Jul 25, 201708:00 AM
Full Sport Press
'The games we play in New Orleans and beyond'
Willie Fritz tries to build a winner
It was never going to be easy. Tulane football’s road to respectability is long and bumpy and, according to the American Athletic media poll, won’t be pulling into a bowl destination anytime soon. Tulane faithful need to strap up their helmets as the 2017 Tulane Green Wave are heading straight into a stacked AAC.
While the Green Wave are picked to finish dead last in the AAC there is cause for some guarded optimism.
Preseason Poll Blues
First, who cares what a bunch of media dweebs think? These guys are completely unreliable. In fact, only one AAC preseason favorite (Cincinnati) has finished atop the conference. So, there’s a lot of room for error. Unfortunately, there won’t be any room for error when the Green Wave takes on the preseason favorite South Florida. The Bulls return 18 starters from a team that went 11-2 and beat South Carolina in something called the Birmingham Bowl, which I assume is in Birmingham. The Bulls also now have Charlie Strong at the helm. Strong, after a tumultuous tenure at the University of Texas, is a top-notch coach looking to rebuild his reputation.
Willie Fritz isn’t rebuilding as much as he is just building from scratch, taking over a team with only one winning season in the past 14 years. Fritz also was handed an offense that to call it dormant would be an insult to the word dormant.
Before last season and after those same writers jabbered that Fritz adapted his offensive style to fit his personnel (which is basically like saying water is wet), the coach came out and employed a heavy rushing attack just like he used at Georgia Southern. I would expect the same this year as the Green Wave have a loaded backfield, which all starts with senior Dontrell Hilliard.
Hilliard is running towards a 1,000-yard campaign, having improved his output each year. Hilliard finished the 2016 season with 759 yards at 5.6 yards a carry. With Josh Rounds (758 yards rushing) having moved on, Hilliard is a 1,000-yard threat but also look for fellow senior, and primary kick returner, Sherman Badie to get more carries. The backfield mix will also include former quarterback now running back Darius Bradwell and the coaches and players are all impressed by the summer put in by incoming freshman Stephon Huderson.
Quarterback (no) Controversy
Unlike last year, Tulane enters the 2017 campaign with their signal caller figured out heading into week one. All eyes are on Jonathan Banks to take charge of the offense and provide a sense of balance to an offense that couldn’t get anything through the air last year.
Banks, a four-star recruit who signed with Kansas State but comes to Tulane through the JUCO route is a dual-threat quarterback. He has speed to get to the edge, which should loosen up some running lanes for Hilliard inside, but more importantly the Green Wave need his arm. I love the triple option as much as the next guy but when you’re trailing late in the game you need a kid that can stand in the pocket and throw some daggers — an element Tulane completely lacked last season.
The Long Play
In year two, Willie Fritz seems like a quality hire. Fritz is already improving the program by signing better recruits and adding depth via transfers. There is hope in the air for better team play and bringing some fire back to Willow Street.
It might just take awhile.
It’s no stretch of the imagination to say that Tulane could improve across the board but still finish 4-8 again. The AAC is a tough conference and — besides their goofy “POW6R” logo which reeks of desperation — can play with the big boys. Unfortunately for Tulane the schedule has them playing the top four teams in the AAC and lets pretend Oklahoma isn’t on the schedule until we have to, OK?
Tulane only has two games that they should definitely win — the season opener against Grambling State and a mid-season game versus Florida International (which is on the road so not really a given).
After that, its all uphill but if the defense (which I will dig into next week) led by Perry Nickerson can maintain their high level of play, in a season without Rico Marley and Tanzel Smart, a few other matchups might fall their way.
The Navy and Army games are interesting. Both schools run the option and, well, Tulane’s defense practices against a version of the option every day. Tulane also almost upset Navy at Yulman last year, as well.
Two games in November could decide the narrative of the 2017 season. If Banks turns into a threat at quarterback, a Homecoming upset over Cincinnati could be in the works. After that, Tulane catches an East Carolina team coming off a 3-9 season. Could be a big two weeks for the Olive and Blue faithful. Only time will tell, but as always, keep hope alive and Roll Wave.
And like a fine wine with a steak dinner, every game should be accompanied by a beverage and song.
Beer Pairing: Chafunkta Brewing’s “Old 504” Robust Porter
Playlist Recommendation: George Michael – “Faith”
Around the Way
I attended the Gulf Brew festival in Lafayette over the weekend. It was a tornado of beer styles and beer love and the night got a little loose. There were a lot of great beers (fell back in love with Chafunkta’s Old 504) and some that were shockingly awful (I want to say, but I’m just too nice). I wouldn’t wear my “pretzel necklace” but, in retrospect, that idea is pure genius.
The Saints own Zach Strief has entered the brewing game as part owner of Port Orleans Brewing on Tchoupitoulas. The brewery feels more like a restaurant than its warehouse counterparts. If you ever see Strief there, make sure to say hello. He gave the speech at the Press Club of New Orleans awards program last year and it was absolutely hilarious. Cheers.