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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 114: Tulane

If nine losses was the barometer measuring Bob Toledo’s job security, the former U.C.L.A. coach escaped the ax by the slimmest of margins in 2010. It’s probably safe to say his job was saved with a win over Rutgers to open October, as that win — a very unexpected victory — allowed the Green Wave to finish 2-2 outside of Conference USA play. In fact, if you had said prior to September that Tulane would go .500 in non-conference play, and that one of the losses would be a relatively competitive one to Mississippi, I’d have believed that this would have been Toledo’s best team yet. Sadly, even at 4-8, last year’s team might still have been Toledo’s best team over his four seasons with the program.

Conference
Conference USA, West

Location
New Orleans

Nickname
Green Wave

Returning starters
13 (5 offense, 8 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 117

2010 record
(4-8, 2-6)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 94

2011 schedule

  • Sept. 3
    Southeastern Louisiana
  • Sept. 10
    Tulsa
  • Sept. 17
    at U.A.B.
  • Sept. 24
    at Duke
  • Oct. 1
    at Army
  • Oct. 8
    Syracuse
  • Oct. 15
    UTEP
  • Oct. 22
    Memphis
  • Oct. 29
    at E.C.U.
  • Nov. 5
    at S.M.U.
  • Nov. 12
    Houston
  • Nov. 19
    at Rice
  • Nov. 26
    at Hawaii

Last year’s prediction

There is little to be excited about when it comes to the Green Wave in 2010, unless we ponder the thought that with another nine-loss finish, Tulane will be in the market for a new coach. This in itself might be reason enough for Tulane fans to not view another nine-loss (or worse) season as a disaster. Well, such a finish is coming, so prepare yourself. Why so negative? I just don’t see much to like on this roster, from questionable talent among the offensive skill players to a depleted front seven on defense — a unit that was decimated by the run in 2009, even with an experienced group of starters. Of course, if the Green Wave again find themselves at or near the bottom of Conference USA — as I expect — Tulane should have no choice but to look for a new face of the program.

2010 recap

In a nutshell This was probably the best offense of the Toledo era. The Green Wave scored 299 points, a program-high since 2004, and seemed to find a handful of young offensive skill players to build around in 2011. That’s the good news, even if the Green Wave finished 66th in total offense and 80th in scoring. The bad news? The defense was even worse than it had been over the last decade — and you thought that wasn’t possible. Eight F.B.S. opponents scored at least 31 points; 10 scored at least 24 points. Tulane gave up at least 40 points six times, including a three-week span in November that saw the Green Wave allow an average of 52.0 points per game. So it was ugly, even with the offensive improvement.

High point That win over Rutgers. Depending on your source, the Scarlet Knights was as much as a 27-point favorite, though that seems a bit on the high side. Instead, the Green Wave harassed two Rutgers quarterbacks, made stops on third down and let the Scarlet Knights make the mistakes in a surprising three-point win.

Low point Two losses by 14 points or less, Ole Miss and S.M.U., and the rest by increasingly wide margins. Well, Tulsa was bad and U.C.F. worse, but a 41-23 homecoming day loss to Army was the lowest of the bunch: the Cadets dominated the line of scrimmage and time of possession, and Tulane never really had a chance.

Tidbit Tulane has now lost at least eight games in six consecutive seasons, tying a school record for ineptitude set from 1991-96. The last coach to post back-to-back winning campaigns with the Green Wave was Tommy Bowden (18-4 from 1997-98), who is currently available for business. Another much-admired former Tulane coach, former Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez — he was Bowden’s offensive coordinator, is also on the open market, though I think Rodriguez will land another B.C.S. conference position when he opts to return to college coaching. He’s still the very first name I call if I’m Tulane, however, and I decided five years of Toledo is more than enough.

Tidbit (first and fourth edition) Start strong, finish strong. That’s the goal of any good team, as a quick start sets opponents back on their heels and a strong finish helps close out opponents in the fourth quarter. Tulane wasn’t terrible in the second and third quarters of games in 2010, but the Green Wave stumbled out of the gate and slipped down the stretch with frightening regularity. On the year, Tulane was outscored by a combined 214-180 over the second and third quarters; not great, but far from terrible. Over the first and final quarters, however, Tulane trailed by a combined score of 232-119. That’s not good.

Former players in the N.F.L.

7 RB Matt Forte (Chicago), OT Troy Kropog (Tennessee), QB J.P. Losman (Seattle), RB Mewelde Moore (Pittsburgh), QB Patrick Ramsey (Minnesota), WR Roydell Williams (Washington), WR Jeremy Williams (Philadelphia).

Arbitrary top five list

Strange nicknames for American cities
1. El Dorado, Ark.: “Arkansas’ Original Boomtown.”
2. Russell, Kan.: “Cow Chip Capital of Kansas.”
3. Kenton, Tenn.: “Home of the White Squirrel.”
4. Braham, Minn.: “Homemade Pie Capital of Minnesota.”
5. Maggie Valley, N.C.: “Clogging Capital of the World.”

