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The big 2015 Tulane football guide: Fighting to clear the bar you've raised

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The 128-team countdown lands in New Orleans, where things are much better than they used to be, believe it or not.

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. A higher baseline

In 2014, Tulane scored 8.8 fewer points per game than it did the year before and allowed a touchdown more. The Green Wave's full-season scoring margin went from plus-44 points to minus-149, and their performance in close games regressed -- they went 3-4 in one-possession games in 2013 and 1-3 in 2014. A great defense became good, and a bad offense got worse.

Oh, by the way, this was Tulane's second-best team of the last decade. The F/+ ratings go back to 2005; from 2005-12, Tulane never ranked better than 101st. The Green Wave surged to 65th in 2013 and last fall fell to 93rd.

It's all about expectations, isn't it? Near the end of the Chris Scelfo era and throughout Bob Toledo's five-year tenure, there were none. The Green Wave had no identity, minimal skill, and a cavernous stadium. Now, they've got high defensive standards, a pretty on-campus venue, and bowl hopes. That last year's 3-9 season was disappointing, after Tulane had averaged 2.6 wins per year between 2008-12, was a sign of progress.

That's the thing about higher bars: you still have to clear them.

Here's what I wrote about Curtis Johnson when Tulane hired him in 2012:

Johnson is an intriguing hire. When you are a mid-major, your options are to hire an up-and-comer and hope he stays long enough to win, or hire a coach who failed at a major-conference level and is on his way down.

Johnson is an odd combination of experienced and up-and-coming. At 50 years old, the New Orleans native racked up 18 years of assistant experience -- he recruited Marshall Faulk to San Diego State, Ed Reed to Miami -- and spent the last six years as Sean Payton's receivers coach. He has been a receivers coach for 25 years, but he is a New Orleans guy. There is nothing on his resume to suggest he can turn underachievers into overachievers, but … there is nothing to suggest he cannot.

His staff is a combination of old hands and charismatic youngsters, and if he can bring former three-star recruits out of their shell and bring in new ones, Tulane could have a much higher ceiling.

While recruiting rankings haven't been kind to the Green Wave within their conference, Johnson has hammered the local channels. In his four classes, he has signed 24 players from New Orleans, 33 from elsewhere in Louisiana, and only 17 from out of state. Perhaps as a result*, Tulane has a roster that has suffered minimal turnover and is developing depth it has rarely had.

So now Tulane just has to win again. The Green Wave have won 10 games in two years -- the most for a two-year span since they won 13 games in 2002-03 -- but regressing by four wins from one year to another is never a good thing. The Tulane defense should again be sound, but it almost isn't an exaggeration to say that the Green Wave haven't had a good offense since Shaun King was quarterback.

Tulane isn't a good program yet. But if it's ever going to get there, it's going to be by following the steps Johnson has followed.

* If strong local recruiting doesn't have a direct correlation to turnover, it at least doesn't hurt your attrition levels.

2014 Schedule & Results

Record: 3-9 | Adj. Record: 3-9 | Final F/+ Rk: 93
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
28-Aug at Tulsa 117 31-38 L 25% -15.6 40%
6-Sep Georgia Tech 8 21-38 L 31% -11.3 4%
13-Sep SE Louisiana NR 35-20 W 68% 11.1 98%
20-Sep at Duke 51 13-47 L 20% -19.4 1%
27-Sep at Rutgers 81 6-31 L 7% -34.1 0%
11-Oct Connecticut 119 12-3 W 69% 11.8 96%
18-Oct at Central Florida 60 13-20 L 44% -3.6 15%
31-Oct Cincinnati 47 14-38 L 27% -14.1 3%
8-Nov at Houston 73 31-24 W 84% 23.3 92%
15-Nov Memphis 41 7-38 L 30% -12.3 1%
22-Nov at East Carolina 61 6-34 L 7% -34.2 0%
6-Dec Temple 67 3-10 L 19% -20.1 1%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 19.3 117 26.8 55
Points Per Game 16.0 124 28.4 81

2. Up, down, staying the same

In my recent Tulsa preview, we discussed a team with a small range between its best and worst performances. Tulane was a bit more unpredictable. Tulane ended up grading out better despite a season-opening road loss to the Golden Hurricane, mainly because the high points were higher.

  • Average Percentile Performance (4 best games): Tulane 70%, Tulsa 40%
  • Average Percentile Performance (4 worst games): Tulane 13%, Tulsa 6%

The floors were similar; the ceilings were not.

What's funny about Tulane's in-season progression was that, no matter how high or low they strayed, their averages returned to normal.

