memphis

Memphis’ upward trend continued in 2017. The Tigers won 10 games, played in the AAC title game and appeared in a bowl game for the fourth straight season – a first for the program. They were also ranked in the AP Top 25 every week beginning in mid-October. To maintain the momentum, Coach Mike Norvell must find the proper triggerman, since the Tigers will have an experienced offensive line and depth in the backfield to counter the loss of Anthony Miller and Phil Mayhue. Defensively, the Tigers must overcome some alarming numbers and continue to win the turnover battle after ranking third nationally in that category a year ago at plus-1.15 per game.

Houston

PR hit or not, the hiring of offensive coordinator Kendal Briles shows that the pressure is on to return to the top tier in the AAC West. Back-to-back non-conference games against Arizona and Texas Tech in September should tell us where the Cougars stand. Otherwise, the schedule is favorable with just three trips outside the state of Texas.

SMU

New coach Sonny Dykes is a proven offensive guru with a scheme that should ease the transition to the new staff. Defensive coordinator Kevin Kane’s back-to-basics renovation of the defense should at least reduce the number of back-breaking plays allowed. If the Mustangs can make a marked improvement on defense, stay healthy on the offensive line and develop some playmakers, they could find themselves in another bowl game.

Navy

After losing to archrival Army for the second straight year, Navy closed on a positive note by routing Virginia 49-7 in the Military Bowl to post a winning record for the 14th time in the last 15 seasons.

Navy’s offense became one-dimensional during the second half of the season since QB Zach Abey was strictly an inside runner. QB Malcom Perry provides the all-important perimeter element of the triple-option, and coach Ken Niumatalolo is confident the offense will be more effective with him at the controls.

Navy will travel an incredible 26,496 miles this season due to its six road and two neutral-site games. Niumatalolo is not thrilled about facing defending AAC West Division champ Memphis on the heels of traveling to Hawaii for the season opener. This year’s game against Notre Dame is in San Diego.

Perry figures to have a huge season if he stays healthy, and Navy’s triple-option attack should continue to confound AAC opponents enough to ensure another winning season.

Tulane

QB Jonathan Banks is the catalyst. If he improves as expected, the offense will be much more formidable after scoring 21 or fewer points six times last season and finishing near the bottom of the league in third-down conversions. The defense will benefit by not having to be on the field as much.

Tulsa

In what could be a defining fourth year for coach Philip Montgomery, Tulsa needs to show significant progress at quarterback and on defense to avoid a second straight last-place finish in the AAC West. And with a non-conference slate that features visits to Texas and Arkansas, reaching bowl eligibility will likely be a challenge.

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Posted in CFB

DXL FRISCO BOWL STORYLINES

1. SMU will face Louisiana Tech in the inaugural Frisco Bowl on Dec. 20 with a new coach. Sonny Dykes, whose first head coaching job was at Louisiana Tech in 2010, will coach the Mustangs at the bowl game formerly known as the Miami Beach Bowl before being moved to Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, in the offseason. Chad Morris, who led SMU to its first bowl game since 2012, was hired at Arkansas on Dec. 6 after building a 14-22 record in three seasons with the Mustangs.

2. The Bulldogs won their final two games to become bowl eligible and earn their fourth straight postseason bid under coach Skip Holtz. Louisiana Tech is one of nine programs in the country that enters the postseason with three straight bowl wins. The Bulldogs are playing their third bowl in the past four years in North Texas after winning the Heat of Dallas Bowl in 2014 and the Armed Forces Bowl in Forth Worth last year.

3. SMU and Oklahoma State are the only FBS teams with a 3,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher and two 1,000-yard receivers, so it should come as no surprise that the Mustangs averaged 40.2 points per game. Sophomore quarterback Ben Hicks threw for 3,442 yards and 32 touchdowns while Trey Quinn and Courtland Sutton each caught 12 touchdowns. It will be a big test for a Bulldogs defense that ranked near the middle of Conference USA in opponents’ points (26.7) and passing yards (215.1).

TV: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN.

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ABOUT LOUISIANA TECH (6-6, 4-4 Conference USA): Sophomore quarterback J’Mar Smith threw for 2,758 yards and 13 touchdowns, including five scores to Conference USA co-newcomer of the year Teddy Veal (69 catches, 832 yards). Junior defensive end Jaylon Ferguson (26.5 career sacks) had a team-high six sacks while senior safety Secdrick Cooper had 63 stops and two interceptions. Freshman cornerback Amik Robertson led the team with four interceptions to go with 58 tackles and two sacks.

