Tulane still in search of respect despite recent football success

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Tulane beats Temple
(Photo: Parker Waters)

The American Athletic Conference is a good football league.

That much is certain.

To be a league taken seriously on the national stage and in the national championship picture, regardless of a four or twelve-team playoff, the conference must gain credibility achieved by playing top level programs and coming away with a few wins.

To that end, the conference strongly encouraged its members to toughen their schedules in 2021.

Tulane got the memo.

The Green Wave will host one of the elite programs in the country in Oklahoma and will travel to play a scoring machine in Ole Miss.

Then, there is the conference, itself.

On Wednesday, Cincinnati was chosen to win the league in 2021, followed by UCF, SMU, Houston and Memphis. Tulsa was chosen sixth with Tulane seventh.

That is seventh out of 11 teams.

You want a tough schedule?

Consider this.

Tulane will face all six teams picked ahead of it in 2021.

Realistically, Tulane may be a better team in 2021 than it was in 2020 with 19 players who started games last season returning.

The record may not reflect it.

This is a familiar chorus as I stated the same last year.

Willie Fritz is the first coach in program history to take Tulane to three consecutive bowl games.

Undeniably, Fritz has done a good job and has raised the overall perception and performance of the program.

He is recruiting higher level players than his predecessors.

He is playing to his team’s strengths.

Still, there have been just two winning seasons of the five and both were 7-6 overall records, including bowl victories.

Entering his sixth year, Fritz is looking to kick the program into a higher gear, to raise the expectations and to raise the results.

Now 61, Fritz is most likely the first Tulane coach to get the job, do a good job and more likely to stay and even complete his fine career in the job.

Previously, when younger coaches in Larry Smith, Mack Brown and Tommy Bowden had success, they bolted for greener pastures, leaving the Green Wave behind, rightfully and understandably so.

The one exception was a local star in Curtis Johnson, who had brief success but could not sustain it as he returned to the New Orleans Saints, where he does an outstanding job for Sean Payton.

The coaches who were experienced, older, who came to Tulane, did not succeed enough to merit being retained, though you could make an argument for Vince Gibson, who posted a .500 record against a tough schedule and beat LSU twice in three years.

With fall practice starting, what are the expectations for Tulane in 2021?

Virtually all Las Vegas betting odds have Tulane between five and six wins in 2021.

That, of course, does not reflect a winning record.

That, of course, does not reflect the progress Fritz has made with this program.

That progress is reflected in the roster.

The quarterback position is solid.

Michael Pratt emerged as a good player and we are anxious to see if he can take the next step. Pratt completed 55 percent of his passes with 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions last season. Pratt also rushed for 229 yards and eight touchdowns as a solid dual threat player.

Justin Ibieta had a solid spring and he is more than capable of playing and playing in solid fashion.

The running game will be good again with good backs and a good offensive line with the wild card being the return of an electric talent in Tyjae Spears, if he is fully recovered from the knee injury which ended his season early on in 2020 after playing in just three contests.

Cameron Carroll was outstanding last year and he is back to carry a load. Carroll rushed for 741 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.

Former Covington star Devin Brumfield has transferred from Utah and will definitely figure in the mix and has two years of eligibility remaining. Ygenio Booker adds depth.

The wide receiver position should be better with experience returning in Jha’Quan Jackson, along with Deuce and Phat Watts. The trio combined for 79 catches for 1,154 yards and 14 touchdowns. Mykel Jones and Jaetavian Toles provide depth.

Tight end Tyrick James is back after catching 18 passes for 202 yards and three scores in 2020.

Up front, Sincere Haynesworth, Corey Dublin, Joey Claybrook and Josh Remetich are solid players who return. Haynesworth is a star and a likely first team all-conference performer while Dublin is excellent.

After a brief scare of transferring, Tulane breathed a sigh of relief to have Jeffery Johnson returning at the nose tackle spot to anchor the defensive front, helping mitigate the loss of Patrick Johnson and Cameron Sample. Johnson is very good.

The front is bolstered by the transfer of Joseph Dorceus from Memphis, who had 141 tackles, including 35 for loss and 15 sacks in his career with the Tigers.

On the second level, Tulane should be good at linebacker with the return of Dorian Williams and Nick Anderson, the team’s two leading tacklers a year ago. Williams is a star and a likely first team all-conference player while Anderson is not far behind.

In the secondary, Larry Brooks and Macon Clark return to a unit which must improve while former De La Salle star Lance Robinson will bolster the unit, having transferred from Kansas State, where he played well in 2019. A safety, Clark is perhaps the best of the bunch though Robinson should be good.

The kicking game, a virtual disaster not long ago, is perhaps the best in the conference with Merek Glover and Ryan Wright back for another season while there are good, reliable kick return options as well, led by Jackson.

There are sure to be freshmen who break through and will play and contribute immediately.

What does it all add up to?

Tulane will have to defeat all opponents it will be favored against and will have to pull at least one, if not two upsets, to post a winning season or get to .500 and keep the bowl streak alive.

It can happen but it will not be easy.

Tulane has the 20th toughest schedule in the country among FBS schools and the toughest among American Athletic Conference members, according to according to fbsschedules.com.

That makes for exciting times for fans and extreme headaches and sleepless nights for coaches.

Tulane is fortunate to have Fritz, who was a good hire.

Now, the Green Wave will require good fortune with avoiding injuries and finding a way to win close games to achieve the team goals in 2021.

If Tulane can win seven games or more this season against this schedule, respect is sure to follow.

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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…

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