Thursday, December 18, 2008

Optimism for Tulane Football: Part One

I was at a Tulane function the other day here in New York- and one of the alumni in attendance asked my opinion of Tulane football going forward. Frankly, I was surprised by the optimistic nature of my answer. Not that I forecast any 1997-style resurgence- a genuinely good Tulane team. But I feel the train wreck that characterized 2008 might be solved of its own accord.

In this first part of two, I am describing some more longer term reasons for optimism centered on talent, attendence and the amount of lifting that needs doing. This is stuff past the immediate season- say one recruiting class out: 4-5 years- and centered on returning to relevance in C-USA, not nationally.

Talent Level: Increasingly, I get a sense that this is the nadir of the Tulane talent level.

This isn’t an endorsement of the Toledo recruitment effort exactly. I’m neutral on it- simply because I just don’t know much about the procurement of high school talent. But I am confident that Tulane’s natural level- its position in the talent universe- probably is higher than contemporary conditions.

Even in the darkest days of the Teevins regime, Tulane was able to bring in surprisingly high potential quarterbacks, two or three “three-star” recruits*, win a battle or two versus lower level ACC/SEC programs. And that sort of talent level continued through Bowden and the first half of Scelfo’s regime.

It was brought to a complete halt by the unholy trifecta of athletic review, Katrina and the always suspect class when you switch coaches- more so than malfeasance or incompetence. And as those three factors recede, I imagine Tulane will revert more to the "natural" talent procurement level typical of the ten years of Teevins, Bowden, early Scelfo. In fact, I think you could observe this minor renaissance in some of the guys who de-committed at the last minute last year. I project through these passive improvements in the atmosphere around Tulane, our classes will move from the bottom of C-USA to more in line with our peers.

Attendance: This is last year’s NCAA attendance report- and you can see that about half of I-A programs don’t draw 35K. And since everyone is lying- put me down for not believing that Indiana or Syracuse drew 35K in 2007- I bet it is more like half don’t draw 30K.

So if a bare goal for Tulane is drawing north of 25K… we seem to be there.

So let’s set a short term goal: six crowds of a minimum (NOT average) reported of 25K, meaning an actual 20K- a sort of floor of consistent support. Well, in spite of utter disastrous on-field product generated by Toledo, Tulane seems to have a floor of three good crowds that they can replicate every year: the home opener, Homecoming at Gormley, and the prototypical good draw game (LSU, Alabama). Get one, two more repeatable angles (say Southern Miss and their good traveling crowd, etc) and that six crowns of min 20K, average well north of 25K is within reach.

Don’t Need to improve much: Let’s look at the CBS Sportline Top 120

I mean, how far is Tulane really behind Marshall? Temple? New Mexico?

I honestly think the answer might be as simple as semi-adequate quarterback play and one plus C-USA skill position player.

Sure, catching Marshall or Louisiana-Lafayette merely puts the Wave into the 5-ish win bucket. But it also shows just how close they are to a passable rebuilding product- a key player or two. If Toledo can mange’em, two average C-USA recruiting classes probably puts the Wave on a six-seven win track: .500 in conference, plus an ooc win or two.

None of this puts Tulane on par with even Wake Forest. I’m not arguing generational fix here- just optimism for five years out. But a credible, sustainable, entertaining C-USA product- win 4-8 games, four/five crowds of 25K, a Memphis style program in terms of success and interest- something to build on other than woe- is hardly impossible. And I would argue, somewhat likely as problematic exterior drivers ease.

* not three-star so much, but guys who were above that generic two-star rating everyone gets.