The Orlando Sentinel has ranked all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. We’ll take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 120 to our projected No. 1 team. We will not be including the four teams the NCAA lists as still reclassifying to the Football Bowl Subdivision level.

Today at No. 116: Tulane

Coach: C.J. Johnson (0-0, first season at Tulane)

2011 record: 2-11 (1-7 in Conference USA, sixth in C-USA’s Western Division)


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Look back: Former Tulane Coach Bob Toledo was hired in 2007 to help the Green Wave return to championship form. After posting a 12-0 record in 1998 under former Coach Tommy Bowden, Tulane had managed just one winning season. Toledo inherited a campus still recovering from Hurricane Katrina, and his luck didn’t seem to improve much as his tenure continued.

The Green Wave faced injury problems and coped with lack of fan support for the struggling football program that played its home games in the cavernous Louisiana Superdome. The highlight of his tenure was helping to develop NFL running back Matt Forté. The Green Wave opened the 2011 season with a 2-1 record, but the team would not win another game. After Tulane lost 44-7 to UTEP on Oct. 15, Toledo resigned and co-offensive coordinator Mark Hutson took over the coaching the program for the remainder of the season.  Toledo went 15-40 during his tenure at Tulane.

During the 2011 season, the Green Wave struggled on both sides of the ball, ranking No. 115 out of 120 teams nationally in scoring defense by allowing 37.5 points per game and No. 105 in scoring offense by earning 21.1 points per game. Starting quarterback Ryan Griffin’s pass efficiency  ranked No. 97 in the country, with Griffin posting a 112.76 rating. Running back Orleans Darkwa was one of Tulane’s top athletes, averaging 112.76 rushing yards per game despite facing the most defensive pressure.

Offensive starters lost/returning: 4/7

Defensive starters lost/returning: 4/7

Key losses: DE Dezman Moses, DT Chris Asumnu, OL Harris Howard, WR Joe Kemp, DT Cedric Wilson

Top returnees: LB Trent Mackey, Orleans Darkwa, QB Ryan Griffin, S Shakiel Smith, CB Ryan Travis

Strengths: Tulane hired New Orleans Saints wide receivers coach C.J. Johnson to take over the football program, and it is building a much-needed on campus stadium. Johnson’s NFL experience and the school’s commitment to construction should help the program improve recruiting. Johnson has worked in the New Orleans community and understands the challenges Tulane faces, so it should help him make a smoother transition to leading the program.

The Green Wave returns seven starters on offense and seven starters on defense. The group includes Darkwa, the team’s strong rushing threat, and Griffin, who has endured tough stretches as Tulane’ starting quarterback.

Thanks to the offense’s problems moving the ball, the defense spent a lot of time on the field and gained valuable experience. Linebacker Trent Mackey returns to help lead the defense. He ranked fourth nationally in tackles with 12.08 tackles per game.

Weaknesses: While the new stadium will help Johnson create a better game-day atmosphere, Tulane still has rigorous academic standards that limit football recruiting options. While Johnson inherits a defense that saw a lot of action, he will have to replace all but one of his defensive line starters. It’s unclear how well the returning players will fit into Johnson’s multiple offensive and defensive formations.

Outlook: There has been considerable transition at Conference USA schools, opening the door for teams to move up from the cellar of the league’s standings. However, Tulane plays a relatively tough nonconference schedule and it will likely take more time for Johnson to rack up more wins.

2012 Schedule
Sept. 1 Rutgers
Sept. 8 At Tulsa
Sept. 22 Ole Miss
Sept. 29 UL-Monroe
Oct. 6 At UL-Lafayette
Oct. 13 SMU
Oct. 20 At UTEP
Oct. 27 UAB
Nov. 3 Rice
Nov. 10 At Memphis
Nov. 17 East Carolina
Nov. 24 At Houston

The rest of the countdown:
No. 117: FAU
No. 118: UNLV
No. 119: Akron
No. 120: New Mexico