CFN Preview 2013 - Tulsa Golden Hurricane
Tulsa QB Cody Green
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Tulsa Golden Hurricane
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By Richard Cirminiello
Tulsa's recent past is vastly underrated. The future is promising. Now the Golden Hurricane just needs to remain focused on the season ahead.
Coach: Bill Blankenship
Third year: 19-8
Off. 19, Def. 18, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 22
Ten Best Tulsa Players
1. RB Trey Watts, Sr.
2. LB Shawn Jackson, Sr.
3. FS Demarco Nelson, Sr.
4. RB Ja'Terian Douglas, Sr.
5. WR Keyarris Garrett, Jr.
6. QB Cody Green, Sr.
7. OT Stetson Burnett, Sr.
8. WR Jordan James, Sr.
9. WR Thomas Roberson, Jr.
10. LB Trent Martin, Soph.
8/29 at Bowling Green
9/7 Colorado State
9/14 at Oklahoma
9/21 Iowa State
9/28 OPEN DATE
10/12 at UTEP
10/19 OPEN DATE
10/26 at Tulane
11/9 at East Carolina
11/23 at Louisiana Tech
11/30 North Texas
While it gets almost no notoriety off campus, Tulsa has won at least eight games in seven of the past eight seasons. And it's remained on the tracks with three different head coaches, Steve Kragthorpe, Todd Graham and now Bill Blankenship. The latter has already won 19 games in his first two seasons, finishing 2012 with 11 wins, a Conference USA crown, a Liberty Bowl victory and a Top 25 ranking in the final Coaches' poll. Is it any wonder that the Big East extended an offer to join the league in 2014 after first ignoring it during the initial round of expansion?
The Golden Hurricane has crafted a blueprint for success that involves signing recruits that were overlooked by the Big 12, and gradually transforming them into all-star-caliber performers. The school will once be forced to rework the two-deep, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Tulsa lost eight starters to graduation, including four All-Conference USA talents. LB Shawn Jackson and FS Demarco Nelson are back, but they'll need to play mentor and teacher as much as they play D in the early going.
The team figures to be fronted by a balanced offense that doesn't seem to skip a beat from one season to the next. Trey Watts and Ja'Terian Douglas form one of the best backfield duos around, and WR Keyarris Garrett played in 2012 as if he'll get paid to play in the near future. QB Cody Green is both a leader and a liability for the Golden Hurricane. While Blankenship loves having big No. 7 behind center for one more year, he also needs his senior to play with more consistency and fewer mistakes than he did last fall.
In its final season as a member of the newly-configured Conference USA, Tulsa is a heavy favorite to win the West Division and play for a repeat league title. Call it a tune-up, of sorts, before the Hurricane sets sail for its third league in the last decade. It's become a program to which fine watches can be set. Blankenship goal in 2013 is to make sure his Hurricane keeps ticking with uncanny precision.
What to watch for on offense: The development of the O-line. Somewhat lost in the return of the top passer, rusher and receiver is the fact that the Golden Hurricane will be breaking in three new starters up front. Not only were Jared Grigg, Trent Dupy and Brian DeShane seniors in 2012, but they were all-stars as well. While holdovers Stetson Burnett and Jake Alexander will attempt to become anchors, the fate of the unit rests on the promoted Hurricane blockers, LT Garrett Stafford, C Dylan Foxworth and RG Gabe Moyer.
What to watch for on Defense: New stars to emerge in the trenches. Yeah, it's never easy losing all four starters to graduation, especially when the ends were All-Conference USA, but Tulsa has had a habit of turning dust to gold here. Heck, outgoing DE Jared St. John had 11.5 sacks a year ago, which was 10 more than he had in his first three years combined. Brentom Todd, Jack Jewell, Derrick Luetjen, Chris Hummingbird and Derrick Alexander are unknowns today, but don't be the least bit shocked if at least two of them make big splashes in 2013.
The team will be far better if … the special teams unit, particularly the punting game, irons out the wrinkles this fall. Had it not been for the heroics of return man Trey Watts, Tulsa would have had one of the worst special teams in Conference USA. It ranked 102nd nationally in net punting, missed six field goals and seven extra points and labored in coverage. The rebuilt D is going to need all of the help it can get this season. The Hurricane must do the little things better, beginning with the left leg of P Cole Way.
The Schedule: The potential is there for a special season, but there are just enough tough road games to keep the record in check including the opener at Bowling Green – the Falcons should have the MAC's best defense – and with trips to Oklahoma early and East Carolina and Louisiana Tech late. The defending Conference USA champs get the league's worst break by having to face both the Pirates and Marshall from the East, and it won't help to play three road games in four before having to deal with the Thundering Herd. However, if the Golden Hurricane can win the games they're supposed to, and pull out a home win over an Iowa State, Rice and/or Colorado State, the record will be solid.
Best Offensive Player: Senior RB Trey Watts. Watts is the quintessential Tulsa athlete. He received little respect—and no scholarship—coming out of high school, yet is now one of the league's most complete all-around weapons. The hard-working former walk-on won't be denied, fighting through every challenge until he's successful. Testament to his multi-dimensional skill set, he earned honorable mention All-Conference USA as a back and Second Team All-Conference USA as a return specialist. Watts was No. 11 nationally in all-purpose yards in 2012, producing a touchdown as a passer, runner, punt returner and kick returner.
Best Defensive Player: Senior LB Shawn Jackson. Nasty and scrappy, Jackson has never had much of a problem inciting the rest of the Tulsa defense during his career. Fueled by his drive, determination and keen instincts, he's rarely far from the ball. In fact, even after missing the first three games for disciplinary reasons, the stout 6-0, 251-pounder still racked up 88 tackles, 10.5 stops for loss, five sacks, five pass breakups and three forced fumbles in 2012. With a full season of action, he's liable to garner more national attention.
Key players to a successful season: The new starting cornerbacks, sophomore Darrell Williams and redshirt freshman Darnell Walker. The Golden Hurricane has a spate of worries on defense, but none bigger than the situation at corner. The D-line will overachieve, the linebackers have Shawn Jackson and the safeties are led by all-star Demarco Nelson. Cornerback, though, will now be manned by a pair of unproven kids who've combined for just four tackles so far at this level.
The season will be a success if ... the Golden Hurricane leave Conference USA with more hardware for the trophy case. Tulsa is still the class of the West Division, and no one from the East, like Marshall or East Carolina, is insurmountable. Former threats to a berth in the Liberty Bowl, Houston, SMU and UCF, have already hammered down stakes in the Big East, so there's absolutely no reason why the program shouldn't be shooting for a second straight championship.
Key game: Sept. 14 at Oklahoma. Tulsa has lost some of its old rivals to the Big East, so the schedule isn't especially salty or riddled with familiar in-league landmines. This season's best chance to make a splash occurs in the Week 3 cross-state road trip to play the Sooners. Oklahoma has dominated the last six meetings, giving the Golden Hurricane a Category 5 chip on its shoulder and an enormous opportunity to make a national statement before conference play begins.
2012 Fun Stats:
- Rushing yards per game: Tulsa 245.7 – Opponents 119.6
- Third-quarter scoring: Tulsa 110 – Opponents 55
- Sacks: Tulsa 53 - Opponents 9
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