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Tulsa scored at least 34 points in 11 of 13 games last year ... and allowed at least 30 in 11 of 13. The Golden Hurricane offense should be prolific once again in 2016, but the ceiling is pretty low unless the defense improves.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.

1. A fun rebuild

You have to enjoy the general problem-solving approach of AAC teams: If your team stinks, go out and get a new head coach who is either a) an offensive dynamo, b) an exciting up-and-comer, or c) both.

  • Two years ago, UConn chose B.
  • Last year, Houston, Tulsa, and SMU chose C
  • This year, Tulane chose A, UCF chose C, ECU chose C (though ECU didn't actually stink), and in replacing an awesome coach who got hired elsewhere, Memphis chose C as well.

This hiring stuff is easy.

While defense-friendly coaches still reside at Temple, USF, UConn, and to some degree Cincinnati, the American Athletic Conference is becoming increasingly defined by offense. Houston brought in Ohio State's offensive coordinator. SMU brought in Clemson's. And perhaps a bit more under the radar, Tulsa brought in Baylor's and found immediate success (on one side of the ball).

Philip Montgomery was able to immediately boost Tulsa's offense by about seven points per game (adjusting for opponent), and he was able to do something Morris wasn't able to immediately do at SMU: significantly improve the win total. Tulsa bounced from 2-10 to 6-7, taking care of business against the bad teams on the schedule and beginning to restore the program after a devastating two-year slide.

Because you also have to play defense, Tulsa still wasn't a very good football team overall. But as Virginia Tech learned, the Golden Hurricane were relentless, going full-speed for 60 minutes and forcing opponents to keep scoring if they were to maintain distance. For the most part this wasn't a problem -- Oklahoma scored 52, Memphis scored 66, Cincinnati scored 49, Navy scored 44, Virginia Tech scored 55 -- but to beat Tulsa you were going to have to run a marathon. You were going to have to put in the work.

In the short-term, Montgomery's first season was an absolute success. Now the shift in perspective turns to the long-term. Tulsa has been one of the more steadily successful programs in what is now the AAC over the last 15 years or so; after bottoming out at 2-21 in 2001-02, the Golden Hurricane rebounded with three bowls in four years under Steve Kragthorpe and another three in four under Todd Graham. They won the Conference USA title in 2012 under Bill Blankenship but graduated a ton of contributors and didn't have the pieces to replace them. After winning 11 games that year, Tulsa won just five in 2013-14.

With so many other strong hires in this conference, Montgomery will have to figure out how to keep the program's ceiling high. Tulsa's five-year recruiting ranks just ninth in the conference, and per the 247Sports Composite, Montgomery's 2016 class ranked 11th, 10th in per-recruit average.

Montgomery should be able to field a strong offense moving forward -- without his own recruits in place, he was already able to bump Tulsa's Off. S&P+ ranking to 51st -- but will he be able to figure out the defensive sie of the ball? When Art Briles did at Baylor, it turned the Bears from a 7-6 or 8-5 program into a Big 12 champion, but Briles' recruiting classes don't rank at the bottom of the conference, either, at least not anymore.

The Tulsa defense was dragged down by youth in 2015, but that won't be a viable excuse for much longer. The Golden Hurricane have upside on offense and experience on defense; we'll get at least a passing glimpse at the program's overall ceiling under Montgomery this fall.

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 6-7 | Adj. Record: 1-12 | Final F/+ Rk: 95 | Final S&P+ Rk: 94
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
5-Sep Florida Atlantic 96 47-44 W 49% 59% -0.5 -4.0
12-Sep at New Mexico 99 40-21 W 75% 94% +18.6 +23.0
19-Sep at Oklahoma 4 38-52 L 30% 4% +12.4 +17.0
3-Oct Houston 26 24-38 L 26% 4% -22.5 -7.0
10-Oct UL-Monroe 121 34-24 W 47% 75% -18.1 +0.5
17-Oct at East Carolina 73 17-30 L 29% 17% -9.7 -2.5
23-Oct Memphis 41 42-66 L 29% 10% -16.2 -13.5
31-Oct at SMU 106 40-31 W 36% 60% +1.2 +5.5
7-Nov Central Florida 128 45-30 W 50% 89% -7.8 -1.5
14-Nov at Cincinnati 72 38-49 L 23% 8% +1.4 +6.5
21-Nov Navy 21 21-44 L 15% 0% -8.3 -11.0
27-Nov at Tulane 119 45-34 W 24% 28% +3.1 +5.0
26-Dec vs. Virginia Tech 59 52-55 L 40% 31% +8.9 +10.5