  • Average Percentile Performance (first 4 games): 36% (record: 1-3)
  • Average Percentile Performance (next 4 games): 37% (record: 1-3)
  • Average Percentile Performance (last 4 games): 35% (record: 1-3)

I don't know if that's encouraging. But I do know that the personality of the squad didn't change much -- the defense was usually doing what it could (the Green Wave allowed 5.3 or fewer yards per play six times), and the offense was usually holding it back (they averaged 5.1 yards per play or fewer nine times).

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.78 104 IsoPPP+ 83.5 108
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 35.5% 119 Succ. Rt. + 83.0 120
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 33.2 120 Def. FP+ 97.0 101
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 2.9 128 Redzone S&P+ 81.0 121
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 22.4 ACTUAL 25 +2.6
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 110 118 122 108
RUSHING 94 104 116 87
PASSING 87 117 121 107
Standard Downs 103 119 96
Passing Downs 120 119 119
Q1 Rk 107 1st Down Rk 106
Q2 Rk 111 2nd Down Rk 113
Q3 Rk 111 3rd Down Rk 73
Q4 Rk 98

3. Fixing an unfixable offense

The last time Tulane averaged even 25 points per game, J.P. Losman was the quarterback. Losman is 34 years old.

In 10 years of S&P+ data, the Green Wave have never ranked better than 83rd in Off. S&P+, and even while going in 7-6 in 2013, they did so despite the offense (112th), not because of it.

This much failure in an era of fireworks has to be looked at as a systemic issue, not a tactical one. But if you look at recruiting rankings, you don't see a huge difference between the offensive personnel that struggled and the defensive personnel that more than held its own.

So what has caused this? And what can third-year coordinator Eric Price do to turn the tide?

At least in 2014, one of the primary reasons for struggle was youth. You see that in the returning personnel. The leading returning passer and rusher and the SEVEN leading returning receivers are all sophomores. And while running back Sherman Badie was a revelation, the quarterback (Tanner Lee) and his receivers ... well ... played like freshmen. (And the only big-play threat in the receiving corps, Xavier Rush, missed five games with injury.) In theory, if you keep this unit together, there might be enough athleticism to thrive when chemistry gets up to speed.

But in theory, a Tulane offense shouldn't stink for 12 consecutive seasons. Theory and reality haven't seen eye to eye. They rarely do in New Orleans.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Tanner Lee 6'4, 220 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7986 185 336 1962 12 14 55.1% 22 6.1% 5.0
Nick Montana
45 79 342 1 3 57.0% 1 1.3% 4.3
Devin Powell 6'3, 228 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7826 10 26 111 0 0 38.5% 2 7.1% 3.3
Glen Cuiellette 6'1, 205 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8008

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Sherman Badie RB 6'0, 195 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8253 121 688 3 5.7 9.1 33.9% 1 1
Lazedrick Thompson RB 6'1, 217 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8050 109 533 4 4.9 4.1 41.3% 0 0
Dontrell Hilliard RB 6'0, 185 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8059 97 452 3 4.7 4.9 36.1% 2 2
Josh Rounds (2013) RB 5'11, 195 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7752 49 163 0 3.3 2.4 32.7% NR NR
Dante Butler FB
34 171 0 5.0 3.9 44.1% 1 0
Tanner Lee QB 6'4, 220 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7986 14 41 0 2.9 3.9 35.7% 1 1
Nick Montana QB
5 26 0 5.2 2.3 40.0% 1 0
Nigel Anderson RB 5'10, 187 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8463






4. Big-play Badie

A 34 percent opportunity rate (percentage of carries gaining at least five yards) isn't very good. Of the 134 FBS running backs who had at least 120 carries, Sherman Badie's opportunity rate ranked 100th. But when you take into account the fact that Badie was a freshman running behind a line filled with sophomores, you come to the conclusion that Badie could be a special player.

Even with limited open-field opportunities, Badie managed to average 5.7 yards per carry. Granted, those opportunities dried up as opponents loaded the box and Badie hit a freshman wall -- first six games: 7.2 yards per carry; next six games: 3.3 -- but his potential was unmistakable. And his inefficiency was balanced a bit by Lazedrick Thompson and Dontrell Hilliard, who were more efficient and less explosive. Combined with the return of junior Josh Rounds and the addition of mid-three-star freshman Nigel Anderson, Tulane has more than enough high-caliber running back. But Price wants balance in his offense, and Tulane had none.

For the running game to thrive, the passing game has to at least suffice. With so many sophomores, you could talk yourself into this group doing impressive things in 2016 or 2017, but improvement in 2015 could be only marginal.

