Back from the dead: SMU gains bowl eligibility

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Joe Broback

Contributor at Champion Insiders
Joe is a writer covering the NFL, NBA, NHL and college football. He also currently writes for SB Nation’s Underdog Dynasty, covering the American Athletic Conference since 2016. Joe enjoys collecting shoes, playing sports, and anything fitness related.
Joe Broback
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Death. It’s the end of something, and never to come back. In sports, the death penalty should ruin your program. The SMU Mustangs know what that’s like, but they’ve now seen the end of the tunnel too. A program that didn’t exist for two years, completely decimated of any talent, finally emerged back to relevancy Saturday night, and they did it in spectacular fashion. If you’re an SMU Mustangs fan that endured the death penalty, last night was more than just a win.

SMU Mustangs and the Death Penalty

To be fair, it was SMU’s own fault that they got the death penalty, and no sane person would argue against that. Money was flowing freely under the table to athletes, and no one stopped them until the NCAA came in to do something. From the 1970’s to the 1980’s, SMU funded their football team like it was in the NFL. Players were given things to play for the school, and it was getting out of hand. Finally, the NCAA decided enough was enough. SMU wouldn’t field a team for the 1987 and 1988 seasons, and the consequences ruined the program.

Since they began playing football again in 1989, SMU’s had just five winning seasons up until this year, and two other seasons in which they finished with a .500 record. In fact, SMU had more double digit loss seasons (8) than they did seasons with a .500 record. Their record from 1989 to this season was 113-223. They were down and out, but Sonny Dykes stepped in and picked them up this year.

A roster with something to prove

It’s fitting that this team is the team to bring SMU back. The roster is filled with overlooked and unwanted talent along with a coach looking for a fresh start.

That’s what this program needed: a fresh start. It just took them 30ish years to do it. Sonny Dykes leads the charge. Getting fired at Cal in 2016 led him to look for work, and finally ended at SMU. Part of the business is accepting you’ll get fired, but he fits the description of no longer being wanted in one place, and leading his new team to new heights.

Xavier Jones had three offers. Three. That’s it. Memphis, New Mexico, and SMU offered the former three star recruit, and he chose the Mustangs. After rushing for over 1,000 yards in 2017, Dykes’ coaching staff entered the picture and Jones struggled. Now, he’s back to his 2017 form, and arguably the best running back in the AAC.

Shane Buechele won the starting job at Texas for a brief moment, but quickly found himself in a battle with Sam Ehlinger. Ehlinger took over as the starter, leaving Buechele to ride the bench. He had enough, and took his talents to Dallas. A strong argument can be made that he deserves AAC Player of the Year with the effect he’s had on the offense.

These are great examples of the type of players SMU puts on the field, and they’re at the top of the AAC currently. Another one of their great players fits that description, and hauled in a catch that will go down as one of the best in the program’s history.

James Proche: An SMU Mustang legend?

You could say that James Proche’s career was left for dead by recruiters. While that’s a strong way to put it, none of the elite schools believed in him. Alabama, Texas A&M, Texas, and Notre Dame all recruited Proche, but none of those schools gave him an offer. At one point, he was predicted to walk-on at Baylor. Ultimately he decided on SMU, and just needed a chance to show what he could do.

His first experience with the SMU Mustangs came in 2017 with Courtland Sutton and Trey Quinn. Both left for the NFL, leaving him as the top dog. He proved to be a go-to receiver with his 93 catches for 1,199 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2018, but that proved to be just the start. Proche’s made a number of highlight reel catches already in 2019, and Saturday’s became his best yet. It’s fitting that SMU won the way they did, and that Proche was the one to win it for them.

The game was the same way. SMU was left for dead down 30-9, but they stood up in the face of adversity to change the outcome. Counted out early, the Mustangs fought back thanks largely to Buechele, Jones, and Proche. There was no quit in this team.

SMU may lose a game this season. Tulsa showed that the Mustangs aren’t invincible, but you won’t make them quit. This program’s been left for dead, but this team’s running the revival. Their leaders all have something to prove, and they play with a fiery passion. Led by a coach who relates to his players, the SMU Mustangs are a dangerous team. Death is in the past, revival is in the present, and success appears to be in the future.

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