No. 19 SMU visits Tulsa with sense of urgency
The American Athletic Conference standings tell an incomplete story, with COVID-related cancellations and postponements not only muddying the title chase but affecting title contenders.
For No. 19 SMU (7-1, 4-1 AAC), the knee-jerk reaction to its upcoming road game against Tulsa (3-1, 3-0 AAC) on Saturday is that a victory is mandatory. The Mustangs' lone loss came to front-running Cincinnati, and with the Golden Hurricane sporting an unbeaten conference mark, SMU seemingly can ill-afford a second AAC loss if it maintains designs on a conference crown.
But with Tulsa having had six games affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, including two cancellations, it's impossible to predict how the remainder of the season will unfold, particularly for the Mustangs, who already have eight results in the bank and could spend a handful of idle weeks watching the rest of the competition slug it out for league positioning.
"There are so many games that have yet to be played in our league," Mustangs coach Sonny Dykes said. "Who knows how all of this stuff is going to play out?
"And then there's probably, after we wrap up our season, maybe some teams that are playing for two more weeks. There's just so many unknowns right now so your approach has to be a game-by-game approach. Our guys are aware of what's going on for sure. We won't talk about it much. I don't know if there'll be any extra emphasis on this but they'll be aware of the standings."
The Mustangs are equally reliant upon talent and maturity to navigate the uncertain waters ahead. Senior quarterback Shane Buechele provides a healthy heaping of both, leading FBS in completions (189), attempts (283) and passing yards (2,581), while ranking sixth in passing touchdowns (20) and 20th in passing efficiency (164.6). Buechele has just three interceptions.
The Texas transfer could have a greater profile than he currently sports. If the Mustangs keep winning, their results and the play of their signal-caller will be exceedingly difficult to ignore.
"If anybody does their homework and actually watches the games and they watch Shane play, it's going to be pretty obvious what kind of football player he is," Dykes said. "You turn the game on and he's just productive. He makes good decisions with the ball, he's accurate, he's a great leader. He wants to win.
"He's done everything we've asked him to do from the moment he set foot on campus. He's made everyone around him better and has really been a catalyst for improving our program. I think he deserves national attention."
Tulsa, off to its best conference start in its seven years in the AAC, will play its first game since a 34-30 win over East Carolina on Oct. 30. That contest represented the latest home opener in program history, and the Hurricane had three prior home games either canceled or postponed.
What amounts to an unbalanced schedule seems to put the Hurricane at a disadvantage. But given the circumstances of this unusual season, Tulsa isn't complaining.
"For us, we're just excited for getting on the field again," Hurricane coach Philip Montgomery said. "They've played eight games, we've played four, so obviously it's a different scenario for the two of us as we look at our seasons and where we're at and where we're wanting to be."
--Field Level Media
Updated November 10, 2020