This is SMU's third bowl appearance in a row under June Jones. What's the moodamongst the program, and the fans? Is there a feeling that a bigger bowl isaround the corner?
"At the beginning of the season, thisteam set three main goals: win Conference USA, get to the post-season and winthe bowl game. Though things started off like goal No. 1 could be accomplished,that train ran off the track mid-season. There's no question SMU would like tobe in a better bowl, but all things considered, this team is happy to be in abowl game and they're happy to not be playing it in Dallas like they did lastyear (Armed Forces Bowl)."
"There is a feeling with the bestrecruiting class SMU has had in 25 years and the fact that they're joining awatered down Big East in a few years, getting to a more prominent bowl is not a far fetched idea like it was once upon a time."
On that same level--what is the excitement level around the program after being downfor so many years?
"I think the most excited this program hasbeen as of late was in 2009—June Jones' second year at SMU when he led them tothe Hawaii Bowl, the program's first since the 1985 Death Penalty. Since then,SMU has gone to a bowl every year. They lost last year, but now, making thepost-season is expected. Of course players and coaches are still excited, but thisis their third consecutive bowl game. Rather than feeling like they're going ona vacation, the mood is more that of a business trip."
Former SMU head coach Phil Bennett came to Pitt after his tenure there, and was verypopular in Pittsburgh. What was the general consensus during his time in SMU?
"Bennett was at SMU for six dreadful seasons. In that time, the Mustangs went 18-52, didn't have one winning season,couldn't recruit as well as they can now and the program overall was justmired, not going anywhere. And then came June Jones…"
With SMU heading to the Big East in the near future, what's the excitement levelregarding that--coming into a BCS conference, etc?
"Incredibly excited. The Death Penaltydid quite a number on SMU. Things were so bad that even now the NCAA won't handMiami, Ohio State and USC, among others, quite that caliber of sanctions."
"For the last 25 years, SMU has been laughable. Now, they're on the rise and being invited into and accepting theinvitation to the Big East – a BCS conference – is just huge. Especially withschools like West Virginia, Pitt and Syracuse leaving, SMU could very well beone of the best football programs in the conference, which will give them thepositive national recognition they've so desired the last couple decades."
June Jones was reportedly set to take the Arizona State job. A week later, Todd Grahamtook the Arizona State job. It first looked as if Pitt would be facing aninterim coach as opposed to being the one with an interim coach like they werelast year. Then, they ended up with an interim coach again. What's the moodbeen like with Jones sticking around (are people weary of him after lookingaround for another job, have the players bought in again, etc?)
"I think the current players have bought in, at least in the interim because of the time sensitivity of the bowl game.These guys, especially the seniors who were here in Jones' first year when the Mustangs went 1-11, know how important Saturday is for the future of SMU and Ithink they're standing up in the locker room and letting all the younger guysknow that they better shake off any and all uncertainties regarding Jones andanything else and play ball."
"Having said that, Jones has lost a few recruits since that ASU chaos. He's even lost one of his coaches – Adrian Klemm(offensive line coach, recruiting coordinator) – to UCLA. I think a few otherrecruits may de-commit over the next few weeks because they fear there is too muchinstability. But the majority of the 2012 class is staying intact and everyonewill eventually get over it."
What havebeen some of SMU's strengths this season?
"The defense. That unit has played well enoughto win in just about every game this season, except against Tulsa. Because ofthem, SMU could have finished 9-3, but the offense plagued the team the latterpart of the season with turnovers and of course Zach Line's injury didn't help,either."
"At one point, SMU's defense was rankedin the Top 20. They're currently ranked 36th, but they're definitelythe team's strongest unit."
Have therebeen any consistent problems that has plagued the team this season?
"As mentioned above, turnovers. SMU ranksdead last nationally with a minus-17 turnover margin. That hurts. After gettingoff to a 5-0 start in his first year as SMU's starting quarterback, J.J.McDermott went downhill and finished the regular season with equal touchdowns to interceptions (16). The offensive line hasn't given him much help, so thegiveaways can't completely be put on McDermott, but he hasn't been as good ashe was. I personally think there was a very strong hangover after SMU beat TCUin Week 5."
"Also, the defense hasn't forced turnovers, either, so that doesn't help. The guys are tackling well, but theyaren't making that extra effort to strip balls."
Will SMUtravel well to this game? How many fans will make the trip?
"Definitely not. They couldn't even fillup Ford Stadium the entire year! Senior Day was extra pathetic."
Does anybody remember the 1983 Cotton Bowl between Pitt and SMU, and is there afeeling from the SMU faithful that the program is heading back to those glory days?
"Honestly, I'm not sure. Maybe for somefans, but not for the players as none of them were even born yet."
"SMU gets it's second bowl win underJones, beats Pitt 27-24."