Thursday, August 28, 2008

2008 Tulane Football Preview

Starting my Tulane football preview, I began with the normal block and tackle approach: figure where Tulane ought to be better and worse, weigh the schedule, make a call.

To that end: Last season, they went into the season expecting Matt Forte to be a “plus” player. As the season progressed, serendipity added the defensive front to that positional plus list. But really, that was it. And two “plus” League positions equaled three I-A wins.

In 2008, Tulane surrenders those assets. And I do not know where kismet might give them even one back: the offensive line was a nice surprise last year- maybe that group?- the wide outs underachieved- could they move up? Still, if the quarterback play is still uncertain, why would they? Even if you like Moore, Kemp, etc.- are they really contributing at a high level before October 15 or so? C-USA coaches are doubtful too- not one pre-season all League player in a League that demands five scores a game to be good.

But I was unsatisfied with that approach. I almost wanted to take a holistic approach- light some incense and inquire “what really is Tulane football?”

In the decade before Toledo’s arrival, we knew the dysphoric answer to that question (let’s leave the Katrina year out of the discussion here). You could count on Tulane to win four I-A games a year at a minimum. During the Scelfo regime, they finished once in CBS Sportsline Top 50 and never in the bottom 30. Consequently, if the question was “what is Tulane football?”- the answer was they were a third quartile team, year after year: never good, never terrible, more than a tad below mediocre.

Last year, the Wave busted that standard: won three I-A games, finished bottom quartile.

And candidly, that is just it. If you can rationalize the elevation of Tulane back to that third quartile- mix in a schedule of UAB, ULM, Army, Rice, SMU, Memphis- there is rational hope for six wins.

And I have moved off the two-win number I’ve carried most of the summer- largely due to a pair of cognizant e-mails this summer. One pointed out that a two win prediction carried with it a tacit admission that ULM and Army had surpassed Tulane (i.e the Wave should probably be anticipated to beat them in New Orleans). I agree with that. Another from a popular poster at yogwf pointed out that the last place C-USA team usually is a team punished by circumstances: injuries, etc.- to wit, the most unlucky member of a bad lot- something that is hard to forecast. Tulane might be bad- but ill-omened as well? Heck, I’m not testing my own karma there.

Still, in the end, I suppose I don’t believe. To me, to paraphrase PJ O’Rourke, Toledo’s achievements so far are the kind that can’t be easily quantified; for example, as in the “achievement of Winnie Mandela” versus those of Nelson. So, I figure them to be something like last year- possibly better at quarterback, definitely worse at tailback, probably more suspect on defense. That puts Tulane right in the mix with the aforementioned six programs listed just above. Split those six- plus a 50-50 chance to upset one of the other four games featuring non-SEC teams- and you get an over/under of 3.5. I’d lean toward three- but two or four would not astonish.