TULSA, Okla. – Cody Green spent part of last season becoming acclimated as Tulsa's starting quarterback.
That's saying something about Green's ceiling, considering Tulsa went 11-3 and won Conference USA while Green was learning on the job.
Green, the former Nebraska transfer, returns this season for his final go-around in college football. It's one that begins with high expectations for Tulsa — which features seven starters returning on an offense that averaged 457.1 yards per game last season.
"I expect the whole offense should improve," third-year Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship said. "We're a veteran squad there, not just the quarterback. We've got at least seven others that started and a whole bunch of others that played, so I'd be real disappointed of the offense doesn't progress and show marked improvement."
The 6-foot-4, 245-pound Green accounted for 2,875 yards of total offense (2,592 passing, 283 rushing) last season for Tulsa. However, he only completed 54 percent of his passes.
That number rose to 57 percent over the Golden Hurricane's final seven games, giving hope to the thought that Green has yet to play his best football. If that's the case, there's no telling how far the Texas native could carry Tulsa this season.
"I don't think there's anything defensively that a team can do that I haven't seen yet," Green said.
Blankenship, the former quarterback at the school who has guided Tulsa to a 19-8 record in two seasons, called Green a "completely different guy" so far during the preseason. Now it's time to see how that translates as the Golden Hurricane try to move up in the rankings.
"Cody is much more confident and secure," Blankenship said. "He has a stronger handle on what's going on. I think he really benefits from having 14 games at the helm of this unit and having all summer with them."
Five things to watch as Tulsa looks to make the jump from Conference USA power to national factor:
1. NEW LOOK: The Golden Hurricane fielded one of the most aggressive defenses in the country last year, finishing second in the nation in sacks (53) and third in average sacks per game (3.79). Eight starters are gone this season on that side of the ball, but linebacker Shawn Jackson — and his 18 career sacks — returns. Jackson needs just two more sacks to tie the school record of 20, and he'll be counted on to lead a talented, but inexperienced group. "We're recruiting the kind of athletes that can continue to put pressure on quarterbacks," Blankenship said. "And to run an attacking style of defense."
2.OKLAHOMA LOOMING: Blankenship's first game as the Tulsa coach came in a 47-14 loss in 2011 to Oklahoma, dropping the Golden Hurricane to 7-17-1 all-time against the in-state powerhouse. Tulsa returns to Norman on Sept. 14, this time with a senior-laden offense that's no stranger to playing against — and defeating — BCS schools. The Golden Hurricane avenged an early loss last season to Iowa State in the Liberty Bowl, and it nearly pulled off a road win at Arkansas. Tulsa will expect nothing less than a competitive game against the Sooners.
3.RUNNING DUO: Senior running backs Trey Watts and Ja'Terian Douglas have combined to rush for 4,340 yards in their three seasons together, and the duo is expected to provide Tulsa's air attack plenty of support this season. Watts, the son of former Oklahoma quarterback J.C. Watts, was the Most Valuable Player of the Liberty Bowl last year — capping a season in which the former walk-on rushed for 1,108 yards. Douglas added 936 yards rushing at a clip of 6.8 yards per carry, and he can't wait to show how much he and Watts have improved. "We're always the underdogs, and that just makes us hungrier," Douglas said. "There's something great about being the underdog and just seeing the faces of the doubters when you prove them wrong."
4.LEAGUE POWER: Last season's Conference USA championship was the second overall for Tulsa, which also won the league in 2005. The Golden Hurricane has a 47-14 record in nine seasons in the conference, and it was won four West Division titles.
5.NATIONAL EXPOSURE: Tulsa was 11-3 last season, just the second 11-win season in school history. Watts has even higher goals in mind for this season — and more to prove. "We want to take it up a notch," Watts said. "There's always more to work on."
Predicted finish in the C-USA West: First.