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September 17, 2008

SMU's Jones staying positive despite start

SMU coach June Jones on Monday defended his decision to keep true freshman quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell as his starter despite Mitchell's five interceptions in a 43-7 loss at Texas Tech on Saturday.

"Every quarterback who has ever played the game has had one of those games," said Jones, who played quarterback himself at three colleges Oregon, Hawaii and Portland State in the 1970s.

Of this week's opponent, TCU, Jones said the Horned Frogs were probably "the best team we've played so far or going to play." Think of that as a message to Texas Tech.

Jones also said a bowl game was still in reach for a team that has won just two of its past 13 games.

That's Jones, who never backs down from a fight. He made national headlines nearly a decade ago for accusing Mack Brown and Texas of backing down when the Longhorns canceled a game at Hawaii. Texas officials cited jet-fuel costs as the reason.

"I don't know that we want to play Texas right now," Jones said. "They're pretty good. But down the line, I know we'd like to get some of those Southwest Conference rivalries rekindled, so hopefully we can play that game in a few years."

Jones, 55, loves a challenge, and he continues to say he has more to work with at SMU than he did at Hawaii.

"(SMU athletic director) Steve Orsini has done a nice job of getting things in place to help us compete," he said. "At Hawaii, we were doing it with mirrors."

Jones' arrival at SMU with a $2 million annual salary was the school's money-where-your-mouth-is attempt to rejoin big-time college football. A 150 percent increase in season-ticket sales following his hire is evidence a desperate fan base believes he can turn the Mustangs back into a winner.

The Mustangs have lost to Rice and Texas Tech on the road and have a home win over Texas State. After finishing 41st in passing offense last season under Phil Bennett, SMU is No. 15 this season.

When Jones went to Hawaii in 1999, he said he told a locker room full of players who had just gone 0-12 in 1998 that the team would lead the nation in offense, win nine games and go to a bowl. The Warriors went 9-4 in 1999, went to a bowl and finished No. 3 nationally in pass offense. At the time, it was the biggest turnaround in NCAA history. Now, Jones is trying to recreate the same kind of results on a similar timetable at SMU.

"You've got to win your home games," he said. "We've had one home game and we won it, and now we've got some more (including Saturday against TCU), and if we win all of them and steal one or two somewhere, we've got a chance, still, for a bowl game. And that's what we're shooting for."

Chip Brown is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at cbrown@rivals.com.

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