Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, July 10, 2013 at 7:00 AM
The Tulsa Golden Hurricane is almost ideally positioned to make a big push nationally this year. They return experience at quarterback from an 11-3 team that won its bowl and ranked in the top 30 nationally on both sides of the ball in 2012. They have a mid-September road game at Oklahoma which gives them a chance to make national headlines. Their toughest divisional foe looks to be Rice, and they get the Owls in Tulsa this year.
What’s the problem? Only 2 starters return on defense! They can make a statement offensively at least. But, they may find themselves in a lot of shootouts if that inexperienced defense isn’t up to the task. Good luck giving Oklahoma a thrill in Normal if you’re a mid-major without a defense!
(Note that returning starter information comes from the respected Athlon publication. Remember to check out the big display ad for JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK on page 173 across from Notre Dame!)
CONFERENCE USA WEST
Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 2 on defense
Quarterback: Cody Green
Head Coach: Bill Blankenship
There’s enough sustained quality here to pencil in Tulsa as favorites in this division, and probably for the whole Conference USA as well. Obviously the defense needs to step up. There’s a chance for a REALLY big year if that happens. If not…then they’ll have to win a few coin flips. The season opener at Bowling Green will be an interesting mid major test for both teams.
Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 10 on defense
Quarterback: Taylor McHargue
Head Coach: David Bailiff
Very few teams anywhere in the nation have that kind of experience coming back. And, that’s for a team that ended the season very well in2012. Rice won its last four regular season games to steal a bowl bid at 6-6, then dominated Air Force 33-14 in the postseason. Sure, that wasn’t a very good Air Force team. But, you could see Rice’s enthusiasm in those late season results…which sets up a chance for a shocking run at the divisional title this time around. A season opener at Texas A&M will probably be way too much to handle. After that, the schedule is very manageable. Definitely a team to keep an eye on if oddsmakers don’t show them much early respect.
Returning Starters: 1 on offense, 4 on defense
Head Coach: Skip Holtz (new)
What a mess! Louisiana Tech had a stellar 9-3 campaign that made headlines when they got hosed in the bowl selection process. Coach Sonny Dykes left for greener pastures in the offseason, as did offensive coordinator Tony Franklin. Skip Holtz comes over from South Florida with a reputation for being okay at the mid-majors but in over his head above that. At least he’s back at the right level! But, he’ll be rebuilding from rubble in his first season. Pay close attention to the season opener at NC State for an early hint at what’s ahead, and then study late September games at Kansas and vs. Army to monitor developments.
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 3 on defense
Head Coach: Sean Kugler (new)
Another new coach with a new quarterback and not a lot of returning talent. At least Louisiana Tech has some backups who learned how to win last year. This pile of rubble is even worse because UTEP has been a perennial doormat. An easy early schedule against New Mexico and New Mexico State will help everyone gain their balance. This is probably a go-against team most of the year for us. That being said…we’re only four teams into seven in our previews…which means things are about to get even worse. Will most of this division be “go-against?”
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 8 on defense
Head Coach: Curtis Johnson
The Green Wave was only 2-10 last year. But, the team did have some competitive losses that offer hope for improvement here in 2013. It’s always tough to lose a quarterback. There’s still a lot of experience back in a division that lost a lot of people. Note that we have Tulane over UTEP in our own proprietary numbers even though Athlon gives the nod to the Miners. We’ll be paying very close attention to Tulane at Louisiana Tech on September 12 because it will tell us a lot about both teams.
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 7 on defense
Quarterback: Derek Thompson
Head Coach: Dan McCarney
Interesting team here…because they have some experience back, a coach who’s proven that he can build things at smaller programs…and they showed a knack last year for hanging tough in games that could have gotten nasty. Losing only 35-21 at Kansas State is a great result considering what K-State did to other opponents on that field for example. An odd starting schedule of Idaho, at Ohio, Ball State, and at Georgia will tell us what we need to know about sleeper potential. Thompson isn’t a great quarterback. But, managing a game may be enough to cover several spreads in league play.
Returning Starters: 9 on offense, 9 on defense
Quarterback: Eric Soza
Head Coach: Larry Coker
The Roadrunners were a pleasant surprise last year as they transitioned to the big time. They were expected to be an absolute doormat. But, they finished 8-4 (granting a half-baked schedule) with road wins at Idaho and New Mexico State. They have a ton of talent back…and a big name coach. We’re very interested to see how this next step up in class goes. Having to face Oklahoma State and Arizona early in the season might dampen confidence quite a bit. These guys aren’t ready for the big time just yet. Maybe they have what it takes to escape the CUSA West cellar though.
That wraps up our two-day look at Conference USA. We have baseball series previews set for the next two days. College football returns this weekend for previews of the Sun Belt and the Independents. We’ll switch to major conferences during the All-Star Break, with two-time defending national champion Alabama and the SEC West kicking things off Monday.
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