No. 56 Tulsa
Tulsa won 10 games for the fifth time in 10 years. Oddly, that stretch has also included seasons of five, three and two wins. There is nothing to suggest another dramatic drop-off is coming soon.
A new quarterback will have a superb offensive line, elite running back and budding playmakers at receiver. But he must navigate one of the most difficult schedules in the Group of Five
2016 Record: 10-3 (6-2, AAC)
Tulsa improved their win total for a second-straight season, going from two in 2014 to six in 2015 and 10 last year. And they were nine points away from setting the program record with 12 wins.
Though they were throttled by Ohio State in Week 2, 48-3, they lost a seven-point game at Houston in mid-October and fell to Navy by two points in mid-November. Tulsa lost both despite scoring a combined 71 points.
Head Coach: Philip Montgomery (3rd year, 16-10 overall)
You better hop on the Philip Montgomery train soon because it could be departing Tulsa for a Power Five job as early as December.
The 45-year-old was coaching Texas high school football 15 years ago. Now, after successful offensive coordinator stints as Houston and Baylor and an impressive two seasons in Tulsa, Montgomery is barreling toward a big-time job offer.
Key Returning Offensive Players
QB Will Hefley III, QB Chad President, RB D'Angelo Brewer, WR Justin Hobbs, WR Keenen Johnson, OT Evan Plagg, OT Willie Wright, G Tyler Bowling, C Chandler Miller
Tulsa ranks 123rd nationally with just 27 percent of their 2016 yards returning in 2017, thanks to the loss of three All-AAC performers. They do, however, return senior running back D'Angelo Brewer, two emerging receivers and a veteran offensive line.
Brewer has quietly accumulated 2,400 rushing yards in three seasons, routinely playing second fiddle to other, equally explosive offensive weapons. He had five 150-yard games, including 252 and 182 in back-to-back wins over Fresno State and SMU.
“The offensive line is something I never have to worry about,” Brewer said during spring practice. “Every day, I try to make sure they’re up and ready to move. When they’re moving things, we’re running the ball."
He's right; the Golden Hurricane return four lineman with starting experience, including junior center Chandler Miller, a First-Team All-AAC selection last year. They also return junior Justin Hobbs and sophomore Keenen Johnson at receiver, who will be working with a new quarterback after the departure of Dane Evans.
Sophomores Chad President and Will Hefley III are battling freshman Luke Skipper for the job. President has five career pass attempts; Hefley has zero.
“I’m confident that we’ll have a guy step up and play really well,” Montgomery said of his quarterback competition. “I love the challenge of getting a young guy ready. Will he make mistakes and have his ups and downs during the season? Sure, he will. The key is to limit those to a reasonable level.”
Key Returning Defensive Players
DE Jeremy Smith, DE Jesse Brubaker, LB Craig Suits, CB Kerwin Thomas, CB Reggie Robinson III, S Jordan Mitchell
It's easy to blame Tulsa's defense for their two conference losses — 38-31 at Houston and 42-40 at Navy — but we must acknowledge how far a once-porous unit has come. And co-defensive coordinators Bill Young and Brian Norwood will try to stabilize a group that lost their top two tacklers and two good interior linemen.
Senior ends Jeremy Smith and Jesse Brubaker are back. They combined for 21.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks. Brubaker is a violent, menacing defensive end, yet still he's best known for this interception against Central Michigan:
Which led to him to lightly head-butt a teammate — without a helmet on:
Craig Suits is the leader at linebacker. In fact, he's the only returning player with significant experience. A Freshman All-American in 2014, he has 205 career tackles, 22 tackles for loss and three interceptions.
The secondary has A LOT of bodies capable of improving their 92nd-ranked pass defense. Senior Kerwin Thomas — who led the team with nine passes defended — and sophomore Reggie Robinson II have All-AAC potential at corner. Robinson, a three-star 2015 recruit who picked Tulsa over Kansas State, Stanford and other Power Five programs, played well as a redshirt freshman.
Notable Player Losses
QB Dane Evans, RB James Flanders, WR Keevan Lucas, WR Joshua Atkinson, G Blake Belcher, DT Jerry Uwaezuoke, DT Hayden Carman, LB Trent Martin, LB Matt Linscott, S Jeremy Brady
Dane Evans headlines a parade of elite offensive players that graduated. The program's all-time leading passer, Evans had three-straight 3,000-yard, 20-touchdown seasons. His leading rusher James Flanders (1,629 yards) and two leading receivers Keevan Lucas and Joshua Atkins (2,238 combined receiving yards) are also gone.
The loss of all-conference guard Blake Belcher will be overlooked given their returnees on the line but his absence cannot be overstated.
Hayden Carman and Jerry Uwaezuoke leave big — literally — holes in the interior defensive line and tackling machines Trent Martin and Matt Linscott will likely push underclassmen into starting roles at linebacker. Safety Jeremy Brady tied for the team lead with two interceptions and had four the last two seasons.
Notable Player Additions
QB Luke Skipper, WR Jordan Brown, WR Josh Stewart, LB Treyvon Reeves
Luke Skipper graduated early from Forney (Texas) High School, enrolled in the winter and immediately began competing for the starting quarterback job. Montgomery has repeatedly said patience is key with young quarterbacks, though Skipper has been praised for quickly picking up the offense.
“I know the calls, but it’s still a matter of getting my eyes where they are supposed to be," Skipper said at the end of spring practice.
Receivers Jordan Brown and Josh Stewart redshirted last year and are currently listed on the two-deep. Another redshirt freshman, linebacker Treyvon Reeves, also exited fall camp in a No. 2 role.
Tulsa used to play Oklahoma State often, but they've only faced the Cowboys three times since 2000 and not once since 2011. They'll visit Stillwater in an underrated Thursday night opener.
|Thursday, Aug. 31||at Oklahoma State|
|Saturday, Sept. 9||vs. UL-Lafayette|
|Saturday, Sept 16||at Toledo|
|Saturday, Sept. 23||vs. New Mexico|
|Saturday, Sept. 30||vs. Navy|
|Saturday, Oct. 7||at Tulane|
|Saturday, Oct. 14||vs. Houston|
|Saturday, Oct. 21||at UConn|
|Friday, Oct. 27||at SMU|
|Friday, Nov. 3||vs. Memphis|
|Thursday, Nov. 16||at South Florida|
|Saturday, Nov. 25||vs. Temple|