The Tulane Green Wave look to build on a successful 2013 season as they make the transition from Conference USA to the more competitive American Athletic Conference. But with the graduation of some key contributors on offense and defense, head coach Curtis Johnson and his staff may find the victories harder to come by in 2014.
The Tulane offense already had to replace leading receiver Ryan Grant and leading rusher Orleans Darkwa, but after spring ball, it looks like they will have a new quarterback as well. Redshirt freshman Tanner Lee made the most of the offseason and now is the front runner to start the season opener against Tulsa over Devin Powell and Nick Montana. It can always be a touchy situation when the incumbent is replaced by a more talented prospect. Lee possesses a stronger arm and showed the ability to make better decisions during spring practice but it is still yet to be determined if that translates into wins once the season starts.
Unfortunately for the Green Wave, they also have uncertainty at the running back position and will not have the luxury of relying on an experienced rush attack to ease the transition to a new quarterback. Returning is senior Rob Kelly, who rushed for 420 yards on 98 carries, but he missed spring practice due to academic issues so the team may have to rely on redshirt freshman Sherman Bodie to carry the bulk of the rushing load.
If the three returners to the offensive line, which includes senior RT Sean Donnelly, can continue to jell, the stability upfront may allow for the newcomers in the offensive backfield to adjust to their new roles.
As with the offensive side of the ball, the defense looks to replace the majority of its starters, but one of the five returners is a very talented difference maker– junior cornerback Lorenzo Doss. Doss is coming off a very productive 2013 season that saw him lead the team with seven interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. Doss isn’t the only returning player with Conference USA post-season accolades; Nico Marley, yes of the famous Marley reggae singing family, won the co-freshman of the year award despite not fitting the look of your prototypical division-1 linebacker. Despite his 5-foot-8 and 180 pound stature, Marley finished the season with 67 tackles. Defensive coaches Jon Sumrall and Lionel Washington will expect more from the diminutive dynamo this season as they look to replace six of the nine top tacklers from 2013.
While there is only one returner to the defensive line, junior Royce LaFrance flashed the potential to be very good last season as he led the Green Wave in sacks with 6.5. If senior Tyler Gilbert can step up and command attention from the other defensive end position, the quarterbacks in the American Athletic Conference will get to know LaFrance more than they would like to.
Tulane was scheduled to open its 2014 season in the new on-campus Yulman Stadium but construction issues delayed the season opening game against SE Louisiana to two weeks later. The Green Wave face a tough non-conference road schedule as they have to travel to Durham, NC and Piscateway, NJ to face Duke and Rutgers in back to back weeks.
The AAC schedule doesn’t do any favors for the conference newcomer either as three of its four road games are against teams that could contend for the conference title in UCF, Houston and ECU. Despite the daunting road schedule they do have winnable home games against UConn, Memphis and Temple and if they are able to pull a road upset they could repeat their 2013 record of 7-6 and be in line for another bowl game.