The SMU Mustangs have been sitting at home during the bowl season for the past four years, but they can ensure that will not happen this season with a win against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane Friday night. The turnaround of the SMU program under head coach Chad Morris has been one that tends to get overshadowed considering the current status of some other programs in the American Athletic Conference so far this season, but SMU (5-2, 2-1 AAC) is right in the middle of the AAC West Division championship hunt, tied in the loss column with Memphis and just ahead of Navy, Houston and Tulane.
And then there is Tulsa, perhaps going through one of the more disappointing seasons in the AAC and beyond. Phillip Montgomery's stock may have leveled off or dropped this season as a result of Tulsa's surprising 2-6 season (1-3 in AAC) that has been difficult to predict. One week saw Tulsa getting blown out by Tulane, and the next saw Tulsa blowing out Houston only to be defeated by UConn the following game. Which Tulsa will show up Friday night at SMU?
Tulsa at SMU
Kickoff: Friday, Oct. 27 at 9 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: SMU -9
Three Things to Watch
1. SMU scoring average up two touchdowns in 2017
Chad Morris finally has the offense clicking the way he likes this season. SMU has seen a noticeable uptick in scoring average this season from a year ago. In 2016, the Mustangs averaged 27.7 points per game, ranking them eighth in the conference in scoring average. This season is another story with SMU ranked second in the conference with 42.0 ppg. Coincidentally, UCF is the only team that has a better scoring average than SMU in 2017 among AAC programs and the Knights have seen a similar increase in scoring average this season.
2. Will Tulsa have RB D'Angelo Brewer available?
Brewer (above, right), a senior and Tulsa's leading rusher, sat out of last week's game against UConn due to an injury suffered in practice leading up to the game. His absence from the Tulsa lineup is a difficult one to overcome, although freshman Shamari Brooks is capable of picking up the load when needed. Brewer is the AAC's leading rusher among running backs (Navy quarterback Zach Abbey leads the conference) with 824 rushing yards and an average of 117.7 ypg.
3. Bowl eligibility on the line for SMU
SMU has not been to a postseason bowl game since 2012, but the Mustangs are knocking on the door of a bowl appearance this year. After falling one win shy of bowl eligibility last season, SMU can punch its postseason ticket with a win Friday night with time to spare. Morris has increased SMU's win total each year he has been on the job in his first two seasons, and he is one win away from continuing that trend in 2017.
SMU quarterback Ben Hicks is among the leading passers in the AAC this season, and he should be in line for a big night through the air. Tulsa has the conference's second-worst opposing passer rating allowed and the Golden Hurricane are allowing 258.5 yards per game through the air alone. Luke Skipper, Tulsa's freshman quarterback who replaced Chad President recently, could also have a big night with SMU's pass defense suspect to giving up big yardage as well. Tulsa is too inconsistent though to go on the road and leave with a win at SMU because these Mustangs are running in a good direction and are setting themselves up for a possible run to the AAC Championship Game.
Prediction: SMU 45, Tulsa 31
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.
(Top photo courtesy of SMU Athletics)