ACC ceiling for SMU may be similar to UCF's first season in the Big 12

Cincinnati v UCF
Cincinnati v UCF / Julio Aguilar/GettyImages

SMU is the latest Group of Five program to make the jump to the Power conference level, but Saturday Blitz's Zach Bigalke sees the Mustangs' ceiling in the ACC this Fall as similar to UCF's during their first Big 12 campaign in 2023.

"The last three teams to rise from mid-major status to a major league all came from the American. Only one of them reached .500 during its first regular season as a Big 12 member," Bigalke prefaced before saying, "Cincinnati's move was coupled with a coaching change, as Luke Fickell moved on to the Wisconsin job and Scott Satterfield went 3-9 after crossing over from Louisville. Houston benefitted from the stability of Dana Holgorsen's fifth year at the helm, but the Cougars managed only one more win than Cincinnati. UCF managed to go 6-6 before losing in a minor bowl game.

"That UCF example is probably the ceiling for SMU as they adjust to life as a small fish in a big pond for the first time since their Southwest Conference heyday. More likely is a season that resembles those put up by Houston or the Bearcats."

Rhett Lashlee's first SMU slate in ACC easier than Gus Malzahn's first Big 12 schedule in charge of UCF

SMU head coach Rhett Lashlee has a much easier first season to navigate in the Power conference ranks in the ACC than his former boss at Auburn, Gus Malzahn, had leading UCF into the Big 12 last year.

While the Mustangs have a brutal opening game against FSU in Tallahassee -- a conference opener that follows what could be a tough non-conference slate featuring TCU and BYU -- their road in the ACC is not filled with world-beaters.

UCF, on the other hand, had matchups with Kansas State, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State on their schedule; all teams that were ranked at one point or another in 2023.

Malzahn had it rougher than Lashlee is about to. But their results could still end up being the same.