Week 11 - November 14, 2015 - Time: TBA - Nippert Stadium
Who Are They?
Like all the teams who find themselves at the bottom of this ranking, Tulsa is coming off a rough season where they went 2-10 with a 2-6 record in the American Conference. Those two wins weren't necessarily gimmes, like what we saw from UCONN's schedule last season, but still... it was only two wins. The Golden Hurricane took care of Tulane in Week 1 last season, 38-31 in double overtime. Tulane was 3-9 last season, for what it's worth. The other win came against SMU in November where they won 38-28. SMU finished 1-11 and both wins were at home for Tulsa. Okay, so maybe their wins weren't a whole lot more impressive than the mighty Huskies of Connecticut.
The big takeaway for Tulsa last season was a complete lack of defense. The 28 points Tulsa allowed against a lowly SMU team was the lowest point total they allowed the entire 2014 season, giving up an average of 39.3 points per game and 486.8 yards per game. They, understandably, ranked 119th in the nation in scoring defense and 114th in yards per game. Let's just say that defense was optional last season at Tulsa. Bill Young is taking over as defensive coordinator this fall and seems to have his work cut out for him. That said, All-AAC second-team defensive end Derrick Alexander could be a key to righting the ship after leading the team with 12 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks last season. At linebacker, Craig Suits returns after posting 81 tackles as a freshman and safety Michael Mudoh brings back 113 tackles from a year ago.
The offense wasn't as bad a year ago, but will be even better this season with new coach Philip Montgomery coming to town. You may recognize Montgomery as the former Baylor offensive coordinator who took part in building an offensive juggernaut with the Bears. A new coach is hardly a quick fix for a team needing the work Tulsa needs, but it is worth noting Montgomery's previous employer when looking at Tulsa's current set of offensive playmakers. Junior Dane Evans will likely begin this season at quarterback after passing for 3,102 yards, 23 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. His 258.5 passing yards a game ranked second in the AAC. Still note-worthy, but I should point out that his numbers are likely inflated because Tulsa was playing from behind all season. After all, the Tulsa offense was expected to put up 40 to have a chance. Senior running back Zack Langer also returns for Tulsa after averaging 80.1 yards per game last season (801 rushing yards total), good enough for second in the AAC. Junior Keevan Lucas also is back after an impressive sophomore campaign where he secured 101 receptions for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns. In Montgomery's offense, Lucas could be a major x-factor (2014 Highlights). Senior Keyarris Garrett is another talented receiver who should flourish under Montgomery (2014 Highlights).
Why Should We Worry?
The Cincinnati defense will be better than we expect. I fully expect the defense to surpass our low expectations as more Tuberville players rise through the depth chart into starting roles in their second, third or fourth year in the program. That said, Montgomery worries me with Tulsa's playmakers. Tulsa isn't a good enough team to beat Cincinnati on paper, but if Evans, or true freshman Chad President, take the reins as starting quarterback and get hot, the pieces are there to turn this game into a shootout. Certainly, Cincinnati's offense is made to win shootouts, but still, shootouts leave both offenses playing confidently and one mistake can be the difference. This is the sort of game that could be decided by one play, if Tulsa is able to hang around with their offensive play.
And Why We Shouldn't...
The Tulsa defense is terrible. Like... really, really bad. They can only get better, but that defense is a work in progress and this season won't be when things suddenly come together. Even though Montgomery's coaching worries me a bit, the Tulsa offense is still adjusting to his coaching. The playmakers are there to make some noise, but the responsibilities that a Baylor offense places on their quarterback is something that will take some time to get used to.
Additionally, Cincinnati gets Tulsa at home, on what will likely be a chilly November day at Nippert. Traveling in football is hard. It's harder if your defense can't stop the other guys and it's even harder if you're traveling to a stadium that creates that road atmosphere.
Assuming Gunner Kiel is healthy, the Cincinnati offense will be clicking and, I still believe, the Cincy defense will be out-performing expectations. Not to mention, Tulsa could easily be 1-8 at this time and reeling a bit as they adjust to the new coaching staff in their first year.
Point is, Tulsa isn't anywhere near Cincinnati in terms of team talent. They do have the playmakers to make some noise if things go right for them, but traveling to Nippert will be a challenge for anyone this season and likely too much for a team like Tulsa to take advantage of. That's why I have Tulsa ranked as my #10 hardest game of the season.