One week after suffering their first loss of the season, the no. 25 SMU Mustangs are back in action at home against the East Carolina Pirates. Game time is set for noon EST on Saturday, November 9 at Gerald J. Ford Stadium in Dallas. Fans can watch the game on ESPNU.
Current odds list the Mustangs as 21.5-point favorites at home, although that line has dropped slightly during the week. The over/under for the game is set at 71 points. Click here for a full list of this week’s college football betting odds.
As mentioned, the Mustangs had their first setback of the season last week. A late comeback effort fell a little short, as SMU lost to Memphis 54-48. The loss was a hit to SMU’s hopes of playing in a New Year’s Six bowl game, but it wasn’t enough to keep them from making the top-25 of the College Football Playoff committee’s initial rankings. More importantly, the Mustangs are still alive for a spot in the AAC Championship Game.
As it stands, the Mustangs are in a three-way tie atop the AAC West division, as both Navy and Memphis also have one loss in conference play. SMU will need Memphis to suffer a second loss, but if they win the rest of their games, the Mustangs will have a chance to play in the conference title game. Of course, that means they have no margin for error, even against East Carolina.
The Pirates come into this game winless in conference play and just 3-6 overall. That means they need to win out if they’re going to have any hope for a bowl game. At the moment, that seems unlikely for a team that has lost four games in a row.
On the bright side, the Pirates are coming off perhaps their best performance of the season. ECU nearly pulled off an upset over a top-20 Cincinnati team at home last week. The Pirates held a 12-point lead heading into the fourth quarter, but a pick-six with less than five minutes left gave Cincinnati a lead. The Bearcats ultimately prevailed on a last-second field goal despite East Carolina amassing over 150 more yards than the Bearcats.
As for SMU and East Carolina, this will be the first time they’ve crossed paths since 2016. The Mustangs won that game 55-31. However, the Pirates won 49-23 during their last trip to Dallas in 2015.
In a way, the pressure is off SMU now that they’re no longer undefeated. I think the Mustangs will be more relaxed and comfortable back at home, and perhaps a little more focused coming off a loss. Meanwhile, I’m not sure East Carolina can replicate last week’s performance. The Pirates may have turned a corner, but it could also be a one-time thing. I don’t think ECU will fare well on the road, so I’ll eat the points and look for SMU to cover.
Despite a near-win last week against Cincinnati, it wasn’t exactly a strong performance by the ECU defense. The Pirates have given up over 40 points in their last three games and in four of their five AAC games. That’s a big concern against SMU, especially since the Pirates won’t have the home crowd behind them this week.
In terms of explosive offenses, they don’t get much better than SMU, at least among Group of Five programs. Even in a loss last week, the Mustangs finished the game with 48 points. It was the seventh time in nine games that SMU eclipsed the 40-point mark, which is why covering a 21.5-point spread is a realistic possibility for them.
Last week, Memphis was able to contain the SMU running game, keeping the Mustangs from staying balanced and putting everyone on quarterback Shane Buechele. But with the way the ECU defense has been gashed on the ground this year, including the 301 yards they gave up last week against Cincinnati, I don’t think the Pirates can replicate what Memphis did. I’m betting the SMU offense stays balanced and has no trouble moving the ball against East Carolina. I wouldn’t even rule out the Mustangs cracking 50 points against ECU.
If the Pirates are going to stay within striking distance, their offense will have to match last week’s shocking performance. Admittedly, the SMU defense has some holes that can be exposed. But last week’s performance by the ECU offense, while impressive, feels like an aberration. Even with barely 100 yards from the running game, ECU quarterback Holton Ahlers threw for over 500 yards and four touchdowns against a strong Cincinnati defense. It was a little out of character for a quarterback who entered the game with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions on the season. Even against a modest SMU defense, I’m not sure I can bank on Ahlers replicating those kinds of numbers.
In the end, I’ll put my trust in the explosive SMU offense. I’m not going to be swayed by one good game from a 3-6 team. I’ll look for the Mustangs to score early and often and eventually blow the doors off against the Pirates, enabling them to cover the 21.5-point spread.