The Tulane football team opens a new era as members of the American Athletic Conference on Thursday against fellow league newcomer Tulsa on Thursday at 7 p.m. at H.A. Chapman Stadium.
The Green Wave gridiron gang will be the first Tulane team to take the field as a member of The American as the University's programs were members of Conference USA dating back to that league's inception in 1995. The Wave will look to open their membership in The American in a similar fashion that the 1996 team opened that campaign with a 34-14 road win over Cincinnati.
New Orleans, La. (Mercedes-Benz Superdome)
Football Wins Fourth Straight With 14-7 C-USA Victory Over Tulsa
It wasn't always pretty but the outcome sure was sweet for the Tulane University football team as the Green Wave won its fourth-consecutive ballgame with a 14-7 victory over Conference USA foe Tulsa on Saturday afternoon in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2002.
Tulane is coming off a 7-6 in 2013 when the team earned a berth in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl - the team's first postseason appearance since 2002. The Green Wave return 15 starters among 48 lettermen from the 2013 season, including All-American cornerback Lorenzo Doss and 2013 C-USA Co-Freshman of the Year Nico Marley.
Doss, who was named to the Chuck Bednarik Award, Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Walter Camp Player of the Year preseason watchlists, claimed second-team All-American honors from Sports Illustrated and The Walter Camp Foundation last year after leading the team with seven interceptions - including two returned for touchdowns - while finishing third with nine pass break-ups and 10th with 34 tackles (25 solo, 9 assists). Marley, meanwhile, finished third on the team a year ago after posting 67 stops (37 solo, 30 assists) with 10.0 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks, two pass break-ups, two fumble recoveries, one interception and a forced fumble. Senior safety Sam Scofield paced the team in 2013 with 104 tackles (74 solo, 30 assists).
The Green Wave offense will have a new look this season as redshirt-freshman Tanner Lee takes the reigns at quarterback while the team has to replace both its leading receiver and rusher from a year ago. Lee will become just the second rookie to earn the opening-day starting assignment under center in program history, joining Tommy Hightower who opened the 1976 at quarterback as a redshirt-freshman.
While running back Orleans Darkwa and wide receiver Ryan Grant have moved on to the ranks of the professionals with the Miami Dolphins and Washington Redskins, respectively, Tulane has a host of backs and receivers looking to fill the shoes left by their predecessors. Redshirt-freshman Sherman Badie tops the depth chart at tailback, followed by sophomore Lazedrick Thompson (22 carries, 68 yards) and true freshman Dontrell Hilliard. At fullback, senior Danté Buter is slated to start after running for 146 yards on 24 carries (6.1 avg.) while hauling in eight passes for 82 yards in 2013.
Senior wideouts Justyn Shackleford and Xavier Rush return after combining for 53 catches, 615 yards and six scores a year ago. Also expected to contribute significantly is sophomore Devon Breaux (6 catches, 101 yards, 2 touchdowns) as well as true freshmen Terren Encalade, Leondre James and Teddy Veal. Senior Matt Marfisi and junior Sydie London return with starting experience at the tight end position while Charles Jones, II and Trey Scott figure to see significant time as well.
"I'm really looking forward to running the football," Johnson said. "If we can do that, I think Tanner will just get back there and be comfortable with what he does. If he's comfortable and we're running the ball, we'll have a good shot at winning that game."
Tulsa, meanwhile, is coming off a 3-9 showing in 2013 when the Golden Hurricane were 2-6 to post a fifth-place finish in the Conference USA West Division a year ago. The team returns 50 lettermen, including 16 starters - four on offensive, nine on defense and three on special teams - including sophomore quarterback Dane Evans, who completed 84-of-195 attempts for 898 yards and four touchdowns.
Junior Zack Langer is the team's top returning running back with 58 yards on 18 carries (3.2 avg.) in 12 games and receiver Keevan Lucas is the team's top returner with 32 catches for 442 yards and one score last season. Defensively, safety Michael Mudoh returns after leading the Golden Hurricane in tackles with 133 (60 solo, 73 assists) in 2013.
"They are a good balanced football team. I think they had some unfortunate injuries last year," Johnson said of Tulsa. "I look at their defensive line, who has a lot of guys coming back. They've got good linebackers. They've moved their secondary around a little bit, trying to get their best players on the field. Offensively, they got their quarterback and offensive line back so they got some things going for them."
Thursday's season opener marks the 11th meeting between the two teams on the gridiron, and Tulsa holds a commanding 8-2 lead in the all-time series. In the last meeting, however, Tulane upended the Golden Hurricane, 14-7, on Oct. 26, 2013, in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Green Wave's lone previous win against Tulsa came in the inaugural meeting back in 1968 when Tulane came away with a 25-15 victory in old Tulane Stadium. The Golden Hurricane are 4-0 against Tulane at Chapman Stadium, including a 45-10 decision the last time the teams played there on Sept. 8, 2012.
Following Thursday's game at Tulsa, the Green Wave will open the home portion of the schedule on Saturday, Sept. 6, against Georgia Tech at 3 p.m. in the new, on-campus Yulman Stadium in front of a national audience on ESPNews.
For season ticket information, which features packages starting as low as $200, contact the Tulane Athletics Ticket Office at (504) 861-WAVE (9283). The Tulane Ticket Office is located on the first floor of the James W. Wilson, Jr. Center and is open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. For additional information, log onto the official website at www.TulaneGreenWave.com.