Tulsa Golden Hurricane
2006 Record: (8-5, 5-3)
Coach: Todd Graham (1st season at Tulsa, 7-6 overall)
Starters Returning: 11 (4 offense, 6 defense, 1 specialist)
Offensive Starters Lost: WR Ryan Bugg, WR Idris Moss, TE Charles Ramsey, OL Aaron Danenhauer, OL Jon Hameister-Ries, OL Mike Mengers, OL Jeff Perrett
Offensive Starters Returning: QB Paul Smith, RB Courtney Tennial, TE Ted Curtis, OL Justin Morsey
Defensive Starters Lost: DE Robert Latu, LB Nick Bunting, CB Nick Graham, S Kedrick Alexander, S Bobby Blackshire
Defensive Starters Returning: DT Terrel Nemons, DE Moton Hopkins, LB Chris Chamberlain, LB Nelson Coleman, CB Ray Roberts, S Anthony Germany
Starting Specialists Lost: K Chris Kindred
Starting Specialists Returning: P Jarod Tracy
Despite the loss of half the team's starters and Coach Steve Kragthorpe, Tulsa has a good thing going. Stealing away Coach Todd Graham from Rice was the first step. Securing offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn from Arkansas was the next. As long as the team can endure heavy losses at wide receiver and on the offensive line, the Golden Hurricane will be bowling again.
It all starts with senior quarterback Paul Smith. One of the best quarterbacks you have never heard of, Smith threw for 2,727 yards and 15 touchdowns last year and bigger numbers are expected with the new no-huddle spread scheme. Idris Moss, Ryan Bugg and Donnie Johnson are gone and just who Smith is going to throw to is a big question. Jesse Meyer, who caught just eight passes, is the leading returning receiver. Others who were formerly down the depth chart like Nick Henderson, Kyle Grooms and Corey Kizer will need to step up. Junior college transfer Dion Toliver enrolled early in order to participate in the spring and figures to compete for a starting job.
Courtney Tennial and Tarrion Adams each started five games at the running back position in 2006. Tennial led the squad with 845 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. Adams added 329 yards on the ground, but missed part of the season due to injury. The duo, especially Adams, is quality receivers and should help ease the transition of the passing game while the new receivers are being groomed. However, neither the passing nor running attack will be effective if the new look line cannot do their job.
Coach Graham was successful enough as Tulsa's defensive coordinator from 2002 through 2005 to get the head coaching job at Rice. Coach Graham knows these players and there is generally little concern over the 3-3-5 defense. The line returns nose guard Terrel Nemons and end Moton Hopkins. Hopkins, a 2005 Conference USA all-freshman honoree, is expected to increase his production as an upperclassman and hopefully become Tulsa's much needed pass rusher.
The loss of Nick Bunting is a big one for the linebackers, but returning Nelson Coleman and Chris Chamberlain will ease the pain. Both Coleman and Chamberlain were honored by the coaches or media last year and both will be shooting for first-team all-conference accolades for their senior campaigns. Senior Alain Karatepeyan should move to a starting role after making 39 stops as a reserve. The depth at linebacker may be young, but Tanner Antle, Mike Bryan and Donald Gobert are talented enough to be quality reserves.
The Bottom Line:
The defensive line did not do a good job of getting into the backfield last year, but the secondary still had a great season. With plenty of experience in the back five, they will be even better if Hopkins or Anthony Egbuniwe can get some pressure on the quarterback. Yet, it is the offense that will be interesting to watch. Tulsa can compete with anybody in C-USA and, if the offense clicks, they will be looking for the top spot in the conference.