Road to CFB is a SMU Football Game Day Tour – the hidden gem of North Texas!

Next in a Road to CFB series of first-hand matchday experiences at stadiums across the country:

We don’t talk about it enough, it’s an SMU football game day. Although a small private college, SMU dominated football in the 1980s (maybe not seriously) and became one of the premier tailgating scenes in all of college football.

Road to CFB traveled to Dallas for the second time in the 2021 season for the Mustangs’ stint against UCF.

A hidden tailgating gem!

The pre-match regiment

When you consider elite tailgating atmospheres, you probably think of LSU, Ole Miss, the rest of the SEC. SMU probably isn’t on the list, that is, until you’ve been there. The boulevard is undeniably one of the best tailgating scenes in all of college football.

It’s high class, energetic, widespread and exciting. Plots on the main strip of the boulevard are in high demand and are mostly filled with former wealthy people (of which there are many) and organizations. The further north you go, generally the younger the crowd, until you get to the student area. Although it’s louder than the tame side across the street, it’s still very neat.

After all, SMU is the American’s SEC team.

SMU’s campus is filled with history, beautiful architecture, and art. From the George W. Bush Presidential Library to the iconic Dedman College building, a pre-game stroll around campus is imperative.

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If you are looking to go to an SMU game day, I strongly encourage it. Tickets are incredibly reasonable ($20 wholesale, often less than $10 via a third party) and parking can be free. There are a few options on the website that are closer within walking distance to the stadium than most free pitches across the country. Personally, I park on the SMU East campus lot by Lyons Insurance (6116 North Central Expressway).

Before Gerald J. Ford Stadium opened in 2000, SMU played football at Texas Stadium, the former home of the Dallas Cowboys. Although it was built in this century, Gerald J. Ford Stadium looks historic. I mean in the best possible way – it feels storied but not decrepit.

EMS 55, UCF 28

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To be what the nation considers a mid-tier, unranked AAC game, there really is some serious star power underneath. SMU Quarterback Tanner Mordecai finished second in passing touchdowns as of that game and led the nation in yardage earlier. The team is coached by Sonny Dykesnow owned by TCU.

On the other side of the touchline was the head coach of the national champion Gus Malzahn (a national champion coach at Auburn). Coach Malzahn broke his leg in the weeks leading up to the match, but insisted on coaching his lads from the touchline. He hobbled on crutches, led the team out of the tunnel on a golf cart, and had a specially constructed sideline riser to sit on.

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One thing to know about UCF fans is that they travel extremely well. While SMU is one of the easiest stadiums to get to (just 20 minutes from DFW airport), the UCF faithful showed up in droves. Fans represented UCF saying you could have made me believe it was a bowling game.

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UCF gave their fans something to cheer about early on, taking a 7-0 lead to start the game. However, SMU’s offense exploded to the tune of 38 points in the first half. With plenty of attacking back and forth, the first quarter lasted over an hour and the score was 21-14, SMU.

Starting at halftime, it was a running race in which the Mustangs had a long lead. In the end, the home team came away with a 55-28 victory. It was the first home win I’d seen in over a month since Oklahoma toppled Nebraska in Week 3.

Part of scoring with SMU is seeing a lesser-known lore. Peruna is a mini horse and the school’s living mascot. She is extremely well regarded by fans and the student body. You can take photos with Peruna before the match as she is escorted down the boulevard. She also leads the field after every touchdown.

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Game Day Notes

Stadium: B-. The historic ambience of the stadium is excellent and there are exactly no bad seats. However, it’s fine and a hair too big for the fan base and it’s rather modest. The student section is all grassy hill based, which I haven’t seen anywhere else.

Tradition: B-. SMU was a great program that won national championships. We all know the history of the Death Penalty and the Mustangs never regained their national relevance. Peruna is a great living mascot, but the other traditions of the school aren’t very interesting.

Atmosphere: VS-. As I said, the stadium is too big for the fans, especially since the student section is not located in any seat. Kick off was at 11:00 so everyone was a little sleepy. It’s a fairly typical end-of-season, non-competitive, non-rivalry atmosphere.

Tailgating: A. Outside of LSU and Ole Miss, there aren’t many schools that top SMU in class and scale. A good number of hookers never leave for the match. The boulevard is the place to be.

Fans: B. Most fans are older, wealthier alumni; after all, SMU is a very expensive school to attend (well over $50,000 a year). They know their football team and cheer loudly, but they’re also late to show up and can fall asleep during breaks in the action. However, like many private schools, it’s easy to feel like an outsider, and SMU fans aren’t the first to welcome you into their clique.

Extracurricular: A+. This is a recurring theme of the schools and games located in the DFW Metroplex. Am I biased since I lived there? Yes. But is DFW one of the busiest and fastest growing metros in the country for a reason? Yes too. There are a million things to do.


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About Betty J. Snyder

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