It’s said that everything is bigger in Texas.

That may or may not actually be the case. But as of today – Monday, July 1, 2024 – the ACC got just a little bit bigger thanks to the addition of a school from Texas.

No, it doesn’t make sense. But very little about college athletics does, anymore.

The expansion that will turn the Atlantic Coast Conference into the “All Coast Conference” has begun with SMU officially being welcomed into the fold as the league’s newest member. At least until Cal and Stanford join on Aug. 2.

Now that the Mustangs have crashed the party and galloped onto the scene, here’s everything you need to know to prepare for their arrival:

Vital statistics

Southern Methodist University is located in the Highland Park neighborhood of Dallas. It has an enrollment of 12,053 students (7,056 undergraduate, 4.997 graduate) representing all 50 states and numerous foreign countries. The university was founded in 1911 and began participating in intercollegiate athletics in 1918.

Although the university is affiliated with the United Methodist Church, its enrollment includes students of all religious denominations.

SMU fields teams in 16 varsity sports, 6 men’s (basketball, football, golf, soccer, swimming & diving and tennis) and 10 women’s (basketball, cross country, equestrian, golf, rowing, soccer, swimming & diving, tennis, track & field and volleyball).  It dropped baseball, along with several others, in 1980 for financial reasons.

The Mustangs claim 3 national championships in football (although none are officially recognized) and have been to 19 bowl games. Their basketball team has made 1 Final Four appearance, in 1956 and earned 12 NCAA Tournament invitations.

School colors are red and blue.

What to expect

It will be interesting to see how quickly or smoothly SMU adjusts to the step up in competition after winning the American Athletic Conference championship in its final season in the league last year. UCF, Cincinnati and Houston made a similar jump by joining the Big 12 a year ago and all 3 finished with losing records.

There are several reasons the Mustangs stand a better chance of holding their own in the ACC this fall. Not only do they return most of their key performers from a team that went 11-3 a year ago, including star quarterback Preston Stone (3,197 yards, 28 TDs). But coach Rhett Lashlee has a good idea of what to expect, having spent 2 seasons in the conference as offensive coordinator at Miami before coming to SMU.

This year’s team is also blessed with a manageable schedule that includes 2 of the ACC’s weaker teams, Virginia and Stanford, and has its toughest test, against Florida State, at home.

SMU’s basketball team is also on the upswing, having gone 20-13 with an invitation to the NIT last season. The program made a further upgrade once the season ended when it hired coach Andy Enfield away from Southern Cal. It’s a move Enfield said he only considered because of the Mustangs’ move to the ACC.

Conference call

The ACC marks the 5th conference to which the Mustangs have belonged.

Their journey to the “Atlantic Coast” has taken them all over the map, literally, starting in their home region when they joined with Arkansas, Baylor, the school now known as Oklahoma State, Rice, Texas and Texas A&M in founding the old Southwest Conference in 1918.

They remained in the SWC until its demise in 1996 before heading west for a 10-year stay in the Western Athletic Conference.

Then in 2005, they decided to go nationwide by becoming a member of Conference-USA before moving over to the American Athletic Conference in 2013 when it reorganized and broke off from the original Big East.

ACC “legends”

The ACC does a nice job of honoring its “legends” from the past, even though some of them played before expansion and never actually competed as members of the ACC. With the addition of SMU, the league has gained a whole new group of legends to celebrate.

Here’s a look at some of the best:

  • Eric Dickerson: Star running back on the Pony Express teams of the early 1980s who went on to set NFL rushing records and earn induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
  • Craig James: Dickerson’s running mate who went on to fame as a television analyst and the father of a Texas Tech player whose allegations of physical abuse led to the firing of coach Mike Leach.
  • Doak Walker: The 1948 Heisman Trophy winner and a Pro Football Hall of Famer. He is the namesake of the award that started in 1990 and is given annually to the best running back in college football.
  • Forrest Gregg: A mainstay on the offensive line during the Green Bay Packers’ dynasty in the 1960s. He’s a 2-time Super Bowl champion and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
  • Jon Koncak: The leading rebounder in school history who led the Mustangs to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments in 1984-85 and was a 1st-round NBA Draft pick.
  • Payne Stewart: Two-time US Open champion golfer.
  • Bryson DeChambeau: Tw-time US Open champion golfer.

