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Posts Tagged ‘Tulane’

Conference USA Nosedives to Rock Bottom

Rewind eight months. Houston capped one of the finest seasons in program history by decimating Penn State, 30-14, during bowl play. Southern Mississippi won its program-record 12th game against Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl – and in their last time out, the Golden Eagles had harassed Case Keenum and the Cougars out of the B.C.S. conversation. Tulsa, S.M.U. and Marshall acquitted themselves well in the postseason, with the Mustangs beating Pittsburgh, Marshall beating Florida International and the Golden Hurricane leading B.Y.U. for 59 minutes before a late collapse. Was last season the finest in the history of Conference USA? It’s not hard to make that case.

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    Among Optimism, One Bastion of Negativity

    Twenty-five teams down, 99 to go. When you put it that way, it’s hard to find the light at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps I’d be wise to take a cue from the triple-digit portion of this summer’s Countdown, which carries a different feel than in years past. I can think of one clear reason why: For many of the bottom 25, the coming season brings with it tremendous reason for optimism. Not optimism in the traditional sense – in the idea that despite the odds, a program feels it can challenge for a major breakthrough – but in the sense that come win, lose or draw, a program is playing with house money. This is somewhat a result of the four new F.B.S. programs that came off of the board in April: Texas-San Antonio, South Alabama, Texas State and Massachusetts.

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      No. 112: Tulane

      Curtis Johnson was named the 39th head coach in Tulane’s history on Dec. 5, replacing interim coach Mark Huston, who replaced Bob Toledo on Oct. 18. National signing day was on Feb. 2. For Tulane, spring ball kicked off on Feb. 22. That’s not a long time for any new coach to gather information on his team, compile a recruiting class and prepare to implement new schemes on both sides of the ball. Add in the fact that Johnson was tied up with his duties as the New Orleans Saints’ wide receivers coach until Jan. 14, and you wonder just how well he knew this team prior to the start of spring drills. You also wonder how well this team knew Johnson and the new staff by the time spring ball commenced in late February. Better yet, you wonder how well everyone knew everyone else by the time Tulane capped spring ball on March 24.

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        For 13 Teams, Losing Culture Carries Over

        Middle Tennessee State is in the same boat as 12 other programs in college football. The Blue Raiders, like the dozen others, enters 2012 on at least a five-game losing streak. How this team stumbled over the second half of last season raises some important questions about the program’s future under Rick Stockstill, whose career record at Middle Tennessee now falls under .500 after six years with the program. For nearly half of the 13 teams, last year’s sluggish finish has led to significant changes: six have since made a coaching change. Middle Tennessee opted to stand pat, but like every team that heads into the fall on at least a five-game losing streak, changes are afoot.

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          The Fall-Back Plan to the Fall-Back Plan

          One report out of Big 12 country was expected: Missouri, as most had suggested, is looking towards the SEC as its future landing spot. Likewise, another report went along the suggested storyline: now that it has lost four teams — at least three, four if Missouri bolts — the Big 12 is looking towards B.Y.U., Boise State, Louisville and West Virginia as future members. Then there was a third report, one that was so ludicrous in its suggestion that you had no choice but to think that yes, conference expansion fever is contagious — and that nowadays, absolutely anything is possible.

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            U.C.F. at B.Y.U.; Non-B.C.S. Themes

            It’s a big weekend for Conference USA. It’s a big week — big month — for Conference USA, in fact, what with the potential for a major merger with Mountain West clearly on the table for both parties. In terms of this coming weekend, the Conference USA slate will be highlighted by a Friday night date with U.C.F. and B.Y.U., with both teams looking for a win after disappointing losses a week ago. Who needs it more? You can see it from both sides: U.C.F. should be a bit chagrined after losing to Florida International last weekend, as that was an opportunity for the Knights to stem F.I.U.’s recent climb; B.Y.U. isn’t merely chagrined but humiliated after losing by 44 points at home to bitter rival Utah. Touching on the upcoming Conference USA schedule and other non-B.C.S. conference themes:

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              Forecasting Conference USA in 2011

              It’s not Grand Canyon-like, but it’s wide. What’s another natural chasm, one slightly smaller than the Grand Canyon, to use as a metaphor for the split between the haves and the have-nots in Conference USA? Here are the haves: Houston, U.C.F., Tulsa, S.M.U., Southern Mississippi and maybe, if I’m being kind, East Carolina. The have-nots: Marshall, U.A.B., UTEP, Rice, Tulane and Memphis. It’s a very distinct gap, one that highlights the strong upper half of the conference but also one that diminishes the resume a Conference USA power might bring into bowl play.

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                Conference USA’s Weaker Half

                Every conference has its haves and have-nots. It just seems more pronounced on the non-B.C.S. level, if only because their worst spends September losing to the B.C.S. conference’s worst — in other words, Indiana might have been terrible in 2010, but the Hoosiers still managed to have their way with Akron, a last-place doppelganger from the MAC. The distance in the standings, therefore, is even more pronounced on the non-B.C.S. conference level: an Akron goes 3-5 in the MAC and finishes 4-8; an Indiana goes 3-5 in the Big Ten and goes bowling. But is the actual distance between the best and the worst from a non-B.C.S. conference greater than the same distance in a B.C.S. league?

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                  The Countdown

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