Welcome to the Deadspin 25, a college football poll that strives to be more democratic and less useless than every other preseason poll. Leading up to the college football season kickoff, we will give you previews of the 25 teams that you, the readers, voted to be most worthy of writing about. Now, No. 12 Tulsa.
If you’re someone who changes the channel whenever your team is on defense and doesn’t mind your head coach being closely associated with Art Briles, then, my friend, I have the perfect team for you.
The Tulsa Golden Hurricane finished 6-7 and fourth in the American Athletic Conference’s West Division in 2015 under first-year head coach Philip Montgomery. Prior to his hiring in 2014, Montgomery was the offensive coordinator at Baylor (more on that later) and the Hurricane offense was floundering—in 2014, they closed the season with the 94th-ranked scoring offense in the nation. After a year under Montgomery, the team added 12.5 points to its per-game average and finished 21st in scoring. Problem solved... kinda.
See, the offense hummed in just about every game, putting up an average of 37.2 points per contest. Even against Houston and Oklahoma, two top-10 teams that finished 20th and 28th in scoring defense, respectively, Tulsa’s offense managed to find success, scoring 24 and 38 points in eventual losses. The issue throughout the year—the one poised to crop up again in 2016—is the fact the Hurricane defense allowed an average of 39.8 points per game, 121st in college football. That’s not a recipe for success—of the seven teams with worse defenses, only Texas Tech had a winning record, and the average win total of that the group was 2.5. The fact Tulsa concluded the 2015 season with six wins is statistically impressive, and that’s before considering the team’s 2014 win total was two games.
The reason I’m spending so much time on the team’s defensive woes is because barring a miracle, the Golden Hurricane will be the exact same, shootout-prone squad from a year ago. Luckily, the Golden Hurricane still have Dane Evans.
Evans, a fifth-year senior, will line up under center as the team’s starting quarterback for the third-straight year and will once again have the added benefit of a healthy, talented stable of wide receivers to facilitate his gun-slinging style. This is great news considering the team lost the most productive receiver in the nation to graduation. Keyarris Garrett, who hauled in 96 receptions for 1,588 yards last year and is now challenging for a roster spot with the Carolina Panthers, was Evans’s favorite target in 2015. He will be replaced by seniors Keevan Lucas and Joshua Atkinson and sophomore Justin Hobbs—each member of the trio contributed at least 400 yards last year, combining for 2,023 yards and 12 scores, so I don’t expect the group to struggle in replacing Garrett. All three posted averages of at least 10 yards per catch, and Lucas managed to hit the 400-yard mark in just four games of action. They’re going to be fine, and fun, so you should check them out when they take on Ohio State in Week 2.
Junior D’Angelo Brewer will hold down the Golden Hurricane backfield along with Oklahoma State transfer Raymond Taylor, while the offensive line blocking for him will bring back four of last year’s five starters. The running game went through a handful of backs last season, with the since-graduated Zack Langer leading the way scoring-wise with 15 touchdowns. Considering Brewer managed to top the group with 837 yards and six scores in his 11 appearances, he will likely take over the scoring duties as well.
On defense, the Golden Hurricane return all three starters at linebacker, with redshirt seniors Matt Linscott and Trent Martin set to rejoin redshirt junior Craig Suits in the middle of the field. Both Linscott and Martin registered over 100 tackles last season, but as with the offensive line, there are a lot of underclassmen waiting in the wings, so it’ll be key that the group stays healthy. And, you know, play better than they did last year. Same goes for the defensive line, which only gets one starter back—junior defensive end Jeremy Smith—but will have a first team entirely comprised of upperclassmen.
The secondary lost a leader in strong safety Michael Mudoh, the team’s leading tackler last year. While Mudoh was great at stopping ball carriers, he, and the entire defensive backfield, were pretty dreadful, allowing 296 yards through the air per game. In his absence, senior Jeremy Brady and junior Jordan Mitchell will step in as the team’s starting safeties, while juniors Keanu Hill and Kerwin Thomas, a starter last year, will start at corner.
A Guy To Know
Last year, Dane Evans efficiently racked up a staggering 4,332 passing yards, tacked on 25 touchdowns, and maintained a 62.9 completion percentage while keeping his turnover numbers low—he finished the year with just eight picks. Evans is now back as a senior and two-year starter with the shot at breaking the school’s all-time passing yards record, which he’ll likely do before November.
Evans and the offense feasted on the quick slant all season, which in turn opened up sluggo options. Just in case you didn’t take the time to watch Evans’s Oklahoma film, understand that his arm can be among the most impressive in college football when he has a couple of seconds in the pocket. After the Golden Hurricane tear teams up for a few six-yard gains off slants, they’ll go attack the sidelines, and Evans excels when all he’s got to do is zip the ball to the back shoulder.
While he does overthrow his targets at times, Evans more than makes up for occasionally strong-arming the long ball. He’s got NFL-level velocity on his flat-line throws within 25 yards; there were couple times against the Sooners even his top receivers can’t hang on to his fastballs.
Can They Make The Playoff?
Uhh no. With some work, they can possibly challenge for the West Division though. The AAC is abound with explosive offenses, so the fact Evans and Co. stand out isn’t nothing. Under Montgomery, the squad is a legitimate threat to any team willing to sleep on it; while the Sooners put the game out of reach in the fourth, the fact the Golden Hurricane hung around and blew through the Oklahoma defense shows you the team has the talent on one side of the ball to make some noise. Their success in the AAC will be determined by how much they can improve defensively—after last year’s campaign, the only direction they can go up.
Is The Coach A Dick?
Montgomery was a coach under Art Briles for 16 years, dating back to when Briles coached at Stephenville High School. So it should come as no surprise he told Tulsa World Briles was a “great man” with solid character when it was discovered the former Baylor head coach was properly informed of Boise State transfer Sam Ukwuachu’s domestic violence history.
“Obviously, he’s been a mentor of mine, but more than anything else he’s a great friend and he’s a great man. I know he’s handling what he needs to handle, and I don’t think anybody can ever attack his character.”
In the same Tulsa World report, it was revealed Pepper Hamilton didn’t even interview Montgomery or the ex-Baylor assistant coaches on his staff when completing its report on the school’s inability to properly report sexual assaults, which strikes me as odd, but is not a knock against him. Montgomery hit the press with a no-comment when asked about the Baylor scandal and, at least per my extensive Googling, has not been bothered to address the issue again. By association and his comments on Briles’s oh-so-stellar character, Montgomery has enough in my book to be considered a dick.
Sept. 3: San Jose State
Sept. 10: @ Ohio State
Sept. 17: North Carolina A&T
Sept. 24: @ Fresno
Oct. 7: SMU
Oct. 15: @ Houston
Oct. 22: Tulane
Oct. 29: @ Memphis
Nov. 5: ECU
Nov. 12: @ Navy
Nov. 19: @ UCF
Nov. 24: Cincinnati