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. 102 Tulsa.
Previewing Tulsa’s Offense for 2014
Tulsa’s football program took a huge step backward in 2013, with offense the main culprit. The Golden Hurricane scored more than 30 points only twice en route to a 3–9 season. In 2012, when Tulsa captured the Conference USA championship and a Liberty Bowl victory, the offense surpassed that mark eight times.
“We have to be more physical and simply get more production on offense,” fourth-year coach Bill Blankenship says.
Part-time starting quarterback Dane Evans gets the first opportunity to guide the unit. Evans started five games last season and completed only 84-of-195 passes for 898 yards. He had four touchdown passes compared to 10 interceptions. He is expected to get pressed by Joseph Calcagni and true freshman Jabe Burgess.
Tulsa has had stability at running back since 2005, but that changes as the Hurricane must replace Trey Watts, who finished with 3,515 career yards, and backup Ja’Terian Douglas. A pair of sophomores will get close looks. James Flanders only had two carries last season but enters fall camp atop the depth chart. He is expected to be challenged by highly touted junior college transfer Tavarreon Dickerson.
Keyarris Garrett, who suffered a season-ending leg injury in the second game last year, is expected to anchor the wide receiver position. Garrett had 67 catches for 845 yards and nine touchdowns in 2012. Talented sophomore Keevan Lucas (32 catches, 442 yards, one TD) returns. Look for Derek Patterson and Zach Epps to contribute as well.
The offensive line, so inexperienced last season, is looking for improvement. Garrett Stafford (left tackle), Dylan Foxworth (center) and Davis Walton (right tackle) will form the unit’s nucleus.
Previewing Tulsa’s Defense for 2014
Nine starters return for the Hurricane, but the one who doesn’t is C-USA Defensive Player of the Year Shawn Jackson. “He is one of the greatest players we’ve had here, but we have 10 other spots where we are returning depth and not just individual starters,” Blankenship says. “The secondary has a chance to be special.”
Tulsa traditionally has fought a numbers game on the defensive line, but Blankenship should be able to rotate more players at the position this season. Defensive ends Derrick Alexander (team-high 6.5 sacks) and Chris Hummingbird (three sacks) should provide a steady pass rush, while Derrick Luetjen (49 tackles) has proven himself a run-stopper on the line.
Many different faces could get looks at linebacker. Trent Martin, who played in only five games last year, will be expected to provide leadership. Mitchell Osborne had 83 tackles last year, and Donnell Hawkins added 50 stops.
The secondary will be highlighted by the return of free safety Demarco Nelson, who sat out 2013 to focus on academics. Nelson, a preseason first-team All-C-USA pick last year, has 239 career tackles and eight interceptions. Strong safety Michael Mudoh had a team-high 133 tackles.
Previewing Tulsa’s Specialists for 2014
Carl Salazar solved Tulsa’s two-year search for a placekicker by connecting on 16-of-19 field-goal attempts last season, including an early season game-winner at Colorado State. Dalton Parks will return for punting duties.
Tulsa won a conference championship in 2012 and finished with only three victories in 2013, the lowest total since a one-win campaign in 2002. TU will try to regroup in its inaugural season in the American Athletic Conference. The defense should be improved, but there are concerns on offense, especially at quarterback. Tulsa appears headed toward a second straight losing season.