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Tulsa Football: 2018 Golden Hurricane Preview and Prediction

McKinley Whitfield, Tulsa Football

McKinley Whitfield, Tulsa Football

A 10-loss season in 2017 on the heels of a 10-win season was a stunning downturn for Tulsa marked by bad luck. In addition to a rash of 16 knee injuries, Tulsa lost five games that came down to the final possession. Can the Golden Hurricane reverse its fortunes?

Previewing Tulsa Football's Offense for 2018

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2018 Athlon Sports College Football Preview Magazine

Last year, inconsistency at quarterback resulted in Tulsa's worst passing season since 1995. First-year starters Chad President and Luke Skipper combined for only six touchdowns one season after the Golden Hurricane ranked second in the AAC with 33 TD passes. Skipper emerged in the second half of the season and ended the year with an impressive average of 9.0 yards per attempt (compared to 5.9 for President). Skipper's continued development under quarterback guru Philip Montgomery is key in 2018.

Helping the cause are top targets Justin Hobbs and Keenen Johnson, who totaled 1,369 yards on 99 catches last year. Tulsa also has talented up-and-comers in Keylon Stokes, Josh Stewart and Sam Crawford Jr., expanding what has been a small circle of trust within the receiving corps.

An area of lesser concern is running back, where Shamari Brooks is the heir apparent to rushing leader D'Angelo Brewer after a freshman campaign in which Brooks rushed for 10 touchdowns in nine games before a season-ending injury. Hopes are high for a breakout year from Corey Taylor, who was lost for the season in the second game of 2017.

A savvy offensive line anchored by fourth-year center Chandler Miller remains Tulsa's strength. Veterans Willie Wright (right tackle) and Tyler Bowling (left guard) also return up front.

Previewing Tulsa Football's Defense for 2018

An already inexperienced defense was decimated by injuries last season, playing a significant role in the Hurricane giving up a whopping 528.9 yards per game. When starting safeties Jordan Mitchell and Manny Bunch went down with torn ACLs, the situation went from bad to nightmarish, and Tulsa led FBS by giving up 31 plays of at least 40 yards.

In an attempt to turn the tide, Montgomery added seven junior college transfers to his defense. Three of them will play on a defensive line that must replace standout ends Jesse Brubaker and Jeremy Smith and also must fix issues on the interior that led to constant shuffling there.

At linebacker, starters Cooper Edmiston and Diamon Cannon are back in addition to several contributors from last year, including Robert Revels III, who is expected to move into the starting lineup.

Coming to the aid of a shaky secondary in 2017 was linebacker McKinley Whitfield, who moved to safety and will remain there with Bunch and Mitchell. Reggie Robinson headlines a cornerback group that boasts increased depth after relying on true freshmen Akayleb Evans and Allie Green last season.

Previewing Tulsa Football's Specialists for 2018

Punter Thomas Bennett was solid in his first season, averaging 42.3 yards -- third in the league -- on his 61 kicks. Walk-on placekicker Nathan Walker is the frontrunner to replace Redford Jones, the program's all-time leading scorer. Adam Higuera, the deep snapper, scored Tulsa's first TD of 2017 on a recovered fumble in the end zone.

Final Analysis

In what could be a defining fourth year for Montgomery, Tulsa needs to show significant progress at quarterback and on defense to avoid a second straight last-place finish in the AAC West. And with a non-conference slate that features visits to Texas and Arkansas, reaching bowl eligibility will likely be a challenge.

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NATIONAL RANKING: 108

AAC WEST PREDICTION: 6