Tulane football took a big step forward in 2013

    In 2014, another step forward for head coach Curtis Johnson and his Green Wave will be far more daunting. The Wave leaves Conference USA for the American Athletic Conference. Among the American’s best teams are Central Florida, Cincinnati and Houston.
    Central Florida clinched at least a share of the league title and only had to beat SMU to clinch a BCS bowl berth and its eighth consecutive victory. Cincinnati carried a six-game win streak into its regular-season finale against Louisville. Houston has won the last 10 meetings against Tulane.
    The 2014 non-conference schedule includes Southland Conference champion Southeastern Louisiana, Georgia Tech and Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights are leaving the American for the Big 10.
    The Green Wave also will be hit hard by some key departures. Graduate student Chris Davenport, a transfer from LSU, started 11 games at tackle and anchored the defensive line. Julius Warmsley started all 12 games on the line and registered four quarterback sacks.
    Wide receiver Ryan Grant appears to have an NFL future. Grant had 70 receptions for 926 yards and nine touchdowns. Grant’s 70 catches were better than the next three Tulane pass catchers (Justyn Shackleford, Xavier Rush and Rob Kelley) combined.
    Placekicker Cairo Santos, the Groza Award winner in 2012, also departs. Santos was given the ultimate vote of confidence in a triple-overtime win in the Superdome against East Carolina. When the Pirates missed a field goal in the third overtime, Tulane got the ball on the ECU 25-yard line. Johnson decided against running any plays from scrimmage. He sent Santos into the game, and he delivered with a 42-yard, game-winning field goal.
    Johnson also must find a way to inject life into his offense. Tulane scored a total of 10 points in the fourth quarter of five road games. Through the games of Nov. 30, Tulane was ranked 114th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total offense. The Wave was ranked 103rd in passing and 101st in rushing offense. Tulane’s longest scoring pass play this season was 49 yards.
    Will Johnson stick with quarterback Nick Montana? Or does he give redshirt freshman, Tanner Lee of Jesuit, a chance to win the job?
    A bowl berth figures to help Tulane in recruiting. But only three of Tulane’s 22 commits for the class of 2014 were rated as three-star prospects.
    Johnson said his top priority was getting his assistant coaching staff pay increases. Johnson will likely get that and a contract extension that includes a sizable increase.
    But, a bigger paycheck and a bowl berth also will bring a higher level of expectation. And, for Tulane football, expectation is a most welcomed change.
    Ed Daniels is sports director of ABC26 WGNO. He can be reached at edaniels@clarionherald.org.

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