Hurricane win could lead to 'special' season finish
BY BILL HAISTEN World Sports Writer
Saturday, November 24, 2012
11/24/12 at 4:55 AM
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In one corner, there is a motivated University of Tulsa football team.
In the other corner, there is an SMU squad with a crystal-clear mission - to win and secure a sixth victory necessary for bowl eligibility.
The alternative is grim.
A defeat would end the Mustangs' season.
Before its involvement in next week's Conference USA championship game, TU has a final regular-season assignment - Saturday's 11 a.m., FX-televised clash with the Mustangs at Gerald J. Ford Stadium in Dallas.
"This game means something on both sides," Tulsa guard Jake Alexander said.
At 9-2 overall and 7-0 in Conference USA, the West Division champion Golden Hurricane attempts to become the sixth team in program history to record a 10-win regular season. In advance of its departure to the Big East Conference, SMU (5-6, 4-3) concludes its eighth and final Conference USA season with a sudden-death assignment: If the Mustangs don't beat Tulsa, they won't make a fourth consecutive bowl appearance.
"Everyone knows that they are playing for their bowl-game lives, so (SMU) seniors don't want to lose and they want to end their careers on the best note possible," TU tailback Trey Watts said. "You know they will come to play.
"It is a rivalry game. They don't like us and we don't like them. Both teams give it a 100 percent effort, no matter what the records are. Playing away from home in Conference USA, it is never easy to get a win."
Tulsa enters with an eight-game win streak in Conference USA road games. The Hurricane hasn't experienced a league road loss since Oct. 9, 2010 - a 21-18 setback at SMU.
"SMU has not been an easy place for us to play," Hurricane coach Bill Blankenship said. "Our seniors know the history of that."
The Mustang season has been one of extremes. There was a 48-3 home loss to Texas A&M and a 27-26 defeat at previously winless Tulane. At UTEP, SMU won 17-0 - dealing to the Miners their first shutout home loss in 16 years. And on Oct. 18, SMU savored a wild, 72-42 triumph over Houston.
Which SMU team will Tulsa encounter on Saturday? The dynamo or the dud? Blankenship is aware of an impressive SMU statistic - that the Mustangs have been victorious in 14 of their last 15 league games at home.
"We're not going to be surprised by seeing a high-energy, motivated SMU Mustang team," Blankenship said.
In that the SMU trip falls between last week's conquest of the University of Central Florida and next week's C-USA title contest, and with the Hurricane already having clinched its fourth West crown since 2005, there seems to be the potential for TU to be less than razor-sharp on Saturday.
Blankenship says his team should be energized by the possibility of becoming "special."
With three games remaining on the schedule - SMU, the C-USA title contest and the program's eighth bowl in 10 years - TU has an opportunity to reach the 12-win mark for the first time in program history.
Plus, there is a chance for Tulsa to seize this distinction: In the 2005-11 history of the Conference USA championship, no team has recorded a perfect regular-season league record and followed with a title-game victory. The Hurricane has that opportunity - but not if it stumbles at SMU. Last season, Houston was 8-0 in conference play but got smoked by Southern Miss in the championship game.
And then there is this: In the 18-season history of Conference USA, Southern Miss had the best 21-game run in conference play. In 1998-2000, the Golden Eagles were 20-1. In its last 20 C-USA games, Tulsa is 19-1. A victory at SMU would result in Tulsa matching Southern Miss' 20-1 achievement.
"It's another piece of what I'm going to tell our team," Blankenship said. "I'm looking for all kinds of reasons to keep us going this week. I do think it matters to players and coaches - to do something that other people haven't done. That's always a great motivation.
"The fun part is, I want for these players to get the opportunity to do something no one else has done."
Blankenship seems particularly driven by the shot at taking Tulsa to the 12-win plateau. The program standard is the 11-3 mark posted by the Todd Graham-coached Hurricane in 2008.
"You can't (get to a 12th victory) unless you win 10," Blankenship "If we want to be special, you've got to win 10 at SMU."
TU at SMU
11 a.m. Saturday TV: FX-35
Radio: KRMG am740/fm102.3
Original Print Headline: TU, SMU keyed up for big finish
Bill Haisten 918-581-8397
TU's Alex Singleton runs with the ball as UCF's Clayton Geathers pursues during the second half last week at Chapman Stadium. TOM GILBERT/ Tulsa World