by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

After last season, nothing is likely to spook Tulsa HC Bill Blankenship. Except, perhaps, for the Golden Hurricane pass defense, but we digress.

You see, a year ago, in his first campaign as Tulsa’s leader, Blankenship was welcomed to the college football head coaching fraternity with a thankless early-season slate that might have made the Dallas Cowboys blink. Before September was complete, Tulsa had already faced Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Boise State, top ten teams all.

Perhaps it was simply the college gridiron version to hazing. Or maybe the coaching equivalent to the “Beast Barracks” experience for newcomers to West Point, which we chronicled in our Army preview. But Blankenship (a Tulsa alum who had a successful career as a local high school coach before joining the Golden Hurricane staff in 2007) not only lived to tell about that gauntlet of September dates, but once the Golden Hurricane got past the test at Boise, it proceeded to win seven games in a row to qualify for yet another bowl, which has become something of a habit at the small school with the lowest undergrad enrollment (2987) of any major college football program.

Although Tulsa’s campaign ended in a bitter 24-21 Armed Forces Bowl loss vs. BYU (in retrospect perhaps the bowl game of the year), last season was an unqualified success for the Golden Hurricane.

Indeed, success has become expected at Tulsa. Whether it be Blankenship, predecessor Todd “I’ll Take The Money” Graham, or Steve Kragthorpe, the program has been a consistent winner for almost a decade. In fact, since 2003, only once has the Golden Hurricane missed out on a postseason date. Sure, bowls ain’t what they used to be, but even in this era, seven straight postseason trips is nothing to sneeze at...especially for a school in which its football team makes up about 4% of the enrollment.

Of course, Tulsa has a bit more pigskin history than your average Conference USA rep. They’ve been playing for more than a century at what was originally known as Kendall College, which happened to employ a future Hall of Fame coach in Francis “Show ‘Em No Mercy” Schmidt (left), notorious for bludgeoning outmanned opponents into submission. Schmidt’s three-year reign of terror from 1919-21 included scorelines such as 152-0, 151-0, 121-0, 92-0, and ten other win by 60+ points.

Schmidt would eventually leave for Arkansas, and later TCU and Ohio State to further forge his legend, but a few years later Tulsa had enough pull to lure from Southern Cal the legendary “Gloomy Gus” Henderson, who would record a 62-17-3 mark in nine years with the Golden Hurricane. Subsequently, in the early ‘40s, Henry Frnka would win better than 81% of his games. One of his top players was Glenn Dobbs, a prolific halfback who would eventually coach Tulsa in the early ‘60s, succeeding brother Bobby, who moved to the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders and eventually to Texas Western/UTEP.

Glenn Dobbs’ best teams featured high-powered offenses and sophisticated passing shows for the day. College football trivia buffs might find it interesting that Dobbs’ Golden Hurricane featured back-to-back Heisman trophy runners-up in the mid ‘60s, with QB Jerry Rhome a very close second behind Notre Dame’s John Huarte in 1964, and incomparable WR Howard Twilley the runner-up behind USC’s Mike Garrett in 1965.

Make no mistake, however, it was Twilley, whose NCAA career reception record would endure for 21 years (and fifteen seasons of four-year varsity eligibility for subsequent players) after his graduation, who helped make Rhome and successor QB Billy Guy Anderson, who led Tulsa in the rainy ‘65 Bluebonnet Bowl, click in those colorful years.

But by the late ‘60s, Dobbs’ Tulsa was in a steep decline, and a humiliating 100-6 loss at Houston (did Cougar HC Bill Yeoman have relatives on the Oklahoma Baptist or NE Oklahoma sides defeated by more than 150 points vs. Francis Schmidt’s long-ago Golden Hurricane?) in late November of 1968 confirmed the downturn and sealed Dobbs’ fate as coach. Tulsa, its ranks strafed by flu, allowed a staggering 49 points in the 4th Q that night at the Astrodome. The Cougars’ next-to-last TD was scored by WR Larry Gatlin, who would go on to fame as a member of his family’s singing group. Houston also had a linebacker who participated that night named Wade Phillips. Another famous name on the field that night was Phil McGraw, then a young LB for the Golden Hurricane. We know him today as Dr. Phil.

Tulsa would remain in the Missouri Valley Conference until 1985 (when the loop officially dropped football) before campaigning as an independent until enlisting in the expanded WAC in 1996. Along the way the Golden Hurricane recovered nicely from “100-6" and began to win again in the ‘70s and into the early ‘80s under coaches F.A. Dry (who would eventually move to TCU) and John Cooper (who would eventually move to Arizona State and Ohio State). Star players in this era would include a succession of big-time wide receivers, including Drew Pearson, Steve Largent (left), and Rickey Watts. But another decade-long drought would commence in the early ‘90s until Kragthorpe arrived to revive the program early in the last decade.

Now, it’s up to Blankenship to continue the recent uptick.

Although Tulsa has to replace prolific QB G.J. Kinne, a three-year starter and all-CUSA selection, Blankenship is hardly cowering at the prospect of the upcoming campaign after enduring that torturous September slate a year ago. League punching bag Tulane remains on the early-season slate as it did a year ago, but instead of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Boise State, the Golden Hurricane gets Iowa State, Nicholls State, and Fresno State (the latter two at home) as non-conference foes in September.

