|Date of game: 8/28/2014
Tulane (0-0) at Tulsa (0-0) (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: H.A. Chapman Stadium (30,000) -- Tulsa, Oklahoma. Television: CBSSN. Home Record: Tulane 0-0, Tulsa 0-0. Away Record: Tulane 0-0, Tulsa 0-0. Neutral Record: Tulane 0-0, Tulsa 0-0. Conference Record: Tulane 0-0, Tulsa 0-0. Series Record: Tulsa leads, 8-2.
GAME NOTES: Former Conference USA rivals will begin their respective maiden voyages in the American Athletic Conference on Thursday night, as the Tulane Green Wave comes calling on the Tulsa Golden Hurricane.
Both of these squads are part of the shift in the makeup of the AAC, with East Carolina joining the fray this year as well, while other C-USA teams like UCF, Houston, SMU and Memphis came over last year. The rivalry between these two teams is short-lived, with Tulsa owning an 8-2 all-time series lead. However, the Green Wave pulled out a victory in last year's meeting (14-7).
That win was part of a huge year of improvement by the Green Wave, They finished at 7-6 and appeared in a bowl game for the first time since 2002. Head coach Curtis Johnson, entering his third year at the helm, has shown great promise, lifting the program to more than four wins for the first time since 2004.
Tulsa is headed in the opposite direction. Following an 11-3 season in 2012, the Golden Hurricane fell to 3-9, its worst record since 2002, last year. The losing record kept them out of a bowl game for just the second time in the last nine years.
Turning things around, especially in a new league, will be extremely difficult. Tulsa doesn't have a large group of proven players, especially on offense, which will hurt it against powerhouses like Cincinnati and East Carolina. In 2013, the Go0lden Hurricane were a rather mediocre offensive squad, averaging 21.1 points and 356.2 yards per game.
Quarterback Dane Evans started five of the last six games, and appears to have earned the starting job this season. His late-season audition wasn't very impressive, as he connected on just 43.1 percent of his pass attempts, while throwing 10 interceptions and only four touchdowns.
Evans has lost lead receiver and safety blanket Trey Watts. The dual-threat running back led the team in rushing yards (1,329), total touchdowns (12) and even receptions (46).James Flanders and touted transfer Tavarreon Dickerson are in the difficult position of stepping in for Watts.
The receiving corps really needs to elevate its game for the Golden Hurricane, although if Evans continues his erratic production, there isn't much any target can do. Keevan Lucas (32 receptions, 442 yards, TDs), Derek Patterson (12 receptions, 144 yards, two TDs) and Keyarris Garrett (seven receptions, 68 yards) all need to improve regardless.
A healthy returning core to the defense, particularly up front and in the secondary, offers hope that Tulsa will at least pick up the pace when it comes to stopping the opposition. It is certainly a necessity if the Golden Hurricane want to return to the postseason, as they let up 430.5 ypg during the 2013 campaign.
Safety Michael Mudoh led C-USA in tackles (133) last year, and he is flanked by extremely productive corners Will Barrow (54 tackles, two INTs) and Dwight Dobbins (36 tackles, INT).
The defensive line also has three starters returning, with tackles Jesse Brubaker and Derrick Luetjen set to eat up space on the interior, and Derrick Alexander a threat coming off the edge. Brubaker and Luetjen combined for 69 tackles last season, and Alexander led the team with 6.5 sacks.
A young group of linebackers, led Trent Martin (29 tackles), will have to find a way to make up for the loss of C-USA Defensive Player of the Year Shawn Jackson.
Despite their superior record, the Green Wave were actually a less effective offensive team than Tulsa last year, at least when it came to picking up yards. They managed just 310.6 yards of total offense per game, while scoring just under 25 points per contest.
Producing at a higher level will prove troublesome with starting quarterback Nick Montana, top rusher Orleans Darkwa, and leading receiver Ryan Grant all no longer around.
Stepping in at quarterback will be redshirt freshman Tanner Lee. He did not throw a single pass last year, but doesn't have a ton to live up to. Montana only accounted for 1,717 passing yards in 2013. Devin Powell tallied 681 yards and had as many touchdowns as interceptions (five). He will likely remain the backup.
Darkwa will be a bit more difficult to replace. He finished with 863 yards and 12 touchdowns as the leading rusher. Rob Kelley tacked on 420 yards and three scores, but redshirt freshman Sherman Badie is the likely starter, or at least who Johnson will try to incorporate first. Josh Rounds (163 yards) should also figure in the mix.
Justyn Shackleford (36 receptions, 419 yards, five TDs) was a solid second option in the passing game, and he should be able to handle the pressure of the No. 1 slot. Grant had 77 receptions for 1,039 yards and nine touchdowns in the position last year, so expect Shackleford to see plenty of passes come his way. Xavier Rush (17 receptions, 196 yards, TD) and Devon Breaux (six receptions, 101 yards, two TDs) will also be important contributors.
With All-America candidate Lorenzo Doss leading the defense, the Green Wave should be in for another strong campaign on that side of the ball. Last season, they ranked 22nd nationally in total defense (352.1 ypg) and were a top-20 team in scoring defense as well (21.4 ppg).
Doss is a freakish athlete, who really has a nose for the ball. He tied for the second-most interceptions in the country and also had nine pass breakups a year ago. His playmaking was infectious, as the Green Wave tied with national champion Florida State for the second-most forced turnovers in the country (35).
Safeties Sam Scofield (104 tackles) and Darion Monroe (90 tackles), linebacker Nico Marley (67 tackles, 10.0 TFL) and defensive end Royce LaFrance (6.5 sacks) are also returning starters.
This contest will likely lack offensive firepower, with two retooling units getting their first taste of real game action. That sets up nicely for Tulane, which is extremely talented and experienced on defense, but Tulsa will still be a tough out at home.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Tulsa 23, Tulane 20Game Date and Time
Thursday, August 28, 8 p.m. (ET)