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Offseason Intelligence: Tulsa Golden Hurricane

Last year, Tulsa began and ended with the same opponent — Iowa State. The Golden Hurricane lost the first contest at Ames, Iowa, but got revenge with a 31-17 Liberty Bowl victory. After that loss in the opener, the Hurricane won seven straight and then went 3-2 down the stretch, including a win in the Conference USA championship game.

Head coach Bill Blankenship brings a 19-8 record into this third year at TU. He improved from 8-5 in 2012 to 11-3 a year ago.

Eight starters return to TU’s lineup this year with senior quarterback Cody Green (6-4, 247) leading the pack. He completed 54.4 percent of his passes last year for 2,592 yards with 17 TDs and 11 INTs. Green also ran for 284 yards and four scores.

The running game will be solid with the return of senior Trey Watts (5-11, 190), son of former OU star J.C. Watts. Watts rushed for 1,108 yards (6 yards per carry) and 3 TDs last season. Ja’Terian Douglas (5-11, 189, Sr.) picked up 936 yards (6.7 average) and 7 touchdowns. The Hurricane will need to replace their graduating fullback.

Keyarris Garrett (6-4, 207, Jr.), last year’s leading receiver, is back. He caught 67 balls for 845 yards and 9 TDs en route to being selected to the Conference USA second team last year. Flanker Jordan James (6-2, 203, Sr.) and split end Thomas Roberson (6-3, 195, Jr.) also return. They combined for 70 receptions for 1,057 yards and 6 TDs.

Tulsa will need to replace a right tackle and center on the line.

The Hurricane will need to replace all four defensive starters up front, but two of three starting linebackers return for 2013. Senior Shawn Jackson (6-0, 251) recorded 88 stops in 2012 with 10.5 behind the line of scrimmages, including 5 sacks. He also broke up 65 passes, forced three fumbles and recovered one for a touchdown. Junior Mitchell Osborne (6-2, 210) had 40 tackles with 3 for losses, forced two fumbles and recovered two.

The secondary lost all but one starter from a year ago. Senior safety Demarco Nelson (6-0, 192) returns from a second-team all-conference campaign. He made 80 tackles, 2 interceptions, forced a fumble and recovered one last season.

TU’s special teams will be decent again this year with the return of key personnel, including Cole Way (6-8, 205, Jr.), brother of OU’s Tress Way. Cole is the kickoff specialist and punter who averaged 39.1 yards per punt in ’12. The placekicking will need to improve if sophomore Daniel Schwarz (6-3, 189) gets the nod this year. In 2012 he missed 7 of his 59 PATs and hit only 12 of 18 field goals, with the longest coming from 45 yards out.

Watts will be the main return guy on kickoffs and punts. Last year, he averaged 27.9 per kickoff return with one score. Watts also averaged 7 yards per punt return with a score.