This is already looking much better for Tulsa than a year ago!

Kinne, however, leaves some rather large shoes to be filled after passing for 9472 yards and 81 TDs in his three years as a starter, the latest in a string of recent productive Golden Hurricane QBs dating to James Kilian and Paul Smith from the Kragthorpe and Graham years.

Spring work appeared to unveil Kinne’s successor, and if the name sounds familiar to midwest football fans, it should, because jumbo-sized (6'4, 247 lb.) jr. transfer Cody Green played in 18 games for Nebraska in 2009-10, in the former becoming the first true frosh to start at QB for the Huskers since Tommie Frazier in 1992. Green (shown at right in Nebraska days) won the starting job in spring, although check back in late August to make sure he is still in the mix after undergoing minor hip surgery following spring work.

With light feet that belie his size, Green presents an interesting package, although if he is hampered even in the slightest, last year’s backup, soph Kaleb Henderson, is ready to step into the breach. Henderson, however, struggled in limited work as a frosh; RS frosh Joseph Calcagni, whose uncle Ron was Lou Holtz’ first QB at Arkansas, and touted true frosh Dane Evans also competed for the signal-caller job in spring and have not yet been ruled out of the fall mix by Blankenship.

Whoever takes the snaps, CUSA sources believe it is safe to say that the Tulsa aerial element will remain a work in progress for the first half of the season as Blankenship and o.c. Greg Peterson likely focus upon an infantry that ranked a very respectable 26th (191.7 ypg) in national rush stats a year ago.

And the Hurricane should feel comfy if handing the ball to RBs Trey Watts or Ja’Terian Douglas (left), both of whom gaining over 880 YR last fall. Watts, son of former Oklahoma QB and US Congressman J.C. Watts, is the more durable of the two backs but still gained a healthy 5.6 ypc in 2011; Douglas has a bit more coast-to-coast potential, reflected in his hefty 7.9 ypc a year ago.

Punishing 231-lb. sr. H-back Willie Carter (right) also remains in the mix, a versatile threat who emerged as a pass receiving terror last fall. Carter and top returning wideout Bryan Burnham, a flyer, combined for 115 catches and 16 TDs a year ago, while 6'4 soph Keyarris Garrett opened plenty of eyes in spring. “I think that (Garrett) could provide a lot of matchup problems,” said Balnkenship at the end of spring workouts.

Safe to say that Cody Green or whoever emerges at QB will not lack for established supporting artillery this fall.

Yet there are some concerns along an OL that must replace three starters, including the entire left side of the line. Sturdy sr. C Trent Dupy, however, might be one of CUSA’s best.

We had a laugh at the expense of the Tulsa “D” in the opening paragraph, but it was certainly no joke to Blankenship or d.c. Brent Guy (former Utah State HC) when the Golden Hurricane were torched with regularity last season while ranking a lowly 117th in national pass defense stats. Although regional observers are somewhat downplaying that stat-line due to the brutal nature of last year’s non-conference slate and the fact that CUSA has replaced the WAC as the most shoot-‘em-up, pass-the-ball-around-the-lot league in the country.

We highly doubt Iowa State, Nicholls State, and Fresno State are going to inflict the sort of damage on the Hurricane that Oklahoma, Ok State, and Boise did last September. Moreover, there are several established playmakers within all positions groups on Guy’s platoon that returns seven starters from a year ago.

Still, regionals sources are not convinced this defense can carry the team if the offense should cough and wheeze if the new QBs and rebuilt offensive line can’t hit the ground running.

Mention of any defensive playmakers must include senior SS Dexter McCoil (left, taking back a pick vs. North Texas), who already has 13 career interceptions, tying him for the most in school history. McCoil is one of three starters who return at DB positions, and forms a veteran safety pair with fellow returning starter Marco Nelson, who also has a big-play bent.

Three starters also return along an all-senior DL that features 260-lb. DE Cory Dorris, a high-motor type. Both Dorris and bruising 6'0, 251-lb. jr. OLB Shawn Jackson were honorable mention all-CUSA performers last year, but the leadership of graduated MLB Curnelius Arnick might be hard to replace.

Spread-wise, note that Blankenship’s first team covered its last five games as a visitor after the opening loss at Oklahoma. In fact, Tulsa enters 2012 having covered 10 of its last 11 as a visitor, including seven straight on the CUSA trail.

Summary...True, Tulsa has been one of the most consistent winners in CUSA over the past several years, but we have slight reason to pause entering the fall as the Golden Hurricane breaks in a new QB to take the place of catalyst G.J. Kinne, whose excellence kept Tulsa in a lot of games the past couple of years. Perhaps Nebraska transfer Cody Green emerges as a viable successor to Kinne, but CUSA insiders insist that the Tulsa brew becomes diluted if QB play sags, as the defense is not likely good enough to carry the team. Still, there are enough established skill-position weapons on hand to prevent the “O” from stalling. And a more-forgiving early slate, plus some of the other expected CUSA contenders also being in adjustment mode, are advantages not present a year ago. Tulsa might not be as good as it was in 2011, but a combination of the factors above should at least get the Golden Hurricane back to another bowl and perhaps even contend in CUSA.


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