Once the exception to the norm, making bowl game plans now routine for Golden Hurricane

Wednesday, November 29th 2006, 4:52 pm
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- Going to a bowl game used to be the exception to a norm of disappointing seasons at Tulsa.

But these days, making postseason travel plans has become almost routine for the Golden Hurricane.

On Dec. 23, Tulsa (8-4) will play in its third bowl game in four seasons under coach Steve Kragthorpe, taking on Utah in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas.

"There were people who didn't think we could score 28 points in a game before this group got here," Kragthorpe said Wednesday. "This group has left a huge legacy."

Before Kragthorpe began coaching the school in 2003, Tulsa's last appearance in a postseason game was the Freedom Bowl in 1991.

There had even been rumblings several years ago among some fans that the university was wasting its time fielding a football team and should instead stick to basketball.

"It was flickering," said Kragthorpe, referring to the past football tradition established at Tulsa. "We needed to pour gas on it."

In Kragthorpe's first season, Tulsa posted an 8-5 record and tied for second place in the Western Athletic Conference.

He took his team to the Humanitarian Bowl, establishing the best turnaround for a collegiate program that year.

"I can sum it up pretty quickly, and I just have to spell out Steve Kragthorpe," said Tommy Hudspeth, who played football for TU in the 1950s and was head coach at Brigham Young University from 1964-1971.

Hudspeth, one of the team captains for the 1953 Gator Bowl, said Kragthorpe has rejuvenated the program.

"They're for real," he said.

The success of the football program could also be a way to increase visibility of academics at the private school, ranked 88th nationally by U.S. News and World Report.

"There's things so unique to Tulsa, but it's hard to communicate that on a national level," said athletic director Bubba Cunningham. "Sports is one way you can do that nationally."

Die-hard Hurricane fan Christian Hollaway remembers things going downhill in big way after the Freedom Bowl.

These days, though, his team's winning ways are giving fans something to savor.

"As a TU fan who's seen the worst, going from that to this has been unbelievable," Hollaway said. "It's been a terrific ride."

The victories also have some fans dreaming bigger for next season.

"We're trying to break into the BCS," he said. "Boise (State's) done it, why can't TU do it?"