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 31.3 51 38.1 117
Points Per Game 37.2 21 39.8 121

2. Bad teams couldn't keep up. Good teams, however...

Thanks mostly to the fact that opposing defenders couldn't hold onto passes -- Tulsa suffered 66 pass break-ups on offense but only eight interceptions, the fourth-lowest INT-to-PBU ratio in the country -- turnovers luck benefited the Golden Hurricane by an average of about three points per game in 2015. That can define a season when you play in a bunch of close games, but that wasn't really the case here. Tulsa beat FAU by three in the season opener and lost to Virginia Tech by three in the finale; in between, no game was decided by fewer than nine points.

Tulsa was in its own way kind of a sure thing in 2015. Without exception, the Golden Hurricane lost to decent teams and beat bad ones.

  • Games vs. S&P+ top 75
    Average percentile performance: 27% (~top 95) | Record: 0-7 | Average score: Opp 48, TU 33 | Yards per play: Opp 7.4, TU 6.0
  • Games vs. S&P+ No. 91+
    Average percentile performance: 47% (~top 70) | Record: 6-0 | Average score: TU 42, Opp 31 | Yards per play: TU 6.1, Opp 5.6

The offense was prolific no matter what, just as opposing offenses were. But against better teams, Tulsa just had no hope of making stops. Oklahoma averaged 9.1 yards per play, Memphis 7.3, Cincinnati 7.9, Navy 8.2, and Virginia Tech 7.4.

Again, the Tulsa defense will be quite a bit more experienced this year. That will help. But is there enough pure talent here? And is there any semblance of the depth required to defend on a team with such a high-tempo, frequent-possessions offense.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.35 28 IsoPPP+ 100.3 62
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 40.4% 81 Succ. Rt. + 97.6 83
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 31.7 106 Def. FP+ 31.7 106
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.9 29 Redzone S&P+ 97.2 88
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 26.6 ACTUAL 20 -6.6
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 13 76 83 62
RUSHING 61 92 91 92
PASSING 11 66 72 62
Standard Downs 64 73 64
Passing Downs 87 97 75
Q1 Rk 89 1st Down Rk 52
Q2 Rk 59 2nd Down Rk 41
Q3 Rk 78 3rd Down Rk 99
Q4 Rk 22

3. Commitment

Montgomery serves as his own offensive coordinator after holding the same role for Briles for three years. (He was also Briles' co-coordinator for the six years before that.) His vision is the Briles vision: Play at a relentless tempo, spread opponents from sideline to sideline, and do whatever the defense cannot stop.

At its best, Baylor's offense has been balanced and devastating; during 2013's Fiesta Bowl run, for instance, Lache Seastrunk and Shock Linwood rushed for 2,058 yards (7.2 per carry!) while quarterback Bryce Petty completed 62 percent of his passes for 4,200 yards and a 174.3 passer rating.

Tulsa wasn't completely ready for liftoff yet in 2015. The Golden Hurricane couldn't run the ball consistently against decent defenses (at least, not until the bowl game, when D'Angelo Brewer and Zack Langer gained 168 yards on 22 carries), and without play-makers well-versed in this system, passing downs were a bit of a challenge.

Still, Tulsa was committed to tempo and stretching the field both horizontally and vertically, and it worked well enough to triple the win total.

Senior quarterback Dane Evans returns in 2016, and a second year in this sytem could help immensely. The biggest issue he might face this fall is that the top layer of skill position help has been skimmed off. Langer is gone, as are two of last year's top three receivers (Keyarris Garrett, Conner Floyd). But when you look at what returns, that might not actually be an issue at all.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Dane Evans 6'1, 210 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8404 305 485 4332 25 8 62.9% 40 7.6% 7.8
Chad President 6'3, 222 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8881 0 3 0 0 0 0.0% 1 25.0% -5.3
Ryan Rubley 6'3, 220 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8048
Will Hefley 6'5, 207 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7920
Luke Skipper 6'3, 200 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8125