Coaching

Bob Toledo (San Francisco State ’68), 13-35 after four seasons at Tulane. His career record, including two years at U.C.-Riverside (1974-75), four years at Pacific (1979-82) and seven seasons at U.C.L.A. (1996-2002), stands at 88-96. It was his time at U.C.L.A. that put Toledo on the map. The Bruins finished 49-32 over his seven-year span, a stretch highlighted by back-to-back 10-win seasons in 1997-98. U.C.L.A. won a school-record 20 consecutive games between those two seasons, climbing as high as No. 2 in the polls in 1998 before a late-season loss cost them a shot at the national championship. Unfortunately, the Bruins were unable to recapture his early success, going 24-22 from 1999-2002. Actually, U.C.L.A. still hasn’t recaptured that glory (but more on that in their preview). Toledo, who remained out of football for four years after being fired at U.C.L.A., resurfaced as the assistant head coach at New Mexico before taking the Tulane job before the 2007 season. On paper, he has a terrific resume for a Conference USA school: three separate head coaching stints (including the high-profile U.C.L.A. gig) and ample assistant experience (U.S.C., Oregon and Texas A&M). However, the results – at least thus far – have been less than satisfactory. While still acknowledging the difficulties of winning at Tulane, fans should expect far better than nine wins over three seasons. This coming season will again present a number of challenges for the Green Wave, but continued regression should force the university to find a new coach.

Players to watch

All has gone according to plan thus far for junior quarterback Ryan Griffin, a 17-game starter over his first two seasons. As a freshman, Griffin grew accustomed to college speed, learned the offense, developed a rapport with his teammates and receivers. As a sophomore in 2010, Griffin took another step forward, largely avoiding turnovers while often single-handedly keeping the offense afloat. There’s a reason he’s a borderline all-conference candidate in 2011, though he’l be hard-pressed to move ahead of quarterbacks at S.M.U., Tulsa, Houston and elsewhere in the race for December hardware. Griffin is a very solid Conference USA quarterback, however, and should continue to progress under center as he grows even more experienced. At least Tulane has one piece of the offensive puzzle figured out.

Make that two, if sophomore Orleans Darkwa – he was made for Tulane with that first name – can carry his torrid finish to 2010 over to this season. A off-and-on presence through September and part of October, Darkwa took off over Tulane’s final six games: at least 100 yards rushing in five of those six with a healthy average of 125.3 yards per game, helping provide the offense with some balance. Perhaps his finest showing, oddly enough, came in the worst loss of the season; Darkwa rushed for 129 yards and a score against U.C.F., though the Green Wave lost by 47 points. He’ll again be spelled by senior Albert Williams, who finished second on the team with 370 yards rushing in 2010.

The offensive line lost its two most experienced hands in Andrew Nierman and Pete Hendrickson: 85 career starts between the pair, which is a pretty substantial total. Replacing Nierman, a four-year starter at center, is an especially daunting task: Joey Ray, a three-game starter over the past two seasons, currently leads returning starter Zach Morgan – who moves inside in 2010 – in the battle to start at center. The line should play out thusly: sophomore Pat Husain steps up at left tackle after backing up Hendrickson in 2010; senior Harris Howard returns at left guard; Ray or Morgan at center; Emmanuel Aluko at right guard, where he finished last season; and junior Eric Jones at right tackle. The losses up front loom large.

Two B.C.S. conference transfers pace the way for the defense. The pair, end Dezman Moses and linebacker Trent Mackey, are part of a front seven that returns five starters. Moses, who came from Iowa, finished second on the team in tackles for loss (11.5) and sacks (6), trailing only Justin Adams, since lost to graduation. Adams’s departure hurts mightily, but there’s reason to believe Moses is just scratching the surface of his potential; there’s a reason he went to Iowa, obviously, and he should be one of Conference USA’s best ends as a senior. Even with Moses, however, the line needs work.

At least it will be an experienced group. Both starting tackles are also seniors: Chris Asumnu (20 tackles, 2.5 for loss) brings 20 career starts into 2011, while Cedric Wilson, who has started in the past, will try his best to replace Adams. Junior end Austen Jacks (59 tackles, 6 for loss) will again line up opposite Moses. Tulane hasn’t finished outside the bottom 20 nationally in rush defense since 2007, which is a concern.

Mackey, formerly of Duke, was also an immediate hit. He paced the way for Tulane with 124 tackles (7.5 for loss), becoming the program’s first defender since 2005 to crack the 100-tackle mark while posting the highest single-season total since 2003. So he was a big hit, as noted. In a perfect world, however, the defensive line would do more and Mackey less, though it must be nice for Tulane to know that whatever does happen up front, Mackey will be there to make yet another tackle. Now a junior, Mackey will be joined by Darryl Farley on the weak side and, as was the case down the stretch in 2010, sophomore Dominique Robertson on the strong side.

