Wednesday, June 14, 2006
A REASONABLY ANTICIPATORY ASSESSMENT OF: TULANE
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
SMQ spins the wheel for a hastily-rendered but not too-soon look at a random school's prospects for the fall, sans inevitable academic and criminal suspensions, sudden transfers, debilitating injuries and other miscellaneous misfortunes of the long summer
- - - - -
Welcome back! And try not to suck anymore, kay? We're not cool with that this time
PAST FIVE SEASONS: 23-36 (12-27 C-USA) - 2005: 2-9 ( 1-7 C-USA)
STARTERS BACK, ROUGHLY: 18 (9 Offense, 9 Defense)
WHAT'S CHANGED: Oh, home sweet home! The Wave clicked its heels together three times and will return to its own campus and the Superdome in September to play five actual home games this fall after spending all of 2005 headquartered way up in Ruston and "hosting" games all over the South following Hurricane Katrina.
The team that returns should also be more competitive than the one that went 2-9 and dropped the final eight of its vagabond row last season. Tulane hasn't come anywhere near contending for a conference title since it went undefeated in 1998, but it's been at least somewhat competitive on a regular basis and earned a few bowl bids. A lot of 2005 was the result of a simply bad football team, but some of it - losing to otherwise winless Rice? Please - can be chalked up to trauma and travel fatigue.
WHAT'S THE SAME: Aside from a potentially large welcome back party, there aren't likely to be very many people lining up to be a part of the return of Green Wave football. In and of itself, the attendance isn't so bad given the product, but few small, perpetually poorly performing college teams play in massive pro stadiums that, at such capacities, emphasize above all vast emptiness. Before last year's road trip, Tulane officially averaged about 24,000 folks over five seasons, barely enough to fill a third of the Dome's seats, and real numbers were even lower. Maybe much lower - SMQ speaks from experience when he says there is no worse atmosphere in college football than the Superdome when Tulane is struggling, which is always: you don't notice it when 65,000 warm bodies fill the place up for the Saints (or more for the Sugar Bowl), but the Dome's super-powered air conditioning is hellacious for unprepared, warm weather-inclined fans in an empty, dare SMQ say, cavernous stadium, where the sparse fans and barely basketball game-worthy Tulane pep band don't even provide enough noise to keep the sound of popcorn popping at the concession stand from carrying throughout the stadium during timeouts. This is not hyperbole; when Southern Miss visited in 2002, for example, not for one moment did SMQ feel like he was at an actual game that actually counted (given the final score, 30-10 Tulane, USM players apparently felt the same way). A year away, with but a single victory over a I-A opponent in the interim, is not likely to drum up much more than early, token pity excitement.
- - - - -
Multiply this by 7,000 and you get the idea...If you look real fast, from a distance, it almost looks like people up there!
OR IS IT ALL A BAD NEWS PROPOSITION?: The rare experience the Wave had on its offensive line last year - four senior starters, including four-year brothers Joe and Matt Traina - didn't lead to any gains in the running game. Matt Forte and Jovon Johnson split time again after finishing '04 with an identical yardage total (624), and were only separated by a little more than 100 yards last year en route to finishing 112th in total rushing. The backs return, the linemen do not, which is ought to be a good news/bad news proposition regardless your outlook.
Also depending on fans' optimism levels is their perception of the other line, which welcomes back four linemen who were trounced as rookie starters two years ago and finished 101st in rushing defense last year, both times with an experienced, tackle-happy trio of linebackers which has now entirely graduated. Their struggles made for a nice rouge on the face of the secondary, which finished second in C-USA in passing yards allowed, but the extremely wide disparity between this number and the Wave's pass efficiency ranking, which was ninth in the league and 80th nationally, tells the tale of a team that could not stop anyone in any fashion. With three starters gone from the defensive backfield, too - that's six of the back seven departing, if you're keeping count - there will be more pressure for vets Antonio Harris, Taurean Brown and Avery Williams to not only hold up against the run, but also produce a better pass rush to ease the new guys' transition behind them.
