NCAA Football Preview - Tulane Green Wave

08/22/2014 12:08 PM

08/22/2014 12:10 PM

The campaign began at an uneven pace, with the Green Wave trading wins and losses through its first four games. However, the tide turned when they ripped off four straight victories, including a 36-33 overtime triumph over East Carolina. Struggle ensued from there, with Tulane going just 1-4 in its final five contests, including a 24-21 loss to Louisiana in the New Orleans Bowl.

Johnson is now coaching in the American Athletic Conference, which will present more obstacles than Conference USA, although there are certainly some familiar faces. Still, the Green Wave need to be the team from mid-2013 rather than the one from the end of the year if they hope to compete immediately.

"This is a challenge. But I look at challenges as being an opportunity," Johnson said of Tulane's new league. "I look as the challenge being the opportunity to play against the best. These are quality teams. This is a great opportunity to showcase our talents, showcase where we going to and where we been."

2014 ANALYSIS:

OFFENSE: Several key pieces are missing from last year's unit, which wasn't all that impressive when in tact. The Green Wave ranked among the 10 worst teams in the country in total offense (310.6 ypg), while scoring a modest 24.8 ppg.

Starting quarterback Nick Montana, top rusher Orleans Darkwa and leading receiver Ryan Grant are no longer around. That gives plenty of fresh prospects the chance to improve on Tulane's sorry offensive state.

The job under center is likely going to redshirt freshman Tanner Lee. The 6- foot-4 youngster has not thrown a pass at the collegiate level, but he has the most potential of any quarterback on the team. Devin Powell, last year's backup, may get a chance if Lee stumbles or just to provide some consistency in the early going. He threw for 681 yards and as many touchdowns (5) as interceptions last year.

Darkwa piled up 863 yards and 12 scores last season, and backup Rob Kelley added 420 yards and 3 scores of his own. Kelley is back, but Darkwa is not. However, Kelley doesn't really fit the mold of a feature back so expect plenty of chances to go Sherman Badie and Josh Rounds' way. Badie is a true freshman with potential, and Rounds pounded out 163 yards on 49 carries last season.

The receiving corps is now Justyn Shackleford's to lead. He had a solid year as the No. 2 receiver in 2013, catching 36 passes for 419 yards and 5 touchdowns to complement Grant. His production should increase, especially if he improves his consistency. Xavier Rush (17 receptions, 196 yards, 1 TD) and Devon Breaux (6 receptions, 101 yards, 2 TDs) will be slotted in as well.

The offensive line should be sturdy, if not exceptionally effective. There are three returning starters, with tackles Arturo Uzdavinis and Sean Donnelly on the outside, and center Nathan Shienle anchoring the group in the middle.

DEFENSE: The real strength of the defense, and the team as a whole, is the secondary. Led by All-America candidate Lorenzo Doss, the Green Wave should be a formidable defensive group when it comes to stopping the pass once again. Last season, they ranked 22nd nationally in total defense (352.1 ypg) and were a top-20 team in scoring defense as well (21.4 ppg).

Doss' ability to make plays on the ball was no small part of that production. He tied for the second-most interceptions in the country (7) and also broke up nine passes, defended 16 and added 34 tackles. His playmaking was infectious, as the Green Wave tied with national champion Florida State for the second- most forced turnovers in the country (35).

Safeties Sam Scofield (104 tackles) and Darion Monroe (90 tackles) bring the pain from the defensive backfield, as they ranked first and second, respectively, on the team in tackles last year.

The rest of the defense will be a work in progress, as linebacker Nico Marley (67 tackles, 10.0 TFL) and defensive end Royce LaFrance (6.5 sacks) are the only other returning starters.

SPECIAL TEAMS: It is rare for replacing a kicker to be a top priority for a team. The Green Wave are in that position with former Lou Groza award winner Cairo Santos gone. Freshman Andrew DiRocco was fairly touted coming out of high school and will get a chance to step in. Peter Picerelli averaged 41.5 yards per punt last season and should return as the starter.

On the other end, Devin Boutte was a solid and consistent returner of both punts and kickoffs.

OUTLOOK: Tulane will meet a familiar foe to start off the 2014 campaign, as it takes on fellow former C-USA squad Tulsa in the AAC opener on Aug. 28. A home game against Georgia Tech and road tests against Duke and Rutgers come next, as well as a date with Southeastern Louisiana. The AAC schedule takes on in earnest from there, and Tulane has a tough draw, facing UCF, Houston and East Carolina on the road, while hosting Connecticut, Cincinnati, Memphis and Temple.

"These young men believed in our coaches, what we were doing. We won some tough games, some close games," Johnson said about last season, while adding his thoughts about this year's squad. "Our team is relatively young. We only have four senior starters. This is a building process for us."

Rookies, rookies everywhere is not exactly a mantra that usually leads to a plethora of victories. Unfortunately, the Green Wave will be working out the kinks on both offense and defense that comes with so many youngsters. If Lee can play beyond his years and the secondary dominates enough to overcome the rest of the defense's inexperience, the Green Wave may pull off an upset or two, but another bowl appearance is asking far too much.

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