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This week puts the national spotlight on SMU, renews one of college football’s most heated rivalries and ushers in Kansas’ most important game in years.
SMU’S MIX-AND-MATCH ROSTER EYES 9-0
The first year of the Sonny Dykes Era didn’t give SMU fans much to celebrate. The Mustangs finished last season with a 5-7 record and seemed headed off the rails without previous head coach Chad Morris, who steadily improved the program during his three-year tenure. How things seemed then is unimportant now, however, as Dykes has his team sitting at 8-0 prior to this weekend’s game with Memphis in a contest that will have implications not only on the race for an AAC title but also on the battle for a New Year’s Six Bowl berth.
What makes the story of the Mustangs’ quick about-face interesting, however, is the roster construction. More specifically, the fact that SMU has 31 transfers on its roster — a roster that is currently clubbing AAC opponents week after week. It’s a risky way to build a program, sure.
But according to Damon Sayles, who covers Dykes’ program at TheHillTopics.com, the approach has paid dividends for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the plug-and-play system the current staff has installed.
“SMU's found a formula to where the transfer portal has become an MVP of sorts,” Sayles said. “QB Shane Buechele (Texas transfer), WR Reggie Roberson Jr. (West Virginia), LB/S Pat Nelson (Illinois), CB Brandon Stephens (UCLA) are among the major contributors for this team,” Sayles said. “Obviously, much of what the team is doing involves believing in and trusting the system implemented by Sonny Dykes and the rest of the coaching staff. Put all that together, along with playing with confidence and living by the "go 1-0 each week" attitude, and you've got one of the best SMU teams the nation has seen in a long, long time.”
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STILL PLENTY OF STAKES FOR FSU-MIAMI
It’s not a game with ACC title implications. Neither team will be crashing the College Football Playoff, but calling this weekend's meeting between 4-4 Florida State and 4-4 Miami inconsequential is a stretch.
A couple of fan bases searching for reasons to either embrace or alienate their relatively new head coaches will have plenty of reasons to do one or the other when the dust settles on Saturday. Nobody ever thinks they're worse off than their struggling nemesis until that’s proven to be the case, after all.
And that doesn’t even account for the recruiting implications — implications Gary Furman, who covers Miami at CaneSport.com, says can’t be overstated.
“This game is incredibly important for all the wrong reasons,” Furman said. “Right now Miami and FSU are in a race to see which program gets its act together the quickest. The loser in that battle could face major consequences in recruiting in the state because Florida is already [thriving] under Dan Mullen. Miami and FSU are not going head to head a lot right now in recruiting because we are getting so close to the early signing period and classes are pretty full. Win or lose, what happens in the game and in the months afterward will have a major impact on recruiting for the 2021 class.”
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CAUTIOUS OPTIMISM ABOUND IN KANSAS
Les Miles has Kansas showing signs of life at 3-5. And for a program that hasn’t won more than four games in a season in a decade, such a thing sparks optimism. So a win over in-state rival No. 22 Kansas State (5-2) this weekend would turn nervous smiles into a full-fledged celebration.
Everyone likes a comeback story, so this year’s Sunflower Showdown packs some level of intrigue. Miles has placed an emphasis on winning the state since he took over at KU this offseason and his first crack at the Wildcats comes at home. As six-point underdogs, the real possibility of a victory exists.
John Kirby, who covers KU at JayhawkSlant.com, says such a victory would mean more than a simple tally in the win column. In fact, according to him, Saturday could be a turning point of sorts on a macro level.
“Miles said he wanted to recruit locally when he took the job,” Kirby said. “They have offered a lot of local recruits in the last 11 months, but they are still looking for more success when it comes to recruits in the area. A win over Kansas State would give them another selling point to show recruits.
“For the first time in about 10 years there seems to be more buzz from the Kansas side,” Kirby said. “It has been a long time since the Jayhawks had some confidence going into the game and playing at home.”
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