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2023 AAC Championship Game: Tulane vs. SMU by the numbers

A stat breakdown and intriguing numbers to look at for Saturday’s AAC title game.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 17 SMU at Tulane Photo by Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Tulane Green Wave (11-1, 8-0 AAC) and SMU Mustangs (10-2, 8-0 AAC) square off in the 2023 AAC Championship Game at Yulman Stadium in New Orleans. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. ET / 3 p.m. CT on Saturday, and the game will be broadcast on ABC.

Tulane seeks its second consecutive AAC title, while SMU aims for its first before departing for the ACC. Here are some notes and numbers to know before the Green Wave and Mustangs compete for the conference crown.

Stat comparison

SMU Mustangs

  • Scoring offense: 41.8 points per game (4th)
  • Total offense: 472.0 yards per game (9th)
  • Passing offense: 291.9 yards per game (16th)
  • Rushing offense: 180.1 yards per game (42nd)
  • Turnovers lost: 10 (t-10th)
  • Scoring defense: 17.7 points per game (13th)
  • Passing defense: 184.3 yards per game (t-15th)
  • Rushing defense: 117.8 yards per game (t-28th)
  • Turnovers gained: 15 (t-86th)

Tulane Green Wave

  • Scoring offense: 41.8 points per game (4th)
  • Total offense: 472.0 yards per game (9th)
  • Passing offense: 291.9 yards per game (16th)
  • Rushing offense: 180.1 yards per game (42nd)
  • Turnovers lost: 16 (t-54th)
  • Scoring defense: 18.3 points per game (t-17th)
  • Passing defense: 242.2 yards per game (t-100th)
  • Rushing defense: 86.0 yards per game (6th)
  • Turnovers gained: 22 (t-14th)


Number of combined wins for Tulane and SMU

Tulane is 11-1. SMU is 10-2. Neither team has lost since their September non-conference slate. The Green Wave and Mustangs combine for 21 wins, which is the second-most aggregate victories heading into an AAC Championship Game — only trailing the 2021 matchup between 12-0 Cincinnati and 11-1 Houston.

Of all 10 conference title games this year, five feature more combined wins. The Pac-12 and SEC reign supreme with 23 collective wins in their championships. The ACC, Big Ten, and CUSA featured 22 combined wins. The MAC ties the AAC with 21, while the Big 12 (20), Sun Belt (18), and Mountain West (16) round out the group.

With Tulane and SMU both sporting 8-0 marks in the league standings, the AAC is one of two conference title games pitting teams with spotless conference records together. Tulane fell to Ole Miss in a Week 2 matchup starting quarterback Michael Pratt missed with a knee injury. SMU dropped road games in Big 12 country to Oklahoma and TCU before catching fire in October. The SEC also shares the designation of holding a title game between two teams undefeated in league play, as Alabama’s lone defeat was to Texas in a September non-conference matchup.


The record of the home team/favorite in AAC Championship Games

There are some conference championships which produce frequent surprises. Look at the Big 12 for instance, where the underdog rides a 2-game win streak in the championship game. Or the MAC, where the underdog won four of the last five matchups. But unlike those leagues, the AAC involves homefield advantage for the team with the superior conference record (or in this year’s case, higher College Football Playoff ranking since both Tulane and SMU are 8-0).

The expected result is usually the one that happens in the AAC title game. In the event’s 8-year history, the Vegas favorite (which has always been the home team) is 7-1. The lone exception occurred in 2016 when Temple defeated Navy in Annapolis. In every other instance, the AAC Championship postgame presentation has been a coronation in front of the home fans. Tulane plays hosting duties for the second year in a row and is listed a 3-point favorite over SMU, so history definitely lies on the Green Wave’s side for Saturday’s anticipated matchup.


Time SMU spent trailing in the second half of conference games this year

Once AAC play commenced, SMU completely eviscerated the competition. The Mustangs won six of their eight conference games by at least 18 points. Their only two one-score victories involved edging Rice 36-31 and Memphis 38-34 — the only bowl eligible AAC teams SMU faced. In both of those games, the Mustangs trailed for moments in the first half, and at Memphis, SMU found itself in a tie game for a brief two minutes and 30 seconds in the fourth quarter.

SMU won its six other AAC games in wire-to-wire fashion and never trailed once in the second half against a conference opponent this year. The Mustangs won AAC games by an average score of 46-17 and defeated three opponents by at least 45 points — 55-0 over Temple, 69-10 over Tulsa, and 59-14 over Navy — scoring over 50 by halftime in two of those contests. Tulane’s AAC victories were much more mild-mannered, and the Green Wave never throttled a conference opponent by more than 16 points. But Tulane serves as SMU’s greatest challenge yet, especially considering one limitation in the Mustangs’ offense which leads to the next point.

1,167 to 46

Collegiate passing attempts of the starting quarterbacks

Tulane quarterback Michael Pratt is a two-time All-AAC selection. He was named the 2023 AAC Offensive Player of the Year this week. Pratt is also a 2022 AAC champion quarterback, winning MVP honors in the title game with a career-high 394 passing yards to go along with four touchdowns. He is also a Cotton Bowl champion, leading a spectacular game-winning drive to stun USC 46-45 on the grand stage of the New Year’s Six last January. Pratt is a four-year starting quarterback with vast experience in the form of 1,167 passing attempts, 9,365 passing yards, and 89 passing touchdowns.

The quarterback on the other sideline is nearly the opposite from an experience standpoint. SMU lost its yearlong starter Preston Stone to a broken fibula in the second quarter of the regular season finale vs. Navy. That devastating injury forces the Mustangs to turn to backup quarterback Kevin Jennings for the remainder of the season. Jennings attempted 22 passes last season and 24 this season, bringing his career total to 46. Saturday will mark his first collegiate start, but thanks to SMU’s lopsided fourth quarter scores, he saw plenty of action in mop-up time this year. The former Texas high school state champion has 429 passing yards and four touchdowns without an interception. In a quarterback mismatch in terms of experience, SMU will rely on a first-time starter to bring home its first-ever AAC championship.


The amount of consecutive New Year’s Six appearances for the AAC champion

The AAC Championship Game is almost always more than a conference championship. The winner often qualifies for playing in something greater — a New Year’s Six bowl. This is the final year of the New Year’s Six format which launched in 2014 and retires after this January, in anticipation of the new 12-team College Football Playoff.

Under this format, the highest-ranked champion of the AAC, CUSA, MAC, Mountain West, and Sun Belt receives an automatic bid to a New Year’s Six bowl. But it’s basically become the AAC’s automatic bid as the conference rides a 6-year streak of claiming that coveted slot. This year, Tulane appears to be a shoo-in for its second-straight New Year’s Six appearance should the Green Wave defend home turf and defeat SMU. That’s one way to extend the streak. But the situation becomes more complicated if SMU wins, however, as the Mustangs trail CUSA Championship Game favorite Liberty in the latest College Football Playoff rankings. Time will tell if a hypothetical road win at Tulane is enough for SMU to vault Liberty and secure the AAC’s seventh-straight New Year’s Six appearance.