DALLAS – SMU coach June Jones is sending mixed messages about the significance of the Mustangs' home game against fourth-ranked TCU.
He is probably doing that on purpose.
Jones, in his third season trying to return SMU to prominence, talks about "hoping one day we can be in that class with them" while also saying the underdog Mustangs (2-1) can't worry about TCU more than they do any other team.
But with a Friday night game against the Horned Frogs (3-0) at home, where SMU has won five straight for the first time since 1985-86, Jones isn't ignoring reality.
"You've got a chance to make a statement on national TV," Jones said.
TCU, which has won 17 consecutive regular season games, is favored by more than two touchdowns in the Dallas-Fort Worth rivalry. The Frogs have won nine of the last 10 meetings.
"I guess it comes with having a ranking to you, it's a statement game for those people," TCU coach Gary Patterson said. "June has done a good job with words. I don't quite understand it. ... It's not a big game, or is it a big game? What exactly is it?"
For the Frogs, this is the fourth step toward in what they hope is another undefeated regular season and a chance to be a BCS buster again.
SMU last year went to a bowl for the first time since 1984, before the so-called "death penalty" from the NCAA for rampant violations that included paying players and led to two years without fielding a team. Until last year, the Mustangs had posted only one winning record since the program was reinstated in 1989.
After going 1-11 in Jones' first season, SMU improved to 8-5 last year and went to the Hawaii Bowl. The seven-win improvement was the largest for any Division I team last season.
It's a turnaround TCU can relate to: The program was coming off a one-win season when Patterson arrived as the defensive coordinator for Dennis Franchione in 1998. After several near misses, the Frogs finally became a BCS buster last season.
Jones is just getting started at SMU, where he arrived in 2008 after his rebuilding effort at Hawaii included an undefeated regular season and a BCS game.
"He's using patience and I think he's getting support from the administration that you need that maybe past coaches before him weren't given," said Patterson, who became the Frogs' head coach when Franchione left for Alabama at the end of the 2000 regular season.
Patterson considers Jones a good friend, so the success of the Mustangs is all well and good with the TCU coach. Except this week.
The Frogs have kept the "Iron Skillet" trophy for most of the past decade, with the only SMU victory in that stretch coming in 2005. That was pre-Jones and a week after TCU's season-opening victory at Oklahoma. That 21-10 shocker was the only loss that season for the Frogs.
"There's not anybody that was actually there and felt the loss," said tight end Evan Frosch, a fifth-year TCU senior. "It's five years later, we're a different team, we're ready to go, they're a different team. ... We're worried about what we've got this year, what they've got, and focus on what we can do now."
Patterson remembers the 2005 game. He planned this week to show his team video of SMU players and fans celebrating the upset.
Asked if he was particularly excited about the game, Jones responded, "Not really."
Then again, it hasn't been much of a rivalry for Jones. TCU won 48-7 its last visit to Ford Stadium in 2008, and beat the Mustangs 39-14 at home last year.
"I know the kids get excited," Jones said. "Being here just for the two times we've played 'em, I have sensed there is that rivalry feeling. I have definitely sensed they turn it up when it is this game."
The rivalry was really something 75 years ago, when both teams were 10-0 going into their late November game in Fort Worth. SMU won 20-14 and went on to the Rose Bowl.
The Mustangs and Frogs both finished 12-1 in 1935 and claimed national championships for that season.
"Really? I didn't realize that," Frosch said.
The Frogs aren't worried about history anyway. Their focus is on the opportunity to make history of their own with a national championship this year. And the only way to do that is to keep winning.