NCAA Football

Rant Sports 100 in 100 College Football Previews: No. 59 Tulsa Golden Hurricane

With less than two months until the college football season, Rant Sports features the No. 59 team on our 100 in 100 college football preview series, the Tulsa Golden Hurricane.

Coming off an 8-5 finish in 2011, Bill Blankenship‘s squad returns a total of 13 starters, but faces a much improved Conference USA and non-conference schedule this fall.

Impact Players

Offense

With the departure of quarterback G.J. Kinne, Tulsa was forced to choose between a remarkable seven possible replacements during spring practice. According to most reports, Nebraska transfer Cody Greene pushed his way up the depth chart to replace the former Texas transfer, and should see most of the snaps with the first-team offense when fall practices get rolling.

Sophomore Kalen Henderson will also be waiting in the wings, and could get more playing time than expected, if Greene’s recovery time from late-spring shoulder surgery is longer than expected. Either way, Henderson should contribute as a change-up quarterback on occasion regardless of whether or not he starts.

Although Tulsa should again have one of Conference USA’s strongest and most competitive offensive lines, it loses five starters from last year’s unit. Senior right tackle Brian DeShane and senior left tackle Jared Grigg will be expected to step up and play huge roles in the trenches to ensure that whomever emerges at quarterback will have the necessary time in the pocket.

Juniors J’Terian Douglas and Trey Watts could again be a lethal 1-2 duo for the Golden Hurricane in 2012. Between them last season, the pair rushed for over 1,800 yards with seven touchdowns. While Tulsa prefers to throw first, Douglas and Watts should certainly be productive enough to keep opposing defenses honest.

Wideouts Willie Carter and Bryan Burnham should be the primary pass catchers for Greene, or whomever emerges as the Tulsa signal caller. Both guys had 800+ yards receiving in 2011, and tallied 16 touchdowns between them in the high-octane offense.

Defense

As a whole, Tulsa improved as a defensive unit in 2011 from 2010, and should show improvement again this season with the return of seven starters.

Junior linebacker Shawn Jackson is the team’s leading returning tackler (101 tackles, 6.5 TFL in 2011) and should set the tone in defensive coordinator Brent Guy‘s base 4-3 set.

The Tulsa secondary should be the strongest overall unit, led by senior safety Dexter McCoil, who has picked off a school record 13 interceptions, including six last season. Junior cornerback Marco Nelson and senior safety John Flanders should also play significant roles this fall.

The loss of 2011 leading tackler Curnelius Amrick (155 tackles, 4 TFL) will definitely be felt, and will require several guys to step up along the defensive line to take up the slack. End Cory Dorris and Jackson as mentioned above are the favorites to make a greater impact this fall and help Tulsa hold steady along the trenches.

Schedule

The most difficult obstacle for Tulsa in 2012 could just be their schedule. Right off the bat the Golden Hurricane face a challenge as they travel to Ames to take on the Iowa State Cyclones in Week One.

Tulane comes to Tulsa for the first Conference USA game of the season in Week Two, to be followed by visits from Nicholls State and Fresno State.

If Tulsa can salvage a 2-2 split, or even go 3-1 over these first four contests, a return bowl trip should be in the picture.

With a difficult conference schedule, however, against improved Rice, Houston and SMU teams– and a late-season visit to Fayetteville to take on the Arkansas Razorbacks– things will be far from easy.

Kris Hughes is the College Football Network Manager for Rant Sports and a member of the Football Writers Association of America.

You can follow him on Twitter or check out his Facebook page.

Kris is also the host of Rant Sports Radio on the Blog Talk Radio Network Wednesday evenings at 8 Central Time.