ABOUT SMU (7-5, 4-4 American Athletic): Quinn (106 catches, 1,191 yards) leads the country with 8.8 receptions per game, needs six catches to tie the single-season school record and is tied with Sutton (62 catches, 1,017 yards) for second place in single-season touchdown catches. Senior defensive end Justin Lawler joined Quinn and Sutton as first-team All-AAC picks after blocking three kicks and leading the Mustangs with 9.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. The Mustangs’ defense allowed at least 31 points in its final five games, which included three straight losses before a last-second goal-line stand in the finale snapped the skid.

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Posted in CFB

NCAA Football 2017 Season

AAC West Preview

The race to win the AAC West Division is crowded at the top. Houston, Navy and Memphis each have a strong argument for the No. 1 spot, while Tulsa and SMU aren’t far behind. The new season of fantasy college football kicks off Saturday August 26 at FanPicks.

Memphis Tigers

Head coach Mike Norvell picked up where Justin Fuente — who guided the Tigers to back-to-back bowl games before departing for Virginia Tech — left off. Memphis ranked 14th nationally in passing offense (304.4 ypg), 15th in scoring offense (38.8 ppg) and 28th in total offense (463.7 ypg) and played in a third straight bowl game.

The Tigers should set a school record by playing in a fourth straight postseason game. Norvell returns eight starters on offense with multiple weapons at running back and receiver. The defense will be a question mark, particularly with an overhaul in the secondary. Still, Memphis won 17 games over the past two years with a defense that ranked in the bottom half of the AAC.

Navy Midshipmen

Getting swept by service academy rivals Air Force and Army cast a dark shadow over an otherwise successful 2016 season. You can bet that coach Ken Niumatalolo has put increased emphasis on recapturing the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy.

Navy’s defense, which was porous last season, is expected to be vastly improved. But they may need to win some games early while a young, inexperienced offense settles in. The Midshipmen have posted winning records in 13 of the last 14 seasons. There is no reason to believe that remarkable run of success won’t continue in 2017.

Houston Cougars

For two years the Houston program conducted business under constant speculation over the future of Tom Herman, who became the school’s third coach in the last nine years to leave for a more high-profile job. New head coach Major Applewhite, Herman’s offensive coordinator for the last two years, signed a five-year deal with the hopes that he can keep the Cougars relevant on the national scene.

The schedule is more manageable this year. The Cougars play three key AAC West Division rivals (SMU, Memphis and Navy) at home. A second league title in three years likely hinges on progress of the offense — namely Kyle Allen at quarterback and the development of a consistent running game.

Tulsa Golden Hurricanes

After winning six games in his first year, head coach Philip Montgomery overwhelmingly exceeded expectations in 2016 by delivering a 10–3 record and a second-place finish in the American Athletic Conference’s West Division, completing the turnaround from the 2–10 season that preceded his hiring.

To continue rebuilding the program and establishing the Hurricane as perennial contenders in the league, Montgomery will have to do his best coaching job given the high turnover, particularly from an offense that carried the team in the previous two seasons. If the defense can dramatically ramp up its performance despite relying heavily on youth, Montgomery will become only the second coach in program history to make bowl appearances in three consecutive seasons.

SMU Mustangs

In his third season, head coach Chad Morris has SMU positioned for success. After going 2–10 in 2015, the Mustangs were on the verge of bowl eligibility at 5–5 last season, but they lost the final two games to South Florida and Navy.

Morris has made big inroads in changing the program’s culture with dramatic leaps in recruiting, depth and overall performance. Tweaks in the power spread scheme, including a faster pace, bolstered the offense, which ranked 55th nationally last year (427.3 ypg). Mobility at quarterback, or better protection for Ben Hicks — if he wins the job — will be needed. The defense also must take another step forward after ranking 103rd nationally a year ago.

Tulane Green Wave

Tulane should be more competitive now that head coach Willie Fritz and his players are familiar with each other. Simply getting his quarterbacks to know when to pitch or run on options proved challenging a year ago, when Tulane beat UConn in its finale to avoid its first winless conference season since it left the SEC in the 1960s.

Being more competitive, however, won’t necessarily translate into more wins. Not only do the Wave play in the far more difficult West Division of the AAC, but they must also face USF, the overwhelming favorite in the East. And don’t forget about a game at Oklahoma. Anything close to a .500 record would be a great accomplishment.

Posted in CFB

Michigan Wolverines vs Southern Methodist Mustangs

Michigan got a first-hand look last year at how good of a fit Tim Jankovich could be if he ever took over for Larry Brown at Southern Methodist, which handed the Wolverines their most lopsided loss of the 2015-16 campaign. The Mustangs look to remain perfect under Jankovich on Friday when they square off against Michigan in the championship game of the 2K Classic at Madison Square Garden (Enter Contest).

