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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. 117: Tulane

Ignatius J. Reilly

Don't even ask Ignatius J. Reilly about his hometown Green Wave. Look at that knife!

In a utterly miserable decade, Tulane saved its worst for last. Yes, the Green Wave made a one-win improvement over the 2-10 mark of 2008; however, that third win came against an F.C.S. opponent, so it doesn’t count for much. It’s plainly clear that, at best, Tulane is treading water under the former U.C.L.A. coach Bob Toledo, now 9-27 through three seasons. As that record suggests, it’s not a good thing to tread water while winning one of every four games.

Conference
Conference USA, West

Location
New Orleans, La.

Nickname
Green Wave

Returning starters
11 (7 offense, 4 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 107

2009 record
(3-9, 1-7)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 112

2010 schedule

  • Sept. 4
    S.E. Louisiana
  • Sept. 11
    Mississippi
  • Sept. 25
    at Houston
  • Oct. 2
    at Rutgers
  • Oct. 9
    Army
  • Oct. 16
    at Tulsa
  • Oct. 23
    at UTEP
  • Oct. 30
    Southern Miss.
  • Nov. 6
    S.M.U.
  • Nov. 13
    Rice
  • Nov. 20
    Central Florida
  • Nov. 27
    at Marshall

Last year’s prediction

As a result of small recruiting classes in 2005 and 2006, Tulane has only 17 seniors on the roster, as compared with 36 sophomores and redshirt freshmen. Add in the roughly 20 players arriving as true freshmen in August, and the team is very heavy on youth, short on leadership. This is not a good combination. The schedule also doesn’t do any favors. With a young roster and a tough schedule, the deck will be heavily stacked against this team making any noise in Conference USA. I think Tulane will be a better team from a season ago (eliminating long losing streaks will help), but in terms of record-wise, I see a similar finish: 3-9, 2-6 in conference play. Will this be it for Toledo?

2009 recap

In a nutshell For an explanation as to how and why the Green Wave showed no improvement in year three under Bob Toledo, look no further than this deadly trio: injuries, an inability to stop the run and a penchant for turnovers. Now, injuries are out of anyone’s control, so Toledo gets a pass there. But Tulane has been simply awful defensively in each of the last two seasons, a major concern for this team as it moves forward in 2010. Even if the Green Wave remain healthy and win the turnover battle (119th nationally in turnover margin last fall), this team will be looking at another nine- or ten-loss season if it cannot keep teams off the board. Tulane set a new program low in allowing 36.7 points per game last fall.

High point Only two F.B.S. victories, so let’s go with the one that came on the road. Tulane slipped past Army, 17-16, thanks to 10 unanswered points in the final 10 minutes. Thanks to a 42-32 win over McNeese State the week prior, Tulane was riding high on a two-game win streak.

Low point The Green Wave saw themselves overrun by their next four opponents. From Oct. 10 – Oct. 31, Tulane lost to Marshall, Houston, Southern Mississippi and L.S.U. by the combined score of 160-32, thanks to a penchant for turnovers and an overwhelming lack of defense.

Tidbit Tulane has lost at least eight games in five straight seasons, one year short of the school record 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, current Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez (Bowden’s offensive coordinator), may find himself on the open market in the next year or two, though I would bet against it.

Tidbit (scoring edition) Here’s the good news: Tulane outscored the opposition, 7-0, in overtime. The previous four quarters, however, weren’t so kind. The Green Wave were outscored in first quarter by 102 points to 45, the second quarter by 91-40, the third quarter by 113-41 and the fourth by 134-60. I’ll do the math: Tulane was outscored by 247 points to 101 in the second half of games; by roughly 21-8, on average. Finishing strong was not a defining trait of the 2009 Green Wave.

Former players in the N.F.L.

6 RB Matt Forte (Chicago), OT Troy Kropog (Tennessee), OT Nick Landry (Kansas City), RB Mewelde Moore (Pittsburgh), C Michael Parenton (Jets), WR Roydell Williams (Washington).

Arbitrary top five list

Top five restaurants in New Orleans (Ryan’s list)
1. Galatoire’s
2. Mother’s
3. Acme Oyster House
4. Felix’s
5. Cochon

Coaching

Bob Toledo (San Francisco State ’68), 9-27 after three 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 84-86. It was his time at U.C.L.A. that put Toledo on the map. The Bruins finished 49-32 over this seven-year span, 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.

