Two undefeated Lone Star State rivals square off on Saturday
For the first time since 1984, the SMU Mustangs are 3-0 to start the regular season and have done so in impressive fashion. SMU currently ranks 11th in the country in total offense, averaging 550 yards per game behind the arm of former Texas transfer Shane Buechele who has run the show to perfection in his first season with the team. This isn't just an offensive explosion either for SMU as the defensive line has become a terror for opponents with 12 sacks in three games, and the second-most sack yardage in the country.
As for the TCU Horned Frogs, it was an impressive showing last weekend in West Lafayette as they blew out Purdue 34-13. While the coaching staff continued to juggle their quarterback situation, the running game exploded against the Boilermakers as the team combined to rush for 346 yards on the night, including two 100-yard rushers in Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua.
Saturday will provide the first real test for each team as they look to keep their undefeated seasons going for another week.
SMU at TCU
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 21 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: NC State -9.5
When SMU Has the Ball
The Mustangs have been one of the most balanced teams in the country through three games, ranking in the Top 25 in both passing and rushing offense. SMU being able to throw the ball is no surprise considering they arguably have one of the top duos at receiver in the country in James Proche and Reggie Roberson who have already combined 38 catches and four TDs this season. The running game has been the bigger surprise with senior tailback Xavier Jones looking like the 2017 version of himself. After being relegated to backup duties a year ago, Jones has burst out of the gates with seven rushing TDs which is tied for the most of any player in the country so far.
This offense hasn't seen a defense like TCU, though. The Horned Frogs have allowed just 419 total yards in two games, and bottled up the Purdue passing attack last week as the Boilermakers completed just 45 percent of their passes. Star receiver Rondale Moore was held to just three catches so TCU is well-equipped to deal with top-end pass catchers.
When TCU Has the Ball
What will Gary Patterson do with the quarterbacks? Senior Alex Delton has gotten the nod in the first two games, but has been ineffective when on the field. True freshman Max Duggan hasn't necessarily been a significant upgrade, but has shown enough promise to warrant a change being made by the coaching staff. Against Purdue, Duggan was on the field for 11 of the 14 offensive series, so Patterson might already be showing his hand who the preferred option is moving forward.
The starting QB won't matter much if the TCU running game continues to dominate as it did a week ago. The Horned Frogs already have 546 rushing yards, including 346 against Purdue last week, after finishing 82nd in the country a year ago in that category. SMU is yielding 106 yards on the ground per game and has surrendered just one rushing touchdown in the first three contests.
Not sure how often this is said about an SMU-TCU matchup, but the battle in the trenches will likely determine the outcome here on Saturday. Can the Horned Frogs continue to rack up the yards on the ground against a dominant SMU front seven that has been living in the opposing backfield the first three games? And can the Mustangs remain balanced on offense against a TCU defense that is allowing just 2.1 yards per carry? The Horned Frogs are on a current seven-game win streak against their in-state rivals and will make that eight straight on Saturday, though it will be closer than the experts think as Lee Corso would say.
Prediction: TCU 28, SMU 24
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.