What do you see when you look at your favorite college football team’s 2022-23 season schedule? Do your eyes zero in on the rivalry matchup? Do you start counting up hypothetical wins and losses?
Take SMU for example – how many people do you think are salivating over that September 24th dogfight for DFW’s soul? The limit probably doesn’t exist. But there is one man who didn’t bite.
“It’s one game,” clarified SMU Head Coach Rhett Lashlee. “The TCU game is getting a lot of attention right now because that’s where Sonny went, but look Sonny and I are friends. I think we both look at that as a game we want to win and compete but we both have our conferences to worry about. Right now, we don’t have signs up in our building or anything about that game. We are worried about our league and Cincinnati; they are the measuring stick in our league and that’s our focus.”
That might sound like “coach speak” to you, but Lashlee makes a good point, both about the Bearcats setting Playoff precedence and the fact that the Horned Frogs are just one problem out of 12. The Arkansas native made time to walk us through the rest of the Mustangs 2022-23 slate.
9/3 at North Texas, 9/10 vs. Lamar, 9/17 at Maryland, 9/24 vs. TCU
“We knew who our non-conference schedule was, we knew who the teams from our conference who would be on our schedule were, we just had no idea the order,” said Lashlee. “And order matters. I do think this is probably the hardest schedule SMU has had since at least 2018, which was my first year as OC - maybe even harder than that just because I think the league is stronger now than it was then.”
2018 did begin similarly for the Mustangs.
“I think that year we played at North Texas, we played at Michigan and we played TCU in the non-conference,” recalled Lashlee. “Well, this year we play at North Texas, we play at Maryland and we play TCU. So, we have a really good non-conference slate.”
This year could be do-or-die for Seth Littrell at North Texas and the addition of former Memphis quarterback Grant Gunnell should likely bolster the Mean Green’s offensive machine. Sources say it’s the junior’s father who calls the shots and while Gunnell didn’t necessarily want to compete for the Tiger’s starting spot, he didn’t really want to transfer again. The Maryland game won’t be a cake walk either as Terps head coach Michael Locksley has B1G plans coming off of the team’s first bowl win since 2014, especially for his record-breaking QB.
10/1 at UCF, 10/14 vs. Navy, 10/22 vs. Cincinnati
“In my opinion the league is as strong as it’s ever been” remarked Lashlee. “Right after TCU, we go straight to Central Florida for our first conference game, I think they are going to be really, really good. We get Navy at home, but Navy is Navy. They are really tough every year and then Cincinnati comes in.”
Lashlee praises Central Florida as one of the toughest places to play in the AAC.
“The Bounce House, as they call it, is always loud and rockin’ and I know they are probably ready for SMU after we beat them last year so that will be a big challenge to open up the conference,” said Lashlee. “As a player, I always loved playing on the road more than playing at home anyways just because the atmosphere and everybody is against you. If you are a competitor, those are the games you want to play in - you love going into those hostile environments where fans are just downright mean because that’s the challenge.”
Speaking of old playing days, Lashlee has a unique tie to the Knights this time around.
“I played for Gus (Malzahn) in high school, but we go back further than that,” Lashlee pointed out. “I was a seventh grader when he came to Springdale. He’s not really different from then to now, he’s actually nicer to people now. He was a lot harder on us when we played for him.”
But facing off against your friends is just the nature of the beast.
“If you do this long enough you are going to have to coach against friends,” shared Lashlee. “I’m going to have to coach against Sonny and Gus back-to-back and that’s just part of it but I’m also able to recognize that those two have done a lot to help me get to where I am so I’m appreciative of that.”
10/29 at Tulsa, 11/5 vs. Houston
“Tulsa is very good on the road and then we’ve got Houston coming in here. Houston and SMU always have a great game, it’s a rivalry and they beat Auburn in a bowl game last year to end the season so they will be really, really tough,” said Lashlee.
The Golden Hurricane are disrupters in this league, often playing better on the road than at home and head coach Phillip Montgomery relishes that role. Houston will also be dangerous with fifth-year gunslinger Clayton Tune at the helm – Tanner Mordecai vs. Tune is sure to be prime time television.
11/12 – at South Florida, 11/17 at Tulane, 11/26 vs. Memphis
“Then we go to South Florida, which I went to South Florida when I was here last time, they always have fantastic athletes,” noted Lashlee. “What Jeff Scott is doing there, I think they are about to turn the corner, so that will be tough.”
Lashlee realizes that his team will have to finish the way they start – strong.
“Then we have a short week to go to Tulane so you look at things like that when you have a road game and you have to turn around and play Thursday night again on the road – that’s a challenge” said Lashlee. “And then we finish with Memphis at home and everybody knows what Memphis is every year. It’s a really challenging schedule.”