Even before June Jones--packing up a trunk full of Tommy Bahama shirts--parted ways nearly three weeks ago, SMU was already the worst team in the country. The diatribe I wrote a couple of weeks ago is starting to echo just a few short weeks before TCU hops over to Gerald Ford Stadium and assumingly demolishes the atrocious Pony defense. That's not a TCU fan on his pedestal, that's just a guy who's watched SMU play the last two weeks.
SMU sort of left me no choice to bring this up again. Do you really want to hang on to this rivalry? You'll have it for at least a few more years. For every reason I listed in my first vinegary article, and then some, I still can't find a legitimate reason other than wanting to hang on to rustic kitchenware for another year. Congrats, SMU is the worst team in the country. Congrats, you beat the worst team in the country. Congrats, your rival does nothing for you.
Cutting the Cord
After getting demolished by Texas--a team that got demolished by BYU--North Texas got back on its feet and defeated our mutual friends from Dallas 43-6. There was a point in the game where it looked like SMU was going to get shut out for the second straight game, but they were able to muster up 6 points. The Mustangs didn't do much better against Texas A&M's Air Raid, or their defense. Even the Aggie Core was able to fend off SMU players. The Mustangs have been okay the past few years, but this season is an undeniable disaster. It won't get much easier after TCU trots over to Dallas this weekend. SMU gets high scoring Cincinnati and East Carolina the following weeks.
On paper the Iron Skillet looks like a great rivalry; two teams from Dallas-Fort Worth, it's storied; both schools have had Award namesake legends like Doak Walker and Davey O'Brien, and so on. Despite its close record (TCU leads 46-40), the rivalry has always been unbalanced. To their credit, SMU holds the longest streak at 17-straight wins. In the last 13 years, TCU's 11-2. It's not hard to pinpoint when SMU became the antithesis of TCU in football. The question now is how long should the Horned Frogs wait for their crosstown rival to come around, and should they cut the cord after 2017?
The playoff system, in all likelihood, will end up shaving down the Power 5 into a Power 4. SMU probably won't be included. If that were to happen, TCU's going to follow Texas, and that's likely going to be out West--a nice little metaphor for both teams. That's still a ways off, but even before then, teams within the Power 5 are going to be pressured into only playing Power 5 schools--plus the Independents: BYU and Notre Dame. I don't want to beat a dead horse (puns), but the Iron Skillet isn't advantageous to TCU, and will become increasingly so each year. Sure, the game is closer than most rivalries--just look at how mismatched Bedlam is. However, Oklahoma State offers Norman an in-conference rivalry. That, plus both being in a Power-5, makes that rivalry, despite its divergence, infinitely more important than the Iron Skillet.
Unless SMU gets headhunted into a Power 5, which it likely won't, the Iron Skillet will be whittled down to the point where its sole purpose is to become a sharp object for TCU to fall on. It's a slippery argument for a TCU fan. We all remember the paradox--both how much fun and how much it sucked playing in a non-Power 5 conference. But with a decade of great football under the belt, and a leader like Gary Patterson, TCU deservingly left the Mountain West--and Big East--for the greener pastures of the Big 12.
If you think I'm being harsh, let's just talk about what Eric Dickerson had to say about his former team. Forget about SMU no longer playing for the Iron Skillet, think about SMU football ceasing to exist at all. If they don't make considerable moves, Dickerson suggests they should "kill the program". First of all, that's insane to process. Let's jump to an alternate reality real quick. If TCU had another dumpy decade--no Rose Bowls, no Red Hair savants, and certainly no Big 12 invite-- after LT went to the NFL, that would be like him saying "Burn Amon Carter to the ground. It's done".
Second of all, Dickerson has a point.
The bad taste of SMU is still in everyone's mouth, despite the events taking place over thirty-years ago. Penn State is already done with their sanctions. We all remember earlier this month after an out-of-left-field, overnight ruling by the NCAA liberated the Nittany Lions of the penalties they incurred from one of the most vile pieces of garbage in human history. But regardless of their bowl ban being lifted, they were doing fine. They've already had a post-Joe Paterno-Era coach graduate to the NFL and win his first game.
SMU and Penn State's sanctions are apples and oranges. For one, SMU's were not only harsher, they were actually enforced. Yes, it was a little more complicated than just giving Dickerson a Gold Trans-Am. But if giving players benefits--something just about every major program was doing at the time--is penalized more than covering up a child rapist, SMU's crucifiction is all the more enraging. On the other hand, they are so far removed from the Death Penalty, that's it's no longer an acceptable crutch. And that's what Dickerson is saying. Patiently waiting for SMU to come around won't help TCU. A coach like June Jones just dropping the mic two games in doesn't look good for your rivalry game. A rivalry game that's barely regarded as one in 2014 anyway.
However, there's still a vague hope for Dallas.
The Mack Brown Conspiracy Theory
As a person, you hope it gets better for SMU. The smart money's on a guy like Josh Heupel, Houston Nutt, or a Chad Morris to come in and make them relevant and strong again. But that's not easy to do. Just ask the guy who just left.
For what it's worth, Jones was an offensive genius. Cutting his teeth with the Atlanta Falcons--before a brief tenure as the Head Coach--Jones developed two of the most prolific quarterbacks in FBS history as the Head Coach at Hawaii; Timmy Chang and Colt Brennan. Watching Jones and his run and shoot offense was like watching a talented painter commissioned to a masterpiece with inferior tools on an apathetic canvas. It didn't help that Jones wasn't an artist in the way Gary Patterson is. Patterson, with a little leverage from a guy like LT, was able to adapt, and eventually rise out of obscurity, thanks to his keen ability to create metamorphic football players.
Jones then came to Dallas with open arms and nothing short of a parade. The Mustangs were supposed to be back. Jones and Patterson were supposed to develop a salty rivalry (to be fair, they kinda did...but for the wrong reasons) that resurrected a rivalry on its death bed. It didn't work out because well, coaching in Dallas is really damn hard. There was always Texas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M, but now there's Texas Tech, Baylor, and TCU. Other juggernauts like LSU and Southern California don't make things easier for a coach trying to reinvent a tarnished brand.
It's not easy being a niche team, as these take time. TCU, while is everything I said above, is still a team struggling to find better attendance among its alumni. SMU's chance to be in a Power 5 conference may be running out. According to Dickerson, it's already past. The Ponies have to throw a Doug Flutie and hope a big name is willing to catch it. It's not inconceivable to think Mack Brown would want the job. As expected, Brown is a fine commentator. It's funny, or what my mother would call "sweet", to see Brown have the nerves of a freshman at orientation. He's excited, yet a little anxious, and he keeps telling stories no one cares about. It's a decent consolation prize for Brown, but with every Texas name drop, you get the feeling there's an old man crying inside. It's a man who longs for his ex-girlfriend, but who is also ready to get out in the dating world again.
Why not SMU? Yes, moving sucks. I've spent the past month doing it and I wouldn't wish it upon anyone. But Dallas isn't that hard of a move for someone who lives in Austin, and who travels just about every weekend anyway. He's one of the greatest recruiters in history, and rebuilding a program like SMU is a better way to end a legacy than being forced out by the other program you rebuilt. The Ponies would have to throw a lot of money at Brown to get him back on the field. But the good news for SMU? They have plenty of it. At the very least, let the man run your athletic department. Chad Morris or Josh Heupel under the umbrella of Mack's perfect twang would be an unparalleled engagement on the outskirts of the Power 5. An engagement that could push them into the big time. But until then, the team from Fort Worth should remain wary of its crosstown rivalry.