Tulsa was picked to finish last in the American Athletic Conference media poll heading into its debut season in the AAC. But the Golden Hurricane are using a lesson it learned in Conference USA to prepare for the upcoming season.
"Last year we were coming off a really great season and they ranked us to win the conference… and that didn't work out very well," said senior offensive guard Garrett Stafford at AAC media day on Tuesday in Newport. "Preseason polls are just that, they're preseason polls."
Tulsa, one of three AAC newcomers with Tulane and East Carolina, finished 3-9 in 2013 after going 11-3 and winning Conference USA and the Liberty Bowl the previous season. They are rejuvenated by the upgrade in conference play.
"This conference definitely has more exposure," said senior safety Michael Mudoh. "I like the opportunity to play for a BCS championship just like UCF played in the Fiesta Bowl. In this conference I feel like if you have a very good season, then the opportunities are limitless to the end of the season in regards to the playoffs and a BCS game."
Bill Blankenship enters his third year as coach of the Golden Hurricane and said he's excited for this opportunity.
"The opportunity that exists to continue to raise our program, the awareness, I think mirrors exactly what the American conference is doing," Blankenship said. "We're a small private university that is a little off the radar, but yet we've got a history of big wins, we've got a history of success."
Mudoh and Blankenship both said UCF's Fiesta Bowl win was inspiring to teams outside of the Power 5 conferences.
"There was a time when virtually there was not any opportunity," Blankenship said. "But at least I can tell my players, 'you go out, we win our conference, if we do this, this and this, we have a legit shot to be in that top eight."
Stafford said Tulsa is preparing to host Tulane in the first AAC game Aug. 28.
"We obviously have goals of 12-0 and those kind of big-time goals," Stafford said. "But we're focusing on Tulane right now, that's our next game."
After Tulane, the Golden Hurricane play in-state rival Oklahoma, and then three more nonconference games before their remaining seven AAC games.
"On a bigger scale, I'll talk to our players about winning September and we want to try to win October and win November. I think you try to divide the season into thirds. It's a whole lot easier to kind of give some short-term goals to your players."
Blankenship said that Mudoh and fellow senior safety Demarco Nelson arguably are the "best safety combination in the country."
Mudoh was second-team all-Conference USA last season and nine other starters from last year's defense return. Nelson redshirted last season but in 2012 earned second-team all-Conference USA honors.
"They'll be fun to watch," Blankenship said.
The Golden Hurricane return four offensive starters and quarterback Dane Evans is expected to start. The sophomore made five starts last season, throwing four touchdowns.
"We've some young players at receiver and running back," Blankenship said. "I'm anxious to see how they step up."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun