2011 Record: (8-5, 7-1 in C-USA)
Head Coach: Bill Blankenship (second year head coach)
Last Bowl Game: 2011 Armed Forces Bowl: lost to BYU 24-21
Big Name Opponents: 9/1 at Iowa St, 11/3 at Arkansas
Revenge: 11/10 at Houston
Stat to Cheer: had 200 plays of 10 yards or more
Stat to Fear: lost 33 turnovers in 2011 (11th in C-USA, 117th in Nation)
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: (Offense: 6; Defense: 7; Specialists: 1)
Key Defensive Returnees: S Dexter McCoil (84 tackles, 6 INT), LB Shawn Jackson (101 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 2 INT), DE Cory Dorris (55 tackles)
Key Offensive Returnees: WR Bryan Burnham, RB Trey Watts, TE Willie Carter, C Trent Dupy, RB Ja'Terian Douglas
CFBZ: What are your overall thoughts on Bill Blankenship's first year as head coach?
Eric Bailey: Blankenship did an outstanding job in making the transition to head coach. The team was in the hunt for a Conference USA championship until the final week of the regular season, when it lost to Houston. I think his awareness of the roster and not making too many changes on offense helped immensely. The defense also picked up, which was a good sign for the overall health of the program.
CFBZ: Three-year starter at QB, G.J. Kinne, must be replaced this year. Who will step up and try to fill his shoes?
Eric Bailey: Cody Green, a transfer from Nebraska, was listed atop the depth chart at the end of spring drills. Green had 17 appearances at quarterback for Nebraska (including four starts) so he is battle-tested. The key for Green is not to try to do too much right away. He needs to depend on his skill players to make plays.
CFBZ: What do you see as the biggest areas of opportunity for Tulsa this year?
Eric Bailey: Tulsa's secondary has the most experience of any position on the field. The key is seeing if experience will equal success. Conference USA is a pass-happy league and, for Tulsa to have outcomes in its favor, it will need the secondary to play strong.
CFBZ: What is your gut feeling on the final record for the 2011 season and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
Eric Bailey: With so many new quarterbacks in Conference USA (including Houston and SMU), it could play in favor for Tulsa. That said, Green needs to settle in quickly as the new quarterback and play smart football. Tulsa's non-conference schedule includes a trip to Arkansas, which will be difficult. The Hurricane could finish 9-3, with losses to Arkansas, Iowa State and a possible regular-season C-USA opponent and it would be a best-case scenario. It has to win some tough road games (Marshall, SMU, Houston) this year. I think 8-4 would be an accurate pick. The program needs to return to the C-USA title game, which it has not done since 2008.
Bill Blankenship was dealt a rough hand last year in his debut season. Their out of conference schedule included trips to Boise State and Oklahoma and also a game against Oklahoma State. When the regular season ended, the Golden Hurrican were 8-4 but those four losses had all come to top ten teams. They lost in the bowl game to finish 8-5 but posted an impressive 7-1 conference record.
This year, the schedule eases up. Phil Steele ranked Tulsa's schedule as the 30th toughest schedule in the Nation last year. This year it's ranked #107. That's opportunity that you hear knocking. Tulsa also gets the benefit of missing out on Southern Miss and East Carolina in conference play. The out of conference slate isn't the killer that it was last year and the western division of Conference USA is wide open as Case Keenum has finally used up his eligibility at Houston and SMU is trying to resurrect Garrett Gilbert's career.
Conference USA doesn't appear to have a team as good as Houston or Southern Miss was last year so it will be very interesting to see how the top teams jockey for position and who comes out on top. Tulsa's schedule works out very well for them at the start of the season and they should get out to a 7-1 or even possibly an 8-0 record. The pivitol stretch for this team is directly after a date with Arkansas as they face Houston, UCF and SMU in back-to-back-to-back weeks as those are the three toughest conference foes the Hurricane will face this year and will decide if they will advance to the C-USA Championship Game for the first time since 2008.
2012 Prediction: 9-3
Previous 2012 Previews:
Big 12: Kansas