|SMU, Louisiana Tech meet in inaugural Frisco Bowl|
It has been a busy time on college campuses over the past week, what with finals and the end of the college semester adding to the holiday craziness.
But it's been even tougher for the SMU football team. The Mustangs are in the midst of preparing for their first bowl game since 2012, and -- thanks to a change of head coaches since the end of the regular season - they have had more than just the normal game week load-in on their respective plates.
There will be both an air of familiarity and difference when SMU and Louisiana Tech square off on Wednesday in the inaugural DXL Frisco Bowl at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, thanks to Sonny Dykes, the man the Mustangs hired on Dec. 11 as their new head coach. Dykes will coach the Mustangs in the bowl game.
Dykes was coach at Louisiana Tech from 2010-12 before spending four seasons at California in a run that ended in 2016. The Bulldogs replaced Dykes with Skip Hicks, who has led Louisiana Tech to its fourth straight bowl game after capturing victories in the 2014 Heart of Dallas Bowl, the 2015 New Orleans Bowl and the 2016 Armed Forces Bowl.
This will be the fifth ever meeting between the two schools with Louisiana Tech winning three times. The Bulldogs won the most recent meeting, a 41-10 decision over SMU in Dallas in 2010.
The Mustangs finished the 2017 regular season 7-5 and are coming off a 41-38 victory over Tulane on Nov. 25 in their regular-season finale. The seven wins are the most for SMU since 2012 and the most in a regular season since 2011.
It's the first appearance in the postseason for the Mustangs since the 2012 Hawai'i Bowl, where SMU defeated Fresno State 43-10, and the 16th overall bowl appearance for SMU football.
A period of just nine days will pass between Dykes' hiring and the playing of the Frisco Bowl. Dykes takes over the surging Mustangs' program from Chad Morris, who left the school to become coach at Arkansas and took a handful of his assistants with him.
That's not nearly enough time for Dykes to install his preferred Air Raid offense, so he will just sit back and let some of the team's remaining assistants -- specifically graduate assistant G.J. Kinne -- call the game and let his new team play to its considerable strengths.
"The focus here is on just having the opportunity to be around the players and have a chance to get to know them and have a chance for them to get to know me and start to build some trust with each other and that relationship," Dykes said.
"In our business, that's the most important thing. Going in, I don't know if you would say it's the best thing. But I think it's going to end up being the best thing."
SMU is one of only two teams in the country with a 3,000-yard passer (Ben Hicks), 1,000-yard rusher (Xavier Jones) and two 1,000 yard receivers (Courtland Sutton and Trey Quinn). Quinn leads the nation in receptions per game at 8.8.
"I've been very pleased with how the guys have responded to adversity," Hicks said Thursday. "At times we get down but the energy's great. I've been proud. We've been having fun."
Louisiana Tech head coach Skip Holtz said he and his coaching staff had no plans to watch any old Tech film from when Dykes roamed the sideline in Ruston, La., as the Bulldogs' coach. He's more centered on how his team responds to the challenges posed by SMU and how it handles the adversity it's sure to face.
"You do the best job you can with your players," Holtz said. "We've seen a lot of things thrown at us during the course of the year and this is when you have to rely on some of your upperclassmen to create the stabilizing force out on the field.
"If SMU does give us something different or hit a big play, you got to calm everybody down and get ready to go play the next play. That's all you can do."
Louisiana Tech (6-6) didn't become bowl eligible until the regular-season finale versus Texas-San Antonio on Nov. 25. There were 81 teams eligible to earn a bowl game invitation, three more than the 78 total spots, and the Bulldogs ended up one of the fortunate 6-6 teams to be extended an invitation to the postseason.
The Bulldogs have grasped the win-or-stay-home mode and played their best while in a playoff-type mode for the final weeks of the season.
"The competitive nature of this team and the will to fight, that's been consistent all throughout the season." Louisiana Tech senior running back Boston Scott said. "We're going to go out there and play hard -- we know what's at stake. We have to have that single-elimination mindset; it's win or end with a loss. I'm looking forward to seeing this team compete."
Sophomore quarterback J'Mar Smith threw for 2,758 yards and 13 touchdowns, including five scores to Conference USA co-newcomer of the year Teddy Veal (69 catches, 832 yards).
Defensively, junior defensive end Jaylon Ferguson (26.5 career sacks) had a team-high six sacks while senior safety Secdrick Cooper had 63 stops and two interceptions. Freshman cornerback Amik Robertson led the team with four interceptions to go with 58 tackles and two sacks.
This bowl game won't be much of a trip, distance-wise, for the teams' fan bases, with Louisiana Tech located about four hours east of Frisco in Ruston, La., and the Mustangs' leafy campus set just a half hour south of this north Dallas suburb.
Formerly known as the Miami Beach Bowl and played in Miami, this is the first year the Frisco Bowl that will be held at Toyota Stadium.