DALLAS (AP) — Shane Buechele is having the kind of season so many envisioned after the quarterback started all 12 games as a true freshman in the Big 12 Conference three years ago.
While still in Texas, Buechele is closer to home with undefeated No. 19 SMU, where he is among 15 players who were once at other Power Five schools. The quarterback is one of 10 of those transfers from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
"It was a big part of why I came, is just to be close to home and be around a bunch of guys that are from this area," Buechele said. "It's been awesome to be around a bunch of guys that I have heard of or known."
There are 23 players overall on SMU's roster who were previously at other Division I schools. At least four of the seven grad transfers are eligible to play this year and next, including Buechele and Brandon Stephens, a running back at UCLA and now a starting junior cornerback playing near his hometown of Plano.
"This is a great fit for me to come back and play corner and be back home," Stephens said. "The first day I even stepped on campus, I just saw something. These guys were hungry to just be great. ... It was eye-opening and inspiring to keep working and bring SMU back on the map."
SMU is 6-0 for the first time since 1982, the Pony Express days with Eric Dickerson and Craig James when the Mustangs went on to an 11-0-1 season. They had last been in the AP poll in October 1986, just before the NCAA death penalty punishments and not fielding a team in 1987 and 1988.
The players aren't the only ones feeling like they came home. Second-year coach Sonny Dykes is in a similar situation.
Dykes, the Texas-born son of the late Spike Dykes, was out of the Lone Star State for a decade before a short stint as an offensive analyst at TCU. He became SMU coach in December 2017 after Chad Morris left for Arkansas, and his Mustangs debut came in a bowl game.
"Having a chance to come back I think really has been special for a lot of these guys, and I think they appreciate it. Because they went off and went someplace else, and they appreciate knowing people and having people that are looking out for their best interest, and having family and being able to see them more," said Dykes, also the former coach at Louisiana Tech and California. "And I feel the same way."
Buechele is the American Athletic Conference's top passer with 1,665 yards halfway through the regular season.
The full-time starter as a freshman for the Texas Longhorns in 2016, Buechele then split starts with freshman Shane Ehlinger the following season. Buechele played in only two games last season, preserving that year of eligibility, though he didn't get to go through spring drills with SMU while finishing his degree at Texas.
"It's been good to be successful and winning. It's been a lot of fun just being in this program, not turning things around, but helping go in the right direction," Buechele said. "I think there's a bunch of people with chips on their shoulders here, that we play hard all of the time no matter what, and I think that's really cool to be around."
His top targets are two of the league's top receivers — fifth-year SMU player James Proche (seven TDs, 88.2 yards receiving per game) and former West Virginia receiver Reggie Roberson Jr. (three TDs, 90.8 yards per game) from nearby DeSoto.
SMU's top tacklers, with 38 each, began their careers in their home states: safety Patrick Nelson at Illinois and Richard McBryde at Auburn.
When Dykes got to the Hilltop, he hadn't planned on going out and adding a bunch of players from the transfer portal.
"It's kind of the way it turned out," Dykes said. "Our first year here, we just all of a sudden started getting kids that were reaching out to us, through a high school coach or through a teammate, or whatever. They were just kind of saying, 'Hey, I'd like to come back home'."
Dykes loves recruiting kids from Texas, and still is building the program with high school players — there are 41 true freshmen and 11 other redshirt freshmen listed on SMU's full 132-man roster. But the transfers filled some significant needs.
"It helped," Dykes said. "It's given our team some maturity and given us some depth, and these guys have come in and acclimated themselves remarkably well."