Photo courtesy of Tulsa Athletics
By Lucas Gulotta, Associate College Football Editor
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (Sports Network) - 2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: The Golden Hurricane continued their program's success in 2011 after a shaky start, as Tulsa finished with an 8-5 overall record after just one win in its first four outings.
Bill Blankenship began his first year as the head coach of the program with a loss on the road to the Oklahoma Sooners (47-14). Tulsa won its next game versus Conference USA rival Tulane (31-3) in New Orleans, but suffered defeats in consecutive games against powerhouses Oklahoma State (59-33) and Boise State (41-21). The Golden Hurricane then picked up some momentum and strung together seven straight victories, six of which were league games. Tulsa's 2011 regular season ended with a clash at home versus Houston for a trip to the C-USA Championship. Chase Keenum and the Cougars (48-16) were too much and Tulsa missed its chance at its first league title since 2005.
The Golden Hurricane were invited to the Armed Forces Bowl to match up with BYU. The Cougars edged Tulsa in a thriller as Riley Nelson threw a touchdown pass with 11 seconds left to give BYU a 24-21 victory.
OFFENSE: Tulsa's balanced attack gave it the third best total offense (440.4 yards per game) and scoring offense (33.1 ppg) in the C-USA last season. G.J. Kinne's three-year run as the team's starting QB came to an end when he graduated last season, which left his position up for grabs. Nebraska transfer Cody Green (6-4, 247) earned the starting spot and brings his imposing size to the C-USA after two seasons as a Cornhusker.
"I could easily say that quarterback is an area that has very little experience coming into the season, but I'm not laying awake at night worrying about our quarterback position." said Blankenship.
All three leading rushers from a year ago are back for offensive coordinator Greg Peterson. The junior combo of Trey Watts (5-11, 190) and Ja'Terian Douglas (5-11, 189) give Tulsa speed and quickness out of the backfield, while senior Alex Singleton (6-1, 260) uses a power rushing attack to excel in short- yardage situations. The offensive line will need time to gel after losing three starters. Senior center Trent Dupy (6-2, 285) and his ability to lead the big men up front could help the team avoid a huge drop off in production from the offensive line.
Green has a pair of dangerous wideouts to target in Bryan Burnham and Jordan James. Burnham had impressive numbers (850 yards, 54 catches, nine TDs) last season as a junior, while Jordan contributed 391 yards as a sophomore. RB Willie Carter led the team in receiving last season with 868 yards. His production as a fullback is extremely rare and he gives the Golden Hurricane an edge due to his duel ability to both run block and catch passes.
DEFENSE: The defensive unit played well for the most part last season but it was exposed by the tougher competition on the schedule. Oklahoma, Boise State, and Houston all surpassed the 40-point mark while Oklahoma State finished with 59 points versus Tulsa. No other opponent scored more than 24 points in a game against the Golden Hurricane in 2011. The defensive line has potential to be much better with the returns of DT Daeshon Bufford (6-3, 292), DE Cory Dorris (6-4, 260), and DE Jared St. John (6-2, 250). The depth at the defensive end position should help Tulsa improve upon its mark of 2.1 sacks per game from 2011. Linebacker Shawn Jackson brings hard-hitting mentality to the table for Tulsa. Jackson was second on the team in tackles last season as a sophomore and was selected as a second-team freshman All-American two seasons ago.
Safety Dexter McCoil has a chance to make history this season as he comes in tied for the program record with 13 career interceptions. Junior Marco Nelson is also a playmaker at the other safety position. The defense should get a boost from senior John Flanders, who missed the 2011 season due to academic ineligibility.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Daniel Schwartz will see some tests as a true freshman starting at placekicker for Tulsa. The Lawton, Oklahoma native had an impressive high school career and showed he has some range by booting a 54-yard field goal as a junior. Sophomore Cole Way proved to be an accurate punter during his rookie campaign, while splitting time with senior Kevin Fitzpatrick. Way will assume all of the punting duties in 2012, which should help him improve his average of 38 yards per punt.
OUTLOOK: Tulsa has a decent team back despite losing Kinne, who was the face of the program for some time. The Golden Hurricane have winnable games on their non-conference schedule this season but will have to finish their 2012 campaign off with four straight difficult bouts, three of which are on the road.
"We're very hungry. We are excited for the opportunities that this season presents. And we don't want to let them slip away." Blankenship said.
Blankenship's team faces a tough test in its opener at Iowa State on September 1, but three ensuing home games versus Tulane, Nicholls, and Fresno State should help it build some momentum before the heart of the C-USA season begins. The Golden Hurricane will really need to be rolling at the conclusion of the regular season with a road game at Arkansas preceding their matchups against Houston, UCF, and SMU.
It will be apparent just how important Kinne was to the team this season. Tulsa could contend for the 2012 C-USA Championship if Green's quarterbacking ability leads to a successful offense. However, the Golden Hurricane could easily fall off and be a middle of the road team this season as well.