Predicting SMU’s nonconference record
Here is SMU’s nonconference record in the 10 years since leaving the SWC:
Six wins in 35 opportunities. 17.1% Pretty sad.
SMU has not won more than one nonconference game is a season since leaving the SWC.
In six years, SMU won only one nonconference game. In four years, SMU never won a nonconference game, five if you only count I-A games. You have to go back to 1992 before SMU has a winning record in nonconference games; before the death penalty if you on count games against I-A teams.
SMU’s nonconference opponents in those years went 248-176. That is a winning percentage of 58.5%. Only twice did SMU’s nonconference opponents have a combined losing record (1999 and 2000).
Now, this year is different. Using last year’s records, SMU nonconference opponents (excluding Sam Houston State) went 16-17, which is a winning percentage of 48.5%
SMU plays two teams from the Sunbelt Conference. The Sunbelt was 1-27 in nonconference I-A games in 2005. Historically, the Sunbelt is the weakest conference.
Additionally, SMU plays a I-AA team. The historical I-A winning percentage against I-AA teams is 89%. If not for provisional I-A schools transitioning from I-AA to I-A, the percentage would be well over 90%.
I count the game against Texas Tech as a loss. I have discussed this ad nauseum and will not belabor the point. 0-1
I count the game against UNT as a win. Please recall UNT was 2-9 last year. They may be better this year and their fans may be emotionally into a game against SMU, but I believe SMU should win this game. 1-1
I count the game against Sam Houston State as a win. It is at home. The game is the first home game of the year. The percentages are in SMU’s favor. 2-1
I count the game against Arkansas State as a win. Arkansas State was a bowl team last year. This is true. But Arkansas State lost its Quarterback and its top two rushers to graduation. Arkansas State just lost its third leading rusher and projected starter to injury. The game is at home. 3-1
3-1 will be the best start to an SMU season since 1992. It will be the best nonconference record since 1986. If you ask me, this is what I believe will happen. I will be mildly surprised if it doesn’t.
Predicting SMU’s conference record
As bad as SMU has been, here is SMU’s conference record in the 10 years since leaving the SWC:
32 wins divided by 79 games= 40.5%
39.5% times eight games= 3.24 games average conference wins per season
SMU has finished with fewer than three conference wins just twice in ten years (2000 and 2003).
SMU has finished with more than three conference wins five times.
SMU has finished .500 or better a surprising six out of 10 times.
A .500 conference record six times in the past ten years!?!?! Did you know that? I never realized that.
Could this be a two conference win year (or worse?) Of course, but I think most people agree that this team, at a minimum, has not taken a step backwards.
When publications predict SMU to win five games, I think they are pigeonholing SMU into their preconceived notions or in the case of a couple of publications, I think they are discounting SMU in order to put other schools where they want them to be. Case in point, some publications really want ECU to win. I don’t know why, but I don’t know how else to explain some polls picking them to come in first or second in C-USA East and some picking them last in the conference.
Bottom line is I would bet the farm on three conference wins. I’d bet money in Vegas on four conference wins. I am very tempted to predict five conference wins.
However…. Much has been made about SMU returning most of last year’s team intact. The truth is SMU returns 14 offensive and defensive starters, which tied for seventh most in C-USA, not even the top half. SMU returns 41 lettermen, which is tied with Tulane for the fewest returning lettermen. Add to that a near complete special teams overhaul. Add to that, the fact that there are no first team all C-USA members on offense or defense.
And there is my dilemma. I have set my nonconference win total at three. I am not going to predict fewer than four conference wins. I am not going to predict more than five. I am not going to lie to you. I originally settled on four conference wins; I then changed it to five; then, back to four.
Last year, my head said four wins and my gut said five wins. SMU finshed with five wins. This year, gut says eight total wins and my head says seven total wins. Go with the gut. Finding that fifth conference victory will be tough.
I count the game against Tulane as a win. Tulane had a losing record last year and was in turmoil. I think the turmoil continues and I think the idea that the return to the Super Dome will invigorate the Tulane squad is overblown. I think the confidence built in the nonconference schedule helps the team. I believe SMU should win this game. 4-1
I count the game against UTEP as a loss. UTEP is a good team and well coached. I don’t expect a repeat of last year. The game is on the road. Six weeks out , I expect SMU to lose this game. 4-2.
I count the game against Marshall as a win. I don’t think the CUSA East is substantially better than the West. I think Marshall is treading water. The game was close last year on the road. I expect SMU will bounce back at home. I expect SMU to win this game. 5-2.
I count the game against ECU as a loss, but I could go either way. It really comes down to the fact that ECU is playing at home. Though, it is the fifth straight home game in a weird stretch for ECU. I expect SMU to lose this game. 5-3.
I count the game against UAB as a win. Again, I could go either way on this one. SMU is at home; it is Halloween; I think UAB is in decline. I expect SMU to win this game. 6-3.
I count the game against Houston as a loss. It really comes down to Kolb and the defense being better. I expect SMU to lose this game. 6-4.
I count the game against Tulsa as a win, but I am not sure why. Perhaps it is because the game is at home. Also, I suspect at least one of UTEP, Houston or Tulsa will have a down year- I think it is the nature of parity in Conference USA. I really believe that last statement; one of those teams will falter. I expect SMU to win this game. 7-4.
I count the game against Rice as a win. Rice will improve but Rice will be decimated after its nonconference schedule and Rice simply doesn’t have the personnel to run its offense or defense.. I expect SMU to win this game. 8-4.
So, there you go. Eight wins, five in conference. Odds are that is a tie for second in C-USA West and a near lock at a bowl game. Obviously, I don’t feel real good about picking SMU to beat Tulsa three months ahead of time, so seven wins is a real possibility. Will seven wins get SMU a bowl invite? I am not sure, but I say the odds are less than 50-50.
When was the last time I predicted a winning record? I don’t recall that I ever have. I know I never have on a message board or on this blog. That dates my predictions back to 2001. So take that for what it is worth.