Tulane Football Predictions
Tulane is hoping that a change up top can get this program headed in the right direction. The Green Wave finished up the 2011 season with an overall record of just 2-11 and were just 1-7 in Conference USA. Tulane has won a total of five conference games the last four years and haven’t finished with a winning record since going 8-5 back in 2002.
Things got so bad last season that the Green Wave fired head coach Bob Toledo just seven games in. Mark Hutson went 0-6 filling in for Toledo, which prompted Tulane to go out an hire Curtis Johnson. With the new addition comes some much needed excitement. Johnson was the wide receiver coach for the New Orleans Saints the last five years, and the hope is he will be able to bring in the recruits needed to turn this program around. Tulane has 14 starters (7 offense, 7 defense) returning in 2012, but the expectation is that Johnson is going to play a lot of true freshmen. Let’s take a look a what the Green Wave will be sending to the field on both sides of the ball.
The Green Wave return a three-year starter at quarterback in Ryan Griffin, but even his job doesn’t appear to be safe. Griffin threw for 2,502 yards last year, but had just 13 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. If Griffin doesn’t live up to Johnson’s standards, look for true freshman Devin Powell to take over and become the new focal point of the offense. Johnson is rumored to be very high on Powell coming out of spring practice.
One player that figures to have a firm grasp on a starting spot is junior running back Orleans Darkwa. Despite a toe injury that kept him from being a 100% the entire season, Darkwa finished up the year with a team-high 924 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. Darkwa also finished fourth on the team with 305 receiving yards on a team-high 37 receptions. The Green Wave also get back a couple of talented sophomore backs in Robert Kelly and Dante Butler.
Tulane came into last year having to replace four of their top five receivers from 2010. Ryan Grant was the only starter coming back, but he played in just one game before suffering a season-ending injury. To no surprise, this unit really struggled. There were a number of dropped passes and at times the receivers didn’t even know what routes they were suppose to be running. Wilson Van Hooser ended up leading the team with 487 yards and four touchdowns. Van Hooser will be joined by Grant and talented sophomore Xavier Rush (emerged late last season). This is one area where I expect to see immediate improvements under Johnson.
The big concern with the offense in 2012 is the loss of three starters up front on the offensive line. Tulane gets back right tackle Eric Jones and right guard Zach Morgan (expected to move to center). The success of this unit will likely come down to whether or not they can fill the voids on the left side of the line. Red-shirt freshman Nate Skold is expected to start at left tackle, while sophomore Adam Skidmore (No. 2 left tackle end of last year) takes over at guard.
The Green Wave also have a lot of work to do in the trenches on the defensive side of the ball. The defensive line loses 2nd Team All-C-USA end Dezman Moses along with both tackles. The only starter back is senior end Austen Jacks (32 tackles, 3.5 sacks). The Green Wave have improved against the run each of the last three seasons, but that streak will likely come to and end unless some young players emerge early.
If the defensive line can avoid a complete meltdown in 2012, Tulane could actually send out one of their better defenses in quite some time. The Green Wave have all three starters come back at linebacker, including two-time 1st Team All-C-USA middle linebacker Trent Mackey. Last year, Mackey finished with a team-high 145 tackles to go with 4.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. He is the heart and soul of the entire defense.
While the secondary loses starting corner Jordan Sullen, pretty much everyone else that contributed last season is back. They have seven players who started at least one game last year. Senior cornerback Ryan Travis and senior strong safety Shakiel Smith are two of the best players at their position in the conference. Also keep an eye out for highly touted true freshman Darion Monroe (originally committed to Texas A&M), who figures to step in and start right away at the open corner spot.
Conference USA Prediction – 6th West Division
While I think the addition of Johnson is a great fit for Tulane, I don’t think the Green Wave are going to show a ton of improvement in the win column his first year. It’s going to take some time for Johnson to get the right players on the field to run his systems. That’s not to say Tulane can’t surprise and finish ahead of Rice in the West, especially since they get the Owls at home. However, I think Johnson is going to play a lot of young players, which means the Green Wave are a team to look out for in 2013 not 2012.
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