Preview 2017: Tulsa Turning Into A Hidden Star
With a loaded offense and a rising head coach, Tulsa is turning into a hot program.
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Massive seasons don’t get more quiet than what Tulsa did last season.
Philip Montgomery went from being Art Briles’ offensive coordinator at Baylor, to cranking up the Tulsa offense and team to two bowl games and 16 wins in two seasons, after the program managed just five wins in the previous two years.
The Golden Hurricane not only finished fourth in the nation in total offense and seventh in scoring, but they managed to just miss out on doing something truly special.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, they won three overtime games against three bad teams, but they also came within a dropped pass against Houston and two points against Navy of going 11-1 in the regular season. As is, they went 10-3 with a bowl win blowout over Central Michigan, closing out the year scoring 40 points or more in six of the final seven games.
Montgomery is just 45-years-old, and he managed to come up with the instant turnaround all struggling programs dream about when hiring on a new head guy. One more year like 2016, and he’ll probably get his shot to try improving a Group of Five program.
For this year, getting back into the American Athletic title chase is on the table, but with Memphis looking like the star of the West, and Houston and Navy both dangerous, getting to the conference title game might be a bit much, even as good as Tulsa should be.
But that doesn’t mean the offense isn’t going to continue to crank up the big numbers, and that doesn’t mean that Tulsa won’t once again be in for a potentially huge year.
Seven starters return on offense, but the main skill guys are gone. The top two receivers – Kevin Lucas and Josh Atkinson – leading rusher James Flanders, and record-seeing quarterback Dane Evans are done, but the line might be the best in the league, and the replacements for the key spots are going to be more than fine.
The defense that was so strong has to replace both tackles and a few of the top linebackers, but the pass rush should be terrific and the secondary is loaded with experienced playmakers.
And Montgomery is still around.
Tulsa won’t get the love that Houston did last year, and it’s not going to go unbeaten in the regular season like the MAC’s Western Michigan did, and it’s not going to be quite as good as a San Diego State or Boise State was from the Mountain West. But if it starts out hot again, and the offense is that good again, the Golden Hurricane will be a national big thing.
It’ll be impossible to keep Tulsa – and Montgomery – out of the limelight for too much longer.