Jankovich served as the interim coach at the beginning of last season while Brown was serving a NCAA-imposed nine-game suspension, leading SMU to exactly half of its wins during a program-record 18-0 start. One of those victories was an 82-58 rout at home against Michigan. SMU improved to 12-0 in two seasons under Jankovich with Thursday’s 76-67 semifinal win over Pittsburgh, holding the Panthers 29 points below their 96-point average entering the contest. The Wolverines earned their spot in the title game with Thursday’s 79-61 victory over Marquette, leading by as many as 29 points in the second half.

ABOUT MICHIGAN (3-0)

One game after posting career highs of 14 boards and five blocks in a win over IUPUI, 6-10 junior forward D.J. Wilson (8.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 2.7 blocks) continued to show he might be coming into his own, recording his first career double-double in his first career start Thursday with 10 points and 12 rebounds. Leading scorer Zak Irvin (14 points, 5.7 rebounds) led Michigan offensively for the second straight contest with 16 points, but the Wolverines placed five players in double figures and received 29 points from their bench.

ABOUT SMU (3-0)

American Athletic Conference Player of the Week Semi Ojeleye (22.7 points, nine rebounds) continued to play up to that title against the Panthers, scoring 20 of his career-high 24 points in the second half as the Mustangs outscored Pitt 45-34 to rally from a halftime deficit. Preseason all-conference second-team selection Shake Milton (13 points, 4.6 assists) finished with 14 points and has scored in double figures in each of SMU’s first three contests. Sterling Brown (10.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists) enjoyed another well-rounded performance against the Panthers with nine points, six boards and three assists, but he was ejected late following his second technical foul after emphatically applauding in the face of Pitt forward Jamel Artis after his defense resulted in a traveling violation. Southern Methodist has won both of the previous meetings, including last year’s rout in Dallas and a 62-51 triumph in Ann Arbor the previous.

Posted in CBB

Pittsburgh Panthers vs SMU Mustangs

Just two games into the season, Pittsburgh and SMU already have two common opponents for comparison purposes when they meet Thursday in the semifinals of the 2K Classic benefiting Wounded Warrior Project at Madison Square Garden in New York City (Enter Contest). This is the first game all-time between the programs.

Pittsburgh survived Eastern Michigan 93-90 in double overtime of the season opener last Friday and posted a 19-point victory over Gardner-Webb the last time out. Cameron Johnson scored four 3-pointers against Gardner-Webb, while Michael Young had 18 points and seven rebounds in just 15 minutes off the bench.

The Mustangs easily dispatched the same two teams by a combined 55 points. Semi Ojeleye had 26 points in a 72-44 rout of Gardner-Webb and added 18 and eight rebounds as SMU led by as many as 29 in a 91-64 pasting of Eastern Michigan. Mustangs coach Tim Jankovich, who was 9-0 last season filling in for suspended coach Larry Brown, is off to a fast start since being named head coach in July after the 76-year-old Brown’s resignation.

ABOUT PITTSBURGH (2-0)

Senior forward Sheldon Jeter added 14 points and a game-high 13 rebounds against Gardner-Webb. It was his second career double-double. Forward Jamel Artis collected 11 points and six assists in that game. Pittsburgh shot 53.8 percent from the floor and drained 13-of-26 shots from the arc. Despite lack of effort at times, Pitt has scored 90 or more points in each of the first two games of first-year coach Kevin Stallings’ up-tempo offense for the first time since 1989-90.  Young was named the ACC co-Player of the Week on Monday, averaging 22 points on 65 percent shooting in his first two games with 17 rebounds and six assists. Pitt is 7-0 in 2K Classic Events (formerly Coaches vs. Cancer), claimed the tournament championship in 2010 and is 46-45 all-time at MSG.

ABOUT SMU (2-0)

Sophomore guard Jarrey Foster scored a career-high 18 points against Eastern Michigan and shot 8-of-9, while senior forward Ben Moore had 11 points and six rebounds as the Mustangs shot 53 percent from the floor and dominated the boards 44-26. Ojeleye, a 6-7 transfer from Duke who played in 23 games there in two seasons, was named the American Athletic Conference’s Player of the Week on Monday after tallying 44 points and 22 rebounds in his first two games. Sterling Brown, a 6-6 guard, is averaging 11.5 points, seven rebounds and five assists in the first two games. Jankovich served as an assistant coach under Stallings at Vanderbilt from 1999-2003.

Posted in CBB