The Tulsa Golden Hurricane is just less than a week away from opening the 2013 football season at Bowling Green. The defending Conference USA champions will get things started in a special Thursday-night tilt on ESPNU on Aug. 29.
2012 was a magical year for coach Bill Blankenship's squad. The Golden Hurricane tied a school record with 11 wins including a 7-1 conference record and finished with more wins than in-state rivals OU and OSU for only the third time in 30 years. Tulsa finished the season strong, topping Central Florida in the C-USA championship and Iowa State to claim the Liberty Bowl title. TU will look to use that momentum to start the 2013 season strong starting Thursday night.
Here is the breakdown of Tulsa's first-half schedule, including the likelihood of a TU victory in each matchup.
The five-point "winnability" scale:
1: Very unlikely
2: Won't be favored, but certainly possible
3: Very winnable, but will need "A" game
4: Should take care of business
5: Put it in the bag
Here's a look at the second half:
Week 1 (Aug 29) @Bowling Green
All-time record against: 3-0
It's a Thursday-night showcase for the Golden Hurricane as they hit the road to face the Bowling Green Falcons. BGSU returns almost all of its starters from an 8-5 squad, but that record is a little misleading. Only one of the Falcons' wins last season came against a quality opponent (@Ohio), while the other seven came against opponents with a combined 13-72 record – that's really bad.
Bowling Green should be okay offensively, with decent quarterback play from Matt Schilz and four offensive linemen returning, but you won't likely see anything spectacular. While the offense is a bit of a question mark, the Falcons' strength is found on the defensive side of the ball.
BGSU was sixth in the FBS in yards allowed last season (296.6 per game) and return nine of those 11 starters. The Falcons are no slouch, but you certainly won't confuse them with a BCS-caliber team. Their defense will carry them into bowl contention again this season, while their offense will just try to do enough to get by. The Golden Hurricane should be favored in this one, but it probably won't be a cakewalk.
With tough nonconference opponents such as Oklahoma and Iowa State on the schedule, Bill Blankenship's squad really needs to win a game like this if it wants a chance at another 11-win campaign. Opening night on the road is never easy, but the Golden Hurricane's veteran leadership should be enough to overcome.
Week 2 (Sept. 7) vs. Colorado State
All-time record against: 4-3
Tulsa couldn't ask for a more perfect opponent for its home opener. Colorado State struggled to a 4-8 record last season and like Bowling Green, their wins were all against bad teams. The Rams' four wins came against opponents with a combined 10-40 record, while they took double-digit beatings by the likes of Wyoming (ouch) and North Dakota State (FCS power, but still.)
TU doesn't have an FCS program scheduled this season, so Colorado State takes over as the resident cupcake. CSU's last trip to a bowl game came in 2008, and that's not likely to change this season. The Golden Hurricane will eye their eighth straight home win as they'll look to iron out the early-season wrinkles they will no-doubt encounter at Bowling Green.
Week 3 (Sept. 14) @Oklahoma
All-time record against: 7-17-1
If there was ever a year to face OU in Norman, this might be it. The No. 16 Sooners enter the season ranked about 10 spots below where they're accustomed, and for good reason.
OU will have to find a way to replace Landry Jones, who for all the criticism, was a really good quarterback. Trevor Knight could be a star but he could just as easily play like a freshman on any given Saturday. In addition, there are plenty of question marks on the OU defense.
The Sooners return only three starters to a D that struggled mightily last season. If TU wants to win this one, the offense will need to take advantage. Tulsa should be ready for what could be a statement game. They won't be favored but the Hurricane has a veteran team that shouldn't be intimidated in Memorial Stadium.
Week 4 (Bye Week)
Week 5 (Sept. 26) vs. Iowa State
All-time record against: 1-2
As all TU fans remember, two of those three all-time matchups came last season, with the Golden Hurricane going out on top. The 2012 season-opener in Ames started well for TU, but a 16-7 lead turned into a 38-23 loss. The two squads met again in the Liberty Bowl, and the red-hot Hurricane prevailed 31-17.
This time, the Cyclones must travel to Tulsa for a Thursday-night showdown in what will be the Hurricane's premier home game for 2013. ISU has officially turned the offense over to sophomore quarterback Sam Richardson, who struggled to move the Cyclone offense in the Liberty Bowl matchup but has plenty of potential. Richardson has good wheels and can make plays on the run, plus he's now had an entire offseason of experience as the starter.
What could help Tulsa is the fact that they just played these guys and got a good look at what Richardson and company are all about. There are no surprises when it comes to playing the Cyclones; they're going to run the ball, play stout defense and try and wear you down. If the Hurricane can take care of the ball, they'll have a great shot.
Week 6 (Oct. 5) vs. Rice
All-time record against: 10-7-1
Tulsa opens Conference-USA play with one of its toughest opponents of the season, the Rice Owls. With all the departures from CUSA, there are only a few true threats remaining, and Rice is one of them. The Owls bounced back from a 1-5 start last season to finish 7-6 with a 33-14 beatdown of Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl.
Rice will be a gritty, tough, veteran squad as they return 19 of 23 starters including 10 of 11 on defense. Senior quarterback Taylor McHargue is a dynamic playmaker that can put a tremendous stress on a defense. Although Rice is a run-first team, McHargue tossed 12 touchdowns to just five interceptions last season, while also scrambling for 667 yards and 11 scores. He did however struggle in the Owls' visit to Tulsa, managing just 15/35 passing for 147 yards with one touchdown and one pick.
If the Hurricane can force Rice into 3rd-and-longs, it will limit McHargue's craftiness and could force him into another wild performance. TU won that game 28-24 despite Cody Green not playing due to injury and backup Kalen Henderson managing just 8/23 passing. If the Hurricane can repeat last year's ground performance (179 yards from Ja'Terian Douglas alone) they should fry Rice once again.
Week 7 (Oct. 12) @UTEP
All-time record against: 13-8
The Miners struggled to a 3-9 mark last season but could be poised for improvement this year. Their 2012 nonconference slate included Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Ole Miss (all losses) while this year's has New Mexico, New Mexico State and Colorado State.
The schedule isn't the only thing that's going to look dramatically different in 2013. Texas A&M transfer Jameill Showers takes over the QB duties for the Miners while Sean Kugler has replaced Mike Price as head coach.
The Golden Hurricane dominated the second half of last year's matchup, scoring 27 points after the break while holding the Miners to a total of 31 yards on 33 carries. UTEP isn't a terrible team and they'll have this one at home. But if Tulsa shows up focused and executes, it won't matter.