Prediction, Preview, and Odds
#389 SMU vs.
#390 TCU
Saturday, September 25, 2021 at 12:00pm EDT
Written by Nathaniel Reeves

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Undefeated teams will meet in a rivalry clash on Saturday afternoon with the SMU Mustangs take on the TCU Horned Frogs at Amon G. Carter Stadium in 100th edition of The Battle for the Iron Skillet. SMU is coming off a wild 39-37 win over the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs last Saturday as a 10.5-point road favorite to improve to 3-0 overall. TCU last played on September 11, when it beat the California Golden Bears 34-32 as an 11.5-point home favorite to move to 2-0 on the young season.

The Mustangs won the most recent meeting 41-38 in Fort Worth to snap a streak of seven straight head-to-head wins by the Horned Frogs. TCU still leads the rivalry series 51-41-7 all-time.

SMU wins on touchdown as time expires

SMU is coming off one of the most exciting games of the season in college football, as the Mustangs kept their perfect record intact by beating Louisiana Tech on a Hail Mary as time expired in Ruston last weekend. Neither team ever had more than a five-point lead in a back-and-forth affair, with Tanner Mordecai hitting Rashee Rice, Danny Gray and Jordan Kerley on touchdown passes to pace SMU through three quarters. After Louisiana Tech took the lead on a touchdown with 5:07 to go before adding a field goal in the final minute, SMU marched 73 yards in six plays over the final 36 seconds with Mordecai finding Reggie Roberson from 33 yards out for the game-winner at the buzzer.

Mordecai had a monster game, completing 36 of 48 pass attempts for 395 yards and five touchdowns. Grant Calcaterra led the team with seven catches for 103 yards, while Rice had two touchdown receptions. SMU's defense struggled, but the offense did enough to outgain Louisiana Tech 578-483.

“You practice all those things all the time and you hope you don’t need them,” Dykes said. “But when you do, and you make the play, it’s very rewarding. Sometimes you have to win some that you don’t deserve to win to have a special season,” head coach Sonny Dykes said to the Dallas Morning News.

SMU is off to a 2-1 start against the spread, as it was able to cover as a huge favorite in the first two games of the season against FCS Abilene Christian and the North Texas Mean Green. Overs are 1-2 so far and got on the board last Saturday with the shootout against Louisiana Tech clearing the betting total of 65 points.

The Mustangs currently rank 11th nationally in scoring at 43.3 points per game while piling up 538.7 yards per contest. Even though it has come against a weak schedule, SMU's defense has shown improvement with an average of 19.3 points and 440.3 yards per game allowed.

Mordecai is one of the leading passers in college football, completing 81 of 111 attempts for 1,023 yards, sixteen touchdowns and two interceptions while adding 16 carries for 84 yards. Rice is a big-play threat with 10 catches for 207 yards and four touchdowns, while Ulysses Bentley IV has been efficient on the ground with 33 carries for 250 yards and a score. Isaiah Nwokobia has stuffed the stat sheet defensively with 11 tackles including one for loss, one sack, two interceptions, a pass breakup and a forced fumble.

Top running back TJ McDaniel is still recovering from an ankle injury that ended his 2020 season after four games, and it's unclear when he will return.

TCU hopes to vault into top 25 with win

The Horned Frogs are headed into an early-season bye week feeling good, as they are just outside of the AP Top 25 after erasing a 12-0 deficit to beat California two weekends ago. Blair Conwright caught a 30-yard touchdown pass to finally get TCU on the board with six minutes to go in the first half before the Horned Frogs scored on a long Zach Evans run in the final seconds heading into the break. Quentin Johnston caught a pair of touchdown passes in the second half, and a nine-yard touchdown run by quarterback Max Duggan proved to be enough as California failed the potential game-tying two-point conversion with 4:09 to go and never got the ball back.

