SMU and North Texas don’t have much of a rivalry.
Not only do the Mustangs lead the all time series 30-5 after Saturday’s 34-21 win on the road in Denton, Texas; they don’t exactly see themselves as peers of UNT, just 45 minutes north of their own campus.
SMU is a private university of roughly 6,500 students, while North Texas is a regional state school with just under 30,000 undergraduates. SMU resides in Highland Park, the bastion of old money in Dallas, while UNT is in Denton, the counterculture capital of north Texas. These schools could not be more different from a cultural, academic, or demographic perspective, and that’s exactly why they should play the opening game every year, not just this year, as they did on Sept. 3.
While the new tradition in college football seems to be a marquee opening game against a ranked opponent, SMU and UNT seem like natural fits to take each other on every Labor Day weekend.
For SMU, it offers an opportunity to start the season off with a win, an objective successfully achieved against the Mean Green. Too often throughout their history, the Mustangs have scheduled that marquee opponent, only to get blown out and signal to their fan base that this will be another dismal year of SMU football. Additionally, by the time they face TCU in late September, by far the most important game on the Mustangs’ football calendar every year, SMU is usually beaten down from difficult opponents, and unable to give the Horned Frogs or their fans the game they deserve.
For UNT, the Safeway Bowl offers the chance to shed the little brother designation, and establish itself as one of the top teams in north Texas. While they have won under 15 percent of their games against the Mustangs following Saturday’s loss, a win against their rivals to the south could help the UNT program grow into something that could continually give SMU a legitimate challenge. UNT should utilize its rivalry with SMU to raise the profile of its program. In these first years of the Seth Littrell era, the Mean Green can do so by scheduling a regular rivalry with the Mustangs.
In the era of conference realignment and neutral-site games, the idea of the regional rivalry has lost its luster in the college football landscape. Texans have watched the most celebrated rivalry in their state, Texas and Texas A&M, dissipate in the wind because of this.
Both SMU and UNT have a chance to resurrect some of that spirit. Not that a rivalry between two of the worst college football teams in the nation over the past few years could ever reach the heights of a national rivalry like the Longhorns and Aggies, but it can serve as a reminder to Texans that regional rivalries matter, and should take precedence over cash grabs and conference shifts.
The beauty of college football is not only in the competition, but the intrinsic attachment of fan bases to their respective schools. Unlike pro sports, college football is divided along regional, socioeconomic and cultural lines. Members of communities are forced to pick a side in various rivalries, thus creating the unifying culture all sports fans love.
That’s exactly why SMU and UNT need to match up year after year.
In north Texas, you could not select two more different institutions than SMU and UNT. They are the football equivalent of kids from different sides of the tracks. SMU is the established former power, while UNT is the rowdy upstart, trying to upend the current landscape. Additionally, both teams could use a boost in popularity, and starting the season with a regional rivalry seems like exactly the way to do it. I would highly encourage SMU and UNT to continue the tradition of opening the season against one another every year. The schools deserve it, the teams deserve it, and the fans deserve it.