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Texas Christian University and Southern Methodist University are separated by 40 miles of I-30 in the Lone Star State, but they are miles and miles apart on the football field. TCU was a Mountain West Conference powerhouse while SMU was an occasionally respectable Conference USA competitor. Now, TCU has the allure of playing for a Big 12 Conference in its recruiting pitch. But, the gap may not be widening as much as people think with SMU’s hiring of Chad Morris. We’ll see how the Mustangs stack up in this one as about a three-touchdown underdog.

TCU vs. SMU College Football Preview

Date/Time: Friday September 23, 8:00 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

College Football Betting Odds from 5Dimes

College Football Betting Favorite: TCU -21

Total: 64.5

This is the fifth straight season in which the two schools will meet and the Horned Frogs have won every game. They are only 2-2 against the spread, however. There are no delusions of grandeur in Dallas about SMU knocking off the upset in this game. After all, this is a team with five wins over its last 27 games. Chad Morris is now 4-11 as the head coach with a 7-8 record against the spread. Gary Patterson is one of the best coaches in the country, but his team has struggled this season. The Horned Frogs have failed to cover in all three games as double-digit chalk and Patterson is now 68-59-3 ATS over the last 11 seasons.

TCU Horned Frogs:

We may have overestimated TCU before the start of the season. After going 23-3 over the last two seasons, the Horned Frogs said goodbye to the all-time leading passer, Trevone Boykin, and the all-time leading receiver, Josh Doctson. Overall, only three starts returned on offense for TCU. That hasn’t stopped the Horned Frogs from racking up 138 points and over 1,700 yards of offense. But, Kenny Hill has turned the football over via interception three times and he’s been a more effective runner than passer. To make matters worse, leading receiver KaVontae Turpin is out for the next several weeks with a PCL injury. Turpin was also the nation’s leading punt returner, something that could come in handy against SMU if the defense gets it figured out.

The defense has not been good. It’s a lot more than the loss of co-defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross, although it’s a little bit unclear what the main problems are. The TCU defense has allowed 34 points per game and has given up 41 to South Dakota State and Arkansas. TCU gave up 461 yards in that game against the Jackrabbits. They held Arkansas to just over 400 yards and a pick six changed that game in a big way. It does feel like this group is gradually coming around, which is to be expected with a defensive-minded guy in Patterson and a lot of experience and production back from last season. They’ll be tested once again here this week.

SMU Mustangs:

SMU is off to a 2-1 start for the first time since 2011. Chad Morris’s group went on the road to Denton and beat North Texas and then held off Liberty in Week 3. The task at hand was hard enough, but it got even harder with the torn ACL of quarterback Matt Davis. You never want to see anybody get hurt, although the future ramifications of getting Ben Hicks some reps could be beneficial for a team that hasn’t made a bowl since 2012.  Hicks, a redshirt freshman, has looked the part of a freshman with a 48.2 percent completion percentage and a 2/5 TD/INT ratio. The SMU running game is firing on all cylinders with a 5.6 average and some chunk plays. Courtland Sutton should play on Sundays in a couple of years. The redshirt sophomore wide receiver has 13 catches for 336 yards and four touchdowns. SMU’s offense struggled with Baylor, but that’s the game in which Hicks made his first collegiate start. They still ran for 4.6 yards per carry without much of a passing threat.

The improvement from the offense was expected with Morris at the helm. The defense is still the focus for many people. This is a group that has allowed over 41 points per game in each of the last two seasons. So far, SMU has held the opposition to 25 points per game, but they faced a North Texas team with a massive schematic overhaul in progress on offense and a Liberty team that went 6-5 last season at the FCS level. This will be an enormous test for the defense, much like the Baylor game. Baylor turned the ball over three times and committed 14 penalties in that game, so that wasn’t the best performance for the Bears.

College Football Free Pick: TCU Horned Frogs -21

The sharp side in this game is very clearly SMU, as the number went from -23 to -20.5 at some shops. This line will climb with public players getting involved on Friday before kickoff. The reason for the TCU pick is that SMU is running the ball really well and it’s the TCU pass defense that has been atrocious. The run defense for the Horned Frogs is only allowing 3.6 yards per carry. SMU has forced 10 turnovers, so that’s how they can keep the game close, but TCU has to round into form at some point. Patterson’s too good of a coach and the Mustangs, pardon the pun, don’t have the horses to compete in this spot just yet.

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