Last season was a very successful one for Tulsa. Under first-year coach Todd Graham, the Hurricane went 10-4 and beat Bowling Green convincingly, 63-7, in the GMAC Bowl.
In a season in which Tulsa led the nation in offense with 542.5 yards per game, the only disappointment was that they fell just short of winning the Conference USA title, losing to Central Florida in the championship game.
2007 Record: 10-4, 6-2 Conference USA (Lost in C-USA championship, won GMAC Bowl)
Starters Returning: 16 (9 offense, 5 defense, 2 specialist)
Top Returning Players: RB Tarrion Adams, WR Trae Johnson, FB Charles Clay, WR Brennan Marion, RT Rodrick Thomas, DE Moton Hopkins, FS Charles Davis
Key Losses: QB Paul Smith, LB Chris Chamberlain, LB Alain Karatepeyan, LB Nelson Coleman, NG Brandon Jones, S Anthony Germany
Aug. 30 @ UAB
Sept. 6 @ North Texas
Sept. 20 New Mexico
Sept. 27 Central Arkansas
Oct. 4 Rice
Oct. 11 @ SMU
Oct. 18 UTEP
Oct. 26 UCF
Nov. 1 @ Arkansas
Nov. 15 @ Houston
Nov. 22 Tulane
Nov. 29 @ Marshal
Key Game: October 26 against UCF. A win in this game would give Tulsa plenty of confidence heading into big battles with Arkansas and Houston. The match-up could also serve as a preview of the conference championship.
The Hurricane lost both meetings with the Knights last season, but will play this game in front of their home crowd at Skelly Stadium in 2008.
If the Hurricane are going to take the next step and win a conference title, they will have to tighten up some loose ends on a defense that gave up 33.6 points and 451 yards per game in 2007. There are holes all over the defense, but the defensive line is the most glaring weakness. If the line improves, the secondary should be strong enough for this defense to at least hold its own.
A huge void has been created at the linebacker spots, after the team lost three All-Conference players at the position. George Clinkscale started seven games a year ago and will anchor the group at strongside linebacker. Graham will look to JUCO transfer Kaipo Sarkissian and a couple of back-ups from last year, Mike Bryan and Tanner Antle, to fill in at the other two spots. Charles Davis has locked up a starting spot at free safety after moving over from cornerback in 2007.
Tulsa’s best defensive player is end Moton Hopkins. The 6-3, 270-pound senior, who had 71 tackles and three sacks in ’07, will anchor the line, along with returning nose guard Terrel Nemons.
Switching over to offense, there are three candidates to replace the great Paul Smith at quarterback. The early leader is David Johnson, who has been a back-up for three seasons.
However, he has plenty of competition, and will have to beat out redshirt freshman Clark Harrell and talented JUCO transfer Jacob Bower. Many believe that whoever wins the quarterback battle will become an instant star by virtue of playing in Gus Malzahn’s offense.
Whoever is throwing passes for the Hurricane will have the luxury of throwing to 1,000 yard receivers Brennan Marion and Trae Johnson. Charles Clay has also become a threat out of the full back position. He caught 69 passes for 1,024 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
The coaching staff is also excited about transfer Andrew Norman, who played receiver under Malzahn at Arkansas and at Springdale (Ark.) High School.
The strength of the offense should be its talented duo of running backs, which will take a lot of pressure off of the new quarterback. Courtney Tennial, who was last year’s starter before a season-ending injury, will hope to continue the success he had in 2006, when he led the team in rushing.
Tarrion Adams is also back, and he's not too bad either. He rushed for 1,225 yards and caught 30 passes while filling in for Tennial last year.
The offensive line, with four returning starters, should be a strength. The right side returns two All-Conference caliber seniors, Rodrick Thomas and Justin Morsey. Junior Curt Puckett returns as the starter at left guard, but the question mark is who will play next to him. Junior Tyler Holmes and redshirt freshman Brandon Thomas will most likely share time at the left tackle position.
If these holes can be filled successfully on both sides of the ball, Tulsa will have an excellent chance to go one step further than last season and win their first C-USA title since 2005.