Last year’s pass defense was good in some areas – completion percentage defense – and, once again, poor in others – yards per attempt allowed, forcing turnovers. The Green Wave return two starters, but as is the case on the offensive line, graduation steals away the team’s two most experienced defensive backs: Phillip Davis and Alex Wacha. At least Tulane can call on free safety Shakiel Smith, who tied for the team lead with three interceptions.

So Smith, a junior, will again be the last line of defense. Wacha’s successor will be either Taylor Echols, his backup last fall, or sophomore Kyle Davis, who was used sparingly during his debut season. Here’s guessing the job goes to Echols, if only for his previous starting experience. What about the cornerbacks? It’s good to see some options, at least. Junior Ryan Travis will hold down the right side, that we know. It could be one of perhaps three underclassmen on the other side: juniors Jorden Sullen and Alex Lauricella or sophomore Kendrell Washington. It looks like Sullen’s job to lose, though he’s really no more experienced than either of his other two competitors.

Position battle(s) to watch

Wide receivers and tight ends The potential is there for Griffin to have a very nice junior season, as noted above, but he’ll have a nearly new batch of faces to work with in the passing game. That’s thanks to the departure of Tulane’s three leading receivers from a year ago: Casey Robottom, D.J. Banks and Cody Sparks. Who steps up? It’s pretty safe to say that Joe Kemp, the former starting quarterback, and junior Ryan Grant will hold two of the starting roles. Grant (33 receptions for 515 yards, a team-best 15.6 yards per catch) is really the only proven option returning at wide receiver. So Grant’s not the issue — he should step into the lead role nicely — and Tulane is c0nfident that Kemp’s athleticism will continue to translate nicely to his new position. The real issue is finding a third, fourth and fifth receiver, and there really isn’t much to choose from in terms of experience. Wilson Van Hooser, a sophomore, currently owns the starting spot at the third receiver spot, but depth is a very real concern: Kemp is not just starting but also backing up Hooser, and Hooser’s not just starting but backing up Grant. So it’s vital that the Green Wave locate additional options at receiver and tight end, where Sparks made 43 grabs a year ago. Perhaps a few of the incoming freshmen, a good percentage of whom could play at either spot, will lend a hand in the fall.

Game(s) to watch

Memphis is a must-win, as is Southeastern Louisiana. Both those games come at home, but the other winnable games come on the road. If the Green Wave are going to break through the eight-loss streak, it’s vital that it win at least two games — maybe even three — away from home.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell Could you blame a Tulane fan for not getting ramped up about the coming season? Well, since it’s May and every team is tied for first, there’s always call for excitement. Still, the program is stuck in a malaise, pure and simple, and there’s really no reason to project anything more than another eight-loss – or worse – season from the Green Wave in 2011. What is there to be excited about? There’s the quarterback and running back duo, which is a pretty good one. There are eight returning starters on defense, but that experience means nothing if there isn’t substantial improvement. What about Toledo, you might ask? He’s had plenty of time to make things work at Tulane: four full seasons, now entering year five. Why would this year suddenly find Tulane playing inspired football? It shouldn’t, and here’s guessing it won’t: there are some bright spots but far too many question marks, and the roster itself is far too young to expect this year to be the year. Now, when the 60 sophomores, redshirt freshmen and true freshmen have another year under their belts, the Green Wave might be onto something. Here’s guessing Toledo isn’t around when that occurs.

Dream season Toledo leads the Green Wave to bowl play for the first time since 2002, saving his job in the process.

Nightmare season It gets worse: 1-11, 0-8 in Conference USA.

In case you were wondering

Where do Tulane fans congregate? Ye Olde Green Wave Forum markets itself as the “definitive Tulane talk forum,” and I’m not one to argue. Other message boards, along with recruiting coverage, can be found at The Wave Report and Tulane Insider.

Word Count

Through seven teams 17,594.

Up Next

Who is No. 113? The preamble to the charter governing our next university’s home city contains 29 more words than can be found in the Preamble to the United States Constitution; contains only one period but seven commas; contains the state’s name twice; and extends to the city in question the privilege of “home-rule,” meaning the city can pass laws that it deems fit for those that sit inside its environs. Also, the program in question has had two coaches move onto the B.C.S. conference level, with one winning a national championship at his next stop.

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Comments

  1. jjtiller says:

    Running back Orleans Darkwa, Cairo Santos kicker (he’s brazilian) and Ray Rome punter, this is the true sign of globalization :)
    btw I think Devin Figaro (another funny name, I love this team) could be a dangerous threat in the passing game

    Paul: Figaro asked for his release from the program in late April. According to reports, he was dissatisfied with his role on the latest depth chart. He would have played plenty, one would think.

  2. jjtiller says:

    my bad, Rome is just Cairo’s backup

  3. Burnt Orange says:

    Kent State next ? Seems early for them.

  4. Dr. Klahn says:

    I’m going with Kent state as well. The two coaches are Glen Mason and the great Don James.

  5. DaUUU!!!!!!!!!!! says:

    Interesting….

  6. Eksynyt says:

    Misleading clue as Don James only won 1/2 a national title with Washington before quitting. Miami won the AP in 1991.

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