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SMU vs. Tulane: AAC Championship Game Preview

For the first, and only, time in school history, Southern Methodist University will play in the American Athletic Conference Championship game. Aired this Saturday at 3PM central time on ABC, the #25 ranked SMU Mustangs will travel to #17 ranked Tulane with the chance to make a national statement before moving to the ACC next year.

Unfortunately, SMU will be playing the most important game of the year without their star quarterback Preston Stone. In their final regular season game against Navy, Stone fractured his leg in the second quarter of the blowout. Stone, against Navy, recorded the highest amount of passing yards in a single quarter for an FBS quarterback since 2019.

SMU has been the #1 ranked offense in the nation for scoring in the first quarter. SMU's Head Coach Rhett Lashlee, who received a contract extension this week, has implemented a high flying offense that has scorched teams all season long. SMU is ranked #9 in the country in scoring and #8 in total yards gained in 2023.

Taking the reigns of the offense will be Kevin Jennings, a red-shirt freshman from Oak Cliff, Texas. Jennings only has 46 passing attempts all-time as a Mustang, but Coach Lashlee says SMU still controls their own destiny on the national stage.

“What they (Tulane) do really well, that all great teams do, is they don’t beat themselves,” Lashlee said. “They make you beat them. More times than not in college football, if you don’t beat yourself, the other team will do it for you; they’ll beat themselves. They’ve been able to do that, they’ve been able to close out close games at the end."

If Jennings and SMU can limit their mistakes and rely on their dynamic playmakers to create for the freshman QB, there is a good chance SMU can turn this game into a shootout. Obviously, ranked 22nd in the country, Tulane is not afraid of a shootout. However, the Mustangs will do whatever they can do to control the pace of the game.

And boy, do the Mustangs like to play fast.

While Lashlee and the Mustangs will miss Stone, they're confident in the athletic freshman QB going into the biggest game of the year.

“There’s probably not a lot of teams that, if they lost their starting quarterback, could feel as good as we do." said Lashlee.

For Tulane, the Green Wave will look to finish off one of their best two season stretches in school history, winning 20 games in the last two years, which hasn't been done in New Orleans since 1983.

Tulane Head Coach Willie Fritz, who will be a leading head coaching candidate at Power 5 Schools in 2024, recognizes how important this game and this stretch has been for the school.

“I don’t think anybody in the room was here for that. I certainly wasn’t, so this is big,” Fritz said. "These opportunities don’t come around that often.”

Tulane is currently favored by only 3 points at home, and over 84% of the betting money this week has come in on SMU. There is no shortage of confidence in Dallas surrounding this Mustangs football team. With a trip to a New Years' Day Bowl Game on the line, we will see what Lashlee and SMU can do in just their 2nd game of the year versus a ranked opponent.

For more coverage of the game tomorrow, make sure to follow TDT Media on all social media platforms while our top Louisiana reporter Mackenzie Alexander is on the field at Yulman Stadium.

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Follow MJ Hurley on Twitter @mjhurleytdt

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