2011 Record: (2-11, 1-7 in C-USA)
Head Coach: Curtis Johnson (first year head coach)
Last Bowl Game: 2002 Hawaii Bowl: beat Hawaii 36-28
Out of Conference Opponents: 9/1 vs Rutgers, 9/22 vs Ole Miss, 9/29 vs ULM, 10/6 at Louisiana
Swing Games: 10/27 vs UAB, 11/10 at Memphis
Stat to Cheer: I looked but couldn’t find any so we’ll go with the fact that Orleans Darkwa returns for his junior season.
Stat to Fear: allowed opponnents to convert 98.31% of red zone trips (last in the Nation)
Phil Steele’s Returning Starters (Offense: 7; Defense: 8; Specialists: 2)
Key Defensive Returnees: LB Trent Mackey (145 tackles, 14 TFL, 4.5 sacks), LB Darryl Farley (69 tackles), CB Ryan Travis (59 tackles, 4 INT), S Shakiel Smith (68 tackles)
Key Offensive Returnees: RB Orleans Darkwa (924 yards, 13 TD, 37 rec), OT Eric Jones, WR Wilson Van Hooser (36 rec, 4 TD)
CFBZ: Curtis Johnson takes over for Bob Toledo after he resigned halfway through the season. What are the initial impressions of Johnson?
The Tulane Hullabaloo: Johnson has done an above-average job of energizing the Tulane fan base and dismissing the perception — correct though it may be — that he was the Green Wave’s third or fourth head coaching choice. He and his staff have been as good as advertised on the recruiting trail, immediately pulling in Darion Monroe, a 4-star cornerback who previously committed to Texas A&M, among other impressive recruits.
Soon, it’ll be time to see how that talent translates to success on the football field, and if any Wave fan was being completely honest, they would say they have no idea if it will. Johnson has never been anything more than a position coach. There’s no way to reasonably predict if he’ll be a success or another Larry Porter, a former chief recruiter at LSU who went 3-21 in two years with Memphis. And the list of men who jumped from career position coach to successful college head coach is extremely short.
With a new stadium on the way, greater administrative support, and college and professional championship rings on his fingers, however, Johnson may be in a better position to succeed than any Tulane coach of the last decade.
CFBZ: What do you see as the biggest areas of improvement needed for Tulane to be successful this year?
The Tulane Hullabaloo: When a team is coming off of a 2-11 season, there are always plenty of areas that could use some shoring up. Most importantly, the Green Wave needs better production out of its wide receivers. Conference USA is a speed conference, and in many games last year, the receivers weren’t getting enough separation from opposing secondaries. Running back Orleans Darkwa led the 2011 team in catches with 37 receptions, and if that happens again, the team will have another dismal season.
Each level of the Tulane defense needs to improve, and losing defensive end Dezman Moses to the NFL hurts. All eyes, however, are suddenly on the secondary after the dismissal of No. 1 cornerback Jordan Sullen during spring training. True freshman Jordan Batiste emerged as the top cornerback on the post-spring depth chart, and Monroe arrives in the fall. The Green Wave needs solid years out of both players if the defensive backs hope to perform well against the team’s C-USA slate.
CFBZ: Tulane looks like they have some talent returning. Who are some players that need to step up this season?
The Tulane Hullabaloo: Headed into his third full season as a starter, senior quarterback Ryan Griffin has one last chance to salvage his Tulane legacy in 2012. Leon Blouin IV was by all accounts in great position to pass Griffin on the depth chart this year. Johnson loves Blouin’s mobility and talked to the redshirt freshman over the phone many times in the months following the coach’s hiring. Griffin, however, had a strong, or at least clearly superior, spring session, and it doesn’t look like any other quarterback on the 2012 roster will have the experience, maturity or playbook knowledge to pass him up.
Despite his team’s struggles throughout the last three years, Griffin still has the chance to leave Tulane as one of its all-time most statistically efficient quarterbacks. Watching him this season will certainly be intriguing.
Linebacker Trent Mackey will have another stellar year as Tulane’s defensive centerpiece, and though he’s undersized, he’ll have a good chance to be the first Green Wave player drafted in April since 2009.And it would give the Wave offense a big boost if Darkwa could return to late freshman-season form, though his role will probably change in Johnson’s new spread attack.
CFBZ: What is your gut feeling on the final record for 2012 and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
The Tulane Hullabaloo: 2012 is an especially important year for the Green Wave because Tulane plays two other in-state schools: Louisiana-Lafayette and Louisiana-Monroe. After setting attendance records and winning the New Orleans Bowl last season, the Ragin’ Cajuns are in a good position to pass Tulane up in the minds of Louisiana recruits. If the Wave loses either game by more than a touchdown, let alone both, it could spell big trouble for the team’s recruiting future.
Curtis Johnson’s first season actually has fairly specific parameters for success. First, the Green Wave must win both of its in-state games. Second, the Wave really needs a homecoming win against a bad Rice squad on Nov. 3. Third, Tulane must finish with at least a 5-7 record, which probably means winning all of the aforementioned games, along with match-ups against fellow C-USA cellar-dwellers UAB and Memphis.
Unfortunately, my gut feeling is that the Green Wave will achieve only one of those benchmarks. They will probably pull out a victory against Rice, but I think they’ll drop at least one in-state game and finish at 4-8. The defense performed poorly last season, giving up 37.4 points per game, and a lot of that was due to a bad defensive scheme. Unfortunately, one can’t completely attribute a No. 115 ranking in scoring defense to the scheme, and Tulane just hasn’t added quite enough defensive firepower to sufficiently shore up that side of the football.
That finish, however, will be more than enough to tide the Wave fans over and help them look forward to another season with Johnson at the helm.
The last time the Green Wave sported a winning recod was 2002 when the team went 8-5. Tommy Bowden’s 12-0 season from 1998 has been long forgotten by the college football world. Is Curtis Johnson’s the man to get Tulane back on track? I don’t think we will find out this season.
The biggest concern I have is turning around a defense that ranked dead last in scoring defense (37.5 ppg) and gave up 410.3 yards per game. Tulane has given up at least 34.5 points per game since 2008 so it’s almost ingrained in their culture. That’s going to be something that is going to take more than two months of recruiting and one off-season of coaching to fix. I think Tulane will no doubt look better and will be a different team but I don’t think it will translate to the scoreboard in year one under Curtis Johnson.
2012 Prediction: 3-9
Previous 2012 Previews: