The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 99 Tulane.
Previewing Tulane’s Offense for 2014
Look at the anemic offensive numbers, and it’s hard to believe Tulane won seven games to end a 10-year string of losing seasons. Then look at the two key players who won’t be back from that offense, and it’s easy to see how the Green Wave could fall short of .500 this season as they move from Conference USA to the American Athletic Conference.
Tulane finished 115th nationally in total offense and lost leading running back Orleans Darkwa (863 yards) along with top receiver Ryan Grant (1,039 yards). The Green Wave need dramatic improvement at quarterback, where redshirt freshman Tanner Lee emerged as the frontrunner in the spring. Lee has a quicker release and more arm strength than senior Nick Montana and better accuracy than sophomore Devin Powell. Montana looked nothing like his legendary father Joe in 11 starts last season. Playing most of the season with an injured throwing shoulder, he completed only 53.4 percent of his throws and was benched during the New Orleans Bowl.
Redshirt freshman running back Sherman Badie provides the breakaway threat Tulane lacked in coach Curtis Johnson’s first two seasons. He could form an effective tandem with senior Rob Kelley, a power back who sat out spring drills for academic reasons. Justyn Shackleford heads a group of returning receivers who regressed from 2012, due in large part to the poor quarterback play.
The offensive line improved significantly from 2012, when Tulane rushed for the second-fewest yards (475) of any team this century, but the blocking still needs to get better.
Previewing Tulane’s Defense for 2014
Tulane had one of the best defenses in school history, ranking 22rd nationally in yards allowed (352.1 ypg), sixth in yards per carry allowed (3.2) and tied for second in turnovers forced (35). It was a remarkable improvement from 2012, when the Wave ranked 114th (482.6 ypg) in total defense.
With six of the top nine tacklers gone, a slight drop-off is likely. It will not be easy to replace talented tackle Julius Warmsley and mammoth nose guard Chris Davenport. The unexpected dismissal of versatile nickel corner Jordan Batiste, who led the team with seven sacks and four forced fumbles, will hurt, too.
Still, plenty of talent remains. Big-play cornerback Lorenzo Doss was a first-team all-conference selection after intercepting seven passes, running his two-year total to 12. Senior safety Sam Scofield led the Green Wave with 104 tackles, including 9.5 for a loss.
Conference USA co-Freshman of the Year Nico Marley, the grandson of reggae singer Bob Marley and the son of former Miami star Rohan Marley, is a 5'8", 180-pound linebacker — yes, linebacker — who had 67 tackles. Junior end Royce LaFrance is primed for a big year after registering 6.5 sacks in his first season as a starter.
Previewing Tulane’s Specialists for 2014
Tulane will miss 2012 Lou Groza Award winner Cairo Santos, although he was not as consistent as in 2012, when he was perfect on field goals. The Wave are counting on freshman Andrew DiRocco to replace him. Punter Peter Picerelli averaged 41.5 yards per kick.
Was the 2013 success a legitimate breakthrough or the product of a weak schedule? Tulane’s move to the more competitive American Athletic Conference will provide that answer. On paper, the Green Wave could be an underdog to eight or nine of their 2014 opponents. Of course, the Wave were favored only three times last year, so Johnson is used to that role. Recruiting heavily in South Louisiana, he and his staff have upgraded the talent level significantly. The program is on the upswing, but the record may not reflect that growth as Tulane moves to an on-campus stadium (Yulman Stadium) for the first time in 40 years.