When I put together last season’s schedule breakdown for Tulane, I got a little of everything. I went a mediocre 7-for-12 on game predictions and got some fans very riled up over one of my takes. I’m hoping for at least that much again with this year’s edition.
Much like the expectations for myself and the following piece, the ones surrounding the Green Wave football program are quite high as the new campaign approaches and why wouldn’t they be? This Tulane team won its first bowl game in 15 years last December and shared a portion of the AAC West division title.
That split title wasn’t enough to make an appearance in the AAC Championship but head coach Willie Fritz has the club poised for a quite a curtain call in 2019 if things go according to plan.
After retaining the likes of several studs like quarterback Justin McMillan, running backs Darius Bradwell and Corey Dauphine and their rising star in defensive lineman Patrick Johnson, the squad certainly seems up to the challenge of making a run at a conference title this time out.
Such a run won’t come easy though. This fall’s 12-game slate looks quite similar to last year’s; a tough opening Thursday night contest and a road game in the unfriendly confines of a big time P5 school are just a few of the hurdles Tulane will have to leap this year.
Here’s what’s waiting for the Greenies over the next several months. As always, I fully expect you all to hold me to what I’m about to say...
Aug. 29th - Florida International
Right off the bat Tulane is in for a tough test. Conference USA’s FIU Panthers come to town and bring with them quite the pedigree. Last season Butch Davis’ squad put together a 9-4 campaign and capped it off with an impressive Bahamas Bowl win. For a team that barely missed out on a berth in their conference title bout, you can bet that this year’s Panthers team will be hungry coming out of the gates.
That could spell bad news for the Wave. This game feels very similar to last year’s opener against Wake Forest; a Thursday night under the Yulman lights in what could be a contest that comes right down to the wire. When these two programs met in 2017 (their only other matchup to date) FIU got the better of the Green Wave by 13 but we expect it to be much closer this time out.
In many ways, the Wave and the Panthers are spitting images of each other. Both offenses will be piloted by senior QBs; James Morgan for FIU and McMillan for Tulane. Both return a tremendous amount of depth at the running back position. Bradwell and Dauphine will need to be able to match Napoleon Maxwell, D’Vonte Price and Anthony Jones blow for blow to keep the Greenies afloat.
Finally, both teams share glaring questions on the defensive side of the ball; the DBs for Tulane and the line for FIU. After losing both Roderic Teamer and Donnie Lewis to the NFL, the Wave is in search of someone to hold it down on the back end. That’s where we expect Chase Kuerschen to come into play. The junior safety is coming off the heels of a season in which he tallied 23 tackles and one interception.
The Panthers will face their own set of defensive uncertainties, but for them it’s in the trenches. After a year in which their line ranked near the bottom of C-USA in several categories including sacks (18 total) and run defense (192.2 yards per game) the unit lost four players who saw a significant snap count.
That right there might be the difference maker in this one. Tulane prides themselves on their ground attack and if Fritz’s backs are able to put up some big time numbers then FIU could be in for a long night.
The Prediction: McMillan and the Green Wave offense will do just enough down the stretch to lead the team to a much-needed opening night win. Dauphine will bust one loose late to put the game away with a go-ahead score as time winds down.
Final: FIU 30 - Tulane 34
Sept. 7th - at Auburn
Oh boy. Let’s start this one off by being completely fair; this doesn’t have quite the “uh-oh” factor that last year’s Ohio State game did but it’s close. Auburn will be paying Tulane nearly $2 million to come into Jordan-Hare in for this early-September matchup and I think nearly everyone expects the Wave to take a licking, collect their paycheck and leave.
The Tigers will no longer have the talents of QB Jarrett Stidham but it should hardly matter. Redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood is projected to lead the offense and could be in for a big day against a Green Wave secondary that we already established is riddled with question marks.
The Green Wave defensive line could be the one bright spot in this contest. Spearheaded by junior Patrick Johnson (10 sacks in 2018) this unit is poised for big things this year. Conversely, Auburn’s O-line is about as seasoned as you can get. The entire unit will most likely be composed of senior starters including center Kaleb Kim and guard Mike Horton. This will probably be the most exciting battle to watch during this game.
As far as the rest of it goes, we expect a long day for Tulane. Tigers receiver Anthony Schwartz (357 yards, 2 TD in 2018) may very well have his way with the defense as could senior Sal Cannella (111 yards, 3 TD in 2018).
Defensively, Auburn poses just as scary of a matchup. Cornerback Javaris Davis returns for his senior season after wreaking hell on opposing passers last year. He is coming off a season in which he snagged two picks, recorded 41 total tackles and defended eight passes. Alongside him will be Noah Igbinoghene who authored 50 tackles and one interception in 2018.
