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2019 College Football Rankings: No. 103 Tulsa tries to shake off injury bug, move up in AAC

Tulsa fans hoped the miserable 2017 season was just an aberration and the Golden Hurricane would bounce back in 2018, but that wasn't the case. Once again, injuries derailed the team's progress and it stumbled to a 3-9 finish.

Orlando Sentinel college insider Matt Murschel ranked all 130 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country entering the 2019 season. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 130 to our projected No. 1 team.

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Today at No. 103: Tulsa

Coach: Philip Montgomery (21-29, entering fifth season; 21-29 overall)

2018 record: 3-9, 2-6 in the American Athletic Conference; tied for fifth in the West Division

Look back: After opening the season with a win over Central Arkansas, Tulsa suffered through a difficult stretch that saw the Golden Hurricane lose seven consecutive games. The team snapped the skid with a win over UConn but dropped its next two before wrapping up the regular season with a win over SMU.

Five of the team's nine losses were by 10 or fewer points, with Tulsa leading going into the fourth quarter during three of those losses.

Offensive starters returning: 8

Offensive starters lost: 3

Defensive starters returning: 10

Defensive starters lost: 1

Key losses: OL Chandler Miller, OL Willie Wright, WR Justin Hobbs, TE Cole Neph, DE Myles Mouton, DB Keanu Hill, DB McKinley Whitfield

Top returnees: QB Seth Boomer, QB Luke Skipper, RB Shamari Brooks, RB Corey Taylor, OL Chris Ivy Jr., OL Dylan Couch, OL Chris Paul, WR Keylon Stokes, WR Keenen Johnson, DL Shemarr Robinson, LB Cooper Edmiston, LB Zaven Collins

Strengths: The ground game has consistently been one of the strengths of the Golden Hurricane's offense. Tailbacks Shamari Brooks and Corey Taylor II combined for 1,813 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns last season. The duo is the top returning rushing tandem in the American Athletic Conference.

Tulsa's defense showed vast improvement in 2018, shaving eight points and nearly 120 yards off its per game averages from the previous season. The team was outstanding when it came to defending the pass, allowing just 175 yards through the air.

Senior linebacker Cooper Edmiston ranked third in the conference in tackles (113), second in interceptions (4) and fourth in forced fumbles (3). He accounted for seven of the team's 20 takeaways last season. He's joined by Zaven Collins (85 tackles) and Diamon Cannon (52) in the middle as one of the strengths of the defense.

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Weaknesses: The quarterback position has been one of uncertainty for the Golden Hurricane during the past two seasons, with injuries forcing Tulsa to start Chad President, Luke Skipper and Seth Boomer.

President's decision to retire from football following the 2017 season brought to an end an injury-riddled career that included a broken fibula, chipped femur and two ACL tears. Skipper started the 2018 season but was lost to injury midway through, giving way to Boomer, who started the final seven games.

Skipper's retirement left Tulsa with Boomer and Zach Smith, who sat out last season after transferring from Baylor, as the favorites to win the starting quarterback job in 2019.

Three starters return to bolster the offensive line in 2019, but the group must replace two key veterans in center Chad Miller and tackle Willie Wright. The pair have been stalwarts, with Miller starting 50 consecutive games during his career and Wright starting 30 straight.

Outlook: As Montgomery faces challenges on the field, off it the schools continues to deal with the fallout from an athletics department suffering through budgetary shortfalls. To his credit, Montgomery took a voluntary pay cut to help the school address the deficit.

Back on the gridiron, Tulsa returns a wealth of experience, but the biggest unknown facing this team is at quarterback. The program enters the 2019 season riding a 12-game road losing streak — the longest in the AAC — that dates to 2016.

2019 Schedule

Aug. 30 at Michigan State

Sept. 7 at San Jose State

Sept. 14 Oklahoma State

Sept. 21 Wyoming

Oct. 5 at SMU

Oct. 12 Navy

Oct. 19 at Cincinnati

Oct. 26 Memphis

Nov. 2 at Tulane

Nov. 8 UCF

Nov. 23 Houston

Nov. 30 at ECU

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