Teddy Veal was heavily targeted as a well-touted freshman, but his punt-returner skill set led to more dancing than yards, and his per-target average of 4.8 yards was the fifth-worst in the country for a No. 1 target. The median average for a No. 1 target was 8.3, almost double Veal's average.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Teddy Veal WR-Z 5'11, 185 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8285 80 40 381 50.0% 19.3% 40.0% 4.8 -129 4.7 36.0
Justyn Shackleford WR-X
71 37 490 52.1% 17.1% 49.3% 6.9 23 6.9 46.3
Xavier Rush WR
36 15 295 41.7% 8.7% 33.3% 8.2 95 7.4 27.9
Dontrell Hilliard RB 6'0, 185 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8059 36 30 244 83.3% 8.7% 47.2% 6.8 -103 7.0 23.1
Sherman Badie RB 6'0, 195 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8253 33 24 108 72.7% 8.0% 57.6% 3.3 -176 3.3 10.2
Terren Encalade WR-X 6'0, 185 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7719 30 20 235 66.7% 7.2% 70.0% 7.8 -5 7.8 22.2
Charles Jones TE 6'3, 235 So. 2 stars (5.2) NR 27 21 192 77.8% 6.5% 63.0% 7.1 -53 7.0 18.1
Leondre James WR-Z 6'0, 175 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8019 27 15 169 55.6% 6.5% 63.0% 6.3 -18 5.9 16.0
Dante Butler FB
22 19 159 86.4% 5.3% 81.8% 7.2 -60 10.0 15.0
Trey Scott TE 6'2, 205 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7594 22 9 76 40.9% 5.3% 45.5% 3.5 -45 3.7 7.2
Devon Breaux WR-X 6'0, 182 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8493 21 8 70 38.1% 5.1% 28.6% 3.3 -39 3.8 6.6
Matt Marfisi TE
7 2 17 28.6% 1.7% 85.7% 2.4 -13 4.3 1.6
Lazedrick Thompson RB 6'1, 217 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8050 2 1 4 50.0% 0.5% 100.0% 2.0 -9 NR 0.4
Larry Dace WR-Z 5'9, 175 Sr. NR NR
Kendall Ardoin TE 6'6, 215 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7959
Darius Williams WR 6'2, 195 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8059








Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 89.8 2.8 2.19 38.1% 60.0% 23.6% 104.3 4.7% 6.7%
Rank 105 85 125 79 110 114 60 68 49
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
Sean Donnelly RT 35
Arturo Uzdavinis LT 6'7, 300 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7798 25
Nathan Shienle C 6'5, 300 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7000 24
Chris Taylor RG 6'2, 310 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8416 15
Colton Hanson LG 6'5, 315 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7826 12
Todd Jacquet RG 6'5, 290 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8025 2
Alex Paul LG 6'6, 320 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7993 1
Nate Skold LT
0
Brandon Godfrey LG 6'4, 295 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7867 0
Jason Stewart RG 6'4, 355 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7901 0
Kenneth Santa Marina RT 6'6, 305 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8650 0
Junior Diaz C 6'1, 276 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8251
John Leglue LT 6'6, 280 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) NR
Devon Johnson RT 6'5, 330 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8159
Leeward Brown OL 6'3, 344 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8535
Keeyon Smart OL 6'4, 332 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8174

5. Quite a few three-stars up front

Tackle Sean Donnelly was in his third year as a starter, but of the six other players who finished 2014 with starting experience, five were sophomores, and one was a junior.

All six of those players are now upperclassmen, and combined with contributions from up to six other linemen who were once three-star recruits, this line appears to have experience and potential. The sack rates were good (in part because Tanner Lee was throwing a lot of quick passes to Veal and others), and the line stats could have been worse considering the youth.

The offensive line and the running backs could combine to become quite formidable ... as long as defenses have to mind the passing game at least a little bit.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.82 45 IsoPPP+ 103.4 57
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 41.7% 71 Succ. Rt. + 98.7 73
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 27.2 121 Off. FP+ 95.0 119
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.6 10 Redzone S&P+ 109.7 31
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 22.3 ACTUAL 28.0 +5.7
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 56 59 69 57
RUSHING 52 68 62 67
PASSING 69 61 79 52
Standard Downs 54 64 50
Passing Downs 73 78 80
Q1 Rk 82 1st Down Rk 93
Q2 Rk 45 2nd Down Rk 53
Q3 Rk 62 3rd Down Rk 78
Q4 Rk 99

6. The offense only needs to be competent

The Tulane defensive line was spectacular in 2013; the Green Wave ranked eighth in Adj. Line Yards, first in both Power Success Rate and Stuff Rate, and seventh in Adj. Sack Rate. They had to replace two monstrous tackles in Julius Warmsley and Chris Davenport, so regression was inevitable.