Safeties Jeremiah Dinson and Daniel Thomas will also be in the fray. The duo combined for 138 tackles and four picks last year.
What we are trying to say is that McMillan and the receivers will probably be in for a rough day.
Now, I will always be the guy to say never count your eggs until they’re hatched. Tulane does have a fighting chance going in, but that’s about all they have. Things will need to go perfectly if the Wave are to stay in this game and quite frankly, I just don’t see that happening. I do, however, believe it will be a tad closer than their recent years’ P5 heavyweight battles.
The Prediction: Auburn’s secondary will smother the likes of Darnell Mooney and company all day long forcing the Green Wave offense to become one-dimensional and quite transparent. The Tigers will effectively stuff the run and keep the entire offense at bay. It’ll be a tough afternoon in Alabama.
Final: Tulane 17 - Auburn 41
Sept. 14th - Missouri State
Last year I was brutally honest when it came to Tulane’s one and only FCS opponent. I said they didn’t have the firepower to keep pace in New Orleans and it turned out to be my closest prediction of the entire season. I enjoyed the Twitter banter that came with said prediction but I promise you that’s not what I’m fishing for with this one. If it happens, so be it.
The Missouri State Bears are coming off a year that was really a tale of two seasons. The club started 2018 with a respectable 4-2 record in the one of the FCS’s premier conferences in the Missouri Valley. They beat opponents like #20 Northern Arizona and #9 Illinois State during their fast start. Down the stretch, though, the Bears would lose their remaining five games and miss out on the I-AA postseason altogether.
Tulane will simply be looking to take care of the business they are expected to. Missouri State may put up a fight for a quarter or even a half but ultimately, the Wave should take this one with relative ease.
The Prediction: The Green Wave running backs will have a field day much like they did last year with Nicholls State. Both Bradwell and Dauphine will rush for multiple scores and receiver Jaetavian Toles will have a big day through the air. The offense will roll and effectively mend the wounds inflicted by Auburn a week prior. Tulane gets back on the winning track in a big way.
Final: Missouri State 14 - Tulane 35
Sept. 19th - Houston
Tulane versus Houston must just be a Thursday night tradition now. This will be the second year in a row that the Cougars and Wave will meet under such circumstances. Despite it being the first conference game for both teams, this one could have huge implications down the road in terms of the final standings. Who knows, a berth in the AAC title could be ultimately determined by this game.
The Wave will have to find a way to counter a dynamic Houston offense that can seemingly score at will. Last year the Cougs put up 48 points on Tulane in Texas. That sort of defensive performance didn’t get it done before and it won’t this time.
It’ll be a tall order as Houston boasted the best passing attack in the conference in 2018 with an average of 295.4 yards per game. Quarterback D’Eriq King is back for one final go at it as a senior and seems poised to rack up huge numbers. Last year King, who is currently on the Maxwell Award watch list, finished just shy of 3,000 yards and had an outstanding 36 touchdowns all on a 63.5 completion percentage.
Of course having receivers like Marquez Stevenson sure helps. Stevenson put up 1,019 yards on 75 receptions last year as only a sophomore. This QB-receiver combo has a good chance of being downright lethal this year so Tulane better hope they have that secondary figured out by Week 4.
The good news for the Wave, though, is that the Cougars live and die by the pass play. For how well they execute it on offense, they were pretty dismal at it on defense in 2018. Houston finished second to last in the AAC in opponent’s average per game (277.2) just above Connecticut.
Their rush defense isn’t a whole lot better either. Last year the Cougs allowed 223 yards per contest meaning that if things stay true to that form, the Green Wave offense could do enough to at least keep pace.
The Prediction: First-year head coach Dana Holgorsen will have the Cougars primed and ready for this one. Fritz’s offense will do it’s best to stay with Houston but a costly turnover will ultimately seal the Wave’s fate. Don’t expect the same 48-17 thrashing Tulane got last year, but King and the Cougars will prove to be too much to handle.
Final: Houston 32 - Tulane 24
Oct. 5th - at Army
When the Green Wave squared off with the Black Knights two years ago things had a very similar feel. Army was in the midst of a 10-3 season and Tulane ended up on top in a game they frankly had no business winning (no offense to Fritz and his 2017 team).
Army is coming off an impressive 11-2 campaign in which one of their losses was to Oklahoma in overtime. This team is good... really good and boy do they like to run the ball. As is tradition for the service academy schools, quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. carried the ball way more than he passed it last year. His 221 rushes garnered 1,017 yards and 17 touchdowns.
