Tulsa Golden Hurricane 2016 Preview and Prediction
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#84 Tulsa Golden Hurricane
American Athletic West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Philip Montgomery, 6-7 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Philip Montgomery | DEF. COORDINATOR: Bill Young, Brian Norwood
The American Athletic Conference was one of the nation’s major success stories last season as team’s like Memphis, Houston, Temple and Navy all spent time in the top 25 at one time or another. Look a little deeper, and you’ll see Tulsa’s rebound year. The Golden Hurricane won more games in the first season under Philip Montgomery (six) than they did in the last two under Bill Blakenship (five). This is a program that used to regularly win 10 games. If the defense can rebound, Tulsa should be able to take the next step from 6-7.
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Previewing Tulsa’s Offense for 2016
Tulsa averaged more than 500 yards per game in Philip Montgomery’s first season as head coach and has the potential for even more production in 2016. That’s not surprising given Montgomery’s history of coordinating high-powered offenses.
Back for a final season is veteran quarterback Dane Evans, who has steadily improved throughout his career and has especially thrived in Montgomery’s up-tempo system. Evans ranked eighth nationally in passing yards last year and is on track to leave as the program’s all-time top passer.
Wideout Josh Atkinson is coming off a breakout 1,000-yard campaign and will be primed for more even more production after the graduation of Keyarris Garrett, who led FBS in receiving yards last season. The Golden Hurricane also will get a significant boost from the highly anticipated return of slot receiver Keevan Lucas, who was the team’s go-to target before missing the last nine games with a knee injury.
Questions remain up front as the result of a pair of departures, but increased depth and size on the offensive line should cut down on sacks after the Hurricane allowed more than three per game last year. There’s also the possibility for more up-and-coming talent to develop amid the addition of five newcomers to the position group.
Last season’s emergence of a run game that produced 33 touchdowns was a pleasant surprise, and the running back spot will again feature a committee that includes D’Angelo Brewer, James Flanders and Ramadi Warren. The trio averaged 5.5 yards per carry in 2015.
Previewing Tulsa’s Defense for 2016
To turn a corner, Tulsa must address a porous secondary that was partly responsible for the team’s giving up a nation-high 89 plays of at least 20 yards and also must fill the void of the program’s second-leading tackler, safety Michael Mudoh. Other reliable playmakers will need to emerge around Jeremy Brady, the Defensive MVP of the Independence Bowl who showed promise as a first-time starter at safety last year, and Kerwin Thomas, who had a team-high 12 pass breakups and two interceptions at cornerback.
Relentless hitter Matt Linscott, a former walk-on who finished with 16 tackles for a loss and five sacks last season, returns alongside Trent Martin and Craig Suits to comprise a solid linebacking corps that should be the defense’s strength.
The defensive line will look to become more dependable while adding some new faces and building on a foundation that includes Jeremy Smith and Jesse Brubaker, who combined to total 73 tackles last season, including 11 for a loss.
Related: Athlon's 2016 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128
Previewing Tulsa’s Specialists for 2016
More consistency across the board on special teams would make up for weaknesses elsewhere. Returning in the kicking game are Dalton Parks, who averaged 41.2 yards per punt in 2015; Redford Jones, who was 17-of-25 on field goals; and Preston Soper, who delivered 16 touchbacks on 86 kickoffs.
Coming off a six-win season and its first bowl appearance since 2012, Tulsa appears on the right track under Montgomery. A complete turnaround remains a work in progress and will require additional patience from fans, but early success would help to carry over renewed excitement surrounding the program. Although the Hurricane might not be ready to contend for a conference championship, they should be competitive in the majority of their games. If the defense can make strides, the offense has the capability to outscore opponents and propel Tulsa toward an upper division finish in the AAC West.