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Zack Langer RB 201 777 18 3.9 3.3 31.3% 3 3
D'Angelo Brewer RB 5'9, 185 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7852 162 837 6 5.2 4.3 40.1% 2 1
Ramadi Warren RB 5'9, 210 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8151 71 475 6 6.7 8.7 40.8% 3 2
Dane Evans QB 6'1, 210 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8404 56 254 2 4.5 2.3 46.4% 4 2
James Flanders RB 5'10, 203 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8125 21 87 0 4.1 1.6 33.3% 0 0
Chad President QB 6'3, 222 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8881 16 64 0 4.0 7.0 25.0% 0 0
Rowdy Simon RB 5'8, 203 Jr. NR NR 7 35 1 5.0 2.0 42.9% 0 0
Keevan Lucas WR 5'10, 195 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8004 6 46 0 7.7 3.3 66.7% 0 0
Javon Thomas RB 6'2, 223 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7959







Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Keyarris Garrett WR 159 96 1588 60.4% 33.7% 10.0 54.1% 43.4% 2.10
Joshua Atkinson WR 6'2, 208 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8113 108 76 1071 70.4% 22.9% 9.9 61.1% 54.6% 1.73
Conner Floyd IR 72 45 458 62.5% 15.3% 6.4 51.4% 44.4% 1.31
Justin Hobbs WR 6'4, 207 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7593 53 32 551 60.4% 11.2% 10.4 54.7% 45.3% 2.11
Keevan Lucas WR 5'10, 195 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8004 41 26 409 63.4% 8.7% 10.0 58.5% 48.8% 2.04
D'Angelo Brewer RB 5'9, 185 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7852 17 15 107 88.2% 3.6% 6.3 58.8% 35.3% 1.45
Mandel Dixon TE 7 4 29 57.1% 1.5% 4.1 85.7% 57.1% 0.62
Zack Langer RB 5 4 61 80.0% 1.1% 12.2 0.0% 60.0% 1.74
Nigel Carter WR 6'3, 205 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7883 4 2 27 50.0% 0.8% 6.8 0.0% 25.0% 2.16
Bishop Louie IR 5'10, 172 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) NR 3 2 13 66.7% 0.6% 4.3 33.3% 33.3% 1.44
Chris Minter TE 6'3, 247 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7756
Brodrick Umblance WR 6'1, 184 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7893
Payton Prince TE 6'4, 252 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7935
Jarion Anderson WR 5'9, 179 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7793
Rob Riederer TE 6'0, 230 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) NR
Josh Stewart WR 6'4, 201 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8187
Jordan Brown WR 6'2, 198 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8106
Keenen Johnson WR 6'1, 190 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8090

4. All the toys you need

At 6'0, 220 pounds, Langer provided some size in the backfield and was the clear short-yardage guy of choice, scoring 18 touchdowns. He was pretty good at falling forward, too, and avoiding losses. That's obviously important. But from an upside perspective, Langer was limited, and his absence this year might mean a breakout opportunity for Brewer and sophomore Ramadi Warren, who combined to average 5.6 yards per carry to Langer's 3.9.

Brewer rushed for at least 90 yards in five games, and in a brief feature audition, Warren rushed 33 times for 307 yards against UCF and Cincinnati. Warren's three fumbles in 71 carries were far too much, but if maturation leads to improvement in that regard, the Brewer-Warren combination could be devastating. It certainly was in the spring game: The duo combined for 199 yards on 19 carries (granted, against the Tulsa defense).

Meanwhile, the loss of Garrett and Floyd should simply mean more opportunities for Justin Hobbs and Keevan Lucas. Lucas was the star of the 2014 offense, catching 101 passes for 1,219 yards; projected over 13 games, he was on pace for 85 catches and 1,330 yards through four games but injured his knee against Houston and was lost for the season.

In Lucas' absence, Joshua Atkinson emerged as a solid target; meanwhile, Hobbs surged in the middle of his freshman season, catching 24 passes for 438 yards in a six-game span before fading a bit late.

Lucas' presence in the slot, with Arkinson and Hobbs lined up wide, could create a trio more prolific than Garrett-Floyd-Atkinson/Hobbs was last year. That's a pretty exciting thought, as the receiving corps was a strength in 2015.

