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Midweek Musings: We need to talk about SMU

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TCU has had one consistent opponent throughout the WAC, CUSA, MWC and Big 12 periods, but is their consistency in mediocrity making them a worthwhile opponent?

Somehow the only photos of SMU available are from 2013.  That... kind of says it all.
Somehow the only photos of SMU available are from 2013. That... kind of says it all.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

A feature unique to sports is how a fan hearing a word can arouse such a wide variety of emotions.  When I hear "TCU" anywhere, you can pretty well guarantee that I'll smile, and turn to try and find the party in question to give them a thumbs up or the Frog sign, while the mention of "Baylor" is enough to sour my mood and in some cases cause a different sort of hand gesture-- unless it's prefaced or followed by a comment of how much they suck.  Names have power in college football, even when they're just a few letters strung together, which brings us to three little letters that used to mean so much years ago, but now seem to met with a shrug of indifference -- SMU.

TCU is, of course, a school with many rivals-  Baylor, Texas Tech, Texas A&M and SMU all having their own rivalry Wikipedia pages. Additionally, we've had a few other stand-in rivals as well while we were conference hopping, with Louisville, Southern Miss (sucks), BYU, Utah, and Boise State springing readily to mind.  It's a very unique situation to be in, and I might go so far as to say that TCU may have the most rivalries of any non-blue blood program (Everyone in the Big 10 hates Michigan, for example), and does have likely the most mutual rivalries our of any school in college football (with the possible exception of Notre Dame, who will make up a trophy for anyone they play more than twice), which means that TCU has a pretty good gamut of almost all of the types of rivalry enmity.  And that there are so many sorts of opponents that rile up different sorts of enmity, and the rekindled hatred of some teams and fanbases since the move to the Big 12 has meant that the lack of feeling when that one particular rival rolls into town stands out all the more by comparison.  So what has gone so rotten in the battle for the Iron Skillet?

The tide turned in the rivalry, and it turned at a time where it's not likely to be made up: When SMU got the Death Penalty after riding a long money train of wins (The boosters bought the players that led to an impressive 15 straight pony wins over TCU), things changed in a big way for the TCU and SMU programs.  Although it would be a while before TCU would make its resurgence to a football power, it dragged the Mustangs down into the cellar with us and actually gave us a leg up.  In the 9 games after the death penalty but before Fran/Patterson, the Frogs won 6- not exactly a string of dominance, but considering the quality of teams that the Frogs were rolling out in those years, that SMU had a losing record against us should have stood out as a huge warning sign.  Since Patterson came on staff at TCU with coach Fran in 1998, TCU has gone 13-3 against the ponies, and while conference realignment has shuffled us around quite a lot, there has been one constant- TCU has been at least one step ahead of SMU every time, and that has meant recruiting, financial and coaching advantages that SMU will probably never be able to match.  Now, I still have a soft spot for the G5 after our days of conference hopping, so I don't think the lack of rivalry fire is because of the difference in conference affiliation- I'm sure that if we played a good Boise State team next year things would be absolutely rocking- but SMU is not Boise State, and never will be.  In fact...

SMU is the worst college football team of the 2000s: This may be a bit of an overstatement, but the more I think about it, the more true it seems.  Since 2000, SMU has had twice as many seasons of one win or less than they've had winning seasons- You could make an argument for New Mexico State (one 1 win season, one 0 win season), Louisiana-Monroe (two one win seasons), Army (two 1 win seasons, one 0 win season), Buffalo (three 1 win seasons), or Idaho (five 1 win seasons), but SMU's three one win seasons and majestic 0-fer in 2003 makes them just as deserving of the title.  The only coach to take SMU to a bowl game since the death penalty quit this season after our game with them because he was afraid being associated with their 2014 season would make him too toxic to ever get another job.  Oh, and speaking of SMU being toxic...

They drag down our strength of schedule, and it's cost us big: SMU has long been out of the discussion for what makes a tough or marquee out of conference opponent, unless of course, you're talking about programs that have fairly miserable scheduling practices, but it's almost to the point where TCU might be better off taking an extra bye week and only playing 11 games instead of playing SMU.  College football is a popularity contest, and whatever caveats you might throw around about "they're a traditional rival", when you're comparing two similar teams, who you play matters.  Remember the Rose Bowl season, how awesome the atmosphere was and the program defining victory over Wisconsin we got out of it?  Now realize that if Boise State didn't miss two incredible gimmie field goals, we're in the Las Vegas bowl against some at large team because the Pac-12 didn't have enough bowl teams.  That's right, we wouldn'tve even been playing a P5 team, much less a conference winner- and why was Boise State favored to jump us in the polls?  Because they played Virginia Tech and Oregon State in OOC games, while we played Oregon State and SMU.  This year the Frogs and Baylor were in a three way discussion for the last spot in the playoffs and had been sitting pretty over an Ohio State team that had lost its top 2 quarterbacks, only to be passed in the only poll that actually mattered.  Why?  Some people will argue that we lost out because we didn't have "one true champion", but to my mind the fact that we had one good non-conference game to Ohio State's two (and Baylor's traditional none) might have cost us a much bigger ring last season.  And while we're on the topic of costing us things...

They want to beat us a lot more than we want to beat them: A lot of teams claim "it was their super bowl" when they lose to their rival, and it always sounds like a bit of a lame excuse.  However, when you've beaten a team six years in a row, including 44-0 the year before, you don't always come out mentally focused.  It's happened to the Frogs twice since 2000- SMU has done just enough to pull a game out when TCU was either feeling too good (2005) or too deflated (2011) and both times it's cost us at least a BCS game (the MWC champ frogs would've received an automatic bid if they'd finished in the top 14 and above an AQ conference champion, like, say, #23 West Virginia).  Both of those games aggravate me to no end because of what they cost my beloved program, but what's most damning about the SMU rivalry at this point is...

It feels like any other game: Frankly, I wouldn't be less miffed if TCU had lost both of those games to UT-San Antonio instead, all I think about in those games is what we could've done if we won, not that "Oh no, we lost to our rival" feeling that consumes one's soul- and I know you all know very well what that feels like.  I suppose that's the biggest difference in the games these days- now we know what rivalry feels like- exulting in your triumph over evil, the crushing agony of your defeat due to (always) suspect officiating.  I've never had that feeling with SMU, and I've been going to TCU games since 1984- I can only imagine it's an even stronger feeling among the younger alums who have only ever seen SMU be useless.

We've had a lot of talks about buffing up our non-conference schedule over the years, and I've always pointed out that scheduling two P5 teams will invariably mean the end of the SMU series, which I've assumed means a great deal to people.  However, now that we're in the Big 12 and have remembered the taste and feeling of real rivalry... would anyone really care if we didn't see the fellows from Dallas on future schedules?