The 2019 season may be turning into quite the memorable one for SMU. The undefeated Mustangs continue to climb in the national polls with each week as their chances to play for a conference championship are coming into reach. This week, SMU travels to Houston, a place that has not been kind to them over the years.
Houston has lost to SMU just once since 1989. Houston is 9-1-1 at home against SMU since 1989, spanning three different conferences (Southwest Conference, Conference USA, and the American Athletic Conference. But there is something different happening this season. SMU is among the top teams in the conference while Houston is trending the wrong way. For the first time since 1981, SMU will arrive in Houston as a ranked team. This could be SMU's year and Houston could merely be a mild speed bump along the way.
SMU at Houston
Kickoff: Thursday, Oct. 24 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: SMU -13.0
When SMU has the Ball
Anytime the Mustangs send the offense on the field, expect yards and points. SMU enters the week with the nation’s seventh-ranked offense with 521.1 yards per game, easily the most explosive in the Group of 5. SMU averages just over six yards per play, so the first key for Houston will be to try and find a way to force some long second and third-down situations. Easier said than done, of course.
Former Texas quarterback Shane Buechele has been enjoying his time with SMU. Buechele has thrown for 2,122 yards and 18 touchdowns this season and he brings a passer rating of 155.06 into the Thursday night matchup. Expect Buechele to thrive through the air because Houston has the nation's 124th-ranked pass defense. Houston allows an average of 299.9 passing yards per game, with 18 touchdowns allowed in seven games. SMU receivers Reggie Roberson Jr. and James Proche are the AAC's second- and third-leading receivers, respectively and should be in for a big night as well.
SMU can also do some damage on the ground. Xavier Jones, a senior, is the conference's third-leading rusher with 751 yards and the AAC's second-most rushing touchdowns (12; Navy's Malcolm Perry has 14). The Mustangs are firing on all cylinders on offense.
When Houston Has the Ball
While SMU's offense is flying high, Houston’s is just trying to establish some sort of identity. Doing so just weeks after starting quarterback D'Erig King and wide receiver Keith Corbin have decided to redshirt the remainder of the season, Houston has had a few struggles that have frustrated Dana Holgorsen a bit. Houston managed to score just 24 points on a UConn team that has allowed at least 31 points in each of its previous five games prior to playing Houston.
Houston has also lost the turnover battle in each of their last two games and three times in their last four games. SMU should have an opportunity to create a pass rush as well. Houston has allowed 18 sacks this season, third-most in the AAC. Clayton Tune will have to find ways to get rid of the football quickly as he continues to adjust to life as the starter for the Cougars,
All things considered, this would appear to be a possible tricky spot for SMU. The Mustangs are ranked and looking to remain undefeated, but going on the road is always dangerous for a program not particularly used to this kind of success. But if Houston wasn't already seeing their season get away from them compared to where it could have been, SMU may be walking into one of the most favorable spots they could ask for when visiting Houston. The Cougars are vulnerable and ripe for the picking. SMU should be able to stick to their game plan and excel. Jumping out to an early lead should be expected from the Mustangs, and they may not have to bother looking in the rearview mirror. SMU may get their biggest win at Houston since 1985 when the Pony Express walked away with a 24-point victory.
Prediction: SMU 38, Houston 17
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Patreon, on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.