We're just two days away from getting our first look at the 2013 version of the Golden Hurricane.
Last season's edition saw 11 wins along with Conference USA and Liberty Bowl titles, but what should we expect this year? TU lost almost the entire starting defense along with the school's all-time leader in rushing touchdowns.
Can the 2013 Hurricane find new stars and match last season's win total? Maybe.
What will help more than anything is the fact that SMU, UCF and Houston are now in the AAC, and TU won't have to rumble with those guys this year.
Replacing those fairly-tough opponents will be UTSA, Louisiana Tech and North Texas – three FCS-caliber squads. That's a pretty favorable substitution as the Golden Hurricane looks to avoid any drop off.
Likely due to the massive amount of graduated players, TU enters Thursday's kickoff as a 3.5-point underdog. Vegas apparently doesn't think Bill Blankenship will be able to fill those holes in time to win the opener.
So where are those aforementioned holes?
Here are the five biggest question marks entering Week 1:
1. Road-plow readiness
The Golden Hurricane set every school rushing record possible in 2012. The three-headed monster of Ja'Terian Douglas, Trey Watts and Alex Singleton led TU to 3,440 yards and a whopping 41 touchdowns (24 from Singleton alone.)
A performance like that isn't possible without a stellar offensive line plowing the way, and that's exactly what TU had.
In 2013, Watts and Douglas return in what should once again be a dynamic running attack, but that will solely depend on whether the Hurricane can replace three of last year's five starters up front. The two tackles, Brian DeShane and Jared Grigg are gone, and so is center Trent Dupy, who started an incredible 50 games during his TU career.
Senior Gabe Moyer will take over for Dupy, while sophomore Garrett Stafford and junior Davis Walton will man the tackle positions. Fortunately, junior Jake Alexander and senior Stetson Burnett return at the guard positions and should solidify the inside of the line.
TU has tremendous weapons at the running back and wide receiver positions, but will need the offensive line to mesh quickly in order to utilize those weapons.
2. Getting their kicks
Freshman Daniel Schwarz was hardly consistent last year, making only 12 of 18 field goal attempts and missing seven extra points. But the feeling was he was a freshman and would only get better.
Well, cancel that. Schwarz was kicked out of school in May and the Hurricane coaching staff scrambled to find someone to kick this season. The guy they found is Carl Salazar, who hasn't started a football game since he was at Broken Arrow High School back in 2009.
Depending on multiple factors, Salazar's performance could mean the difference in winning 7 games and winning 11. TU doesn't need Salazar to be all-world, but does need him to connect consistently from inside 40 yards. We'll see how he looks under the lights Thursday night.
3. Replacing the A-Train
How do you replace a guy who found the end zone 25 times while still picking up more than 800 yards? It sounds daunting, but Tulsa might actually have the weapons to do it.
Bill Blankenship's playbook shortened last season when the Hurricane made its way inside the 10. In fact, it pretty much boiled down to which side of the field Alex Singleton received the handoff. There were plenty of occasions where Singleton wouldn't touch the ball the entire drive, but would come in to pound it in the end zone.
Now, Watts and Douglas will get their chance to finish what they start. Watts ran for only three scores last season despite totaling more than 1,100 yards. Douglas ran for 936 yards and seven scores. Expect both players to finish with more than 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns in 2013.
Singleton made scoring look so easy. This season, the TU coaches will have to get a little more imaginative.
4. The open-ended defense
Let's start with this: TU's linebacking core should be strong. All three guys saw action last year, including star middle man Shawn Jackson.
The defensive questions revolve around both the front and back ends. TU will have four new starters on the defensive line and now that safety Marco Nelson is suspended, will have four new starters in the defensive backfield.
The 2012 d-line was one of the best in the nation, finishing third in the FBS in sacks (53) and No. 1 in sack yards (356.) That sack yardage total shattered the previous school record of 241, set in 1990.
That unit, led by Cory Dorris and Jared St. John, is no more. This season, returning backups Brentom Todd, Derrick Luetjen and Jack Jewell will get their shot at anchoring the line.
The 2012 secondary was very solid, led by both Nelson and TU's all-time pick leader, Dexter McCoil. Nelson was supposed to take over sole leadership duties from McCoil, but now that he's academically ineligible, who's going to fill that void?
5. Green anchors
Cody Green was good last season, but far from great. In his first year as the Hurricane QB, Green tossed for 2,592 yards, 17 touchdowns and 11 picks. He proved the ability to put the team on his back (413 yards, 3 TDs at SMU) but also lose control (3 INTs with 2 pick-sixes vs. Fresno St.)
Despite questionable decision making at times, Green's arm, legs (4 rushing TDs) and most of all leadership provided Tulsa with a true leader.
Green enters this season as the unquestioned leader of the offense, and likely the team. With all the subtractions from last year's championship squad, Green will have to step up and lead by example.
If Green can eliminate some of the mistakes, he'll have a good chance to lead the Golden Hurricane to back-to-back C-USA titles.