The calendar says the SMU football program is a quarter-century removed from its darkest days: two years of dormancy resulting from NCAA death penalty sanctions for repeat recruiting violations.
But in the 25 years since SMU returned to the gridiron for the 1989 season, it is difficult to find a more frustrating stretch for Mustangs’ fans than this season. SMU (0-6, 0-2 in American Athletic Conference) heads into Saturday’s 11 a.m. game in Dallas as a 23-point underdog to Memphis (3-3, 1-1).
When the teams meet in Gerald J. Ford Stadium, the Mustangs will take the field ranking last among the nation’s 125 FBS schools in both scoring offense (6.5 average) and scoring defense (48.0). In a season marked by the September departure of coach June Jones, SMU’s best placement among eight defining statistical categories at midseason is No. 95 in passing offense (194.8 yards per game).
By comparison, SMU’s freshmen-laden 1989 team finished last among FBS schools in scoring defense (45.4) during its first season back from death-penalty sanctions. But those Mustangs were effective enough on offense to post a 2-9 record, average 17.0 points per game and rank ninth nationally in passing offense (277.0 yards per game).
This year’s team, under the direction of interim coach Tom Mason, has six games left to turn around its fortunes before full-season comparisons to the 1989 squad can be made.
Many of the Mustangs who will take the field against Memphis contributed to a bowl team as recently as 2012, when SMU capped that season with its fourth consecutive bowl appearance (and third bowl victory) under Jones.
LIFE AFTER THE DEATH PENALTY (THEN AND NOW)
(FBS rank, 125 teams)
(FBS rank, 106 teams)