Key losses

Offense This isn’t good: Tulane lost Andre Anderson and Jeremy Williams, its top two offensive play makers. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that, over the last two seasons, Anderson and Williams carried the offense — such as it was. Anderson stepped into the sizable void left by Matt Forte heading into the 2008 season, and though he never matched his predecessor’s immense production, he did crack 1,000 yards as a senior. Anderson reached 100 yards five times in 2009, including in three of his final four games; two of those came against Houston and S.M.U., the top teams in the West division. As a junior, Anderson rushed for 864 yards in only seven games, a period highlighted by two 200-yard games in a three-week span. When healthy, Anderson was one of the top backs in Conference USA; unfortunately for the Green Wave, he wasn’t always playing at 100 percent. Finding his replacement will be integral to Tulane’s fortunes as we head into the summer.

Williams set new career highs across the board as a senior (84 catches for 1,113 yards, 7 touchdowns), and in the process accounted for 36 percent of his team’s reception total, 45 percent of its receiving yardage and more than half of Tulane’s touchdowns through the air. His superb senior season left Williams with 197 career receptions for 2,708 yards, both totals good for fourth on the school’s all-time list, as well as 19 touchdown receptions, good for seventh all-time. Like Anderson, it’s important to stress that Williams was able to be so productive in 2009 despite receiving the primary attention of the opposition — particularly in the secondary. The offensive line must replace one starter, tackle Nick Landry, as well as contributors John Landa and Tyler Rice. Landry started 20 games for the Green Wave, including all 12 games at right tackle as a senior. Landa and Rice started one and three games, respectively, on the interior of the Tulane line.

Defense The losses on defense begin up front, where Tulane must replace a pair of starters on the defensive line — tackle Reggie Scott and end Adam Kwentua — who combined to make 65 starts for the Green Wave. Kwentua, who at the end of the 2009 season led all Tulane defenders in career starts with 34, was an all-conference honorable mention selection as a senior. Kwentua was never much of a pass rusher — his career high was four sacks, reached in 2007 — but he totaled only one and a half tackles for loss in 2009, without a single sack. He did notch his first career interception, however, and lent an often over matched defense a degree of stability due to his experience. Scott led the Green Wave in tackles for loss (9.5) last fall from the interior of the defensive line, while a third departed starter, end Logan Kelley, posted 39 tackles and a team-best four sacks.

Strong safety Chinoso Echebelem led the team in tackles with 93 despite missing the final two games of the season. As I’ve said countless times over the last two years, a safety leading a team in tackles is an indicator of poor over all success. The Green Wave must also replace their second-leading tackler, linebacker Travis Burks (88, 2.5 for loss), and a pair of two-year starters in middle linebacker David Kirksey and cornerback Charles Harris. Another member of the secondary, safety Corey Sonnier, had a poor senior season (18 tackles) after leading the team in tackles in 2008. An early-season suspension prevented Sonnier from following up on his strong junior campaign.

Players to watch

The most experienced unit on the roster is the offensive line, which returns four starters from a season ago. This group is led by senior guard Andrew Nierman, a three-year starter who has logged time at both guard spots and at center. Nierman’s an all-conference contender, as is left tackle Pete Hendrickson; while Nierman leads all returning players with 35 career starts, Hendrickson is second with his 26 starts. Also returning up front are guards Harris Howard and Zach Morgan, who combined to make 17 starts last fall, as well as Joel Ray, who made a pair of starts at center in 2009 as a replacement for an injured Nierman.

The offensive line will be tasked with setting the tone in the running game, as well as with keeping sophomore quarterback Ryan Griffin clean. Griffin played pretty well upon being inserted in the starting lineup halfway through his redshirt freshman season, completing 63.5 percent of his passes — on the year, which included nine appearances in all — with nine touchdowns and six interceptions. He was a moderate improvement over Joe Kemp, a multiple-year contributor who never took advantage of the many opportunities given to him by this Tulane coaching staff. Griffin’s favorite target will be senior receiver Casey Robottom; he is the only returning player to post more than 10 receptions or 81 yards receiving in 2009. As a secondary target, Robottom posted 50 receptions for 584 yards. He’ll be asked to do more as a senior. D.J. Banks, who led the Green Wave in kick return yardage in 2009, is one of a handful of returning lettermen battling to earn playing time at wide receiver.

