FORT WORTH, TEXAS (AP) - No. 20 TCU and SMU are still playing their grudge match 16 years after they were last conference rivals.
Conference realignment is threatening or has already changed storied series such as Texas-Texas A&M and Oklahoma-Nebraska. But there have been only three times since 1925 that TCU and SMU haven’t played for bragging rights around Dallas-Fort Worth.
“For us being across town, I think it’s because of location and it’s always like a home game,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “Instead of having to travel, your kids are where they sleep and how they do things. I think it’s a good thing.”
The only year they didn’t play since the old Southwest Conference’s final season in 1995 came five years ago when the two schools couldn’t find a mutual date; they didn’t play in 1987 and 1988 because SMU didn’t field a team those seasons after the NCAA’s death penalty.
They are already set to play The Battle for the Iron Skillet for at least the next five years.
The rivalry resumes Saturday at TCU, with both teams having won three consecutive games since season-opening losses.
“We set a goal to be here, 3-1, going into TCU,” Mustangs coach June Jones said.
TCU has won 22 consecutive games at home since 2007, already a school and Mountain West Conference record.
While TCU’s defense was the best in the country the past three seasons, it is the Mustangs coming off their first shutout since 1998. They have allowed only 265 total yards and seven points the last two games, their best two-game span since 1983, after wins over Northwestern State and Memphis.
“We’ve gotten better each game,” Jones said. “We’ve just got to keep that up.”
The Horned Frogs have steadily improved this season since giving up 50 points and 564 yards in a season-opening loss at 15th-ranked Baylor. They have allowed fewer points and yards each game, holding Portland State to 295 yards in a 55-13 win last weekend.
“I think we’ve improved in every aspect. I’d like to play (Baylor) again,” Patterson said. “For us, the key to the story is you’ve got to get ready to go on that day, on that day they played great and we didn’t play very well. … The key for us is every day you’ve got to be better by one point. That’s all I’ve said to my group up to this point. Reality is somewhere in between.”
TCU, which has won 10 of the last 11 in the series against SMU, has had seven sacks the last two games this season after only one the first two games.
Among the biggest tasks this week is stopping 6-foot-1, 230-pound SMU running back Zach Line, who already has three 100-yard rushing games and 11 TDs. Line ran for 139 yards on 17 carries against the Frogs last year.
“He has great patience, he’s deceptively fast for what he does and he runs with power,” Patterson said. “The reports are he’s got a banged-up shoulder, but he scored three touchdowns and 136 yards last week. Any coach would admire anybody that plays like that.”
SMU might be without Cole Beasley, one of its leading receivers with 31 catches for 376 yards. Beasley has an injured right knee.
The Mustangs have won all three games with J.J. McDermott as their starter. Record-setting returning starter Kyle Padron started the opener at Texas A&M, but the junior was benched after two interceptions as SMU fell behind 14-0 in a 46-14 loss. McDermott has kept the job.
“You’ve just got to go out there and be yourself and be as confident as possible,” said McDermott, a senior who has thrown for 1,133 yards and four touchdowns with three interceptions.