#71 Tulsa Football 2017 Preview

Tulsa Golden Hurricane
Overall Rank: #71
#5 American
Tulsa greatly exceeded expectations in Coach Phillip Montgomery’s second season leading the program. The Golden Hurricane went 10-3 overall and 6-2 in AAC play. Those three losses were all on the road against Ohio State, Houston and Navy. Tulsa was so close to winning a conference title. This year they should take a step back, but Coach Montgomery certainly has this program heading towards bigger and better things.
2016 Record: 10-3, 6-2
2016 Bowl: Miami Beach Bowl vs. Central Michigan (W 55-10)
Coach: Phillip Montgomery (16-10 at Tulsa, 16-10 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Phillip Montgomery
Defensive Coordinator: Brian Norwood, Bill Young
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: D’Angelo Brewer, RB, 1,435 yards
Passing: Chad President, QB, 9 yards
Receiving: Justin Hobbs, WR, 685 yards
Tackles: Craig Suits, LB, 79
Sacks: Petera Wilson, LB, 6.5
Interceptions: Jesse Brubaker, DE, 2
Other Key Returnees: S Jordan Mitchell, DE Jeremy Smith
Key Losses: RB James Flanders, QB Dane Evans, WR Keevan Lucas, WR Josh Atkinson, OL Blake Belcher, LB Trent Martin, LB Matt Linscott, S Jeremy Brady
In 2016 Tulsa was the first team in FBS history to boast a 3,000 yard passer, two 1,000 yard receivers and two 1,000 yard rushers. Of all of that offensive firepower, D’Angelo Brewer is the only one back in 2017. Brewer rushed for 1,435 yards and seven touchdowns. Despite the absence of James Flanders, Tulsa has plenty of depth ready to step up at running back. The return of four starting linemen will help too. The strong line will also be key for replacing quarterback Dane Evans, who threw for 3,348 yards and 32 touchdowns. The top candidates are sophomore Chad President and redshirt freshman Luke Skipper. Neither has the arm that Evans has, but both can move around in the pocket. Even if Tulsa can effectively plug new players into their potent offensive system, it seems likely that the lack of experience at quarterback will cause some problems early in the season even if the passing yardage is high. Top receivers Josh Atkinson and Keevan Lucas are also gone. Justin Hobbs and Keenen Johnson combined for 80 catches for 990 yards last season and will look to emerge as the new go-to targets.
The Tulsa defense made big strides last season. The numbers were still not great, but it was a vast improvement over where the unit was in 2015. There are some big holes to fill though, especially in the front seven. Both starting tackles need to be replaced and that could hinder the production of ends Jesse Brubaker and Jeremy Smith. Those two combined for 9.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles-for-loss last season and will have to carry the line while the interior finds new starters. The situation at linebacker is similar. Top tacklers Trent Martin and Matt Linscott need to be replaced and Craig Suits will have to pick up the slack. The secondary returns plenty of experience and potential. Cornerbacks Kerwin Thomas and Reggie Robinson need to allow fewer big plays and safeties McKinley Whitfield and Jordan Mitchell need to make some big plays of their own if the Tulsa defense is going to take another step forward.
The Bottom Line:
The Golden Hurricane were not far off from an AAC title last season. This year will not likely go quite as well, but it is very possible that the offense picks up right where they left off with new pieces leading the way. The AAC West is stacked this year, but Tulsa does get Navy, Houston and Memphis at home. Even if the Golden Hurricane cannot win the West, they will have their say in who does.
Projected Bowl: Cure Bowl
2016 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 261.7 (8th in nation, 3rd in conference)
Passing Offense: 265.3 (30, 4)
Total Offense: 527.0 (4, 1)
Scoring Offense: 42.5 (7, 2)
Rushing Defense: 176.3 (68, 6)
Pass Defense: 250.2 (92, 9)
Total Defense: 426.5 (75, 7)
Scoring Defense: 29.8 (76, 8)
Turnover Margin: 0.00 (67, 9)
Sacks: 2.46 (32, 4)
Sacks Allowed: 1.85 (47, 4)