This defense must be rebuilt — not always a bad thing, especially considering how inept this Tulane defense was in 2009. This year, the strength of the Green Wave defense, such as it is, will be the secondary: cornerback Phillip Davis (team-best two interceptions in 2009) and safety Shakiel Smith are both contenders for all-Conference USA honors. Smith, a sophomore, had a very impressive debut season: 71 tackles (5.5 for loss) and a sack in 10 starts at strong side linebacker. He’ll move back to safety this fall — replacing Echebelem — joining free safety Alex Wacha (77 tackles, 1 sack) to give Tulane a solid last line of defense in the secondary. Alex Lauricella will serve as the team’s second starter at cornerback, while Taylor Echols, who made two starts at cornerback in 2009, is another likely contributor. All told, not a horrible defensive backfield, though how Smith will take to the move from linebacker to safety will dictate the unit’s over all success.

The major issue, again, will be up front. Last fall saw Tulane return two players — Scott and Kwentua — with significant starting experience up front, and another — Kelley — who had excelled as a reserve as an underclassmen. Nevertheless, Tulane could neither stop the run nor get to the quarterback; hence the 2-10 record. Obviously, any improvement the Green Wave see on defense will start up front.

Toledo obviously agrees, as the university reassigned defensive line coach Grant Higgison to an administrative position shortly before the start of spring practice. Defensive coordinator Steve Stanard will take over Higgison’s duties, with Tulane hiring Doug Colman, an intern in Nebraska’s coaching department, to lead the linebackers. What will Stanard have to work with? Not much: Chris Asumnu is the lone returning lineman who earned significant starting time in 2009. However, the Green Wave can also rely upon Oscar Ponce de Leon and Cedric Wilson, another pair of interior lineman, to at least provide the team with some depth and experience — both made at least two starts in 2009 — up front.

Position battles to watch

Running back Tulane’s leading returning rusher, Payten Jason, earned only 85 yards rushing on 19 carries a year ago. Part of the reason behind those paltry numbers, of course, is due to Anderson’s strong play. Yet the Green Wave will now enter the 2010 season without a sure thing in the backfield, a player upon whom they can rely upon a weekly basis — like Anderson, and Forte before him. Making matters worse for Tulane is the season-ending knee injury Jason suffered in October of 2009, leaving him unavailable for football activities until August. While Jason was certainly not assured of the starting job in 2010, his injury has allowed juniors J.T. McDonald and Albert Williams and sophomore Stephen Barrett to make their respective claims to the starting role. The ground game was impressive during Tulane’s recent spring game, with McDonald leading all rushers with 71 yards on the ground and a pair of scores. Nevertheless, this looks like a competition that will extend up into fall practice and, perhaps, into the first month of the season.

Game(s) to watch

The season will hinge on how successful Tulane is over a four-game home streak from Oct. 30 – Nov. 20. Anything worse than 3-1 will likely prevent the Green Wave from reaching bowl eligibility. However, given the fact that a five-win season would be great for this program, Tulane could easily finish 5-7 with a 2-2 stretch at home.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell 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. Where are more than three wins going to come from? I’ll give the Green Wave Southeastern Louisiana. Perhaps Tulane can also squeak past Army a month later, though the Cadets will surely be improved in 2010; the same can be said of Rice, an opponent Tulane will meet in mid-November. 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.

Dream season Tulane rededicates itself to stopping the run, which leads to a better performance on defense, which leads to an 6-6 finish.

Nightmare season It gets even worse for the Green Wave: 1-11, 1-7 in conference play.

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.

Up Next

Who is No. 116? Five of this program’s 11 all-time bowl appearances came from 2002-7.

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Comments

  1. Dear Mr. Myerberg,
    Your slashing, vicious attack upon Tulane’s being and worldview has my valve heroically clogged. After surveying the sub-standard conditions of your blog I am further upset at your unauthorized use of my likeness and saber, which you incorrectly refer to as a “knife”.

    A firm rule must be imposed upon the world wide web before it destroys itself. The internet needs some theology and geometry, some taste and decency. After viewing your “blog”, I suspect that we are teetering on the edge of the abyss.

    Yours in Rage,
    Ignatius J. Reilly

  2. Howie Farrell says:

    Anyone who lists Mother’s and Felix’s restaurants in their top five in New Orleans has lost all credability. I suggest the writer visit New Orleans and experience hundreds more restaurants. While doing so, he may pick up some infomation on the Tulane football program that is sorely lacking in his breakdown.

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