Biggest Three 2024 Games for Mustangs May Be Early for Lashlee

There won't be much time to develop, which will make August practices big as critical games come fast
Mustangs coach Rhett Lashlee on the sidelines in a game against Navy on Nov. 25, 2023, at Gerald J. Ford Stadium in Dallas.
Mustangs coach Rhett Lashlee on the sidelines in a game against Navy on Nov. 25, 2023, at Gerald J. Ford Stadium in Dallas. / Michael Morrison-allPONIES Images

DALLAS — SMU coach Rhett Lashlee probably knows the importance of the Mustangs' voluntary workouts over the summer. Especially this year, and that goes beyond it being the Ponies' first season in the ACC.

They can't afford to stumble out the gate in the first three games to set up what likely will follow with the biggest three games on the schedule. When the TCU rolls into town for the fourth game of the season, SMU need to be hitting on all cylinders on both sides of the ball.

With two of the first three games at home against Houston Christian and BYU after an opener on the road in August against a Nevada team that simply wasn't very good last year, that fourth game in a big I-30 battle against their oldest opponent is going to be huge. That's just the start of things.

TCU, Sept. 21, Ford Stadium

The Horned Frogs could be a big enough test. Mustangs fans know more than anyone exactly how good coach Sonny Dykes can be. He performed his magic at SMU before moving West to Fort Worth. Now Lashlee has to face him on the field — again. He's never won this game against the guy who was in his office before him.

Florida State, Sept. 28, Ford Stadium

Right after the game against the Horned Frogs, things will get serious quickly. They get officially welcomed to the ACC officially against Florida State in a game that will carry much more weight in November than the annual Iron Skillet game.

Like SMU, the Seminoles have a gripe about the whole College Football Playoff committee selections last December. Florida State probably belonged in the final group of four teams, but were left out despite a perfect season and being ACC regular-season and title game champions. The Mustangs also got jumped out of the Group of 5 selection with Liberty leap-frogging them after the Ponies won the AAC title and championship game.

FSU coach Mike Norvell is using all of that as motivation for this year and wants to be back in that spot. All of the lawsuits against the ACC are somebody else's problem. SMU might read the headlines on that, but they've shown they'll take less money just to move up a rung. It is part of a long-range goal to get back to being able to play for a national title again.

The Seminoles are probably looking forward to welcoming the new kids to the neighborhood in SMU's own front yard. They are expected to be good this year, but there are still plenty of questions if they've replaced the inevitable turnover in the roster.

@ Louisville, Oct. 5

The schedule doesn't get much easier when the Mustangs hit the road for their first ever ACC road game to open the October part of the schedule. Lousiville (at least now) is the team projected most places to finish behind Florida State in the league rankings, although things can get dicey picking much of anything in June for what the scenario will be in November.

Louisville and Florida State are the only two teams ranked ahead of SMU in these projections on the Ponies' schedule this year. That's about as good as a first-year team in a conference could hope to get.

All of that adds up to why Lashlee knows exactly why they may have to play their best early in the season with just a couple of warm-up games. BYU is that wildcard team, then the trio of TCU, Florida State and Louisville are huge.

The Ponies need to win most of them or else. If they don't go big, a wrench gets thrown into the plan as they scramble to salvage the season down the stretch.

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Andy Hodges

ANDY HODGES

Sports columnist, writer, former radio host and television host who has been expressing an opinion on sports in the media for over four decades. He has been at numerous media stops in Arkansas, Texas and Mississippi. Follow on Twitter and Facebook