Tulsa will host a familiar foe in a new conference when Tulane visits Thursday in their American Athletic Conference debuts. The Green Wave beat the Golden Hurricane 14-7 last year in a Conference USA matchup, snapping an eight-game losing streak to Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane are looking for a clean slate in the AAC after following their 2012 Conference USA championship with a disappointing season.
"Looking back on it, I clearly see we were kind of living off (the success of 2012), assuming we would just pick up where we left off," fourth-year coach Bill Blankenship told the Tulsa World. "This season feels way different. Partly because I think we're a lot more on edge. We're not assuming anything." Tulsa has lots of key players returning, including sophomore quarterback Dane Evans, while Tulane redshirt freshman quarterback Tanner Lee starts his first collegiate game. The young quarterbacks will face experienced secondaries, led by Tulane's Lorenzo Doss and Tulsa's Michael Mudoh.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network. LINE: Tulsa -6.5
ABOUT TULANE (2013: 7-6): "(Lee has) got a strong arm, command of our offense, great leadership skills and doesn't make many mistakes," third-year coach Curtis Johnson said of Lee, who beat out senior Nick Montana (53.4 completion percentage, 1,717 yards and 14 touchdowns in 11 starts last year) for the starting job. Redshirt freshman Sherman Badie and sophomore Lazedrick Thompson will try to replace the production of workhorse Orleans Darkwa (863 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns) while senior Justyn Shackleford (36 catches, 419 yards, five TDs) is the leading returning receiver after the departure of fifth-round draft pick Ryan Grant (1,039 yards, nine TDs). Doss, who returned two of his seven interceptions for touchdowns last year, and safety Sam Scofield (team-high 104 tackles) return to a defense that was tied for second in the country with 35 takeaways.
ABOUT TULSA (2013: 3-9): Evans played in eight games and started five, completing 84-of-195 passes for 898 yards and four touchdowns for the Golden Hurricane, who open at home for the first time since 2006. The return of junior receiver Keyarris Garrett, who led Tulsa with 67 catches, 845 yards and nine touchdowns in 2012 before a season-ending leg injury in the second game of 2013, will bolster an offense that has to replace two 2,000-yard rushers. The Tulsa defense lost Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year Shawn Jackson but has nine starters back plus the return of senior safety Demarco Nelson (who sat out 2013 for academic reasons) and sophomore linebacker Trent Martin (who missed seven games with a knee injury).
1. Mudoh, a junior safety, was tied for fourth nationally with 11.1 tackles per game last year.
2. Tulane sophomore LB Nico Marley, who earned Conference USA co-freshman of the year honors after recording 67 tackles last year, is the grandson of music legend Bob Marley.
3. Tulsa allowed 198.9 rushing yards last year while Tulane ran for just 126.8 yards (ranked 101st out of 123 teams).
PREDICTION: Tulsa 23, Tulane 17