Tulsa blew the doors off others’ expectations last season, going 10-3 in head coach Philip Montgomery’s second season. Unfortunately, a lot of firepower from one of the nation’s most productive offenses has to be replaced. The defense returns seven starters, but those that are gone were key contributors on a unit that fared better in 2016, but still gave up plenty of yards and points. Even though Tulsa will likely take a step or two back in the win column, a second straight bowl appearance is not out of the question.
Previewing Tulsa Football’s Offense for 2017
The Golden Hurricane made FBS history last year as the first team to have a 3,000-yard passer, two 1,000-yard receivers and two 1,000-yard rushers. Of the five skill-position players involved in accomplishing that feat, only one is back in 2017: D’Angelo Brewer, who leads a deep running back corps that again will be a key strength.
Powering the ground game is an offensive line that returns four starters after dominating the trenches last year and propelling Tulsa to a school-record eight games with at least 300 rushing yards. Center Chandler Miller, who has started all 26 games in his career, was a first-team all-conference selection in 2016.
For the first time since the 2010 season at Baylor, where he was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Philip Montgomery lacks a returning scholarship quarterback who is a junior or senior. The graduation of Dane Evans, who blossomed under Montgomery into the leading passer in Tulsa history, leaves a huge void. Underclassmen Chad President and Luke Skipper have emerged as the candidates at quarterback, and while they’re both more mobile than Evans was, neither has his arm strength.
Gone are primary targets Josh Atkinson and Keevan Lucas, leaving Justin Hobbs as the only wideout with significant experience. Keenen Johnson, who emerged as a freshman last season, is expected to develop into the next dynamic weapon, while Lucas’ younger brother, Keylon Stokes, is one of several promising receivers from the Class of 2017 who could join the rotation in their first season.
Previewing Tulsa Football’s Defense for 2017
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Since quietly turning a corner and improving in almost every statistical category last year, the Tulsa defense has had to replace valuable pieces, including top tacklers Trent Martin and Matt Linscott. Craig Suits, a Freshman All-American in 2014, is the lone returning linebacker who has seen substantial playing time.
The defensive line could suffer a drop-off after losing two underrated senior tackles, but veteran ends Jesse Brubaker and Jeremy Smith will be counted on to be among the team’s most consistent playmakers. As a junior, Brubaker led Tulsa with 13.5 tackles for a loss and two pick-sixes.
To address an obvious lack of speed and depth, six highly regarded defensive backs were signed in the offseason and could contribute if needed this fall. McKinley Whitfield, destined to become a star since arriving on campus, moves into a full-time starting role at safety and headlines a secondary attempting to cut down on the explosive plays that have been a recurring issue in recent seasons.
Previewing Tulsa Football’s Specialists for 2017
Back at placekicker is Redford Jones, who was 67-of-67 on PATs and had one missed field goal from within 40 yards last season while also handling kickoff duties. To replace Dalton Parks, the most experienced punter in program history, Tulsa brought in Thomas Bennett, a former Baylor walk-on whose father, Darren, was a two-time Pro Bowl punter with the San Diego Chargers.
After winning six games in his first year, Montgomery overwhelmingly exceeded expectations in 2016 by delivering a 10–3 record and a second-place finish in the American Athletic Conference’s West Division, completing the turnaround from the 2–10 season that preceded his hiring.
To continue rebuilding the program and establishing the Hurricane as perennial contenders in the league, Montgomery will have to do his best coaching job given the high turnover, particularly from an offense that carried the team in the previous two seasons. If the defense can dramatically ramp up its performance despite relying heavily on youth, Montgomery will become only the second coach in program history to make bowl appearances in three consecutive seasons.
National Ranking: 74
AAC West Prediction: 4
(Photo courtesy of Tulsa Athletics)