A long wait for SMU is officially over.
Shawnbrey McNeal rushed for 147 yards and two touchdowns, including the go-ahead score with 5:23 remaining, to lead SMU to a 26-21 win over Tulane on Saturday.
The Mustangs (7-5, 6-2) were already bowl eligible with six wins. With Saturday's victory, they are guaranteed to earn one of Conference USA's six automatic bowl bids. SMU, which went 1-11 the last two seasons, has not appeared in a bowl game since the 1984 Aloha Bowl.
Three years after that appearance, the NCAA imposed the death penalty on the football program for multiple rules violations. The Mustangs didn't play football for two seasons and have since struggled to regain respectability.
"I didn't see a player laugh or have fun until the second game this year," SMU coach June Jones said of the team s attitude. "It's like they were browbeat worse than any players I've ever seen."
Jones, in his second season at SMU, was given a two-year contract extension on Friday, keeping him at the school through 2014. Jones came from Hawaii, and the Mustangs may be going to Hawaii for their bowl game next month.
"I told the players I didn t really think it would really soak in yet," Jones said. "I told them they talk about the (early 1980s team) Pony Express; in 10 years they re going to talk about you."