Tulsa took a definite and sudden step back in 2009.
The Golden Hurricane won 21 games in two years under coach Todd Graham and started last season 4-1 before dropping six straight to fall from bowl contention.
"No one was more surprised than I was that we didn't go to a bowl game because that was far from what our expectations were," Graham told ESPN. "I think one of the hard things sometimes is when you win 21 games in two years, the expectation is you've got to win 12. That was our expectation."
Spring football will take aim at focusing on returning to the little things that allowed the team to win close games in 2007 and 2008 rather than attempting any sort of major overhaul with the program.
Sure there were kinks with the offensive line. And, yeah, the defense was readily pushed around at times. But perhaps the biggest reason for the Golden Hurricane's disappearance from the postseason was that it collectively forgot how to win those close games.
Three of Tulsa's losses came by a total of 12 points. A few plays here, a couple more there, and that 5-7 season could have been 8-4, more recognizable to fans of the Golden Hurricane.
"We're not far off, it's just that every close game in '07 and '08 we won, and every close game last year we lost." Graham said. "You have to look no further than leadership and coaching. We're going back to work and that 'we've got something to prove' mentality."NOTES, QUOTES
SPRING OBJECTIVES: Against the pass the Golden Hurricane have been among the worst teams in the country for the past couple seasons. It doesn't help that two of last year's better defensive players roamed the backfield.
But, hopefully for Tulsa, there is a huge influx of signees coming in to help. Eight of the 22 players to sign with the Golden Hurricane this February are either safeties or cornerbacks. So there should be plenty of competition there during Spring ball.
Besides this competition for what should be open spots, the secondary will also have to adjust to a new coach, Van Malone, previously of Texas A&M.
Last year there was a big battle between a trio of quarterbacks, but coach Todd Graham named a starter early during the Spring season. There should be more stability there.
BUILDING BLOCKS: Expect the Tulsa offense to be back to its prolific self in 2010.
The Golden Hurricane returns plenty of experienced playmakers on that side of the ball, including quarterback G.J. Kinne. Tulsa's young offensive line was an issue last season, but with another year under their belt and the addition of top recruit Jake Alexander the Golden Hurricane blockers should be better there.
Another reason to think Tulsa should be a feared offense again is that the offensive coaching system is back to the way it used to be.
Two years ago Herb Hand shared the offensive coordinating duties with Gus Malzahn. When Malzahn left for the SEC, Hand had the offense all to himself. Tulsa head coach Todd Graham brought on Chad Morris to serve as Hand's co-pilot and bring Hand back to a comfort level.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think in a way it's very, very tough to sustain that and you can take winning for granted. That's the one thing that we've talked about. We need to get back to that blue-collar mentality. That chip on our shoulder, got something to prove-type mentality. That's the team we need to be." -- Tulsa head coach Todd Graham told ESPN about changing his team's attitude this spring.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: Tulsa's usually high-powered offense struggled at times last year because of a young offensive line which allowed nearly four sacks per game, ranking them among the nation's worst. An extra year of experience should help Tulsa there, as the Golden Hurricane boast plenty of weapons. Defensively, Tulsa might experience trouble against passing teams -- plenty of those in Conference USA -- because of the losses of key DBs James Lockett and Kenny Simms.
OL Jake Alexander -- Tulsa coach Todd Graham calls Alexander (6-2, 270) the Golden Hurricane's top recruit of the 2010 haul. He's a second-generation Tulsa player, as his father is considered one of the program's greats. Alexander should help an offensive line that gave up too many sacks last season.
RB Derrick Hall -- Hall has the versatility, big-play ability and is in the right offense to catapult into a nationally recognized back for Tulsa. He was one of the nation's top players coming out of high school and initially signed with Texas A&M. Graham calls Hall the impact player of the class.
S Milton Howell -- Known for his versatility, athleticism and ball skills, Howell is a former QB who played for a national title in junior college. Tulsa coaches will try to fit him at safety to help a depleted secondary, which was one of the weakest areas of last year's Golden Hurricane.
--Backup QB Jacob Bower left the team early during Spring drills. He had been a backup for two seasons and when Tulsa coach Todd Graham announced that G.J. Kinne again would be the starter, Bower didn't waste much time in asking for his release.
--There has been some shuffling of coaching duties at Tulsa in the offseason. Chad Morris, a well respected high school coach from Texas, was named co-offensive coordinator, a duty he shares with incumbent Herb Hand. Hand had shared the role in a similar fashion two years ago, but struggled with it alone last year.
Previous Report: 04/28/2010