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2020 college football preseason preview: Tulsa Golden Hurricane

Can this team be saved? Does it not matter because of what’s happening off the field?

Head coach Phillip Montgomery and Tiller Bucktrot of the Tulsa Golden Hurricane react against the Temple Owls at Lincoln Financial Field on September 20, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The University of Tulsa has problems, and they’re bigger than football.

The school has been running behind via enrollment numbers for years, and also overbuilt while the energy markets were crashing. So they asked their revenue head coaches and athletic director to take a significant salary cut... in 2018. Before the coronavirus blew shockwaves into the dollars of athletic departments across America. The undergraduate in 2018 was just 3,300 students, by far the lowest amongst FBS schools.

So what happens to Tulsa now when they were already in deep trouble? If there’s any Group of Five program that might be on the chopping block, not just for football but as an institution, it could be this one. And it’s going to make any transition even more challenging. The good news for TU is they’ve got an endowment of over $1 billion, which they can continue to draw upon during this crisis. But the massive deficits the school has been running are going nowhere anytime soon.

Cuts to the athletics department, which is blamed by many for exacerbating the crisis, seem inevitable. It’s a bad situation, and for head coach Philip Montgomery and his staff, it’s bleeding over into his program already. The recruiting numbers have taken a huge hit, and it might only get worse from here.

Tulsa Golden Hurricane Stats Breakdown

Full VIC breakdown

VIC Sheet explanation

Preseason Win Total From DraftKings

Over/under: 5 wins

Over -110

Under -110

Key Stats

  • Despite being 4-8 last year, Tulsa played much better down the stretch. The win over UCF in November, and a beatdown of ECU to cap the season, showed a young team was moving the right way. They also return 88% of their offensive players, good for fourth in FBS.
  • Defensively they’re the complete opposite however, with 34% returning and only four starters, good for 124th in America, though the entire coaching staff stays intact.
  • Baylor transfer Zach Smith returns at quarterback for his senior season, after 3,279 yards on 7.6 yards per attempt with 19 TD’s and 9 INT’s in 2019. So too does Shamari Brooks and Corey Taylor II at running back, along with 48 starts on the offensive line.
  • Where Tulsa is really suffering is in recruiting, which makes sense considering the massive institutional problems. Their 2020 class was ranked 113th in America out of 130 schools, and dead last in the AAC amongst non-military academies. The team talent average of 96th is at least 15 spots behind every other non-Navy school in the league.
  • SP+ Preseason Rank: Overall 88, Offense 69, Defense 95.


Team (2020 Preseason SP+ ranking)

* AAC Conference Game

vs. Toledo (93)

@ Oklahoma State (21)

vs. Northwestern State (FCS)

@ Arkansas State (86)

@ UCF* (18)

vs. Cincinnati* (34)

@ USF* (83)

vs. ECU* (96)

@ Navy* (55)

vs. SMU* (56)

vs. Tulane* (73)

@ Houston* (53)

Analysis, Prediction

There can be questions about Philip Montgomery’s in-game management decisions, but that he’s even got a competent college football team out there every Saturday during a full-fledged crisis on campus every day is pretty good. And the fact his players didn’t quit at the end of last season when a bowl game was long gone is a good sign for the buy-in he’s gotten in the locker room.

Returning a huge portion of the offense also bodes well for this season, but the Hurricane defense that was only 54th by SP+ last season brings back nearly nothing. And as the team talent and recruiting shows, they’re not being replaced with better players.

There are two wins with Toledo and Northwestern State, and maybe Arky State in Jonesboro. But even with that, you’d need to go 3-5 in the league to hit the over here. That seems like a tough haul for a team with this little talent, and not a lot of stability as of now. There’s not really an impact player on either side of the ball you can point to as a game-changer either.

You’d need a bowl game to cash the ticket, and for a team that has averaged three wins a season since their 2016 Miami Beach Bowl victory, that seems like quite a reach. We’re going under here, but in an unusual case, this wager will be because of the administration much more than the coaching staff and players.

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