Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship has started to look at the remainder of the season as a playoff.
"We keep saying that we're in a point now where it is a five-game playoff," he said. "You've got to see it as that, but the way you can depend on not being around in the playoffs is if you don't play, you are off. This week is the only game that matters."
After a tough start to the season, the Golden Hurricane has bounced back and control their fate in their quest for the Conference USA title. Tulsa is one of just two teams with an unbeaten record in league play.
As if that's not enough motivation for this week's game against SMU, the Golden Hurricane also will play in front of a homecoming crowd, and have a chance to make up for a flat performance in another important game against SMU last season.
"The main reason I have it circled is because they are the preseason favorite in our division," Blankenship said of the SMU game. "You know if you are going to win your division, you have to beat SMU.
"This is the team that is one of those that, coming into the season, you knew that they were the favorite and one of the teams to beat. You put them and Houston in that category of teams to beat if you're going to be a Western Division champion. It just so happens that SMU is coming to town this week."
--Turnover differential has been a source of headaches for Tulsa this season. Against Rice, the Golden Hurricane was plus-three in turnovers. Still, Tulsa ranks among the worst teams in the country in total turnover differential. Only 11 teams are worse that Tulsa, including SMU.
-- He was at it again. For the fifth time this season, Tulsa linebacker Curnelius Arnick logged double-digit tackles. He had 12 against Rice, which is actually slightly below his season average of 12.29 per game. Arnick also had an interception on the first Rice pass of the game.
--Tulsa kicker Kevin Fitzpatrick strong season continued against Rice. He nailed a career-long 52-yard field goal and also missed a field goal. But, even then, that was his first miss of the season. He has made seven of eight attempts. Last year he made 16 of 24.
SERIES HISTORY: SMU leads, 12-6. Last meeting, 2010, 21-18 SMU
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Tulsa's passing offense has been the signature of the program for several years, but it struggled early this season. In the past month, the Golden Hurricane's passing offense has improved every week. Quarterback G.J. Kinne and his deep group of mostly unknown receivers average nearly 250 yards per game.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Pass defense was a glaring weakness last year for Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane spent much of the season ranked last nationally in that category. Against Rice, the Golden Hurricane allowed fewer passing yards than its season average. But that number was more than what Rice usually puts out. Tulsa's pass defense might be marginally better than last year, but SMU and it 12th ranked passing offense could pose a problem.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Being able to come home and it's homecoming weekend. It should be a great crowd with a lot of folks here. It's a great opportunity for our folks to come out, fill the stadium and be excited to come." -- Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: If Tulsa is to fulfill its aspirations to win a Conference USA title, this week's game should be key. In SMU, Tulsa faces another West Division contender, one that has three league wins. Tulsa has played better teams this season - Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Boise State - but this game marks the most challenging Conference USA game so far.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Tulsa and SMU are two of the nation's most turnover-prone teams in the country. Both rank among the bottom 11 teams in the country in turnover differential, and both are explosive. That combination means Tulsa probably has to win the turnover battle to win.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
QB G.J. Kinne -- He's on quite a roll. The Rice game was the quarterback's third straight game in which he passed for at least 300 yards. This is the second straight year that Kinne has had such a streak. He has never had four straight 300-yard passing game.
DE Tyrunn Walker -- The defensive lineman could have an important role in Tulsa's pass defense. He leads the team in sacks, and could short SMU's offense by disrupting Mustangs quarterback J.J. McDermott.
RB Trey Watts -- Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship awarded Watts a game ball for his performance against Rice. It was statistically mediocre: 68 yards on 18 carries, but it was his best performance since notching 163 against Oklahoma State.
--Tulsa reported no injuries this week.