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In SMU’s fight for football credibility, TCU presents a great opportunity in the land of realignment

This year’s iteration of the Battle for the Iron Skillet will be SMU’s only game against a Power 5 opponent.

UNIVERSITY PARK – Every college football team has a process, and at the end of that process exists something bigger. Of course, national championships are the ultimate goal, but with 130 FBS teams chasing the same thing, the end goal for teams can be subjective and a little more conceptual.

For SMU, the end goal is taking a program once sentenced to the death penalty and returning it to the national conversation, week in and week out.

“It’s like I’ve been saying since I stepped foot on campus: Every day is a battle for credibility,” SMU head coach Sonny Dykes said earlier this month. “We’re at a school that had a great history of winning, and then didn’t have that history, and we’re trying to get it back. It’s a process.”

The process to build SMU’s credibility may have its biggest battle on Saturday.

This year’s iteration of the Battle for the Iron Skillet, the 100th game between TCU and SMU, will be SMU’s only game against a Power 5 opponent this regular season. The Mustangs have gone 1-2 against Power 5 opponents since Sonny Dykes was hired in 2018. The one win was SMU’s 41-38 victory over TCU in 2019, which broke a seven-game TCU winning streak in the rivalry.

SMU, 3-0 to start the season for the third-straight year, will have big games against Memphis, Central Florida and No. 8 Cincinnati down the road, but considering the state of conference realignment, a game against a local rival from a conference SMU has sought to join presents a huge chance for the Mustangs to boost their credibility.

“I think it’s like anything else, you just have to keep stacking wins. I think that’s the biggest thing,” Dykes said. “When you play a team that’s in the Big 12, that helps, but the most important thing is to figure out how to win football games.”

SMU, aside from some late season stretches, has figured out how to win games often. The Mustangs started 5-0 each of the last two seasons and are 17-6 overall those last two years. This season, SMU is 3-0 after overcoming some first half offensive struggles in a win against North Texas, and after a game-saving Hail Mary touchdown as time expired against Louisiana Tech.

The threshold for figuring things out expects to be a lot slimmer against TCU. The Horned Frogs’ roster is No. 30 on the 247Sports composite talent rankings, which orders teams based on the talent of the recruits they’ve signed. North Texas, at No. 75, is the most talented roster SMU has faced so far, according to the same rankings.

Saturday’s game should be a challenge for SMU, but the Mustangs are confident. They won the Iron Skillet in 2019 and are seeing to win it a second-straight time for the first time since the early ‘90s.

One game ultimately won’t define SMU, nor will a win over TCU be enough for a golden ticket to the Big 12, but realignment is ongoing, and people are always watching.

“The more games you win, the more people pay attention.” Dykes said. “We’re still hoping people pay attention to our program and look at us and say, ‘They’ve got a real program, and a consistent program, and a program that wins year in and year out.’

“That’s what we’re searching for and looking for and you’ve got to win games like this to become relevant. We understand that.”

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Find more SMU coverage from The Dallas Morning News here.

Joseph Hoyt, Staff Writer. Joseph covers SMU, college sports and the Texas Rangers for The Dallas Morning News. Previously he covered high school sports for The News. After graduating from the University of Oregon in 2016, Joseph interned at The News before working for The Ames Tribune and KOIN-TV in Portland. He returned to The News in Nov. 2018.

joseph.hoyt@dallasnews.com /JosephHoytDMN @joejhoyt
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