Duggan completed 17 of his 31 pass attempts for 234 yards, three touchdowns and one interception while carrying the ball 19 times for 71 yards and the crucial score. Evans had a monster game to pace the Horned Frogs offense with 22 carries for 190 yards and the touchdown just before half. TCU outgained California 505-442 while getting crucial stops on both a fourth down attempt and two-point conversion to earn the victory.

“For us, not playing a bowl game (last season), we knew this game was a big game to find a way to win,” Patterson said to the Associated Press. “It wasn’t pretty, especially on defense. We know we’ll play better. I think it’s a big deal.”

The Horned Frogs have yet to pick up a win against the spread at 0-1-1 as they pushed as a massive 42-point favorite in the opener against FCS Duquesne. Overs are 1-1 so far after the game against California easily cleared the betting total of 46.5 points.

There's a lot to like about the TCU offense so far with an average of 39.5 points and 468 yards per game. TCU's defense uncharacteristically struggled against Cal, bringing its season averages to 17.5 points and 289.5 yards per game allowed.

Duggan has completed 31 of 50 pass attempts for 441 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions while adding 21 carries for 80 yards and two scores in the early going. Evans has been very efficient with 27 carries for 210 yards and two touchdowns, while Johnston is a big play threat at receiver with nine receptions for 133 yards and the two scores. Dee Winters has racked up 15 tackles including 2.5 for loss and a sack thus far to lead the TCU defense.

Defensive end Khari Coleman, who was the Big 12 Co-Defensive Freshman of the Year last season, is hoping to return this weekend from a leg injury suffered in camp. Cornerback Noah Daniels is also yet to play with an undisclosed injury.

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Pulling off the outright upset might be too much to ask here, but SMU has not been an easy out in the four years under Sonny Dykes and has played its regional power conference rival particularly tough. There were some warning signs for the TCU defense against California, and SMU looks to have another high-flying offense that can take advantage.

Even if it didn't come against the toughest competition, Mordecai's 9,2 yards per attempt and 16:2 TD:INT ratio through three games is impressive against anyone, and he showed a lot of talent in limited action as the backup quarterback for the Oklahoma Sooners the previous three seasons. Patterson cannot be happy with TCU allowing 307 yards on just 27 attempts against a California passing game that generally been awful over the last four seasons, and SMU figures to do a lot more damage with all kinds of weapons at the skill positions including a future NFL wideout in Roberson.

A big key to SMU going 20-6 since the start of 2019 is the defense improving from the horrendous first year under Dykes to at least an average unit, and TCU doesn't have the type of explosive passing game to pull away from opponents. All signs point to a back-and-forth game that comes down to the wire between two old rivals looking to keep their undefeated records intact.

Prediction: SMU +9

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TCU is more a program we associate with a lot of defensive slugfests, but that started to change last year with the Horned Frogs being an above-average scoring offense, and they put up 6.0 yards per play against a solid California defense. The SMU defense is not nearly as good as it current averages would indicate as it allowed 37 points against the first decent opponent it faced this season in Louisiana Tech, and there has to be a lot of concern about stopping Evans out of the backfield as the TCU run game continues to generate a lot of huge plays.

A major problem for the Horned Frogs right now is they only have one combined sack from the defensive line, and giving Mordecai time to find all his receivers downfield is not a recipe for success.  Based on what we saw from both offenses in their last games, this looks likely to be a shootout.

Prediction: Over 65.5

Written By Nathaniel Reeves , "Nathaniel Reeves"

Nathaniel Reeves is an avid sports fan with degrees in journalism from the University of Washington and statistics from Western Washington University. He's always had a passion for applying statistical analysis to sports betting and has successfully handicapped college football, college basketball, and Esports for years. Nathaniel has endured being a lifelong fan of the Seattle Mariners, along with the Seattle Seahawks, UW Huskies and soon to be Seattle Kraken. He has been a very successful sports bettor the last several years and we are thrilled that Nate has chosen to bring his talents to us here at Winners & Whiners. You would be very wise to follow him daily.