2012 Tulsa Preview - The Hidden Gem
Tulsa RB Willie Carter
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Tulsa Golden Hurricane
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By Richard Cirminiello
Tulsa: One of the best-kept secrets in the FBS.
Coach: Bill Blankenship
Second year: 8-5
Off. 18, Def. 22, ST 1
Lettermen Lost: 19
Ten Best Tulsa Players
1. S Dexter McCoil, Sr.
2. LB Shawn Jackson, Jr.
3. HB Willie Carter, Sr.
4. RB Trey Watts, Jr.
5. RB Ja'Terian Douglas, Jr.
6. WR Bryan Burnham, Sr.
7. DE Cory Dorris, Sr.
8. S Marco Nelson, Jr.
9. QB Cody Green, Sr.
10. C Trent Dupy, Sr.
Sep. 1 at Iowa State
Sep. 8 Tulane
Sep. 15 Nicholls State
Sep. 22 Fresno State
Sep. 29 at UAB
Oct. 6 at Marshall
Oct. 11 UTEP
Oct. 20 Rice
Oct. 27 OPEN DATE
Nov. 3 at Arkansas
Nov. 10 at Houston
Nov. 17 UCF
Nov. 24 at SMU
Ever so quietly, the Golden Hurricane has been on a very nice run over the past seven years, even if much of the country hasn't been paying attention. Since leaving the WAC for Conference USA in 2005, Tulsa has methodically won at least eight games all but one time. While the head coaches have been juggled, from Steve Kragthorpe to Todd Graham to Bill Blankenship, the results have not.
The program has evolved into a steady producer of wins and points, crafting a culture of success that transcends any one individual player or coach. So, even though the Hurricane is losing all-conference QB G.J. Kinne to graduation, there's a steely confidence around campus that the team will keep the train from sliding off the tracks.
The program is welcoming back a nice mix of returning talent, including six starters on offense and seven on defense from a team that went 8-5 and contended for the West Division until the final week of the regular season; and with a first-year head coach, Bill Blankenship, on the sidelines, and its best weapon, WR Damaris Johnson, scratched for the season.
The Hurricane's biggest challenge for 2012 will be to replace Kinne, the linchpin for its success in recent seasons. Stepping into the hot seat will be former Nebraska Husker—and four-star recruit—Cody Green, who pulled ahead of Kalen Henderson in the closely-watched duel in the spring. Historically, as the quarterback goes, so goes Tulsa, meaning there'll be an awful lot of pressure on Green to deliver in his first season on the job.
When the Big East started trolling for new members over the past year, it ended up cherry-picking Houston, SMU, UCF and Memphis out of Conference USA. Tulsa? The market was too small. The Hurricane is accustomed to being overlooked and underappreciated. No worries, though. When faced with changes, challenges and slights in recent seasons, this program has always seemed to locate the right formula for success.
What to watch for on offense: RB Trey Watts to be a very busy man on Saturdays. Sure, he'll continue to share carries with speedster Ja'Terian Douglas, but he remains the starter, the player the coaches employ to get the tough yards between the tackles. The junior also has terrific hands out of the backfield, meaning he'll be used liberally on swing passes, and is even listed as a backup to Willie Carter at H-back. Watts is not the flashiest Hurricane on the roster, but he's plenty valuable to an offense that plans to milk all it can from him this fall.
What to watch for on Defense: The battle at middle linebacker. The Tulsa D appears to be on solid footing, provided it can overcome the losses of DE Tyrunn Walker and MIKE linebacker Curnelius Arnick. Coming out of spring, the staff was unable to decide on Arnick's successor, listing junior Donnell Hawkins and redshirt freshman Trent Martin as deadlocked. Hawkins has the edge in experience and athleticism. Martin is bigger, with arguably the higher long-term ceiling. The wild card in the mix is former standout DeAundre Brown, who has spent the last two years dodging injuries and academic issues.
The team will be far better if … the defensive backfield plays up to its full potential. The Hurricane is loaded on the last line of defense with four returning starters, three of whom will be considered for NFL careers. However, the results haven't always matched the talent on paper. A year ago, the Hurricane succumbed to some of the better quarterbacks on the schedule, yielding 25 touchdown passes. This fall, the secondary needs to be more than just a collection of physically-imposing ball-hawks. It must become bona fide lockdown stoppers, especially when the other guys reach the red zone.
The Schedule: The Golden Hurricane have to take advantage of the early home dates with a nasty November looming. League road games against UAB and Marshall are winnable, and if Tulsa can pull those off then it should set things up for a fun finishing kick. However, it would be nice to have six wins and bowl eligiblity banked before closing out with three road games in four weeks going to Arkansas, Houston and SMU along with a home date against a strong UCF squad.
Best Offensive Player: Senior H-back Willie Carter. Fullback. H-back. Wide receiver. The do-it-all Carter wears a lot of different hats for the Hurricane program. He's the team's most valuable player, and not just because he caught a team-high 61 passes for 868 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago. He also delights in the opportunity to emulate a fullback, rushing for a couple of scores, and routinely annihilating defenders as a blocker. Tulsa is just better when No. 34 is on the field, even if the ball isn't in his hands.
Best Defensive Player: Senior S Dexter McCoil. Looks like a linebacker. Plays like a safety. McCoil is that rare 6-4, 222-pounder who can step up and pack a punch against the run, yet also use his unique size to blanket opposing receivers. He finished third on the team with 84 tackles a year ago, while picking off six passes. Lost in the numbers—both statistics and measurables—is the fact that the senior is the vocal leader of the Tulsa defense, the player who commands the most respect on this side of the ball.
Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Cody Green. And it's not even that close. Green is not only trying to fill the shoes of G.J. Kinne, but he'll also be at the controls of a complex attack that asks its quarterback to be a deft distributor of the ball. The Nebraska transfer will be the maestro of the offense, attempting to feed a deep collection of skill position players with a minimum of errors. Since he's been around the block a few times, even starting games in Lincoln, his bar will be set a little higher than it is for the garden variety newcomer.
The season will be a success if ... the Golden Hurricane wins the West Division of Conference USA, blocking Houston and SMU from doing the same in their final year in the league. The program has no reason to set its sights any lower. The Cougars have a new coach, and a fair amount of rebuilding to do. The Mustangs are still looking to get completely over the hump. No one else in the division has the talent to compete. While Tulsa is not without its own holes, the school has enough key returners on offense and defense to make a run at the West…at least.
Key game: Nov. 10 at Houston. The Cougars may be down, but the defending champs are not out of the divisional race. All roads to a title must still go through Robertson Stadium, especially after Tulsa took it on the chin versus its rivals last November, 48-16. The Golden Hurricane will play two crucial league games in the fall, this one and at SMU two weeks later. It would love to travel to Dallas in the regular season finale knowing that it has an edge in the standings over the Mustangs.
2011 Fun Stats:
- Yards per rush: Tulsa 4.8 – Opponents 3.3
- Time of possession: Tulsa 27:06 – Opponents 32:54
- Sacks: Tulsa 27 - Opponents 18
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