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 99.2 2.91 3.29 37.1% 64.4% 16.2% 80.8 7.2% 8.3%
Rank 76 62 59 88 75 17 96 108 85
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Garrett Stafford LG 13 39
Chris Wallace RG
13 25
Dylan Foxworth C
0 18
Evan Plagg LT 6'3, 292 Jr. NR NR 13 13
Chandler Miller C 6'3, 290 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7785 13 13
Blake Belcher OT 6'5, 304 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8063 1 13
Willie Wright RT 6'3, 296 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8144 12 12
Zac Uhles LT 6'3, 276 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8044 0 1
Alex Pagonis LG 6'5, 320 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7300 0 0
Tyler Bowling RG 6'6, 325 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8095 0 0
Isaac Johnson RT 6'7, 275 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8141 0 0
Blake Browning C 6'0, 298 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7793

Deya Mhiesen OL 6'7, 305 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8560

Rowdy Frederick OL 6'4, 330 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8346

Tiller Bucktrot OL 6'5, 350 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8066

Waahid Muhammad OL 6'7, 295 Fr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8018

5. Dane took a lot of hits

The 2015 college football season was defined in part by quarterback injuries. Baylor, TCU, Notre Dame, Florida State, Oregon, and others all had their respective seasons defined in part by QB availability.

Evans took nearly every non-garbage time snap for Tulsa in 2015, but he took a lot of hits in the process, and it was perhaps a bit lucky that he didn't end up on the sidelines for a while. Tulsa's retooled line kept defenders out of the backfield in the run game (with help from Langer's ability to fall forward) but struggled in pass protection. Evans' willingness to extend plays to look downfield didn't really help in this regard. But regardless of fault, Evans took 40 sacks while rushing 56 additional times. That's risky.

Tulsa's line must replace two starters but returns four: 2014 starter Blake Belcher returns after tearing his ACL in the first game of last season. His return, along with that of veterans like Zac Uhles and Alex Pagonis (and the addition of big JUCO Deya Mhiesen) should assure that Tulsa's line is at least as effective as it was last year.

Still, 2015 backup QB and former four-star prospect Chad President should be ready to go -- Evans might be due a knock or two.

(Meanwhile, in my opinion, the fact that Tulsa signed linemen with the beautiful names of Rowdy Frederick and Tiller Bucktrot should have earned the Golden Hurricane's class an automatic spot in the top 25.)

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.32 97 IsoPPP+ 81.4 122
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 46.6% 113 Succ. Rt. + 86.8 114
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 28.9 92 Off. FP+ 29.0 89
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.7 93 Redzone S&P+ 87.2 116
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 22.6 ACTUAL 24.0 +1.4
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 126 121 114 122
RUSHING 118 120 119 119
PASSING 125 117 105 115
Standard Downs 122 118 123
Passing Downs 115 109 116
Q1 Rk 123 1st Down Rk 122
Q2 Rk 96 2nd Down Rk 123
Q3 Rk 126 3rd Down Rk 103
Q4 Rk 114

6. Bill Young's worst defense in a very, very long time

Bill Young has been around a long time. From 1988 to 2012, he spent 24 seasons as a power-conference defensive coordinator at Ohio State, Oklahoma, USC, Kansas, Miami, and Oklahoma State. His steady, conservative defenses were key in complementing prolific offenses at Kansas and OSU -- Kansas ranked 21st in Def. S&P+ in 2005 and 35th during 2007's 12-1 run, and Oklahoma State ranked 20th in 2009 and 21st during 2011's 12-1 run.

Young's defenses were never particularly elite in recent times, but they were always solid and sound.

2015 must have driven Young crazy. After a few years at the high school level, he returned to college football, inherited a unit that had fallen apart in 2014 (from 51st in 2013, the Golden Hurricane plummeted to 122nd in 2014) and found he couldn't do much with it. His approximate bend-don't-break principles couldn't apply with a defense that bent just fine but broke repeatedly. Tulsa allowed 259 gains of 10-plus yards last fall; no one else in the country allowed more than 241. Granted, part of that was because of tempo and the stress that the offense was putting on the defense, but ... when you allow 18 more gains of 10-plus yards than the wretched Texas Tech defense, you've got problems.

Improvement is likely in 2016, and not only because of "it almost literally can't get worse" principles. Four key linemen were sophomores in 2015, and the Golden Hurricane return six of eight linemen, five of six linebackers, and seven of nine defensive backs. Injuries luck was on Tulsa's side for the most part, but experience was not. This won't suddenly become the top-50 defense Young is accustomed to (especially if injuries are more of a problem), but it would be a surprise if the Golden Hurricane didn't attain some level of competence here.