He was complimented by running back Darnell Woolfolk who has since graduated. Hopkins, though, will still be toting the ball for the Black Knights this season. Tulane’s rush defense will have to be up to snuff.
Green Wave linebackers Lawrence Graham and Marvin Moody will undoubtedly be called upon heavily. The duo combined for 130 tackles in 2018, five of which were for a loss. They along with Johnson on the line should have one of their biggest tests of the season with Hopkins.
Tulane’s offense will need to maneuver an Army defense that surrendered just over 100 rush yards per contest last year. If the Wave is to come out of this one with a victory, it will almost certainly have to come off the back of McMillan’s passing.
The Prediction: This will be Tulane’s closest contest of the season. Army will run wild but the Green Wave D will do just enough to preserve a victory in the closing stages. Johnson will make a huge stop on fourth down on the final drive to close out the narrow win.
Final: Tulane 24 - Army 20
Oct 12th - Connecticut
It’s been a bit since the Wave has met UConn. Their last get together in 2016 ended with a resounding 38-13 Tulane triumph and, if I’m being completely honest, I don’t expect much different this time out.
Everyone knows that the Huskies have been the AAC’s doormat as of late. Last year they only won one game and it was to the FCS’s Rhode Island Rams (and even that was a narrow escape). They ranked at the bottom of the conference in scoring offense (22.2 ppg), points allowed (50.4 ppg), yards allowed (617.4 ypg) and in turnover margin (-17) just to name a few.
Junior running back Kevin Mensah could be one of the few glimmers in an otherwise dim Huskies offensive unit. A year ago he finished as the teams second leading rusher with 1,045 yards and six touchdowns.
Defensively, UConn will still have the talents of another junior in DB Tyler Coyle. Despite not nabbing any interceptions in 2018, Coyle still led the team with 108 tackles and had a fumble recovery.
For the talent they did keep, though, the Huskies did suffer some big time departures as well. The club’s best receiver Kyle Buss (482 yards and three touchdowns in 2018) is now gone as is linebacker Santana Sterling who recorded 80 total tackles last season, seven of which were for a loss.
I’m going to try and put this as nicely as I can, but Tulane should have no problem winning this one with ease... especially at home. Everyone from McMillan to Bradwell to even the defensive guys should see a big day. Seriously, don’t be surprised if the offense hangs at least 400 yards on these guys.
The Prediction: It certainly won’t be a shutout as the Huskies will find the end zone at least once. Tulane will do so much more often though. The offense, defense and maybe even the special teams will all record a touchdown and happy times will be had all around on Bourbon Street. In fact, we may not even see punter Ryan Wright take the field at all (I’m aware that might be a bit over the top but do we really want to completely rule it out with this UConn team?)
Final: UConn 10 - Tulane 38
Oct. 19th - at Memphis
If any team wants revenge on the Green Wave this season, I’m sure no one does more than Memphis. The Tigers got embarrassed in Yulman last September in a surprising 40-24 Tulane win. The Memphis defense gave up a whopping 318 rush yards to Dauphine and the gang and the Wave’s own D held star running back Darrell Henderson in check for most of the night.
I wouldn’t count on it coming that easy for Tulane again though. Even though Henderson is gone, the Tigers still will field a very talented ground attack with Patrick Taylor Jr. being the headliner. His 1,122 yards and 16 touchdowns last year ranked second on the team behind only Henderson. Taylor seems poised to build on both those numbers this year and, much like the case with the Army game, Tulane’s run defense will need to be ready.
Quarterback Brady White will still be under center for the Tigers and, despite the team’s dreadful performance in New Orleans last year, White was still effective throwing for 246 yards and two scores.
On the other side, McMillan hasn’t seen much of this Memphis defense at all. He threw only one pass against the Tigers last year but it just so happened to go for a 51-yard touchdown. He will have to be wary of DB T.J. Carter who picked off two passes, defended 12 more and recorded 68 total tackles. Carter is widely considered to be one of the nations top DBs and holds the Memphis program record for interceptions as a freshman with five.
The Prediction: Memphis’ home field advantage coupled with the revenge factor will guide the Tigers to a solid victory. McMillan will have an average day at best as will the backs. No one on Tulane’s roster will jump off the stat sheet in this one as the Wave leaves Tennessee with a sour taste in their mouths.
Final: Tulane 20 - Memphis 30
Oct. 26th - at Navy
The only other squad besides Memphis that has got to be itching to take another swing at the Wave is the Midshipmen. No fan of either school will forget how last year’s season finale ended. I would wager that the sight of Charles Jones hauling in that gutsy two-point conversion is till seared into the minds of most Mids players and coaches.
