NEW ORLEANS – After eight consecutive years with four wins or fewer, Tulane is talking turnaround.
Eight returning starters on both sides of the ball, a lighter schedule and some key transfers have raised hopes for a rare bowl appearance.
The most prominent addition is junior quarterback Nick Montana, the son of NFL Hall of Famer Joe Montana. Montana lost a tight battle for the starting job at Washington in 2011, played at a junior college in 2012 and is the clear front-runner at Tulane.
Tulane also brought in 6-foot-4, 334-pound defensive tackle Chris Davenport, who was a premier recruit at LSU in 2009 but never found his niche with the talented Tigers.
Second-year coach Curtis Johnson says he'd be disappointed with second-straight losing season.
"As ultra-competitive as I am, I would probably be disappointed with six wins," Johnson said. "We better get more than six. We've added some pieces." ___
Here are five things to watch with Nick Montana leading Tulane this season:
1. MONTANA'S DEVELOPMENT: The coaches hope Montana has the same touch as predecessor Ryan Griffin, who turned in the two most prolific passing games in school history last season and earned a free agent contract with the New Orleans Saints. They know Montana is more mobile than Griffin, which should come in handy behind a shaky offensive line. Montana started only one game at Washington, but he was highly recruited as a high school senior in 2010. Almost all of the Green Wave's receivers are back, including first-team All-Conference USA pick Ryan Grant, who caught 76 passes for 1,149 yards last season.
2. NEWCOMERS: Davenport, a graduate student in his final year of football eligibility, was unblockable in the first two weeks of preseason practice. The difference between LSU, where he played sparingly and was moved to offensive line in 2011, and Conference USA is tremendous. He's not the only significant addition. Former Arkansas linebacker Tyler Gilbert, a junior, will play defensive end, and Tulane's freshman class is faster and more physical than in previous years. For the first time in a while, Tulane will match up size-wise with its opponents.
3. BETTER BLOCKING: The offensive line struggled mightily in 2012. With four of the five starters having next to no experience entering the season, Tulane averaged 39.6 rushing yards, the second lowest total for any FBS team this century. The Green Wave did not score its first rushing touchdown until the eighth game. All but one of those linemen is back, and sturdy senior center Zach Morgan returns after missing 2012 with a shoulder injury. If this group improves dramatically, the Green Wave can win. If not, it will be another long season.
4. SECONDARY STANDOUTS: The Green Wave had three freshman starters at defensive back, and all three were productive as they learned on the job. Free safety Darion Monroe, who reneged on a commitment to Texas A&M to sign with Tulane, led the team with 96 tackles. Cornerback Lorenzo Doss had five interceptions. Cornerback Jordan Batiste had 41 tackles. With a year of experience, they should make more plays as sophomores.
5. SCHEDULE: Tulane plays a light schedule in its last season in the Superdome before leaving for a new on-campus stadium, and is in its last year in depleted Conference USA before joining the American Athletic Conference. After opening with FCS opponent Jackson State, the Green Wave faces the likes of South Alabama, North Texas, Florida Atlantic and Texas-San Antonio while avoiding former Conference USA powerhouses Houston and UCF. Almost every game is winnable.
Predicted finish in Conference USA: Sixth in the West Division
AP college football site: http://collegefootball.ap.org/