In 1935, SMU had a magnificent season: 12-0-0 record, scoring 288 points while only giving up 39. The Mustangs completely dominated their opponents. They shut out eight of their 12 regular season opponents, including conference rivals Texas, Rice, Baylor, and Texas A&M. They were one of the most talented teams in school history. The 1935 Mustangs secured their place in football immortality by being crowned National Champions in one of the 90 Greatest Moments in SMU Football History.
They were led by All-America running back Bobby Wilson. Wilson was not only the best player on the Mustangs, but in the entire Southwest Conference as well. He was joined by Bob Finley, Truman “Big Dog” Spain, Maurice “King Kong” Orr, and Doak Walker’s childhood hero, Harry Shuford. “We really looked forward to that senior year,” Shuford said. “Our eyes were set on winning the conference. As juniors, we did well but not as well as we could have or should have. We had played together so long that we felt pretty good about ourselves as a team. We would not come unglued.”
The season was the first for Matty Bell as head coach since Ray Morrison had decided to return to Vanderbilt. Shuford recalled, “We were disappointed, of course, when Ray left. Ray is a grand gentleman and a great football coach. But Bell had more fire and discipline than Morrison did. He really knew how to deal with men. Nobody hesitated to see Coach Bell about any problem. We all felt pretty close to him.”
Matty Bell always looked upon his first team with great admiration. “It was a conscientious, ambitious, veteran team of seniors. Texans all but one. Three were due to be All-Americas: the eel, Wilson, the best running back I have ever seen, including my old Centre College teammate, Bo McMillian; the giant tackle, Truman Spain; and Iron Man Wetsel at guard.”
Midway through the season, traveling by train to Los Angeles, the Ponies awakened the nation’s interest as they played an almost flawless game against UCLA. They destroyed the Bruins, 21-0, on Armistice Day. Matty Bell later would say, “The exhibition SMU put on in that game, the finest handling of the football in forward and lateral play that I have ever seen, was the principal factor in bringing the Rose Bowl offer.” Once the Mustangs returned to Dallas, they realized that the rest of the country was starting to realize that they were the best team in the land.
The biggest obstacle between SMU and the Rose Bowl was a showdown with rival TCU in Fort Worth. TCU was undefeated and led by quarterback Slingin’ Sammy Baugh. SMU was ranked No. 1 and TCU No. 2, with the winner having the inside track to a Rose Bowl berth. No game in conference history was more deserving of the title “Game of the Century.” In the end, Wilson caught a Bob Finley 45-yard pass for the winning score for SMU. Famed sportswriter, Grantland Rice wrote, “It was one of the greatest football games ever played in the 60-year history of the nation’s finest college sport. In the most desperate game this season known from coast to coast, Southern Methodist beat Texas Christian and thereby carved a clear-cut highway right into the middle of the Rose Bowl beyond any argument.”
The following week, the Mustangs traveled to College Station to put the finishing touches on their championship season. SMU confidently handled the Aggies, 24-0. They had done it. SMU was unbeaten, untied, conference champions, and finally, national champions. They were crowned national champions by virtue of accepting both the Knute Rockne and Deke Houlgate trophies, emblematic of the No. 1 ranking. It marked the first time that a team from the Southwest Conference was named national champions. In 1935, SMU was the best football team in America making it one of the 90 Greatest Moments in SMU Football History.