Cross-pollination

While none of those new “ACC legends” ever played or coached in the ACC, there are a few notable Mustangs from the past and present that have a direct connection to SMU’s new conference.

It’s a list that starts with current football coach Rhett Lashlee, who was Manny Diaz’s offensive coordinator at Miami for 2 seasons in 2020-21.

Former North Carolina basketball champion Matt Doherty coached at SMU from 2006-12. But his tenure there didn’t go much better than his earlier, disastrous stint at his alma mater. He was fired after recording only 1 winning season and overall record of 80-109.

Doherty’s replacement was also a Tar Heel. Coaching vagabond Larry Brown spent 4 seasons with the Mustangs, winning at least 25 games 3 times, earning the program’s first conference championship in 22 years and making it as high as No. 8 in the national polls from 2012-16. But he also got the program placed on probation for NCAA violations, leading to a postseason ban.

Basketball star Semi Ojeleye transferred to SMU after 2 seasons at Duke and earned AAC Player of the Year honors in 2017 before being drafted by the Boston Celtics.

And though it’s something of a stretch, Boston College’s Andre Williams is the only ACC player ever to win the Doak Walker Award as college football’s top running back.

Sentenced to death

Fueled by the Pony Express backfield of Dickerson and James, SMU went 41-5-1 over the 4 seasons from 1981-84. The Mustangs did everything you can possibly do in college football during that stretch besides winning a national championship. They finished 2nd in the AP Poll in 1982.

Everything, including committing major NCAA violations.

Twice.

They were already on probation for recruiting violations under former coach Ron Meyer when the NCAA, acting on the allegations of 2 whistleblowers within the program, found that players were receiving cash payments from a slush fund provided by a booster. And that school officials lied when questioned by NCAA investigators.

Because of the severity of the infractions and SMU’s status as a repeat offender, the Committee on Infractions came down hard on the Mustangs. On Feb. 25, 1987, it voted to cancel their entire 1987 football schedule, The school later scrapped the 1988 season after a majority of its players left to go to other schools.

The sanctions were so severe that it’s taken SMU decades to recover. To this day, it’s the only school to have the so-called penalty imposed upon it.

No, not that Gerald Ford

SMU’s on-campus football stadium is named after Gerald Ford.

But not the former President by that name.

This Gerald J. Ford is a billionaire banker whose financial contribution helped pay for the stadium’s construction. The current venue opened on Sept. 2, 2000 with a game against Kansas and stands on the site of the Mustangs’ former home, Owenby Stadium, which was razed 2 years earlier.

While the current capacity is 32,000, expansion is in the works to enclose the open South end of the stadium and increase its capacity to 45,000.

Mascot with a “kick”

SMU’s athletic teams are known as the Mustangs. But the school’s live mascot is actually a Shetland pony. It’s a tradition that dates back to 1932 when the owner of a local racetrack donated a particularly energetic pony to the school.

Its name Peruna comes from a popular Texas elixir originally used for medicinal purposes, but popularized during Prohibition because of its high alcohol content (approximately 18%). It was chosen because the pony was said to “give the kick” that SMU’s team needed.

The current mascot, Peruna IX, was introduced in 2011 and runs out onto the field with the football team for all its home games.

Past is prelude

SMU’s football team won’t play its first official ACC game until Sept. 28 when it hosts defending conference champion Florida State. But it’s already gotten an early taste of what life in the ACC will be like.

The Mustangs’ final game before joining the league came at the Fenway Bowl last December against future ACC rival Boston College. The then-American Athletic Conference champions were defeated by the Eagles 23-14 in a driving rainstorm.

The teams are scheduled to play a rematch, one that will count in the conference standings, when BC comes to Dallas on Nov. 16.

Ponying up

SMU was so desperate to elevate its athletic program to power conference status that it agreed to forego its share of media rights revenue for the next 9 years as a stipulation for joining the ACC. That’s a figure estimated to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $350 million.

That sounds like a large chunk of change. And it is. But if anyone can afford to withstand that kind of financial hit, it’s the Mustangs.

Enthusiasm over the move ran so high that the school reported $100 in donations in the first week after the announcement of the Mustangs’ acceptance into the ACC last September. And the momentum has continued to build. Earlier this month, SMU’s athletic department announced that it raised a record-breaking $159 million during the 2023-24 fiscal year.

It’s a success achieved through a combination of major gifts and a record number of new boosters joining its Mustang Club.