Two-a-days: AAC football team previews
Over the last couple of weeks, we've offered a summer glimpse of every American Athletic Conference football team except USF, on whom we keep an eye 24/7. Today, we conclude with Tulane and Tulsa
Coach: Curtis Johnson (third season, 9-16)
2013 record: 7-6 (5-3 in Conference USA; lost to Louisiana 24-21 in New Orleans Bowl)
Starters returning/lost: 15/11. Tulane returns seven offensive and six defensive starters, and two specialists.
Schedule's toughest stretch: A three-game gauntlet of UCF (away), Cincinnati (home) and Houston (away) in a four-weekend mid-season stretch. Mercifully, a bye week separates the UCF and Cincy contests.
Top priority in August: Building depth in critical areas, and settling on a starting quarterback. Because of injuries, particularly at running back and linebacker, Johnson held three fewer spring practices than the NCAA permits. As for the healthy guys, redshirt freshman QB Tanner Lee dazzled at times during spring drills and may be the front-runner over returners Devin Powell and Nick Montana (Joe's son).
One name likely to roll off Mel Kiper's tongue: CB Lorenzo Doss. This 5-foot-11 junior earned second-team Walter Camp All-America honors last fall, when he had a team-high seven interceptions and broke up nine other passes. Doss is among six starters back from a unit that ranked 22nd nationally in total defense.
If the Green Wave were a classic WWE wrestler, they would be: Bob Backlund. Like the former baby-faced technician extraordinaire, the Green Wave likely will lean heavily on defense in lieu of firepower and gadgetry on the other side. Backlund, of course, became a champion. Tulane, moving into a new stadium this season, is probably a few years from contention.
Off the rack (what the magazines are saying): With the new stadium (on campus) and coming off a winning season, the Green Wave is trending up. But will that continue with the move to the American? A big key is for the program to stay healthy, as depth could be a problem across the board. - Sporting News
Audible: "This spring showed me some stuff about our kids. Our defense is definitely ahead. ... I think our team is led by our secondary: Darion Monroe, Sam Scofield, Lorenzo Doss. Just fantastic athletes who have been leading in our secondary for the last couple of years." -- Johnson
December plans: A second consecutive bowl appearance -- following a decade of postseason absence -- is conceivable, especially if the Green Wave can knock off a notable non-conference foe (Rutgers, Duke, Georgia Tech). But Johnson first must shore up an offense that ranked 115th last season in Division I.
Coach: Bill Blankenship (fourth season, 22-17)
2013 record: 3-9 (2-6 in Conference USA)
Starters returning/lost: 15/9. The Golden Hurricane return four offensive and nine defensive starters, and two specialists.
Schedule's toughest stretch: The Golden Hurricane end the season with games against UCF, Houston and East Carolina in a 15-day stretch. The first two contests are on the road.
Top priority in August: Where to begin? Tulsa returns nine starters from a lousy defense, so fourth-year coordinator Brent Guy has work ahead. Projected QB Dane Evans made five starts last season, but struggled mightily (four TDs, 10 INTs). The Golden Hurricane also are green at running back and receiver.
One name likely to roll off Mel Kiper's tongue: FS Demarco Nelson. Though a preseason first-team All-Conference USA pick last year, Nelson sat out the season to focus on academics. With 239 career tackles and eight picks, this senior's return should be a boon to a defense that surrendered 30 or more points eight times last season.
If the Golden Hurricane were a classic WWE wrestler, they would be: The Brooklyn Brawler. Like the cigar-chomping glorified jobber, the Golden Hurricane will scratch and claw with anyone, but likely will end up losing more than they win.
Off the rack (what the magazines are saying): The defense should be improved, but there are concerns on offense, especially at quarterback. Tulsa appears headed toward a second straight losing season. - Athlon
Audible: "We pride ourselves in being the smallest enrollment in Division I-A football. That may seem kind of strange, but we think there's a uniqueness to Tulsa. We consider ourselves to be uncommon; we love that. ...We had to re-load last year and with that, didn't accomplish what we should have. Traditionally, we have put some really strong defenses out on the field the last few years, and I think we'll do that again." - Blankenship
December plans: A coaching search? In the wake of last season's 3-9 debacle, many forecasters say Blankenship's residing on the conference's hottest seat. Then again, Tulsa is only two seasons removed from a Conference USA title and Liberty Bowl victory.