Life After Death?

SMU may get rid of Phil Bennett, but it's likely to extend a two-year deal to his mustache.

Unfortunately for SMU, notsamuch. But almost.

The Mustangs came within four points of a remarkable resurrection this season, but their 31-27 loss at Rice Saturday afternoon dropped them to 6-6 and off the list of teams likely to be invited to post-season bowl games. For the Ponies, who in '87 were slapped with the NCAA's death penalty, a .500 record is an improvement. But in a season in which both coach Phil Bennett and new athletic director Steve Orsini promised a bowl bid, it's also a bitter disappointment.

SMU isn't going bowling because it lost to both Houston and Rice in November, but because it somehow lost, 24-6, to a ridiculously crappy University of North Texas team back in September. Bennett's job is in serious jeopardy: UNT, which fired coach Darrell Dickey, finished 3-9. Bennett, 17-41 at SMU, met with Orsini on Sunday, and the two are expected to continue/conclude talks about the direction of the football program today.

Give this much to Bennett: He's at least made SMU part of the conversation again (even though CBS' ticker on Saturday kept updating the Rice/Southern Miss score). And, after a nasty sideline spill Saturday, he coached the second half with his left arm in a sling. So, that's kinda cool. Ultimately, Bennett deserves to see this thing through.

He endured an 0-12 season in '03 but is now on the brink of a monumental breakthrough. SMU's nucleus--including quarterback Justin Willis--returns next season, and it would be a shame to see the Mustangs finally play in a bowl and Bennett not be on the sideline. For a similar story of perseverance, SMU only had to look across the field Saturday. With its win, Rice earned its first bowl bid in 45 years. --Richie Whitt

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky