NEW ORLEANS - There's no gaudy preseason ranking or national championship thoughts, but a feeling of confidence was clearly in the air as Tulane's football team and coaches met the media Wednesday.
Confidence can be a hard attribute to find when your program hasn't had a winning season since 2002.
A quick glance at 2010 shows four wins, eight losses and an eighth consecutive losing season. A closer examination reveals what might have been.
"If we would have finished two of our games last year in the fourth quarter," Tulane quarterback Ryan Griffin told me on Wednesday, "we would have been in a bowl game, and all these questions would be different."
Earlier this week, I heard Boise State coach Chris Petersen say on a national radio show that, in so many words, your chance to have a successful season goes hand-in-hand with how good your quarterback is. Petersen should know â€“ he has a preseason Heisman candidate in Kellen Moore.
As we sit in August of 2011, this may be the best quarterback situation Bob Toledo has had since he arrived at Tulane. Griffin, a junior from Westlake Village, Calif., passed for 2,371 yards a year ago.
The last time a returning QB starter for the Green Wave had that many passing yards the season before, it was another Californian behind center â€“ J.P. Losman in 2003. That campaign would be the end of a nine-year run for Tulane in which the team's top passer eventually made it to the NFL.
Toledo understands this. When his UCLA teams were at their best in 1997 and 1998, he had a productive veteran quarterback in eventual first-round NFL draftee Cade McNown.
"If you don't have a gunslinger, you got a problem," Toledo said Wednesday. "Look at all the great teams. They've all got quarterbacks. Look at the Saints. Look at the Colts. Look at a couple teams in our conference. Case Keenum is a heck of a quarterback at Houston. G.J. Kinne is the same thing at Tulsa.
"If you've got a quarterback, you've got a great beginning. If you don't have a quarterback, it makes it really difficult."
Not only is Griffin productive, he's clearly established himself as the leader of the Tulane offense.
"He was like the coach on the field," Toledo said of Griffin's role this summer. "He took the whole team, directed them during summer workouts and did a great job."
Said Griffin: "We had 92 guys here (this summer), the most we've ever had. (We had) people wanting to be here, wanting to get better."
One indirect benefit for Griffin and the Wave was the NFL lockout. When Drew Brees and his teammates went through their offseason schedule Uptown, Griffin and his teammates got to soak it all in.
Toledo and Griffin both told the story of how Brees, who like Griffin has endured shoulder surgery in recent years, encouraged Griffin to do something he calls "prehab."
"(Brees) lifts weights and works out to get his shoulders stronger because you get hit in the shoulders a lot," Toledo said. "So Drew helped him incorporate a program to help him so hopefully he doesn't get injured."
Something Griffin gleaned from Brees wasn't spoken.
"(You watch) how he practices, and how every play he challenges himself to get better," Griffin said. "That was invaluable."
A key for Griffin this August is getting the chance to know five new wide receivers â€“ Devin Boutte of Catholic-New Iberia, Marc Edwards of St. Augustine, Brandon LeBeau of McMain, Xavier Rush of Terry, Miss., and Justyn Shackleford of Suwanee, Ga.
"We've got a 13-game season with no bye, and so depth is going to come into play," Griffin said. "We only have four scholarship receivers returning. These five freshmen receivers are going to be huge. That's why we need camp â€“ to get these guys developed."
The 13-game schedule is as a result of a Nov. 26 game at Hawaii. It also means that to have a record of .500 or better to be bowl-eligible for the first time since 2002, Tulane needs to win seven games, not six.
Tulane athletic director Rick Dickson "asked me if I wanted to go to Hawai'i," Toledo said. "I said, 'Hell yeah. Are you kidding me? Why not?' And so I said, 'Let's go! I'll accept that. Bring 'em on!'
"Then he said, 'Well, you've got to win seven games.' I said 'Bring 'em on, baby! Let's win seven.' I hope we already have seven wins before we get there. But if not, we've got to go and win that football game."
If the air of confidence currently making its way through the Wilson Center on Tulane's campus translates into performance on the field, those seven wins are certainly not out of the question.
A final non-football item from Tulane this week. I caught up with Green Wave baseball coach Rick Jones following football media day.
Barely 12 hours earlier, Jones had the chance to watch arguably the two best players to wear a Tulane uniform in his 18 years as head coach â€“ Brian Bogusevic and Micah Owings â€“ face off against one another in the major leagues.
"The first thing that popped in my mind is the Baseball America cover from 2005 with those two guys on the cover when we were preseason No. 1," Jones said. "Here they are in the big leagues, Micah getting his (sixth) win, Bogusevic hitting his first (career) home run, a triple away from the cycle.
"What those two guys meant to our club, not only were they tremendous players, but great representatives of our program and outstanding students.
"And I wish they were still playing for us," Jones laughed. "Those two guys hit in the middle of our lineup and were our Friday and Saturday starters."
A coach can't pull for one of his players over the other, but in the end, he got the best of both worlds.
"I wanted to see Micah get the win," Jones said, "but you're loving the fact that Bogusevic (is having a big night)."
For the record, Owings struck out Bogusevic.
|< Prev||Next >|