Aug. 1, 2007
The South Mississippi Sun Herald
Houston and Tulsa are expected to battle for the Conference USA West crown and a berth in the championship game on Dec. 1.
With the focus being on the Cougars and Golden Hurricane during the annual Media Blitz at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in New Orleans, Tulane's Matt Forté sat patiently as writers from across the country bypassed the Green Wave's table in the ballroom.
All that Forté, a senior running back from Slidell, wanted was the opportunity to voice his thoughts on the 2007 season. With a handful of writers sitting down for an interview with new Wave coach Bob Toledo, Forté waited his turn.
When the spotlight finally fell on Forté, he was direct to the point about the success he expects for a program that's played in three bowl games since 1987 with the last coming in 2002, a 36-28 win against Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl.
Considering the Green Wave have posted a 16-30 overall record since the Hawaii Bowl, it is not surprising they were picked at the bottom of the West.
"I won't call it a spoiler role, because nobody can tell what happens in the future,' Forté said. 'We will not be a spoiler but we will do well. We all feel comfortable with the new coaching staff and we have a lot of talent. The slate has been washed clean and we're ready to go. Just don't call us a spoiler."
There's plenty of reason for optimism at Tulane this season with the arrival of coach Toledo to replace Chris Scelfo. Toledo brings more than 30 years of experience and has coached in 13 bowl games, including seven New Year's Day bowl games. He was 49-32 at UCLA from 1996-2002.
Factor in 15 starters and 46 lettermen back from a team that beat Mississippi State on the road, and the Green Wave appears to be better in 2007.
On offense, Forté, a 6-foot-2, 225-pounder, will be the focus after rushing for 859 yards last season now that quarterback Lester Ricard has graduated.
Under Toledo, the Green Wave is still expected to throw the ball out of the pro-style offense, but the unit is still built around Forté.
"I've had some good backs at UCLA,' Toledo said. 'Matt Forte is just as good as any one of those."
Forté is a two-year starter and has 18 career starts with 2,138 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns. To his credit, Forté has seven 100-yard rushing games to go with 71 career receptions for 703 yards and five touchdowns.
Remarkably, Forté has achieved the rushing numbers despite never carrying the ball more than 200 times in a season. His 169 carries in 2005 were a career-high.
In comparison, Kevin Smith of Central Florida and Damion Fletcher of Southern Miss, the two running backs on the Conference USA preseason first team, carried the ball 249 and 276 times, respectively.
Keep in mind that Forte averaged 5.3 yards per carry last season.
"I want the ball," he said. 'I would welcome 200 carries in a season. I've always wanted the ball more and hopefully I will get the ball more this year.
"Every running back wants the ball more."
Tulane opens its season on Sept. 8 in the Superdome against Mississippi State.