But the line was still solid, and an experienced secondary was able to knock out big plays enough for Tulane to play high-quality bend-don't-break defense and snuff out scoring opportunities.

Six of last year's top seven linemen and six of seven linebackers return, which should allow Tulane to account for turnover in the secondary. Tulane fell from 18th to 55th in Def. S&P+ in 2014, but 55th is still good for an AAC team, and I wouldn't expect much, if any, regression. That could mean good things for the Green Wave if the offense is not awful.

Of course, you could rephrase that: That could mean good things for the Green Wave if the offense is not [what it has been for most of 12 years].

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 109.1 2.40 3.24 41.7% 53.8% 25.7% 109 6.5% 5.3%
Rank 34 10 61 96 7 7 44 30 104
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Tanzel Smart DT 6'1, 303 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8067 12 34.0 5.4% 6.5 2.0 0 1 1 0
Tyler Gilbert DE
12 29.5 4.6% 13.0 4.5 0 1 1 0
Royce LaFrance DE 6'4, 265 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8000 12 26.0 4.1% 10.5 6.0 0 2 2 1
Sean Wilson DT 6'4, 265 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7893 12 22.5 3.5% 2.5 1.0 0 1 0 0
Corey Redwine DT 6'1, 305 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7593 12 12.5 2.0% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Daren Williams DE 6'4, 235 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7933 9 7.0 1.1% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Ade Aruna DE 6'5, 247 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8093 8 6.5 1.0% 1.0 1.0 0 0 1 0
Andre Robinson DE
12 4.0 0.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Eldrick Washington DT 6'1, 265 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8085 9 2.0 0.3% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Calvin Thomas DT 6'4, 275 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7500
Quinlan Carroll DE 6'1, 220 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7876
Eric Bell DT 6'2, 255 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7960
Luke Jackson DE 6'2, 230 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7863
Braynon Edwards DT 6'2, 350 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7693
Peter Woullard DE 6'3, 240 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7693
Robert Kennedy DE 6'1, 230 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7693
John Washington DT 6'1, 302 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8488







7. Merely a minor drop-off

The pass rush dropped off, and it was easier to get to the second level of Tulane's defense, but the Green Wave still made plenty of plays. They fell only to seventh in Power Success Rate, seventh in Stuff Rate, and 34th in Adj. Line Yards, and now they return every linemen but one: Tyler Gilbert.

Gilbert was a strong run defender, and he could be missed, but it's hard to worry about the run defense with the return of tackles Tanzel Smart and Corey Redwine, end Royce LaFrance, and each of the top three linebackers, including Nico Marley (13 non-sack tackles for loss).

(Redwine briefly elected to forego his senior season last December, then returned as a graduate student. LaFrance sat out spring for academic reasons. Both are expected to be eligible this fall.)

The pass rush could still be an issue; assuming LaFrance returns in good standing, Tulane will return its sacks leader, but in playing a conservative 4-2-5 defense with minimal blitzing (linebackers combined for just 2 sacks), Tulane asked a lot of its line. That paid off in run defense, but a younger secondary might be asked to cover for quite a while if Tulane doesn't get more pressure from its front four on passing downs.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Nico Marley WLB 5'9, 200 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7855 12 64.0 10.1% 13.5 0.5 1 3 1 0
Edward Williams MLB 6'3, 230 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8395 10 30.5 4.8% 4.5 0.5 1 1 0 0
Eric Thomas MLB 5'10, 227 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7652 12 24.5 3.9% 6.0 1.0 0 2 1 0
Matthew Bailey LB
9 12.5 2.0% 1.5 0.0 0 1 1 0
Rae Juan Marbley LB 6'0, 215 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8406 12 8.5 1.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
William Townsend WLB 6'0, 195 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7000 9 8.0 1.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Zachery Harris MLB 6'0, 220 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8026 5 5.5 0.9% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Sam Scofield FS
12 77.0 12.1% 5 1 3 4 0 0
Darion Monroe FS 5'11, 197 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8865 12 62.0 9.8% 5 1 2 1 2 1
Parry Nickerson CB 5'11, 179 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7959 12 45.5 7.2% 2.5 0 6 6 0 1
Lorenzo Doss CB
12 42.0 6.6% 5 1 3 9 0 0
Brandon LeBeau NB
11 34.5 5.4% 4.5 1 0 2 0 0
Taurean Nixon NB
11 26.5 4.2% 0 0 1 4 0 0
Jarrod Franklin (2013) NB 5'11, 196 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7819 13 19.5 2.7% 1.5 1 1 0 1 0
Leonard Davis SS 6'0, 198 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7919 12 13.0 2.0% 0.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Richard Carthon S 5'7, 197 Sr. NR NR 12 5.5 0.9% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Richard Allen CB 5'9, 178 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7920 7 4.0 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Rene Fleury NB 6'1, 210 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7685 10 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 1 0
Tristan Cooper FS 5'11, 185 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7859 9 1.5 0.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Stephon Lofton CB 5'11, 195 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7652
Carlton Williams SS 6'0, 190 RSFr. NR NR
Donnie Lewis CB 5'11, 170 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) NR
Malik Eugene S 5'8, 162 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8033
Darius Black S 5'10, 166 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7989








