On paper, it should be easy to bring talent to SMU. The Power 5 schools will take their share, sure, but there's always more than enough left over in the Metroplex alone to build a winning roster, and the East Texas, CenTex and Houston regions are all half-day drives from Dallas.
Reality, though, has proved trickier.
For staters, it's easy for SMU to get lost in the shuffle. Dallas is very much a pro sports town. When the conversation does turn away from the Cowboys, it's much more likely to focus on the Big 12 and Texas A&M than the Mustangs.
And then there's the simple fact that SMU simply isn't for everybody.
It's a small private school -- the school reported just under 6,500 undergraduates in 2018, the most recent year on record. The sticker price for tuition and lodging was over $70,000 in 2018, and more than half the student body came from outside of Texas. SMU listed all of 725 Black students in the undergraduate and graduate programs in 2018-19.
Yet Sonny Dykes and his staff have built a winner anyway. SMU's 10-win campaign in 2019 was the program's first since the Death Penalty. This program failed to win 10 games over a 3-season stretch four different times over the past three decades. The Mustangs' ongoing 14-3 run represents the program's best stretch of "clean" football since the late 1940s.
They've done it through two complimentary recruiting strategies. The first is to hit the Transfer Portal hard, primarily targeting Metroplex kids who sign with Power 5 schools out of high school. The second is to put a laser focus on high school kids from Dallas and the immediate areas.
That strategy is working. Dykes's 2019 and 2020 classes ranked third and fourth in the American according to 247Sports -- Chad Morris's two full classes never rated higher than sixth -- and the 2021 class is on track to be the best yet.
The 13-man group currently leads the American on a per-player basis, led by quarterback Preston Stone, the only 4-star currently committed to a Power 5 program. Ten of SMU's 13 pledges live within a 90-minute drive of SMU's University Park campus, and three attend Dallas ISD schools; you'd have to count back seven Mustang classes to find three total DISD signees, per the 247 database.
None of this happens by accident, obviously.
It started with putting up billboards all across the Metroplex, then by wearing alternate uniforms with the city of Dallas's logo juxtaposed with the galloping Mustang logo on the helmet and script "Dallas" written on the chest, worn for SMU's biggest games. You've probably seen the #PonyUpDallas hashtag on Twitter.
That push continues with videos like this one, released today. It's a well-produced video that tells a clear story in just 30 seconds: There's more to the SMU experience than what you see on campus, and there's more to Dallas than what you've seen on TV.
Here's Phillip Tanner, a Dallas native who signed with Middle Tennessee out of Kimball High School and later played four seasons in the NFL.
SMU missed on Tanner in 2006. Dykes and company don't want to miss on the 2021 version of Phillip Tanner.
“Our hope is that we can be like what Miami did in Miami,” Dykes told The Athletic last week. “We asked ourselves over and over again, ‘Can we do that? Can we be “The U” in Dallas?’ And we think we can. There are a lot of kids who take a lot of pride in being from Dallas. That’s our approach in marketing — the billboards, the uniforms, all of it came from that idea. I don’t care who you are or how heavily recruited you are. We think we can beat anyone out there for a Dallas prospect.”