There are only two ways for Tulane football to become relevant again: Competing for the American Athletic Conference championship and securing quality non-conference wins.
That’s why the four game series with Southern Miss, announced Thursday, is a another good step on the road to relevance.
The rivalry began with a controversial 20-19 Tulane win at Southern Miss in 1979. A Golden Eagles lateral on a kickoff that was returned for a touchdown was ruled illegal by the zebras.
It wasn’t long before the rivalry burned hot.
It hasn’t been that way of late. Southern Miss has won the last six meetings by 14 or more.
Tulane’s last win in the series was 2002, ironically the last year the Green Wave won a bowl game.
Signature football wins have been hard to come by for the Green Wave.
A 2010 victory under head coach Bob Toledo at Rutgers was a good one.
A 1983 upset in the Superdome of Florida State was huge, but that win had to be vacated when Green Wave quarterback Jon English was ruled ineligible.
The 1979 Tulane had the most scheduling cred. The Wave won four straight to end the regular season, taking down Georgia Tech, Boston College on the road, and then both Ole Miss and LSU.
As for the future, the next four seasons of Tulane football have some out of conference muscle, with the Wave taking on Oklahoma, Ohio State, Auburn and Mississippi State.
Wins in any of those games would get Tulane football more credibility than 10 wins over Central Florida or SMU.
The significance of quality wins cannot be over exaggerated.
The University of Utah experienced such a seminal moment in the 2009 Allstate Sugar Bowl when the Utes beat a then one-loss Alabama team 31-17 to finish the season 13-0.
Oh by the way, Utah is now a proud member of the PAC-12.
In 2005, TCU beat Oklahoma, a big feather in the cap of head coach Gary Patterson. On January 1, 2011 the Horned Frogs took down Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.
TCU now resides in the Big 12.
Although he’s coached only 12 games at Tulane, head coach Willie Fritz is assembling a solid program.
Junior college transfer Jonathan Banks appears to be a big addition to rally an anemic offense.
Fritz has also said he will recruit the best local players, as Tulane tries to elevate its program. What the Green Wave needs are the players who don’t sign with LSU, but go to Ole Miss, Arizona State or Nebraska.
Those players are in Louisiana, every year.
The best way to get the best local recruits is to say the following:
Did you see us whip (fill in the blank, a nationally ranked team)?
That is instant credibility in recruiting.
That’s why Tulane director of athletics Troy Dannen must continue to upgrade the schedule.
Big wins work wonders for any school to argue its case when the next expansion happens for a Power 5 conference.