Mac Engel

SMU football is finally back and on ESPN’s GameDay. Suddenly, the students are all-in.

Carson Wolff is a junior SMU student who attended the University of Alabama as a freshman, and she swears there was virtually no difference in attending a football game between the two schools last year.

There are not many SMU students who carry Alabama credentials. Wolff might be the one.

“When I was a freshman at Alabama, people would go to the games and they’d leave after the first quarter because they were beating the other team so badly,” Wolff said. “When I went to the SMU games last year, everyone would leave after the first quarter because we were losing so badly.”

When asked which experience is better — to attend a school that has a football team that is expected to win every game or a school that where each victory is precious — Wolff is adamant.

“This is better, 100 percent,” she said. “I went to the Alabama/Ole Miss game this year, and we were there for 10 minutes. It’s, ‘Take a picture and we’re going.’ You know what’s going to happen.

“When I went into the SMU stadium, you never really know. Everyone wants them to win, but the odds are not great. None of this was expected.”

Enjoy it. Especially today. SMU is undefeated, but you never really know. A Cotton Bowl invite is a possibility, but Saturday’s game may be SMU’s big bowl for 2019.

ESPN’s College GameDay will be at the SMU game in Memphis, and expect to see scores of SMU students on your TV set.

The only other time SMU has been part of the celebrated ESPN College GameDay setup was Nov. 19, 2011 when the Ponies played at No. 11 Houston. SMU lost that game, 37-7, to coach Kevin Sumlin and quarterback Case Keenum.

It’s now Nov. 2, 2019, and No. 15 SMU will play at No. 24 Memphis in its most nationally relevant game since the mid ‘80s.

SMU IS HEADED TO MEMPHIS

Walking around The Hilltop on SMU’s campus in Highland Park, I fully expected to see support for the football team, but I did not anticipate seeing so many students preparing to make the trip to Memphis.

I thought I would visit with students who would make a point of watching the game on television.

They’re going. By the bus loads. By the car loads. And, because we’re talking about SMU here, by plane.

That’s a seven-hour drive to the University of Memphis; six if you do it right. The first order of business is not visiting Elvis at Graceland, or eating at Gus’s World Famous Overrated Fried Chicken, but loading up on donuts at Gibson’s.

SMU juniors Mike Cohen and Quentin Catalano are making the trip with six buddies in two different cars. Eight college guys rented one Airbnb close to the stadium. Sure the owners of that house are thrilled.

“We’re pretty sure we’ll get to GameDay because the bars open up at 7:30,” Cohen said.

That’s 7:30 a.m.

Wolff was already all-in with SMU football because her boyfriend is guard Nick Dennis. And because her grandfather, father and sister are all SMU alums.

“I’d go to the games last year and my first impression was, ‘Well, I may be the only student here,’” she said. “I’d go to the games with my mom. None of my friends would go with me. My friends were at the bar.”

Considering the team was SMU, the bar was a wise decision.

With SMU the hottest non-Power 5 story going in college football, the students are going to the games. They are staying at the games. They are now going to road games.

SMU’S COLLEGE FOOTBALL PROBLEM

As TCU learned the hard way when it was in a non-Power 5 school, SMU will have to be perfect if it wants to somehow slide in and gain a spot in a New Year’s Six Bowl game.

Unless Wall Street, the federal government and the sun all collapse at the same time, SMU has no path to a berth in the college football playoffs.

SMU could lose to Memphis, win every other game, and end up in the Frisco Bowl. To play on college football’s biggest stage late in the year, SMU has zero margin for mistakes.

The Ponies’ best shot is an invite to one of the “big” bowl games; think the Cotton Bowl.

When TCU finished with an 12-0 record in 2009, the college football cartel put the Horned Frogs in the Fiesta Bowl against Boise State, a matchup that left both programs honked.

Both programs wanted to play a power conference bully. They didn’t want to play their twin brother.

Much like with TCU then, the cartel does not want SMU in this discussion.

With an enrollment of approximately 11,000, there just are not enough SMU people to fill up a Cotton Bowl game. Because so many of you live in DFW, you won’t fill up the hotel space that out-of-town opponents typically occupy.

You won’t do touristy type things because this is your home.

The only way to change it is to do the unexpected and win out.

“I chose SMU because of the business school,” Catalano said. “Like, people sometimes choose schools, like Alabama, because it’s fun and they have a great team.”

They do, and SMU could win out and nothing will change that.

Celebrate the achievement of today, and, if somehow SMU wins again, try not to destroy that house.

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Mac Engel is an award-winning columnist who has extensive experience covering Fort Worth-Dallas area sports for 20 years. He has covered high schools, colleges, all four major sports teams as well as Olympic games and the world of entertainment, too. He combines dry wit with first-person reporting to complement a head of hair that is almost unfair.
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