It took until the sixth game of this season (plus the absence of QB Case Keenum from Houston), but the big exam, a real C-USA style audit, is finally here. Saturday presents Tulane with a genuine example of the special football neighborhood the Green Wave frequents: the full tilt, forty points a game, cartoon number C-USA offense- of course equipped with sling it quarterback GJ Kinne.
Hold on tight people. GJ Kinne is the real deal: a big time recruit (originally signed at Texas), career 142 passer rating, 60% completion percentage, NFL body and mid-round draft prospect. In his second career start last year, he tore the Wave up: 15 for 20, 211 yards, 1 TD- plus a 15 yard TD run and a 45 yard scramble. Tulsa rotates a variety of good backs- and for a team that looks to keep the ball in Kinne’s hands and throw first- rushes it very well. The Golden Hurricane is a certified handful on offense (ranked ninth in FBS “officially”), reflected in the New York Post putting Tulsa -18.5 over Tulane.
Now, one good thing about having picked games for so long is that a reference of sorts exists. From an ATS point of view, this season feels like 2006.
Think back to 2006- really the nadir of public confidence in the Scelfo regime. Fans were unhappy and a lot of bad karma and noise surrounded the on-field product. Yet, I posted a nifty 9-3 ATS mark by positing a lonely thought again and again: the 2006 Wave was not that bad.
Outside of two stone sacrificial lamb games- at Auburn, at LSU- Tulane was a decent 4-6 (with a win at Mississippi State). There was no FCS lay-up game either: put Southern in for Auburn and Tulane was 5-7. Tulane quietly fielded more collected C-USA talent than Toledo has yielded since: Ricard, Forte, Route, the vastly underrated Jeremy Foreman. Davis, Brown and Williams were light years ahead of the current receiving group. The 2006 Tulane team would have beaten the 2007-2009 versions by two scores and be a six-win team versus this year's schedule.
I’m not really eager to rehash ’06, other than to take this lesson. The “feel bad” train was so loaded (no one thought they could beat Mississippi State, a game I felt Tulane probably could not lose)- that you could get rich looking at the fat lines and taking Tulane again and again.
I’ve pretty much ridden that theory, that the pre-season consensus of “Tulane=horrible” was wrong- and taking the Wave again and again en route to a 4-1 ATS start. And I’m on it again here- particularly as an unusual Army loss plumps a fat number back up again. Sure, the loss to the Cadets was embarrassing- but when a team only allow 343 yards of offense, said team was probably unlucky or unreal stupid to get blown out. Frankly, Tulsa -18.5 just seems a little rich.
There is risk. Tulane’s defense has improved, mostly against the run- but with Keenum out, it has not seen this sort of firepower directed at the passing game. But Tulsa is 3-3; I’m pretty sure Tulane would be square playing that schedule too (FCS opponent, plus Memphis and Bowling Green are terrible). Plus, Tulsa’s defense is a 2008 Tulane level wreck: 101st overall, 115th against the pass.
As we saw against Rutgers and Houston, Tulane can adequately both run the ball and possess the ball via the pass- generate some points and possession time. Tulane can absolutely score 24-ish here- which starts forcing Tulsa into some crazy numbers in order to cover. Frankly, Tulane’s defense looks like it might have enough life to keep that from happening. If the Wave plays defense like it did at Rutgers, Tulsa ain’t scoring six, seven TDs here. “18.5” is a BIG number- five TDs probably doesn’t see Tulsa through. Reference the Houston game, where everything that could go wrong for Tulane in the first quarter went wrong, and the Cougars were still touch and go with that giant number.
Intangibles look good too. The Army rout hopefully means Toledo has got his team’s attention- and Tulane has actually played harder and smarter on the road. Kind of a trap game too for Tulsa- the Golden Hurricane has a bye, then Notre Dame.
Bottom line: Tulane probably scores into the 20s against this poor Tulsa defense, scoring at that level necessitates some good ball possession numbers. Tulsa will have to play both great and quick to get to 40+. That cover seems problematic. So, while it will be hard for Tulane to keep up (the offensive firepower discrepancy is the biggest Tulane will probably face this year), it is too much of a head start. Tulane +18.5 over Tulsa is the pick to get to 5-1 ATS.