Rare spotlight on battle between No. 15 SMU, No. 24 Memphis

As the press release from Memphis' sports information department noted following the Tigers' 42-41 win at Tulsa last week, "Sometimes, a memorable season needs the assistance of a fortunate break."

Or in this case, a pulled 29-yard field goal as time expired. That Golden Hurricane miscue propelled the Tigers (7-1, 3-1 American Athletic Conference) into the surprising marquee game of Week 10 in college football.

With ESPN's "GameDay" descending on Memphis for its pregame show and then sticking around to air the No. 24 Tigers' showdown with unbeaten and No. 15 SMU on Saturday night, the AAC West gets a rare crack at the national spotlight.

Of course, the Mustangs (8-0, 4-0) have also absorbed a few smooches on the cheek from dame fortune. They have four wins by seven points or fewer, including a 34-31 nail-biter on Oct. 24 at a 3-5 Houston team that is looking forward to 2020 more than it's trying to win games in 2019.

In any event, SMU has stamped itself as the favorite among six schools to win the Group of Five's berth in the Cotton Bowl, which would be a de facto home game for the Mustangs. But SMU has a tougher path to get there than other contenders with this game and a Nov. 23 trip to Navy remaining.

SMU is doing it with offense. Prior to the Houston game, the Mustangs had scored at least 37 points in every game. They possess a wonderful blend of passing and running. They throwing for just over 300 yards per game with former Texas quarterback Shane Buechele pulling the trigger, and they are averaging 202.8 yards per game on the ground behind senior Xavier Jones, who has rushed for 884 yards.

"They find ways to win, and that's their deal this year," Houston coach Dana Holgorsen said. "They're in their second year in that system and they have a lot of seniors and guys that have been doing the right stuff for them and it's showing."

Mustangs coach Sonny Dykes said his offense needs to compete at a much higher level than it did at Houston. However, Jones said he and his team simply did what they had to in order to stay undefeated.

"It was an ugly game, but I'm really proud of my team for how we fought," he said.

Memphis coach Mike Norvell felt much the same way after his team escaped Tulsa with a one-point win. The Tigers' defense was gashed for 584 yards and was on the field for a whopping 101 plays, but Memphis managed to stagger off with the win.

"At the end of the day, you look up at the scoreboard, and being up by one is a great feeling," he said.

Memphis freshman running back Kenneth Gainwell rushed for 149 yards and three scores at Tulsa for his sixth straight 100-yard game. Gainwell needs only 21 yards to hit the 1,000-yard mark for the year.

--Field Level Media