NCAA Football Preview - Tulsa Golden Hurricane
By Phil Neuffer, Associate College Football Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
2013 SEASON IN REVIEW: In the last nine seasons, the football team at Tulsa has experienced success previously unmatched in its history. It went to seven bowl games in those years, and tallied 10 or more wins on four occasions.
Last season was not one of those campaigns.
The Golden Hurricane suffered losing streaks of three and four games during the 12-game schedule and finished at 3-9, ending a streak of three straight bowl appearances. The 3-9 record was also the program's worst since 2002, when it went 1-11.
A move to a new and tougher conference like the AAC may not be the best thing for a team that stumbled so mightily. However, head coach Bill Blankenship doesn't think his squad has anything to fear, especially with familiar rivals like Tulane, East Carolina and Houston in the league as well.
"We really look forward to the renewed rivalries with SMU and Houston and Tulane and Memphis that are in our region," Blankenship said. "But also to open up the door and to be able to travel into Connecticut, Philadelphia, to play Temple."
OFFENSE: From 2010-2012, Tulsa was a top-30 offensive team in the country. The Golden Hurricane do not have such fond memories of last year's unit, as Tulsa finished near the bottom of the nation in total offense (356.2 ypg) and scoring (21.1 ppg).
Fixing the problems will be difficult considering the huge roster turnover the offense is facing. Other than tight end Tyler Wilson, no skill position player returns as a consistent starter, although some have a bit of starting experience.
Dane Evans made five starts a year ago and threw for 898 yards and 4 touchdowns. Those limited positives were completely overshadowed by a miserable 43.1 percent completion percentage and the 10 interceptions he threw. He might be listed as the starter now, but that could very well change and change quickly, especially with Blankenship's desire to get more production through the air.
"We really went through spring with some commitment to knowing that we've got to reengage our passing game. We knew that was an area offensively that we struggled with a year ago," Blankenship said. "A lot of the plays will be the same, but I think how we're going about that, how we present that offense, how we force and reinforce the passing game hopefully will look a lot different this year."
Tulsa's only consistent offensive threat last season was running back Trey Watts, who was not only the team's leading rusher (1,329 yards), but the top receiver as well (46 receptions). Replacing his level of production is an impossible thing to ask of James Flanders and touted transfer Tavarreon Dickerson, but that is the position Tulsa is in.
The receiving corps didn't do much last season, obviously, so Keevan Lucas (32 receptions, 442 yards, 1 TD), Derek Patterson (12 receptions, 144 yards, 2 TDs) and Keyarris Garrett (seven receptions, 68 yards) will need to grow up quickly.
There is a silver lining for the bleak offensive outlook. The offensive line has a solid amount of starting experience, with tackles Garrett Stafford and Davis Walton joining center Dylan Foxworth in the trenches.
DEFENSE: While the offense is without a ton of returning talent, the defense has a solid core to build around, especially on the line and in the secondary.
Safety Michael Mudoh has a great ability to get to and bring down opposing ball-carriers. Last season he racked up 133 tackles, which was the most of any player in C-USA. Will Barrow (54 tackles, 2 INTs) and Dwight Dobbins (36 tackles, 1 INT) will be the starting cornerbacks, and Demarco Nelson should slot in nicely at the other safety spot. All in all, it is certainly a group to be reckoned with.
The defensive line also has three starters returning, with tackles Jesse Brubaker and Derrick Luetjen set to eat up space on the interior, and Derrick Alexander a threat on the edge. Brubaker and Luetjen combined for 69 tackles last season, and Alexander led the team with 6.5 sacks.
The options at linebacker are much less enticing, and not just because C-USA Defensive Player of the Year Shawn Jackson is no longer on the roster. Freshmen C.J. Gooden and Craig Suits are likely to see a fair amount of time, and Trent Martin (29 tackles) is the elder statesmen of the group.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicking and punting duties will remain with Carl Salazar and Dalton Parks, respectively. Last year Salazar knocked in 16-of-19 field goal attempts, although his season-long was just 38 yards. Parks averaged only 39.5 yards per punt.
In 2013, Watts took care of punt returns and was a key part of the kickoff return game as well, so someone new will have to step up.
OUTLOOK: Tulsa will get to ease into the AAC this season, playing Tulane on Aug. 28 and then facing Temple, South Florida and Memphis, which had seven wins between them last season, in the beginning of the league schedule. The slate does present plenty of tough spots, including a September date with Oklahoma and a brutal three-game stretch to close things (at UCF, at Houston, vs. East Carolina).
Although this is a program just one year removed from an 11-3 campaign, a big bounce-back isn't likely. However, if Evans can establish himself early and the rest of the new faces on offense do the same, the relative ease of the early season schedule could propel them towards an improvement that could lead to bigger things in the future.
08/22 13:04:56 ET