Willie Fritz and Tulane made history last season.
In 2020, the Green Wave reached a bowl game for its third consecutive season. Tulane ended up losing the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, and there are more bowl games now than at any point in college football history, but the achievement is noteworthy, nonetheless.
The turnaround Fritz has engineered in his half decade at the helm of the program is impressive. Tulane won six games total in the two years prior to Fritz's arrival and had been to only two bowl games in the 21st century. Fritz has won at least six games in each of the past three seasons, leading the Green Wave to two bowl wins in the process.
Plus, last season could have been even better.
Consider this: three of Tulane's five regular season losses were by one score. The Green Wave blew a 24-point third quarter lead to Navy in September, lost an overtime thriller to Southern Methodist by a field goal in October, then had their hearts shredded the next month in Tulsa when the Golden Hurricane ripped off a 96-yard pick six in double overtime. Talk about some bad beats.
Although a daunting non-conference schedule awaits, including games against Oklahoma and Ole Miss, Tulane has new coordinators on both sides of the ball and 15 returning starters, including a sophomore quarterback with a wealth of experience from last season. Fritz's sixth squad in New Orleans is hungry, but can they contend with the traditional American Athletic Conference powers?
Offense: Prattical Magic
Quarterback Michael Pratt showed immense upside last season after taking the reins under center during the Green Wave's third game of the season. Pratt threw for over 1,800 yards and 20 touchdowns, the most by a true freshman last year, and rushed for eight more scores. The rising sophomore has poise and experience, two valuable qualities every coach wants in a quarterback, and a veteran offensive line to keep him upright.
Accompanying Pratt in the backfield are a potentially lethal combo of Cam Carroll and Tyjae Spears. Carroll rushed for over 740 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, while Spears returns after a torn ACL in Tulane's third game derailed his red-hot start to the 2020 season. Utah transfer Devin Brumfield is waiting in the wings as a solid third option.
Receivers Jha'Quan Jackson and Duece Watts each snagged 31 receptions, combining for nearly 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns last year. Jaetavian Toles, Mykel Jones, and Phat Watts also return to bolster the receiving corps. And don't sleep on tight end Tyrick James, whose 18 receptions was third most on last year's squad.
Defense: Beware of Linebackers
Tulane led the conference in both sacks and tackles for loss last season, but new defensive coordinator Chris Hampton has his work cut out for him this year. Hampton is tasked with replacing the production of stud defensive linemen Patrick Johnson and Cam Sample.
Jeffery Johnson, Eric Hicks, and Memphis transfer Joseph Dorceus should make up the core of the defensive line, while Adonis Friloux, Alfred Thomas, and Noah Seiden are expected to be solid contributors. Sophomore Angelo Anderson should make an impact in the front seven, trying to fill the void left by Patrick Johnson.
The linebackers are unquestionably the strongest unit of the defense. Dorian Williams and Nick Anderson, the team's two leading tacklers in 2020, return, as do Kevin Henry, Marvin Moody, and Jesus Machado.
Tulane's defensive Achilles heel most of last season was its secondary, allowing 250 or more passing yards nine times. Larry Brooks and Macon Clark return at safety, combining for five interceptions last year, while Colorado transfer Derrion Rakestraw should be a factor as well. Jaylon Monroe returns as the elder statesman of the cornerbacks, while the opposite corner spot could be occupied by Kansas State transfer Lance Robinson, Alabama transfer DJ Douglas, or Ajani Kerr.
Fritz's squad made history last season, but can they turn the corner and keep ascending? Seven regular season wins are attainable, but Tulane must snag at least two of four non-conference wins and improve in closing out tight games. Pratt's growth at quarterback is crucial, as is the performance of the new coordinators. If the Green Wave can check those two boxes, Fritz might be able to finally get seven regular season wins and make some noise in the American Athletic Conference.
Tulane: 8-5, TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl win.