CAPTAIN RICARD: One thing Tulane did do fairly well, as usual, is throw: third-year-starter-to-be Lester Ricard gets his last chance to join the King-Ramsey-Losman parade of highly regarded future NFL flops after understandably failing to break out as expected as a junior. The guy has the body, the arm and, belying his negative rushing stats, the athleticism, but he's been way up and way down and everywhere in between on a totally unpredictable basis - as a sophomore, he threw for 740 yards and ten touchdowns with zero picks in two games in three weeks to lead high-scoring wins over bowl teams UAB and Navy, but had just 149 and two interceptions in a three-point effort against Houston in between. As a junior, he tossed up three 300-yard games, and lost two of them while throwing six interceptions. Ricard does return four of the five receivers who had more than 20 catches last year, including Forte and leader Preston Brown, but does not have Tulane's traditional, blazing go-to guy in the mold of JaJuan Dawson or Roydell Williams.
OVERLY OPTIMISTIC POST-SPRING CHATTER: The Spring game ended in a tie, but with some potentially good news if Ricard goes down or can't hack it for some reason: coach's son Anthony Scelfo was a perfect 4-4 for 43 yards and a touchdown in leading the White team to a big early lead before the poor performance of backup Scott Elliot helped the Ricard-led Green back in the game.
But most impressive? Fullback Ray Boudreaux, challenger to Jim Bob Cooter for the Most Stereotypical Regional Name Award, threw not one but two big passes, completing for a 55-yard touchdown to Jeremy Williams and another to Williams later for 31 yards. Note to Scelfo: run the modern, Texas Tech-inspired version of the Notre Dame box!
REASON FOR HOPE: Ricard, skill talent remains intact, and they're home at last
REASON TO BE AFRAID, VERY AFRAID: Many new faces on the offense line and defensive back seven; the team's lacked toughness wherever it's played
IF THIS TEAM WERE ANY POP CULTURAL, HISTORICAL, POLITICAL, LITERARY OR OTHERWISE NOTABLE FIGURE, IT WOULD BE: Benjamin Braddock, back at home with his parents, still unemployed by the next Christmas: there's a party at first, and plenty of deserved good will and generosity to be had after that, but eventually it's going to be used up. There has to be some kind of performance eventually, or otherwise the thrills will be cheap and empty - like wins over Southeastern Louisiana.
HONESTLY, WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE SCHEDULE, SMQ'S THINKING... This tean is good enough to return to the five-win range. SMQ would guess four, though he won't guess whether that will actually be good enough to keep Chris Scelfo around another year - no excuses for avoiding the hot seat this time around. Unless, well, you know...
- - - - - -
PREVIOUS REASONABLY ANTICIPATORY ASSESSMENTS:
June 3: Boston College...June 4: Arkansas State...June 6: Hawaii...June 8: Virginia...June 10: Rice...April 11: Boise State
ABSURDLY PREMATURE ASSESSMENTS:
April 3: Central Michigan...April 4: BYU...April 5: Kentucky...April 7: Bowling Green...April 8: Southern Cal...April 11: Rutgers...April 12: Marshall...April 13: Florida State...April 15: San Diego State...April 16: Alabama...April 19: Oregon State...April 20: Buffalo...April 21: N.C. State...April 23: Arizona...April 24: Memphis...April 25: Louisiana Tech...April 28: Iowa...April 30: Toledo...May 2: Ohio State...May 3: Mississippi State...May 5: Southern Miss...May 7: Louisiana-Lafayette...May 11: Akron...May 12: North Carolina...Michigan State...May 15: Air Force...May 17: Stanford...May 18: Georgia Tech...May 21: Connecticut...May 23: Purdue...May 24: Navy...May 27: UCLA...May 28: New Mexico State...May 29: Tennessee
- - - - -