Forde-Yard Dash: How SMU, Baylor took back football in Texas

Yahoo Sports

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (Moon pies sold separately in Baton Rouge, as approved by de-pantsed Joe Burrow):

[More Dash: Throwback Week 8 | Worst-case scenarios | Best/worst coaches]


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If you say you predicted SMU (21) and Baylor (22) to be the last two unbeatens from the Lone Star State, congratulations. You’re lying.

SMU is 7-0 for the first time since 1982, and just the fifth time ever. Baylor is 7-0 for the first time since 2015, and the fourth time ever. Methodists and Baptists, rejoice.

Fact is, the Mustangs and Bears have never both been 7-0 at the same time. But then again, they’ve only been playing varsity football since 1915 and 1899, respectively.

The only time they’ve both finished the season ranked in the AP poll was 1980, when Baylor was 14th and SMU was 20th. They were 1-2 in the Southwest Conference that year, with the Bears winning the head-to-head matchup. Mutual glory has forever been fleeting.

For decades, both programs toiled a tier or two below Texas and others in the late, great (and often corrupt) Southwest Conference. When SMU and Baylor experienced their Golden Eras, in the early 1980s for the Mustangs and the early 2010s for the Bears, the tarnish wasn’t far behind.

SMU Mustangs QB Shane Buechele (#7) and RB Xavier Jones (#5) celebrate as the final whistle blows during a game against TCU. (Getty)
SMU Mustangs QB Shane Buechele (#7) and RB Xavier Jones (#5) celebrate as the final whistle blows during a game against TCU. (Getty)

SMU wound up receiving the NCAA’s first-ever football “Death Penalty” for rampant cheating, and the program was a shell of its former self for decades. Baylor was worse, with the Art Briles tenure ending in disgrace after a succession of assaults by football players.

Today, they have been rebuilt under vastly different coaches.

SMU brought a Texan back home: Sonny Dykes (23), who fits the state like a worn pair of Tony Lamas, was miscast as a head coach at California. The son of former Texas Tech coach Spike Dykes tried to get a few different gigs in Texas before landing this one, replacing Chad Morris (who probably wishes he’d never left for Arkansas). Dykes went down I-35 to Austin to get his quarterback, Texas graduate transfer Shane Buechele (24), who had lost the job there to Sam Ehlinger. A quick Buechele stat: He’s won the last nine games in which he’s played, and the last 12 in which he’s thrown more than two passes.

Baylor thought entirely outside the Lone Star box by hiring Matt Rhule (25), a native of the Northeast who had been the head coach at Temple. Rhule has adapted smartly, recruiting effectively in the state. That prominently includes landing three-star quarterback Charlie Brewer (26) from powerhouse Austin Lake Travis shortly after Rhule was hired. Brewer had, coincidentally, been committed to SMU before Rhule arrived and went to work on him in December 2016, selling him on the prospect of immediate playing time. Brewer took over the starting job in the latter third of his freshman year in 2017 and has been there since, leading the Baylor resurgence.

Baylor's Charlie Brewer looks downfield against the Kansas State Wildcats on Oct. 5. (Getty)
Baylor's Charlie Brewer looks downfield against the Kansas State Wildcats on Oct. 5. (Getty)

Both teams showed something to a still-doubting Gridworld on Saturday: SMU thrashed Temple, 45-21, leading by double digits for the final 3½ quarters; Baylor beat favored Oklahoma State on the road, 45-27, outscoring the Cowboys 35-7 over the last 24 minutes of play.

The Mustangs have consecutive road games ahead, at Houston on Thursday and at Memphis on Nov. 2 in a matchup that could decide who wins the AAC West. It’s a heady position for SMU, which was picked to finish fourth in the West preseason (although one intrepid media member picked the Ponies to win the division).

The Bears now have an open date, followed by a home game Halloween night against a bad West Virginia team. Then comes a big November: at TCU, Oklahoma, Texas, at Kansas. If the game in Waco against the Sooners matches a pair of unbeatens — one of them iced to win the Big 12, the other picked to finish sixth — that would be fairly amazing.


You know the glamour boys at the front of the Heisman Trophy pack right now, quarterbacks all of them: Joe Burrow from LSU; Jalen Hurts from Oklahoma; Justin Fields from Ohio State; Tua Tagovailoa from Alabama; Justin Herbert from Oregon. If the miracles continue at SMU and Baylor, you can toss in the two QBs mentioned above. And you can add a couple of skill-position guys who have gotten a lot of love: CeeDee Lamb of Oklahoma, Jonathan Taylor of Wisconsin (though his fumble against Illinois proved costly).

But let’s diversify the list, shall we? The Dash presents five more non-QBs for your consideration:

KJ Hamler (27), Penn State receiver/returner. Team status: undefeated, ranked No. 6 in AP poll. Stats: Leads the Big Ten in touchdown receptions with seven, on 32 receptions, while averaging 17.6 yards per catch. Dangerous on kick returns as well, and the 176-pounder took a handoff for four tough yards between the tackles to put away the game against Michigan on Saturday. The more the Nittany Lions win and Hamler produces, the further he will encroach into the Heisman discussion.

Rodney Smith (28), Minnesota running back. Team status: 7-0 for the first time since 1960, ranked No. 17 in AP poll. Stats: Ninth nationally and third in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game at 112.3. Four straight 100-yard rushing games after a modest start to the season. Improving threat as a receiver, and has returned kickoffs as well. The Gophers’ big-play men are receivers Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson, but their stats almost cancel each other out. Smith has been the hub of the offense in Big Ten play.

Kenneth Gainwell (29), Memphis running back. Team status: 6-1, unranked. Stats: Second nationally in yards from scrimmage at 181.4 per game. Against Tulane on Saturday, the redshirt freshman became the first player in more than two decades to run for more than 100 yards and catch passes for more than 200 yards in the same game. He has a 200-yard rushing game and a 200-yard receiving game this season. High school quarterback who was recruited as a wide receiver but listed as a running back, and he now leads the nation’s RBs in reception yards (440).

Travis Etienne (30), Clemson running back. Team status: undefeated, ranked No. 4 in AP poll. Stats: Leads the nation in yards per carry among backs with more than 85 carries, at 7.97. Slashed Louisville for 192 rushing yards and 227 all-purpose yards Saturday. He has already caught more passes this year (15) than all of last year (12). With Trevor Lawrence interception-prone, Etienne is Clemson’s top Heisman candidate.

Chase Young (31), Ohio State. Team status: undefeated, ranked No. 3 in AP poll. Stats: Tied for the lead nationally in sacks at 1.36 per game, 9.5 total. He has had at least half a sack in every game this season. As good as Fields and running back J.K. Dobbins have been, Young is probably the best Buckeye and should be the highest 2020 draft choice off this team.

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