8. A lot to replace in the back

In safety Darion Monroe and corner Parry Nickerson, Tulane returns two starting defensive backs who combined for 7.5 tackles for loss, eight interceptions, and seven break-ups. In safeties Sam Scofield, Brandon LeBeau and Taurean Nixon and corner Lorenzo Doss, Tulane must replace four DBs who combined for 14.5 TFLs, seven picks, and 19 break-ups.

The Green Wave return a lot and replace a lot; getting Jarrod Franklin back from injury will help, but the pass defense is going to rely on players with minimal experience, be they 2014 backups like safety Leonard Davis or rotation newcomers like redshirt freshman Stephon Lofton or 247 three-star freshman Malik Eugene.

Tulane's run defense will be perfectly fine, but there are reasons to doubt the pass defense.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Peter Picerelli 6'1, 190 Sr. 71 37.8 3 22 18 56.3%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Trevor Simms 6'3, 195 Sr. 34 62.1 15 5 44.1%
Peter Picerelli 6'1, 190 Sr. 5 55.4 1 0 20.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Andrew DiRocco 6'1, 180 So. 22-24 6-11 54.5% 2-4 50.0%
Trevor Simms 6'3, 195 Sr. 0-0 0-0 N/A 0-1 0.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Dontrell Hilliard KR 6'0, 185 So. 17 15.3 0
Leondre James KR 6'0, 175 So. 12 18.1 0
Teddy Veal PR 5'11, 185 So. 9 4.6 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 126
Field Goal Efficiency 123
Punt Return Efficiency 123
Kick Return Efficiency 126
Punt Efficiency 121
Kickoff Efficiency 88
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 20

9. Yuck

In a few previews each year, I note that a team's punter might have been its best offensive player, creating a field position edge that offensive efficiency could not. Special teams provide you an opportunity to make up ground that your primary units lost.

Tulane's only made things worse. Kickoffs were mediocre, place-kicking was abysmal (two missed PATs, five missed sub-40 FGs), returns were nonexistent, and despite a decent fair catch rate, punt coverage was awful.

The sophomore return men seem to have some potential, and at the least, place-kicker Andrew DiRocco was a freshman. But there was almost nothing redeeming, and it almost certainly played a role in Tulane going 1-3 in one-possession games.

2015 Schedule & Projection Factors

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent 2014 F/+ Rk
3-Sep Duke 51
12-Sep at Georgia Tech 8
19-Sep Maine NR
3-Oct Central Florida 60
10-Oct at Temple 67
16-Oct Houston 73
24-Oct at Navy 44
31-Oct at Memphis 41
7-Nov Connecticut 119
14-Nov at Army 121
21-Nov at SMU 127
28-Nov Tulsa 117
Five-Year F/+ Rk -29.3% (115)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 81 / 78
2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 3 / -0.1
2014 TO Luck/Game +1.3
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 15 (8, 7)
2014 Second-order wins (difference) 3.5 (-0.5)

10. Hold on, then win late

Tulane fell from 65th to 93rd in the F/+ rankings, but with increased experience in every unit but the secondary, you can talk yourself into the Green Wave improving back into the 80s or, with a few good breaks, the 70s. With five opponents who ranked 117th or worse and three home opponents who ranked 51st or worse, it isn't hard to carve a path back to bowl eligibility. But getting to 6-6 or better will require early survival.

Four of the five worst opponents don't show until after November 1, and a tricky road slate will all but ensure Tulane has a losing record heading into the final month. If this still-young team can keep its nerve, the Green Wave could craft a late-season streak and go bowling again.

It speaks to expectations that I'm saying this about a team that finished 3-9 and 93rd last year, but it does seem like Curtis Johnson is doing good things. His last two teams have been Tulane's best in the last decade, and he will be playing so many sophomores and juniors that, on paper, the Green Wave could play at a high level in 2016. This fall is a bit of a mystery, and while this team has upside, the bar should probably still be set at five or six wins and a ranking in the 80s.