Dr. Saturday will be looking at the 25 most interesting teams headed into spring football through March, examining which programs have the biggest questions, the most expectations and the best storylines. This isn’t a list of the 25 best teams going into the spring, just the 25 we’re keeping the closest eye on. Previously: Missouri
What happened in 2012
Tulsa didn’t jump on many national radars last year, but finished the 2012 season with 11 wins for just the second time in school history. The Golden Hurricane won the Conference USA title and beat Iowa State in the Liberty Bowl. While there weren’t any major national wins, the Golden Hurricane had one of the most dynamic rushing offenses in the country and averaged 35 points per game.
What makes them interesting in 2013
Conference USA is going to look very different next year, but Tulsa should still be the league favorite to repeat as champ. Tulsa returns its three starting receivers, Keyarris Garrett, Jordan James, Thomas Roberson; top two rushers, Trey Watts, 1,108 yards and three touchdowns and Ja’Terian Douglas, 936 yards and seven touchdowns; and starting quarterback Cody Green, a Nebraska transfer who should have better numbers in his second season with the program.
The defense isn’t nearly as plentiful. It loses eight players from a year ago, including all four starters on the defensive line. This is unfortunate considering defense was definitely one of the bright spots for the Golden Hurricane last season. They ranked first in the conference in total defense and second in scoring defense, allowing just 10.93 points per game.
What needs to happen this spring
Running back Trey Watts (USA Today Sports Images)The offense appears solid, but the defense will need to be totally retooled. Not only do the Golden Hurricane have to find replacements for all four spots on the defensive line, but they also have to find a new safety to replace four-year starter Dexter McCoil. If there’s one positive, it’s that Tulsa had a nice rotation on the defensive line and DT Derrick Luetjen, DE Brentom Todd, and DE Derrick Alexander all earned a decent amount of playing time last season.
In the secondary, Dwight Dobbins is the guy to watch at cornerback. He had 27 tackles and an interception last season in spot time while redshirt freshman Darnell Walker Jr. and sophomore Darrell Williams will challenge him for starting roles. Marco Nelson, who had 80 tackles and two interceptions at free safety, should be the anchor of the defensive secondary while everyone else gets settled this spring.
The offensive line loses two first-team all-conference players in offensive tackles Brian DeShane and Jared Grigg, but the biggest shoes to fill on the offensive line will be at center where Trent Dupy started 50 of 52 career games. The Golden Hurricane have a couple options at center, including redshirt freshman Dylan Foxworth and walk-on Billy Lafortune. Guard Jake Alexander also could move over if neither of the other players secure the starting role.
Sophomore linebacker Mitchell Osborne has the ability to be one the Golden Hurricanes best playmakers. As a sophomore last season, Osborne made five starts, including a start in the Liberty Bowl, had 40 tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles, including one in the final minutes against UAB that helped seal the 49-42 victory. He’ll be a nice complement to Shawn Jackson.
Defensive tackle Jack Jewell, a senior, could make a name for himself in a thinned-out interior line. Jewell had just one tackle a year ago, but has a chance to prove himself in his final spring.
Tulsa is still awaiting word from the NCAA regarding receiver Bryan Burnham, who is seeking a sixth year of eligibility. Burnham tore his ACL during the first game of last season, but had 850 yards and nine touchdowns in 2011. He had nine catches in the season opener against Iowa State before suffering the injury. If he is eligible, Tulsa’s passing offense could be one of the best in the country.
Aug. 29 at Bowling Green
Sept. 14 at Oklahoma
Sept. 26 Iowa State
Nov. 9 at East Carolina
Nov. 23 at Louisiana Tech
– – –