NOTE: THIS BLOG IS A RE-POST OF AN ARTICLE I WROTE SEPTEMBER 2, 2009 ON BLEACHER REPORT.
What happened to Tulsa?
Nearly every preseason ranking for C-USA has Tulsa finishing 3rd or worse. Most predict Tulsa will go 7-5, but several have listed them at 6-6. This is for a team which went 10-4 in 2007 and 11-3 last year.
Tulsa has gone to the C-USA Championship game 3 of the last four years and made a mockery of the No. 18 12-1 Ball State Cardinals in January with a 45-13 roasting at the GMAC bowl. Tulsa hasn't gone anywhere and they certainly won't sit out this season.
Why no love?
Tulsa lost an invaluable off-the-field asset, offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, to Auburn. Time will tell how that affects the team. While it will change things some this year, the real effects will be later on (especially in recruiting). Meanwhile, the core of Gus' recruits are just beginning to sprout for Tulsa.
What about the players?
Many believe Tulsa lost too much on offense. With 2008 starters QB David Johnson, RB Tarion Adams, and WR Brennan Marion gone, some think Tulsa isn't capable of continuing the success. History lesson: Tulsa lost their starting QB in 2007, yet the offense drastically improved in 2008 and they won 11 games.
Last year, the back-up QB's, WR's and RB's were just as talented if not more talented than the senior starters, they just didn't have the experience/seniority. This year, they do.
- The No. 2, No. 3, No. 4 & No. 5 RB's had a combined 223 carries for 1551 yards (6.96 ypc) and 12 TDs. They each had over 300 yards and they ALL return.
- With the WR's, its the same situation: the No. 2, No. 3, No. 4, No. 5 & No. 6 WR's had a combined 177 catches for 2570 yards (14.5 ypc) and 32 TDs and they ALL return.
So what about the quarterback? Last spring, a four-star recruit, and top-20 QB, who was headed to Michigan changed his mind and joined Tulsa. He is considered third place in the starting quarterback competition. G.J. Kinne, a redshirt sophomore Texas transfer, is set to take over from David Johnson.
He apparently has the ability to be every bit as good as his predecessors, plus the ability to scramble. He played very well in the spring scrimmage.
Tulsa also lost three linemen, and that is the biggest question mark on offense. The replacements show promise and could be nearly as good as last year, but the line will, at least initially, be worse.
Tulsa's defense was No. 1 in C-USA in 2006 and No. 2 when they won the championship in 2005. In 2007, they implemented the spread no-huddle hurry-up offense (the name does justice to the complexity of the offense). The defense dropped to No. 7. In 2008, the offense remained No. 1 while the defense improved to No. 5.
Nationally speaking, you can see the transition in Tulsa from a balanced offense and defense (in '05 and '06) to the top offense in the nation two years in a row with bad defense. The defense drastically improved from '07 to '08.
The defense returns nine starters. Coach Todd Graham has historically been a defensive guy (he was a defensive coordinator at West Virginia). This year, I'd expect the improving-D trend to continue as Tulsa returns nine starters.
Tulsa may not be the No. 1 offense in the country this year, but they will improve defensively and should be at least No. 2 in defense in C-USA (and at least in the 50s nationally).
As for the season, I'm predicting two losses (OU & BSU) and then one more against either ECU or Southern Miss (Yes, UofH beat Tulsa by 40 in Houston last year, but Tulsa slaughtered UofH at home by 49 in '07 and it should be similar in '09).
I predict 9-3 for the regular season. That may or may not be good enough to beat Houston for first place in the West.
What will be answered on Gameday?
The question is how quickly the new QB clicks with the offense. Another question is how well they play through the stretch. Last year Tulsa started out 8-0 only to finish 3-3. They will play three tough games in in November against ECU, Southern Miss and Houston.
That won't be easy. The good news for Tulsa is they are playing most of the road games early on so they will be playing mostly at home at the end of the season when they typically don't play as well.
If the new QB comes out (like Johnson did) immediately playing great, and the defense has improved some (as it did in 2008 over 2007) TU could go 10-2, but if the offense doesn't click (due to the loss of Marion, Adams, Johnson, Malzahn and the offensive linemen) the season may be as bad as 7-5 like others have said.
All will be shocked and amazed if TU can get through that schedule with only 1 loss (OU). Tulsa's out-of-conference schedule is among the toughest in the nation. OU's OOC is top-10 and includes: Tulsa, Miami (top-25 in some polls), BYU (No. 20) and Idaho State. Tulsa's schedule is comparable from top to bottom with OU (No. 3), Boise State (No. 14), New Mexico, and Sam Houston. OU's OOC includes a cupcake and 3 tough games while Tulsa's OOC includes 1 cupcake and two elite opponents. Tulsa's home game against Boise State on October 14 could be huge. Tulsa can make a big statement by winning or by giving Kellen Moore and the Boise State Broncos a hard time.
We will find out if TU has lost its offensive edge in the C-USA. TU's recruiting ranking is pretty low (ranked in the 70s), even for a C-USA team. Tulsa has relied on its ridiculously productive offense based on Malzahn's creative schemes to propel it beyond other, "more talented" teams (i.e. those with higher ranked recruits like SMU).
Other teams have started to mimic Tulsa-style spread-no huddle hurry-up offense and produced similarly impressive numbers. The secret is out and that could be bad for Tulsa.
Nevertheless, any team who thinks Tulsa's offense is inexperienced or can't hang half-a-hundred on them could be in for a surprise.
AFTER 5 GAMES (1 against OU) UPDATE ON TULSA C-USA rankings:
In C-USA, Tulsa is:
#1 in scoring defense
#2 in pass efficiency defense
#3 in pass defense
#2 in rushing defense
#2 total defense
#1 in sacks
#1 in tackles for loss
#2 in turnover margin
#2 in allowing third-down conversions
#2 in allowing first downs
#1 in passing effeciency offense
#2 in scoring offense
#3 in total offense