Unlike with Memphis, however, I don’t know if the revenge thing will be enough to fuel this team past the Green Wave. After a horrid 3-10 season, Navy is reeling for answers at several positions. Zach Abey, who shined at several positions for the Midshipmen, has since graduated as has fullback Anthony Gargiulo. Gargiulo was the team’s second leading rusher last season (427 yards). Abey led the Mids with 14 rushing touchdowns.
The one player Navy still does have, however, is quarterback Malcolm Perry. Last season Perry was easily the team’s leading ball carrier by a wide margin, finishing with 1,087 yards and seven scores on 172 attempts. He didn’t play much at all against Tulane though. In that November game, Perry only carried the ball four times for a quiet eight yards. His one reception, though, was a monster 73-yard house call.
This feels like another one that will be won or lost on the shoulders of the Wave’s run defense. The formula here will be the same as it was for Army; stop the run early and often. If Moody, Johnson and Graham can clog up those lanes then it will be a long day for a Navy offense that came in dead last in the American last year.
The Prediction: The Tulane D will do exactly what they are supposed to and stymie the Midshipmen rushing attack. Perry will be forced to take to the air and the results won’t be pretty for Navy. McMillan and the offense will have enough breathing room to execute their game plan and when all is said and done, this game will peter out without near the drama last year’s contest had.
Final: Tulane 28 - Navy 17
Nov. 2nd - Tulsa
If I’m Willie Fritz, I have this game circled on my calendar for no reason other than the fact its one Tulane should win but it comes against a team who gave the Wave everything it could handle last October. Down in Oklahoma, the Golden Hurricane put up 315 total yards on the Tulane defense and only lost by a touchdown.
Tulsa quarterback Seth Boomer was responsible for 180 of those yards and will be coming back as a sophomore. Joining him from last year’s squad will be Shamari Brooks who led the team in rush yards (967) and stud linebacker Cooper Edmiston. Edmiston was far and above the best tackler for the Golden Hurricane in 2018, finishing with 113 total and 7.5 for a loss. The next closest was Zaven Collins with 85.
Interestingly enough, despite their 3-9 record, Tulsa had the best pass defense in the AAC last year. They held their opposition to 174.6 yards per game on average and had nine interceptions. McMillan can’t go into this one thinking that he has it made against a supposed sub-par team.
We say supposed because, even though the Golden Hurricane didn’t have the record to show for it, they were right there in several of their losses including their defeat to Tulane. They lost three of their games by one touchdown or less including a near victory over then-ranked South Florida. Tulsa feels to be right on the verge of breaking through into relevancy in the American and 2019 could be their year to do it.
Earlier this offseason I labeled this game a “trap game” for the Green Wave and it still rings true. I like Tulane’s chances at home but it certainly could be much closer than many may want to admit. Remember, it took a fourth down stop with less than two minutes left to put these guys away last time.
The Prediction: Tulsa will start fast and put Tulane on the ropes early. The first half will close being a lot tighter than the Yulman faithful will want but the Wave will start to assert themselves in the third. Bradwell will take control for the offense and set a tone allowing the Wave to come out on top. It doesn’t come easy though, and Tulane will feel lucky to not drop this one at home.
Final: Tulsa 23 - Tulane 30
Nov. 16th - at Temple
The one team I can’t seem to make heads or tails of on Tulane’s entire 2019 docket is Temple. The Owls really are enigma. Last year they strung together an 8-4 regular season before laying an egg in their bowl game against Duke. Their five losses were ugly and often baffling. This team dropped their season opener to FCS foe Villanova and then let one slip away the following week to Buffalo. Temple would later let Boston College hang 45 points on them.
We can’t necessarily peg them as bad, though, as their eight wins were quite staggering also. The Owls whipped up on the Big Ten’s Maryland Terrapins on the road, got by a ranked Cincinnati team in overtime and even edged the Cougars down in Houston.
So what do we make of these guys?
Well, one thing we know for sure is that they have an extremely dynamite return game and Tulane will have to be wary of senior Isaiah Wright. Temple led the AAC last year in punt return average (13.1 yards per return) and punt return touchdowns (3) thanks to Wright. He averaged 26.5 yards per kickoff runback (33 returns) and had 1,122 total return yards.
The Green Wave’s kick coverage unit was average at best in 2018, allowing 485 total return yards to their opposition. It will be interesting to see how they fare against the dynamic Wright.
