COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25
C-USA West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Bill Blankenship, 19-8 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Greg Peterson | DEF. COORDINATOR: Brent Guy
Tulsa won the 2012 Conference USA championship with a potent ground game. During the Todd Graham years (2007-10), the Golden Hurricane featured a pass-happy offense that set school records but never captured a league title. Bill Blankenship’s change in offensive philosophy paid off in his first two seasons.
Last year, Tulsa was a top-10 rushing offense nationally after tailbacks Trey Watts and Ja’Terian Douglas combined to run for 2,044 yards. The pair helped TU storm to a C-USA title game win over UCF and a Liberty Bowl victory over Iowa State, with Watts being named MVP of both contests.
Quarterback Cody Green, a transfer from Nebraska, returns for his senior year. He played with a throwing shoulder injury for much of his first season at Tulsa and finished with 17 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions. His top two receivers return — Keyarris Garrett (67 catches, 845 yards) and Jordan James (41 catches, 568 yards).
The Hurricane’s offensive line was a strength last season, paving the way for the running game while only allowing nine sacks. The unit will be anchored by left guard Jake Alexander, right tackle Stetson Burnett and right guard Gabe Moyer.
The Golden Hurricane possessed one of the nation’s most aggressive defenses last season. Tulsa finished with 110 tackles for a loss and 53 sacks. Both statistics were school records and among the top three in the country, as Tulsa has grasped the attacking style of third-year defensive coordinator Brent Guy.
The goal this season will be rebuilding a defense that loses nine starters. The unit will be led by senior linebacker Shawn Jackson, who is the leading returning tackler after getting 88 stops last season. The linebackers are expected to be the nucleus in 2013, with Trent Martin and Mitchell Osborne having significant experience. DeWitt Jennings is another one to watch at the position.
The defensive line will be rebuilt after the entire group graduated last season. Defensive ends Brentom Todd and Chris Hummingbird will get the first looks at a position that produced 33 sacks last year. Defensive tackles Derrick Luetjen and Jack Jewell are being asked to plug the middle.
The secondary will be led by Marco Nelson, a third-year starter at safety. Nelson will be joined at safety by Michael Mudoh. Darrell Williams and Darnell Walker will be tested at cornerback by Conference USA’s pass-happy offenses.
Field goals and extra points were a fiasco at times last season. Tulsa often kept the offense on the field on fourth down inside the red zone instead of attempting a field goal. Kicker Daniel Schwarz missed more PATs (seven) than field goals (six) in his freshman year, but did make five of his last six field goal attempts. However, Schwarz transferred after spring practice, leaving uncertainty at kicker for Tulsa this season. Punter Cole Way is looking to improve his average of 39.1 yards in 2012. Watts is a dynamic returner who had a punt return and kickoff return for a score.
Tulsa has quietly become a solid football program. The Golden Hurricane have won 10-plus games in four of their last six seasons and have been to a bowl game in seven of the past eight years. In his second season, Blankenship led the school to its first C-USA title since 2005 and second top-25 ranking in three seasons.
Blankenship often said in the spring that maintaining the championship level is more difficult than chasing a title. He has challenged his team to repeat in its final season in Conference USA before it leaves for the American Athletic Conference in 2014.
For that to happen, Tulsa must identify some new playmakers on defense and continue to have success running the ball on offense.