In the past few weeks at AACFever.com we’ve been playing the “Expectations Game” for each team in the AAC. We’ve gone through teams with high hopes, teams coming off of a great past season and teams that fell into hard times last year but have a reason for optimism this year.
Now the wheel of expectations has landed on the Tulane Green Wave. Yikes.
Hey, writing about Tulane’s expectations in 2016 is easy… because the only expectation should be this is going to be a long season in New Orleans.
The Green Wave won three games in 2015. One of those wins came against Maine, and the only conference victory was against winless UCF. It was so bad Tulane fired head coach Curtis Johnson, who may be the happiest person to ever get fired because he ended up as a position coach in the NFL.
The coach tapped to replace Johnson and (try to) turn around Tulane is Willie Fritz. It was one of the most surprising hires in all of college football, because Fritz is a proven winner and was already having success at Georgia Southern in the Sun Belt.
Fritz has led his teams to victories at every level of football: JUCO, Division 2, FCS, FBS… one would have to assume if they kept records Fritz had a winning mark coaching Pop Warner ball.
While some people scratched their heads when Fritz *chose* to go to Tulane, you can’t say the guy is afraid of a challenge. All those levels of football listed above? Each time Fritz took a team in shambles and turned it into a success. Ask the folks at Blinn College in Brenham, Texas, or the Central Missouri Mules what they thought of Fritz. Just about a 180-degree turnaround for both schools.
Now, Tulane. The program hasn’t had much go its way in the last decade outside of a breakout year by Matt Forte. In fact, many feel Tulane is still recovering, like other parts of New Orleans, from the effects of Hurricane Katrina. So can Fritz apply his turnaround touch to a program in need of a win?
Maybe. But not this season.
Tulane finished 122nd out of 128 teams last season in total offense. What’s worse? Just about anyone with experience is gone. Quarterback Tanner Lee transferred to Nebraska while Jordy Joseph graduated. Also gone are the top two receivers from a year ago.
Here is your bright spot on offense: Coach Fritz likes to run the ball and the Green Wave return just about every back who had a carry last season. Dontrell Hilliard and Sherman Badie better be ready for the work load of a lifetime… at least until Tulane can find someone to throw the ball.
The defense? Double yikes. The Tulane picket fence was 105th overall and gave up 65 points to Georgia Tech – one of seven times Tulane allowed opponents to score 40 or more… and that includes the win against UCF.
Unlike on offense, there is quite a bit of talent returning in 2016, including every linebacker who took a snap. This is where the defense will have to hang its hat. Those linebackers can get behind Tanzel Smart, one of my favorite names in college football, who also just happens to be 300 pounds and pretty agile.
So what about the 2016 schedule? If you are a Tulane fan, or coach, or player, you should be excited about (most of) the first half of the season. After what could be a wood-shedding at Wake Forest to kick things off, Tulane tackles Southern, UMass, and Louisiana-Lafayette. The first six games also includes UCF, which promises to be much improved under new coach Scott Frost; but it could be Tulane’s chance again this year to get a conference win.
The second half of the schedule is only enjoyable if you like pain or horror flicks. They start at home with Memphis and then work their way through the AAC AT Houston, AT Tulsa and AT UConn. Likely Tulane’s best shot at a ‘W’ is a home game against SMU. The Green Wave don’t get Cincinnati or USF, so let’s be thankful for the little things.
It’s tough to have such low expectations for a team, but there just isn’t that much to get excited about right now. Who knows, maybe Fritz will be the feel-good story of 2016 and lead Tulane on a march through the AAC like USF did a year ago. Unlikely, but give Fritz some time and maybe next year’s expectations will be higher.