How SMU is the living embodiment of parity defined this college football season


UNIVERSITY PARK – Ahead of the start of the season, as the wheels of the realignment were just starting to spin, SMU athletic director Rick Hart was invited by The morning news from Dallas if a team outside of the Power Five conferences could legitimately claim one of the four college football playoff spots.

“That’s a good question, and I’ll answer it this way: it doesn’t feel like it is,” Hart said in late July, “because we’ve had, year after year, programs that have really done just about everything you would expect them to demonstrate that they deserve consideration for a place and a top four ranking.

He pointed to UCF, which went undefeated in 2018 and declared themselves national champions, and Cincinnati, which was the No.7 team in the initial CFP rankings a year ago, but fell to No 9 despite his unbeaten also.

“Football is the only sport where a small percentage of institutions and conferences really have access to the championship,” Hart said in July. “You know, it’s a problem.”

Speaking of percentages, Cincinnati – the top contender in the Group of 5 heading into this season – only had a 3% chance of qualifying for the playoffs, according to the ESPN playoff spotlight. In translation: for the Bearcats, or any team in the Group of 5, to even count, chaos would have to happen.

Seven weeks later, college football delivered just that. So far, 47 ranked teams have lost. Seven ranked teams lost last week, including five to unranked teams, including Iowa’s No.2 24-7 loss to Purdue.

Cincinnati, a preseason longshot to make the CFP, is now the nation’s No.2 team, according to the latest AP Top 25 ranking. The American Athletic Conference, with undefeated SMU at No.21, has two ranked teams. , while the Pac-12 only has one, the Oregon # 10.

In short: 2021 has been a college football season defined by its parity, and the results – with upheaval galore and the feeling that any team, really, has a hit week after week – speak for themselves.

“It’s really tough… to win,” said SMU head coach Sonny Dykes after SMU beat South Florida 41-17 on Oct. 2, despite the fact that it was from a game to a possession in the third quarter. “There is a lot of parity. Everyone is playing hard, each team is well trained. There is just a smaller margin of error now than there has ever been in college football. “

So what is the reasoning for this? At the consensus level, it is difficult to pinpoint an exact cause, but there are factors that inevitably affect the constants of college football.

The NCAA introduced the transfer portal in 2018. In April, the NCAA then created a universal policy allowing athletes to transfer once without having to be absent for a year, which was previously the penalty for the transfer.

From a player’s point of view, there is now always the possibility of having one more chance of finding a suitable school and program. From a school perspective, teams – especially good ones – are losing pieces and development prospects that would normally provide much more depth.

Southeastern Conference teams, the crème de la crème of fame in college football, have seen 362 players leave the transfer portal since 2019, according to data from 247Sports transfer portal tracker, more than 200 more than what they added. Those same teams also had a total of 128 players selected in the last two NFL Drafts, including top-notch players who left college early.

On the other hand, other teams have been the benefactors of talented players looking for other opportunities elsewhere. SMU added 13 transfers in the last recruiting round and only lost eight. That includes former Oklahoma quarterback Tanner Mordecai, who went from a replacement for the Sooners to the nation’s leading touchdown passer this year for the Mustangs. Cincinnati running back Jerome Ford recorded 31 combined runs in his first two seasons in Alabama, but is now second in the nation in rushing touchdowns with 12 for the Bearcats.

“There are teams in our league in particular – well, not us – our league was able to benefit from that,” said Navy head coach Ken Niumtalolo, noting that his school, a service academy, only lost players against the portal, not won.

“Maybe another team has a lot of depth, but guys, who are second and third strings in an SEC school and he’s not happy, or a Power 5 school, these guys can go to other places – really any school – so maybe it’s kind of watered down, or somehow leveled the playing field.

SMU, along with other schools, also benefited from having super seniors on the roster. Due to COVID-19, the NCAA has allowed players to enjoy a free year of eligibility, which could create a headache for the roster in the future, but added for even more depth and depth. talent for rosters this year. SMU linebacker Richard Moore, for example, is in his seventh year. Mustangs offensive lineman Hayden Howerton, also a super senior, will make his 48th career start Thursday against Tulane.

“This year in particular could be a special year for the Mustangs as they sort of hit that sweet spot,” said ESPN analyst Dusty Dvoracek, who was on the show for SMU’s 42-34 win. against TCU. “They really used the transfer portal, they have a veteran team and they really took advantage of [having super seniors]. They have a veteran football team that is very mature, and I think it will be a fun team to watch play in the United States.

These unique factors go hand in hand with the normal factors of change in college football. Another ESPN analyst Tom Luginbill pointed to the quarterback’s turnover in Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Notre Dame – constant CFP contenders – as a potential reason they also lost. until now. He also said that offensive online play at some schools was not great and that turnovers can always be costly.

“So I think those two areas stand out a bit for me, but I have to be honest with you: we may be living in one of those roaring twenties,” Luginbill said last week, “where talent is somewhat equitable in the match you have from week to week, if you don’t bring your ‘A’ match, you’re going to fall.

“I mean, you look at Iowa for example. Everyone’s talking about Iowa, Iowa, Iowa, but has anyone watched them on the offensive? It’s amazing… I pull the layers off and I’m like, “Damn, if this team doesn’t create 20 turnovers, they could be a .500 team. “

Luginbill was on the show for Iowa No.2 vs. Purdue unranked last Saturday, which is why he was watching the Hawkeyes movie. On film, he saw an undefeated team with the potential to lose. On Saturday, Iowa did just that.

The 25 best fights

Here’s a week-by-week breakdown of the losses among AP Top 25 teams in 2021.

The week Classified losses Losses for the least classified or not classified Highest rank to lose
1 8 6 No.3 Clemson bows against No.5 Georgia (10-3)
2 5 5 Ohio State’s No.3 falls to Oregon’s No.12 (35-28)
3 6 4 Florida No.11 loses to No.1 Alabama (31-29)
4 6 5 No.7 Texas A&M loses to No.16 Arkansas (20-10)
5 9 6 # 3 Oregon loses to Stanford (31-24)
6 6 3 Alabama No.1 loses against Texas A&M (41-38)
7 7 5 Iowa No.2 loses to Purdue (24-7)


SMU head coach Sonny Dykes watches from the team bench during the first half of the action against South Florida.  Both teams played their NCAA football game at SMU's Ford Stadium in Dallas on October 2, 2021.

Find more SMU coverage from The Dallas Morning News here.

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