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 85 3.18 3.19 43.7% 58.7% 19.4% 67.2 3.9% 5.1%
Rank 122 108 63 121 26 74 115 101 104
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Derrick Luetjen DT 13 37.0 4.5% 9.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Jeremy Smith DE 6'5, 260 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7652 11 31.5 3.8% 6.5 2.5 0 0 0 0
Derrick Alexander DE 13 28.5 3.5% 8.5 3.5 0 2 1 0
Jesse Brubaker DT 6'3, 270 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8093 13 23.0 2.8% 4.5 2.0 0 1 2 0
Frankie Davis DE 6'2, 240 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8004 12 16.5 2.0% 1.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Kolton Shindelar DT 6'6, 276 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7883 12 10.5 1.3% 2.5 2.5 1 0 0 0
Jerry Uwaezuoke DT 6'3, 286 Sr. NR NR 13 9.5 1.2% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Myles Mouton DE 6'3, 257 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7578 13 8.0 1.0% 3.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Suleiman Masumbuko DT 11 5.5 0.7% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jake Hanks DE 6'2, 240 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7752 6 3.0 0.4% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Hayden Carman DT 6'4, 289 Sr. NR NR 13 2.5 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Michael Anderson DE 6'3, 250 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7900
Johnnie Williams DE 6'5, 275 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8159
Tyarise Stevenson DT 6'4, 320 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7954
Jimmy Nelson DE 6'3, 248 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7903








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Matt Linscott STAR 6'1, 223 Sr. NR NR 13 84.0 10.3% 16.0 5.0 1 4 1 0
Trent Martin MIKE 6'2, 232 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8089 13 81.5 10.0% 14.0 2.0 0 3 4 0
Craig Suits WLB 6'0, 220 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7300 11 37.0 4.5% 5.5 0.0 1 1 1 0
Zik Asiegbu WLB 13 20.0 2.4% 1.0 0.5 0 0 1 0
Petera Wilson MIKE 6'2, 220 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8607 13 14.5 1.8% 2.5 1.0 0 1 1 0
C.J. Gooden LB 6'1, 227 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8133 10 13.0 1.6% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Shawn Norman STAR
12 11.0 1.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Matt Hickman MIKE
12 8.0 1.0% 0.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Conner Sherwood LB 6'3, 232 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8053 13 6.5 0.8% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Tim Quickel LB 6'2, 225 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7593 11 4.5 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Khari Harding LB 6'1, 235 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8595
Robert Revels III LB 6'3, 234 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8213








7. Run stuffs were a relative strength

The pass rush was, like most things, a weakness for Tulsa in 2015, but the Golden Hurricane appeared to thrive at getting defenders into the backfield against the run. Linebackers Matt Linscott, Trent Martin, and Craig Suits, combined for 35.5 tackles for loss, and only seven were sacks. That's a lot of run stuffs. Combined with a decent presence from ends Jeremy Smith and Myles Mouton, and it appears you've got the components of a disruptive run defense.

The problem, however, was obvious: Making stops against the run helps a lot more when you aren't also a) giving up a ton of big run plays and b) giving up a lot of big gains on passing downs. That strong safety Michael Mudoh made 13 percent of Tulsa's tackles, 20-plus more than either Linscott or Martin, tells a story. Young had some nice, aggressive pieces, but he couldn't use them without risking a 30-yard gain.

Again, to the extent that this was an experience issue, things could improve. But you have to wonder about the level of athleticism and actual talent, too. Like Young, this front seven has a lot to prove in 2016.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Michael Mudoh SS 13 105.5 12.9% 3.5 0 1 6 1 0
Jeremy Brady FS 5'10, 197 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7600 13 59.5 7.3% 0 0 2 3 0 0
Kerwin Thomas CB 5'10, 170 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7906 13 52.0 6.3% 2 0 2 12 1 0
Jordan Mitchell FS 6'2, 187 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7793 13 31.5 3.8% 0 0 0 3 0 0
Darrell Williams CB 11 28.0 3.4% 1 0 2 5 0 0
Will Barrow CB 5'9, 172 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8444 11 24.5 3.0% 0 0 0 3 0 0
McKinley Whitfield SS 6'4, 212 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8389 13 17.0 2.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Johnell Celistan CB 6'2, 197 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7900 13 10.0 1.2% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Samuel Gottsch S 6'2, 190 So. NR NR 13 7.5 0.9% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Brodrick Umblance CB
13 7.0 0.9% 0 0 0 0 0 0
J.R. Reed FS 6'1, 191 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7981 13 3.5 0.4% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Reginald Robinson II CB 6'1, 185 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8345
Keidrien Wadley CB 6'1, 185 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7300
Keanu Hill CB 6'2, 185 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7855








8. Pass defense ... won't be worse?

Stressed by big run plays and a lack of a pass rush, the secondary didn't have much of a chance in 2015. It held up reasonably well in wins -- 55 percent completion rate, 126.9 passer rating -- but against the good teams it got consistently rocked (69 percent, 165.4).

