The dream of the program's first undefeated season since 1982 might be over for SMU, but Sonny Dykes' team still has plenty to play for over its last three regular-season games. In their final tune-up before facing American Athletic Conference West leader Navy in two weeks, the 23rd-ranked Mustangs will attempt to reach the nine-win mark for the first time in 35 years Saturday when they host East Carolina.
SMU's case to represent the Group of Five in the New Year's Six was a dealt a sizeable blow following last weekend's 54-48 loss at No. 19 Memphis, not only ending the school's best start to a season since the days of "The Pony Express" but also removing it from the top of the division. The Mustangs will need to win out - including on the road in two weeks against the 25th-ranked Midshipmen - and a loss by the Tigers over their final three contests in order to get back into the conversation of playing on Jan. 1. The Pirates have dropped four straight but held a 12-point lead on No. 17 Cincinnati midway through the fourth quarter last weekend before a long interception return and field goal as time expired contributed to a 46-43 loss. "To go out there and play that way, you just hate not to get the win. We had some incredible individual performances, but the thing you focus on is what a great effort by our kids," first-year coach Mike Houston told reporters afterward.
TV: Noon ET, ESPNU. LINE: SMU -21.
ABOUT EAST CAROLINA (3-6, 0-5 American): Two of the individual performances Houston spoke of were school-record efforts by sophomore quarterback Holton Ahlers (535 passing yards - third most in conference history) and freshman receiver C.J. Johnson (12 catches for a conference-record 283 yards). "I can't tell you how many balls those two have thrown since C.J. got here last summer. ... You saw it pretty early in preseason camp that (Johnson) had that kind of ability. Then the next thing is he has really worked hard to develop himself," Houston said. Another freshman receiver, Jsi Hatfield, nearly doubled his receiving production for the season against Memphis, finishing with six catches for 96 yards and a touchdown (nine receptions for 96 yards in eight previous games combined).
ABOUT SMU (8-1, 4-1): James Proche posted a season-high 13 catches for 149 yards and a touchdown against Memphis, extending his scoring streak to eight games to match a program record while also moving into second place in FBS with 74 catches. Xavier Jones was held to a season-low 22 yards rushing but punched in a 2-yard run to continue his season-long scoring streak and increase his TD total for the year to 17 - two shy of matching Eric Dickerson's 19 in 1981. Reggie Roberson Jr. (43 catches for 803 yards and six TDs) did not travel with the team to Memphis due to a foot injury he suffered on Oct. 24 and appears unlikely to play again this weekend.
1. Proche's next TD catch will move him past Emmanuel Sanders (34; 2006-09) for the most in school history.
2. The Pirates have dropped seven in a row against ranked opponents since upsetting No. 25 North Carolina 70-41 in 2014.
3. The Mustangs' streak of forcing a turnover in 19 straight games came to an end against Memphis.
Key Players to Watch
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