SMU-Baylor Rivalry Worthy of New Stadium Premier
By Randy Sherman
The list of alumni is staggering.
Baylor can brag of Mike Singletary and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. SMU fans can fire back with Doak Walker, Eric Dickerson and Craig James. Separated by only 90 miles, Baylor University and SMU have been playing football against each other since 1916 and neither program has separated itself, as evidenced by the 37-37-6 series record.
A new chapter of the Baylor vs. SMU rivalry unfolds on Aug. 31, and this time, it will play out in a brand new setting. Baylor will play host to SMU in the spectacular new McLane Stadium in the latest chapter between the longtime Southwest Conference rivals.
Baylor enters the season ranked 10th in the AP Top 25 and is coming off a Fiesta Bowl appearance in 2013. Baylor head coach Art Briles, a Texas prep coaching legend from his days at Stephenville High School, is proving he is an elite college coach as well.
SMU, meanwhile, is still looking for a breakthrough season under Coach June Jones. The Mustangs will enter their opener as a huge underdog. Despite what looks to be a mismatch, this rivalry is worthy of the pomp and circumstance of a stadium premier. The Bears and Mustangs have tangled in the Cotton Bowl, Texas Stadium and Floyd Casey Stadium in their 98 years of play. With the opening of Baylor's new stadium, it is a fitting time to look back at four memorable matchups in the rivalry.
Nov. 22, 1975: SMU 34 Baylor 31
Neither SMU nor Baylor were having remarkable seasons in 1975, but they turned in a classic on this day. Baylor scored on its first two drives to take a 10-0 lead. and then extended its lead to 23-0 at the half. The rout was on.
Or was it?
SMU senior QB Chuck Benefield led a second-half comeback for the ages and the Mustangs were helped by Baylor miscues. The first came on a Cleveland Franklin fumble recovered by Putt Choate. Benefield and the SMU wishbone offense converted the turnover to points and went on to score 21 unanswered points — all fueled by Baylor fumbles.
Baylor extended the lead to 31-21, but another fumble gave SMU new life. SMU quickly got to within one score on a Benefield-to-Wayne Morris touchdown pass. SMU's two-point conversion attempt failed, but the Mustangs were only one score away with Baylor leading, 31-27.
Baylor missed a field goal attempt that set up SMU’s game-winning 14-play 80-yard drive. Benefield capped it off with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Harrison with just 28 seconds left to play to give SMU a 34-31 lead. Baylor missed a late field goal attempt and the comeback was complete.
Benefield finished 14-for-27 passing for 227 yards and four touchdowns. He also added a rushing TD with all five of his TDs coming in the second half.
Oct. 11, 1980: Baylor 32 SMU 28
The Grant Teaff era at Baylor is considered by most to be the pinnacle of Baylor’s football history. This was a marquee game in the magical 1980 season for Baylor. The matchup between Baylor and SMU was a heavyweight contest as both teams entered the game undefeated. Baylor sported a No.15 ranking while SMU was No. 20.
It looked as if the Mustangs would prevail when they took a 21-0 lead into the second quarter, but Baylor rallied with two quick second-quarter touchdowns. The back-and-forth contest continued with SMU extending its lead to 28-14 in the third quarter.
That’s where Baylor took over by scoring 18 unanswered points. Robert Bledsoe kicked a 35-yard field goal and quarterback Jay Jeffery added two scoring runs as Baylor prevailed, 32-28. The Bears went on to win five of their next six games and captured the Southwest Conference title. They played Alabama in the Cotton Bowl and were ranked 14th in the nation, but were crushed by the Crimson Tide, 30-2.
Oct. 12, 1985: Baylor 21, SMU 14
SMU entered ranked 16th in the country, but it was Baylor that got out to an early lead with two first-quarter field goals by Tyler Syler. Baylor extended its lead to 14-0 after Baylor QB Tom Muecke connected with Ralph Stockemer for a second-quarter touchdown and Muecke found Derrick McAdoo for the two-point conversion.
That’s when SMU came alive and ripped off two touchdowns to tie the game at the half. The favored Mustangs seemed to be seizing control of the game when they drove to the Baylor 3-yard line, but SMU fumbled the ball away and the momentum changed. Baylor's defense stiffened and did not allow another first down.
Muecke engineered a drive highlighted by a long completion to Robert Williams and Muecke scored on a run to give Baylor a lead it would not surrender. The Bears rode the momentum from their win to a fine season, culminating with a 21-7 Liberty Bowl win over LSU.
Oct. 9, 1982: SMU 22 Baylor 19
This was perhaps the most star-studded game of the rivalry’s history. The Mustangs were one of the more iconic teams in college football at the time, thanks to the duo of Eric Dickerson and Craig James. The “Pony Express” and SMU rivaled their NFL counterparts in Dallas in terms of star power.
The Mustangs finished No. 2 in the nation with an 11-0-1 record, but narrowly escaped Waco with a win in October.
SMU faced some adversity and had to alter its game plan against the Bears to remain undefeated. Baylor committed to stopping Dickerson and James by crowding as many as eight defenders on the line of scrimmage. The Bears stuffed the Mustangs’ running game which finished with just 97 yards on 44 attempts. With the Pony Express stalled out, SMU needed another hero to emerge.
SMU quarterback Lance McIlhenny, a local product from nearby Highland Park High School in Dallas, saved the day by throwing three touchdown passes. One of those passes was a 78-yard strike to Jackie Wilson. SMU still trailed. 19-14, in the fourth quarter when McIlhenny authored his signature drive as a Mustang. McIlhenny marched the Mustangs 75 yards in 13 plays for the winning score when McIlhenny found tight end Ricky Bolden for a 3-yard touchdown with under three minutes remaining. The two hooked up again for the two-point conversion.
While Dickerson and James stole the headlines as the Mustangs improved to 5-0 en route to an undefeated season and a trip to the Cotton Bowl, McIlhenny showed poise and leadership throughout his career. McIlhenny should be remembered as one of the great option quarterbacks in NCAA history. He finished as the all-time winningest quarterback at SMU and in the Southwest Conference with a record of 34-5-1.
Will this year’s SMU-Baylor matchup be one for the ages? If it goes according to script, it won’t. Baylor is a Big 12 title contender and hopes to be in the inaugural College Football Playoff. SMU is trying to replace a prolific quarterback after the loss of Garrett Gilbert.
The Bears are favored by several touchdowns so an SMU upset would surely be memorable — and a fitting new chapter to the rivalry. It would also be a fitting game for the premier of McLane Stadium.