Losing their leading tackler by far, Mudoh, isn't a good thing, nor is losing corner Darrell Williams. But there does appear to be some play-making abilty here: corner Kerwin Thomas defensed 14 passes, and Will Barrow and Johnell Celistan each got hands on passes in backup opportunities. The safety position could be well-manned with senior Jeremy Brady, junior Jordan Mitchell, and sophomores McKinley Whitfield and J.R. Reed. Add in JUCO transfer Keanu Hill and three-star redshirt freshman Reginald Robinson II, and it appears the secondary's got the athletes and some semblance of experience. One last box to check: more help from the front seven.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Dalton Parks 6'3, 209 Sr. 68 41.2 6 32 18 73.5%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Preston Soper 6'0, 205 Jr. 86 59.5 16 1 18.6%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Redford Jones 5'10, 175 Jr. 58-60 14-18 77.8% 3-7 42.9%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Bishop Louie KR 5'10, 172 Jr. 20 19.5 0
Ramadi Warren KR 5'9, 210 So. 12 20.3 0
Conner Floyd PR 8 14.3 0
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 112
Field Goal Efficiency 105
Punt Return Success Rate 12
Kick Return Success Rate 96
Punt Success Rate 50
Kickoff Success Rate 114

9. Kickoffs > punts

Good news: Dalton Park's punts are mostly unreturnable, and last year, at least, with Conner Floyd as return man, punt returns were a strength.

Bad news: Punts didn't matter much in Tulsa games. Floyd got all of eight return opportunities all year.

Worse news: Kickoffs and kick returns, far more frequent occurrences, were a weakness. The result was a field position magin that ranked 99th in the country. Tulsa forfeited about 2.8 yards per possession to opponents based solely off of field position. With that defense, that was beyond problematic. And now Floyd's gone.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep San Jose State 92 3.4 58%
10-Sep at Ohio State 14 -24.8 8%
17-Sep NC A&T NR 18.1 85%
24-Sep at Fresno State 94 -3.5 42%
7-Oct SMU 98 5.2 62%
15-Oct at Houston 53 -12.9 23%
22-Oct Tulane 122 13.1 78%
29-Oct at Memphis 77 -8.5 31%
5-Nov East Carolina 78 -1.4 47%
12-Nov at Navy 66 -10.9 26%
19-Nov at Central Florida 99 -1.5 47%
25-Nov Cincinnati 70 -2.9 43%
Projected wins: 5.5
Five-Year F/+ Rk -7.1% (75)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 89 / 79
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 4 / -4.0
2015 TO Luck/Game +3.3
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 70% (73%, 67%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 4.8 (1.2)

10. Plenty of bad teams still on the schedule

With a tougher schedule, Tulsa might not have found the six wins requisite (in most years) for a bowl appearance. The Golden Hurricane didn't beat any teams with much of a pulse and really only came close once. That wasn't their fault, mind you, but there's no question the schedule helped.

The schedule might be an asset again in 2016. Tulsa faces six teams projected worse than 90th in S&P+, and while the projection has the Golden Hurricane remaining about the same as last year (93rd), it's not hard to see them improving on both sides of the ball. Dane Evans is in his second year of running the Montgomery's system now, and despite some losses, it's impossible not to be pretty excited about what he'll have stocked in the skill position drawer. Meanwhile, experience should help the defense to improve at least a little bit unless injuries strike in a rougher way than last year.

Barring massive injuries, then, I view the No. 93 projection as a bit conservative, and I would expect something in the 7-5 range for Tulsa this time out.

A lot will be dictated by two early-season tossups against Mountain West teams. Go 2-0 against SJSU and Fresno State, and Tulsa is sitting pretty. Go 0-2, and suddenly a sixth win is hard to find.

Philip Montgomery passed his Year Zero test with flying colors and should be able to put up points to his heart's content in 2016. Whether his defense can actually stop decent offenses occasionally, however, will dictate his ceiling both this year and into the future.