I don't care whether you run the ball 400 times a season; if you want a successful offense, you need a quality quarterback at the helm. Whether you have Derek Carr of Fresno State (5083 yards, 50 TDs passing), or Keenan Reynolds of Navy (1346 yards rushing, 31 TDs), if you want to move the ball efficiently, it all starts with the signal caller (as opposed to the "passer").
Since joining Conference USA in 2005, Tulsa has had a successful run of quarterbacks, helping the Golden Hurricane to not only be one of the best offenses, but best teams, in the league. The first of those was Paul Smith, a WAC holdover who led Tulsa through their first three CUSA seasons. Under the outstanding Smith, Tulsa won 27 games and appeared in two championship games, beating UCF in 2005, and then losing to the Knights in 2007. Over his career, Smith completed 808 of 1292 passes for 10936 yards, 83 TDs and 35 interceptions. In 2007 alone, he passed for 5065 yards and 46 TDs. While no Pat White (leading all-time rushing quarterback), Smith was mobile enough to add 666 yards and 28 TDs on the ground.
Good luck following that.
The Golden Hurricane entered 2008 with an air of confidence, with Smith's understudy, David Johnson, taking over. Johnson, a senior by the time he started, had thrown a mere 41 passes over his first three years, so one couldn't blame Tulsa for harboring secret concerns about their passer.
Those concerns didn't last long, as Johnson turned out to be every bit as good as his predecessor, passing for 4059 yards and 46 TDs, and adding 3 on the ground. Not only did the offense rock, but Tulsa returned to the CUSA title game, only to fall foul of East Carolina at the final hurdle. Over his career, Johnson completed 299 of 463 passes for 4531 yards, 48 TDs and 19 interceptions, and added another 232 yards and 4 scores on the ground.
Remember GJ Kinne? Kinne was good enough to get recruited by Texas (back when they were okay at recruiting quarterbacks), but got buried on the depth chart and transferred to Tulsa. Two years after he left high school, Kinne was leading Tulsa's attack. He was good in his first season, accounting for 3125 total yards and 27 TDs, but the Golden Hurricane struggled through the season, winning just 5 games.
In 2010 and 2011, Kinne had the Hurricane back competing for conference titles, winning 18 games. Sadly, Tulsa fell short of making the league championship under Kinne, but he will be remembered fondly for his play, often carrying the offense on his back. He completed 732 of 1195 passes for 9472 yards and 81 TDs, with 32 interceptions, and ran for 1359 yards and 15 TDs on 434 carries.
Cody Green was a Nebraska transfer who had a ton of talent and was expected to be the next great passer in Tulsa's recent history. He completed the ultimate goal, leading the team to a CUSA title with a win over UCF (do I sense a rivalry?), but he hardly had a stellar season, completing just 248 of 471 passes for 2592 yards and 17 TDs, with 11 interceptions, and adding 283 yards and 4 scores on the ground. However, he had played well enough to get the benefit of the doubt from the fans.
Championship hopes dashed.
The 2013 season didn't go according to plan. Green's favorite receiver, Keyarris Garrett, barely lasted two games, and Green appeared to have no answer, completing just 55.5% of his passes for 1339 yards and 7 TDs, with 8 interceptions, before injury ended his final season prematurely. Green finished his career with 345 completions on 630 attempts, 3931 yards and 24 TDs, but with 19 interceptions. He also ran for 356 yards and 5 scores on 114 carries.
The Dane Evans era begins.
Granted, Evans was a true freshman, but at times he looked like a high school freshman on the field. With his play generally ranging somewhere between "could do better" and "don't give up your day job", Evans completed a mere 84 of 195 passes (43.1%) for 898 yards and 4 TDs, with 10 interceptions. This is despite being protected by an offensive line that allowed just 10 sacks.
A new starter for 2014?
Nope, Evans apparently has had the job in hand since spring camp, courtesy of some system changes that take advantage of his skill set. Having Garrett back to work with last year's best receiver, Keevan Lucas, will certainly benefit the sophomore. Let's not crack out the CUSA title game shirts just yet. Evans still has a way to go before he's a bona fide starter, and in the AAC for good measure. Can he continue the lineage of great Tulsa passers, that had a brief hiatus last season (or two?), or will Brian Blankenship start looking at other options on the roster if the season starts to go downhill in a hurry?