COLUMBUS, Ohio — Unlike last week’s matchup against Bowling Green, there’s no history between Ohio State and Tulsa.
In addition to having never met on the football field, the two programs are separated by more than 750 miles as well as the gulf between the Power Five/Group of Five conference distinction. Make no mistake, however: Tulsa is a program on the rise. Under second-year head coach Philip Montgomery, a former Baylor assistant, Tulsa is developing into one of the nation’s most powerful offenses. The Golden Hurricane finished 13th nationally in total offense last season and opened the 2016 campaign with a 45-10 win against San Jose State.
To help make sense of the matchup, we’ve turned to Kelly Hines of the Tulsa World to get the Tulsa point of view. You can follow her on Twitter at @KellyHinesTW and you can read her work here as well as in links included below.
Q: So I had no idea until recently that Tulsa only has 3,500 undergrads. How has a school that small managed to field what’s been a pretty competitive D1 program, and what’s the support like from fans and students?
Hines: Philip Montgomery is quick to point out school size doesn’t matter when each team gets 11 players on the field. I think more of a challenge is the academic aspect of Tulsa, which is a private (and expensive) institution with pretty difficult classes and no P.E. degrees. It’s not easy to transfer in or to stay eligible. Because the university is so small, the fan base is also small. I think there’s decent support from the city of Tulsa and from non-alumni. The biggest donor didn’t attend the university, for example. In terms of facilities, I think Tulsa is on par with the rest of the American.
Q: What was Philip Montgomery’s biggest challenge when he took over the team in 2015 and how has he fared in addressing it?
Hines: Probably the biggest challenge was getting the players to believe they could win after a couple of downtrodden seasons. Montgomery was able to make football fun again, instill some confidence and raise expectations. He definitely has a blue-collar approach that resonates with his team as well as a chip-on-their-shoulders attitude that really motivates guys when they don’t get any respect. It’s basically been a total culture change from where this team was two years ago.
Q: How has the move to the AAC affected Tulsa football? Are they better or worse off as a program?
Hines: It’s probably too soon to say what the effect on the program will be, and a lot of that will depend on the American’s stability amid drama from other conferences. I think the league is a great fit for Tulsa in every sport, not just football. The geography makes travel tricky, but Tulsa is able to compete across the board. It actually had the most conference championships during the past two years. Football is a different animal from the others and it can be difficult to stay afloat in a division with programs like Houston, Memphis and Navy, but I’m guessing Tulsa likes that sort of challenge.
Q: Is there a story behind why the nickname is Golden Hurricane and not Hurricanes? (Although I guess it sort of makes sense since hurricanes don’t travel in packs.)
Hines: That’s the first time I’ve heard anyone ask about the singular nickname. More often, people wonder why a mascot in Oklahoma would be a hurricane. We get just about everything else here — earthquakes, tornadoes, ice storms, blazing heat — but no hurricanes. The coach in the 1920s wanted a new nickname and considered “Golden Tornado,” but back then Georgia Tech was the same thing. For some unknown reason, the coach stayed with a meteorological theme and the team signed off on it.
Read some of Hines’ work on Tulsa here:
Q: In what areas or at what positions does Tulsa have a chance to have success and cause problems for Ohio State?
Hines: That would have to be the pass game, the area that helped Tulsa reach six wins last year despite significant shortcomings elsewhere. Dane Evans is a fifth-year senior QB who has steadily progressed throughout his career and is on track to become the top passer in program history this year, and he has some good targets at receiver. If you look back at Tulsa’s two-touchdown loss at Oklahoma last season, Evans played very well and was able to torch the Sooners’ secondary with his throws. I’m not saying that will happen Saturday, but he has a lot of potential.
Q: What are the expectations around the program both for this game and the season as a whole?
Hines: I expect Tulsa to be competitive in this game and every game. The schedule is pretty tough — trips to Houston, Memphis and Navy, the three teams picked above Tulsa in the American West — but I think having a veteran quarterback and an improving defense gives the team a chance to compete with just about anybody. Having said that, Tulsa is still a program on the rise and doesn’t have the kind of talent it takes to defeat elite opponents without a crazy turn of events. If it can throw for 400-plus yards, play a perfect game and force some turnovers, I suppose anything can happen.
Q: What’s your prediction?
Hines: I think if Tulsa can score on its first drive, pick up some early confidence and settle into its offense, it might be able to hang around for a quarter or two. If the first few drives go south, Ohio State can steamroll like it did to Bowling Green, which is actually a decent team. Tulsa is a four-touchdown underdog, but I think it can keep it closer than that. I’ll say Ohio State 49, Tulsa 31.