The fact that the DMN doesn't have a single article on SMU a day before it embarks on the most important three game stretch in recent memory is just sorry. I am not normally one to criticize SMU coverage, but even I admit this is pretty lame. Borderline pathetic. Especially on a week where the marquee matchup in the Big XII is A&M versus Nebraska. Very week, dmn. Obviously, the business strategy of "getting local" doesn't spill over to the sports page.
Well, at least the Daily Campus has a preview.
Speaking of homecoming, the SMU Daily Campus Editorial Board says, "Come for the halftime, stay for game."
Speaking of the SMU Daily Campus and editorials, Katie Gibbens doesn't like Pimps and Ho's. But I digress.
The spread opened up at Houston -5.5; it has now dropped to three. Given the traditional three point advantage for the home team, is this really a pick 'em between even teams?
Edit: Forgot to mention that GMAC Bowl and New Orleans Bowl reps will be in attendance.
Without question, folks, the game of the week in Conference USA is Houston-SMU. College Football News says as much, so it has to be true. USA Today says:
In the West, Houston is in control after beating Tulsa. The Cougars look to protect their position at Southern Methodist, which is just a game behind. Houston QB Kevin Kolb will look to take advantage of the Mustangs' leaky pass defense. Some good runs from RB Jackie Battle could set things up for a high score. SMU QB Justin Willis will have to keep pace. He'll need RB DeMyron Martin, still working his way back from various injuries, to handle more work.
Scott Ferrell wrote a good write up on the game.
Time for a confession. In my Season Prediction, I had this game as a loss. I also had the Tulsa game as a win. As someone pointed out to me, I listed the Houston game as a win and Tulsa as a loss under the Best Case Scenario and both as losses under the Worst Case Scenario. How could I pick a win over Tulsa when I didn't think SMU would win under the Best Case Scenario? The confession is that the best case scenario is based on the idea of winning every "winnable" game and the Tulsa game doesn't fit my definition of a "winnable" game before the season- better record and beat SMU head to head. Effectively, in the official prediction I was picking SMU to win five conference games and I needed SMU to win one of UTEP, Houston or Tulsa. I wasn't going to pick UTEP because it was on the road and I basically picked Tulsa because I thought Houston would be jacked up for revenge and I thought Tulsa might have a relatively down year (looks like I was wrong on that). Long story short, I absolutely believe SMU can win this game. Besides, I am going to be there and SMU hasn't lost with me in attendance this year.
Anyway, I think Houston is good. I don't think they are great. I don't even think Houston is significantly better than last year. Defensively and on special teams, that is true. Even running the ball, that is true. Where they have improved is "Heisman candidate" Kevin Kolb. Their only significant improvements statistically are in pass efficiency, scoring offense and turnovers. Honestly, that is almost entirely due to Kolb making better decisions from a year ago. A year ago, Kolb threw 15 interceptions; this year, he has only thrown three. And that fact pretty much explains every other statistical improvement: scoring, turnover ration, pass efficiency.
Obviously, there is some concern with the 116th rated pass defense going against the 6th best pass offense in the country. Yes, it is a legitimate concern. Ther are two things that get lost in the overall picture of the SMU defense. First, SMU has already played the 3rd, 9th, 11th and 28th ranked passing offenses (You realized Tulane had the 9th ranked passing offense, right?). The other thing is the pass efficiency defense is actually a pretty average 129.54; not good, but not particularly bad. Pass efficiency defense takes into account scoring, interceptions and completion percentage. As Dave Hersh said, "... pass defense yardage is important, but not as important as pass efficiency defense and run stopping efforts in producing both total defense and wins. If your opponent can run all over you, then your pass defense number/ranking can be low yet you still lose."
First thing to grasp is how the pass "efficiency" defense is different from just pass defense. Pass defense is based solely on a team's yardage totals. The pass defense ranking is figured for how many yards per game are allowed through opponents' passing efforts. Pass efficiency defense takes not only their yardage, but pass completion percentages, both INT total and percentage of INTs thrown, TD total and rate, yards per attempt and yards per completion into account to then give an overall rating. Just like yardage, the lower your opponent's pass efficiency number, the better you are doing. But unlike stopping just yardage, if the other guy is mistake-free and can score via aerial assault, you are likely going to lose. Really, you can survive a 50-yard pass play that only gets them to your 35, but there is no "recovery room" from an 11-yard scoring strike set up by 12 good runs. It is good when your opponents are less efficient, even if they get a few extra yards.
The keys to beating Houston is consistent pressure on Kolb and forcing Kolb to make mistakes (which, admittedly, will be hard to do). With a healthy defensive line that leads the conference in sacks and a good blitzing scheme, SMU has a decent shot at this. The run defense needs to live up to its reputation. Offensively, SMU needs to pick its spots to be aggressive while at the same time run the ball effectively. After rewatching the UAB game, I have a suspicion that Martin and Mapps are going to blow up tomorrow.
Finally, there is a nice little AP story on the SMU revival: SMU back from dead, pushing for bowl bid. Here's to many more of these stories in the weeks ahead.