One thing the Wave will also want to be wary of is a Temple defense that led the conference with 18 interceptions last year. The secondary did lose electric safety Delvon Randall who grabbed four of said interceptions (led team) but they retained the likes of Benny Walls and Linwood Crump. Walls and Crump combined for six picks and 59 tackles in 2018.
So again, McMillan will have to be on his A game. The pass yards won’t come easy but Tulane should also take some comfort in knowing that this Owls defense gave up 185.2 rush yards per game. Fritz’s committee of backs may be called upon heavily.
The Prediction: Temple will give Tulane all it can handle between their ball-hawking defense and explosive return game. McMillan will toss a pick or two but ultimately the Green Wave ground attack and defense will get it done. It will take the whole brigade of Bradwell, Dauphine and Amare Jones to bash through the Owls run defense however the Wave will eek it out over first-year head coach Rod Carey.
Final: Tulane 31 - Temple 28
Nov, 23rd - Central Florida
Tulane’s toughest home test of the year will undoubtedly be when they welcome the AAC’s, and really the Group of Five’s, darling UCF Knights to New Orleans. Coming in ranked at #17 in the Preseason Coaches Poll, the Knights are again looking to raise some hell in the college football world this fall.
Quarterback McKenzie Milton’s gruesome injury at the end of last year subdued the Knight Fever that had been sweeping the country over the last two years but don’t be fooled, this UCF squad is ready to go on another tear.
Running back Greg McCrae will be back and looking to build off an outstanding sophomore season in which he rushed for 1,182 yards and 10 touchdowns. I feel like a broken record here, but that Green Wave run D will need to be prepared yet again. UCF is one of the many 2019 opponents that will push them to the brink this year.
Defensively, the Knights are returning several starters as well. Richie Grant, the team’s tackle and interception leader a year ago, could give the Tulane offense a long afternoon as could linebacker Nate Evans. The two were responsible for 207 total tackles in 2018 and Grant alone snared six interceptions.
All in all it just looks like a long day for the Wave. We wholeheartedly believe that this Tulane team is above average but above average doesn’t get it done against the Knights. This team has only lost one game over the last two seasons and that of course was to LSU in last year’s Fiesta Bowl.
2019 will be much of the same and Tulane will be one of the many victims on UCF’s rampage.
The Prediction: From the get go it will be apparent who the better team is. McCrae will gash the Wave’s rush defense, Tulane’s offense won’t have the firepower to outlast the Knights D and fans may be heading for the exits early.
Final: UCF 43 - Tulane 21
Nov. 30th - at SMU
The table will round out with a team and a place that hasn’t been too kind to the Green Wave in recent years. Last year’s ugly home loss to the Mustangs couldn’t quite compare to the heart-wrenching goal line controversy that ended their 2017 bowl hopes. Over the last two seasons, SMU has been on the other side of Tulane’s lowest moments. The good news is that the Wave will have a chance to finally right those past woes and what better place to do it than against that very same Mustangs team on the road in the season finale?
In 2018, SMU went 5-7 and was really nothing special at all, which is probably why that loss stung so much. Led by quarterback Ben Hicks, the ‘Stangs offense ranked third in the American with 271.7 pass yards per contest.
Hicks will no longer be taking snaps, though, after transferring to Arkansas but don’t be surprised if the Mustangs still have potent passing attack. With receivers like James Proche also returning, there is still plenty of talent to boast. Proche ended the 2018 season with 1,199 receiving yards and 12 scores.
On the defensive side SMU returns 2018 sack and tackle leader Richard Moore. Moore had five sacks and 92 total tackles.
When all is said and done, the Wave will need to be up to the task in every phase if they wan’t avoid another Mustang mishap. McMillan will need to be sharp against a pass D that picked of 11 throws and defended 33 more last season. Johnson and the defense will look to get after an O-line that allowed 31 sacks in 2018. And finally, Tulane’s coverage unit will have to stuff a return team that averaged 25 yards per kick return a season ago.
The Prediction: The Green Wave will come to play in Texas. SMU will find relative success on offense but their defense won’t be able to stop Fritz’s offense. New offensive coordinator Will Hall will draw up a near flawless triple-option attack that will leave the ‘Stangs deflated. Late-game heroics won’t be necessary as Tulane will have it firmly in hand as the game winds down.
Final: Tulane 31 - SMU 17
So there we have it, the Wave will improve on their promising bowl season last year. The 2019 schedule is by no means easy... in fact I’d argue that it’s more challenging that last season’s... but this team is up to the task. Now in his fourth year, Fritz firmly has his feet under him and the Wave could really hit their stride this fall because of it. It’s going to be a fun ride in the Big Easy.
Projected Record: 8-4
Projected AAC Standing: 2nd (West Division)