July 22, 2014

FB sked Part III: opponents 9 through 12

This is the third part in a three-part series breaking down Tulane's schedule as the Green Wave tries to back up last year's run to a bowl with another good season against tougher opponents.

9) At HOUSTON, Nov. 8

This will be another litmus test for the improvement Tulane has made under Curtis Johnson. The Green Wave lost the last 10 Conference USA meetings between the two teams, usually in lopsided fashion. Houston appears loaded this year, returning nine defensive starters plus its top six running backs, five of its top six receivers and sophomore quarterback John O'Korn, who threw for 3,117 yards and 28 touchdowns as a freshman. The Cougars went 8-5 last season, losing to BYU by 1, UCF by 5 and Louisville and Cincinnati by 7.

Key question: Can Tulane contain an offense like Houston's on the road? The Wave did a fantastic job at home against a similar team in East Carolina last season but did not face a good spread offense outside of New Orleans. In fact, Tulane has not beaten any team outside of Louisiana since UAB in September 2011. The Wave appears to have the secondary personnel to match up with a spread team anywhere. This would be a good time to prove it.

Key factor: Turnovers. Tulane needs to cause them while taking care of the ball, getting some cheap points while forcing Houston to work for its scores. The Cougars forced a nation's best 43 turnovers last year, while the Wave tied for second with 35. No statistic is more volatile from year to year than takeaways, but Tulane will have to reproduce its turnover-causing magic to be in position to steal this one in the fourth quarter.

10) MEMPHIS, Nov. 15

As of now, Memphis joins Connecticut and Temple as American Athletic Conference teams that will be underdogs to Tulane. The Tigers have not won more than four games since 2007 and face a brutal early road schedule with UCLA, Ole Miss and Cincinnati on tap in consecutive trips.

Key question: Why is Memphis picked ahead of Tulane in virtually every preseason magazine? I'm not feeling that one. The Tigers ended 2013 with a whimper, falling 41-21 to Temple and 45-10 to Connecticut Yes, they played Duke, UCF, Houston, Cincinnati and Louisville relatively close, but their only wins came against Arkansas State, UT Martin and USF. (combined conference record: 4-12). This is a team Tulane absolutely, positively needs to beat to return to a bowl game.



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