In an alternate universe, this article is being written about two SEC juggernauts continuing their annual rivalry in Tulane Stadium. Sadly, this universe is less awesome: both schools left the SEC in the 1960s, haven't met since 1982, and Tulane Stadium was bulldozed in 1980. Fortunately, Tech and Tulane saw fit to renew the series, and....
Hold on - I'm hearing the series has been cancelled. Sorry guys, looks like I'll have to cut this preview short....
Hold on again.... okay, yeah, okay, got it - looks like the series is back on, and we are indeed set for a trip to the Big Easy for the first game in Tulane's shiny new stadium.........
Que lo pasó?
For Tulane football, last year season was like finding an oasis in a desert. The Green Wave finished 7-6, winning more than five games for the first time since 2002, a period that included three double digit loss seasons. Losses against FBS newcomers South Alabama, second years UTSA and a hard-nosed Syracuse team couldn't overshadow their in-conference successes, which included an overtime victory over East Carolina and a complete drubbing of EDSBS darling UTEP and allowed the Wave to reach their first bowl game since that 2002 season.
Sadly, their trip to the New Orleans Bowl (which wasn't even really a trip for them, since it was played in their home stadium.... but I digress) against the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns ended in heartbreak, as the Wave missed a field goal in the final seconds that would have forced overtime. Still, things are looking up for Tulane, and they have reason to be optimistic again about this season.
To put it mildly, Tulane's offense last year was not great last year. So Green Wave fans might find the departure of Ryan Grant and Orleans Darkwa - their top wide receiver and running back, respectively - a bit concerning. The two combined for 1,959 yards, which accounted for 48.5% of the Wave's offensive yardage. Without them, the team gained just 2,079 yards, or slightly less than two Jonathan Dwyers. Replacing production like that is bad enough when your offense doesn't rank in the bottom third of FBS. They're going to need all summer to figure out what works. Tulane's offensive line loses three of their top players as well, but it wasn't very good last year to begin with, so that may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
Things are somewhat less dire on defense. Tulane loses a couple of the country's best defensive linemen in Justin Warmsley and Chris Davenport as well as three of their top four linebackers in Zach Davis, Kyle Davis, and Dominique Roberson. The good news there is Tulane's defense was pretty good last year and likely helped carry them to a couple of wins their offense couldn't give them, so it may be more of a reload as opposed to their offense's rebuild.
On special teams, punter/placekicker Cairo Santos is the only loss, but he's a big one. Santos was 9 for 10 on field goals shorter than 40 yards and 7 for 13 for FGs longer than that - a huge boon to an offense as challenged as Tulane's. Santos also kicked more than 75 percent of his kickoffs into the endzone - a huge help to an average kick return unit.
2014 marks the beginning of a new era for Tulane football. In addition to moving to a new, on-campus stadium (.......maybe), the Green Wave are jumping from Conference USA to the American Athletic Conference. Financially, it's most likely greener pastures, but their years in C-USA were pretty lean as far as football success goes, and the competition in the AAC should prove to be a step above. Hopefully, coach Curtis Johnson can sustain the run of success he's started, or Tulane may have to result to the unthinkable - rehiring Tommy Bowden.
Tulane's starting quarterback last year was Nick Montana, son of Joe Montana. This year he finds himself third on the depth chart. The Green Wave will instead look to youth at quarterback (and pretty much everywhere else, really) with Tanner Lee and Devin Powell on the two-deep. Powell, a junior, saw plenty of action last year, but Lee, a redshirt freshman, is currently tabbed as the starter.
In the running game, fullback Rob Kelley had the most rushing yards on the team after the departed Orleans Darkwa, but he was kept out of spring practice dealing with academic issues and may not be on the team this fall. Instead, Tulane will likely look to junior Josh Rounds and freshman Sherman Badie to fill the gap - between the two, that's 203 yards of college experience.
The situation is similar in trying to replace Ryan Grant - the Green Wave will look to seniors Justyn Shackleford and Xavier Rush to step up at WR. Sophomores Devon Breaux and Kedrick Banks should see the field as backups - but the four totaled less than 850 yards last year. There's a lot of potential in Tulane's offense, which is a nice way of saying there's very little experience here.
The offensive line is somewhat better - three starters return in Sean Donnelly and Arturo Uzdavinis at tackle, and Nathan Shienle, moving from left guard to center. Colton Hanson and Chris Taylor will fill in the spots at guard, and Tulane does seem to have some serviceable reserves throughout the line.
Tulane's defense loses six starters from last year, and four from the front six. The same youth and depth issues that plague Tulane's offense also infect their linebackers - in addition to the previously mentioned departures, LBs Nico Marley, Edward Williams, and Sergio Medina went down with injuries in spring. If they can get healthy by fall, them combined with Eric Thomas and Matthew Bailey should make for a serviceable platoon at LB, even with the lack of experience. If not, they're in trouble.
On the defensive line, Tyler Gilbert and Royce LaFrance return at end, and Tulane will be happy if they can produce numbers similar to last year (16 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks total). There are some pretty big shoes to fill at tackle with the departures of Chris Davenport and Julius Warmsley, and the Green Wave are hoping some combination of Kenny Welcome, Corey Redwine, and Tanzel Smart are up to the task.
The secondary seems to be the one aspect of the team exempt from any major problems: Jordan Sullen, Jordan Batiste, and Derrick Strozier are all gone, but Tulane should see much dropoff by replacing them with Sam Scofield, Darion Monroe, and Lorenzo Doss.
So, how do they look?
Tulane did relatively well in their final year of play in Conference USA. Unfortunately, their conference slate in the American Athletic Conference promises to be a lot tougher, even though they're taking a few fellow C-USA conference mates with them: UNT, Rice, and UTEP are getting replaced with UCF, Cincinnati, and Houston; out of conference, two Sun Belt teams are getting replaced with two BCS teams. Add to that all the pieces the Green Wave are losing, and slight regression seems very likely and shouldn't be seen as the end of the world. Curtis Johnson has recruited well, and the future looks pretty good for Tulane - just maybe not this year.