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American Athletic Conference Championship Preview: SMU Takes on #18 Tulane

The Southern Methodist Mustangs and Tulane Green Wave will be competing for the American Athletic title this weekend, and potentially, competing for a spot in a New Year's Six bowl game. If Liberty ends up losing to New Mexico State in the Conference USA championship game, that window could very well open much wider. SMU sits at 10-2, while Tulane sits at 11-1 as well as higher in the rankings than #20 Liberty. This game could have a big impact on the New Year's Six placements, so let's break it down.

Broadcast Info

Date: Saturday, December 2nd, 2023

Time: 4:00 pm EST

Where: Yulman Stadium, New Orleans, Louisiana


Calling: Dave Pasch, Dusty Dvoracek, Tom Luginbill

Radio: WTUL 91.5 FM (Tulane), KTCK 96.7 FM (SMU), ESPN Radio

Betting Line

Tulane -4.0

Over/Under: 47.5

Tale of the Tape: SMU

The big story for SMU is the loss of their starting quarterback Preston Stone, who broke his leg in the season finale against Navy. This leaves backup Kevin Jennings in the starting role, who the SMU coaching staff really like, but likeability may not win the toughest game of the season for the Mustangs since facing Oklahoma on the road. Tulane is 99th in the FBS in passing yards allowed, which certainly helps, but SMU runs a very balanced attack. Tulane is far better at defending the run, 5th in the FBS to be exact, so Stone would have come in handy for a game like this with his 3,197 yards passing and 28 touchdowns. Nonetheless, SMU trusts Jennings and should still heavily test this Tulane pass defense. They run a balanced passing attack as well with a lot of weapons at their disposal, including RJ Maryland, Jake Bailey, Romello Brinson, and others. Exploiting the Tulane pass defense will be huge, and with how the SMU offense has caught fire over the second half of the season, the time is right for it.

Defensively, the threat of Michael Pratt looms large over this pass defense. This being said, they do only allow 184.2 yards/game and rank 15th in FBS, so they're in good shape should Pratt decide to sling it. Tulane's passing offense has steadily climbed back since Pratt became healthy, however still ranks 69th in FBS with 221.1 yards/game. Putting pressure on will be needed as well to frustrate Pratt and put him in bad situations, as that's been shown to really disrupt the Green Wave passing attack. Pratt feels pressure pretty heavily, and with SMU being 4th in the FBS in total sacks, this bodes very well. This game will come down to who can make 3rd down stops and whose offense can make the big play happen, and with how SMU's defense has been performing, the advantage here goes to the Mustangs.

Tale of the Tape: Tulane

The Green Wave have an NFL talent at quarterback, which has shown in their 11-1 record, their one loss being against fellow NY6 contender #11 Ole Miss. However, go back and look at the scores from each game. They've cut it extremely close with some of their less-than-stellar competition, just skating by teams such as Tulsa and ECU. Granted, they have dealt with injuries throughout the year, but even when Pratt was in this Tulane squad has had some closer calls than they would like. This offense will need to produce more to keep up with an explosive SMU squad, and while they're up to the task, the SMU defense is no slouch either. Tulane's offense will need to focus on possession, opening up the big play, and ensuring Pratt is kept upright. Pratt may need to escape the pocket and make plays with his legs, the receivers need to get open and get open quickly for quick snap passes, and the rushing attack, who has been average this year, will need to step up. This is a very good SMU defense that can assert dominance if they get momentum, so Tulane's offense/Michael Pratt needs to prove they're worth the hype.

Defensively, getting pressure on a backup quarterback will be big. Tulane averages 2.75 sacks/game and ranks 19th in FBS, while SMU's offensive line has shown they're no slouch in protecting the quarterback, allowing just 1.17 sacks/game and placing 13th in FBS. The battle in the trenches will be fierce for both sides and getting big defensive stops will be imperative in winning this game. Tulane's pass defense gives cause for concern, so getting that pressure will matter much more. SMU ranks 41st in rushing offense while Tulane's rushing defense ranks 5th, so forcing SMU to run the football and lose faith in their QB will be the key to winning this game.


This is a very tight contest that will come down to the wire. Who makes the final stop, who can slow down the opposing offense the most, and who can convert when it matters? SMU is one of the hottest teams in the FBS right now, but losing their starting QB may come back to bite them unless Jennings can gain confidence and momentum throughout. If SMU is allowed to throw the football, they win with a fair amount of ease but don't think Tulane will just allow Jennings to sit back there and remain safe. They'll bring the heat, as will SMU on Pratt though. Not only that, but Tulane has shown they're not nearly as explosive if Pratt's abilities are taken away. If SMU shuts down Pratt, SMU will win. There's just too much stacked against Tulane for them to pull off an easy victory here and will have a handful to deal with if something does go south. For that reason, SMU wins by 7 and shocks this Tulane squad with big aspirations.

Final Score Prediction: SMU 38-Tulane 31


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