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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — If No. 24 Tulane wants to validate its first preseason AP Top 25 ranking in the program's 122-year history, star quarterback Michael Pratt and the Green Wave will have to be sharp right out of the gate.
The experienced South Alabama Jaguars have every reason to believe they're capable of dashing the Green Wave's unusually high expectations on Saturday. The Jags won 10 games last season and have 19 starters back.
“They’re a really good ball team. You know, they got a lot of guys returning, especially on the defensive side," Pratt said. “We're going to have to score a lot of points, but it doesn’t really change anything in our preparation. You know, we got to prepare like we’re playing the best team in the country every single week."
Easier said than done. But there's little doubt that Tulane, the defending American Athletic Conference champions, effectively bought into the motto last season that they were focused only on “going 1-0 each week.” So much so, that a shop on the edge of campus specializing in Tulane gear started selling T-shirts that read, “1-0,” across the front.
Tulane won 12 games last season, tying a school record for victories in a season set in 1998. But last season was arguably the most compelling in program history because it represented an unprecedented 10-victory improvement over the previous year. The Green Wave also defeated reigning Heisman winner Caleb Williams and the USC Trojans in the Cotton Bowl — a game that represented Tulane's highest-profile postseason game since its 1939 team lost in the Sugar Bowl.
For South Alabama, which has fielded a football team for just 15 years, the game presents a chance to beat a ranked opponent for the first time since the Jags upset then-No. 19 San Diego State in 2016.
“This is going to be a great game — a great opportunity," South Alabama coach Kane Wommack said. "As you build a program, you need moments like this to challenge yourself and your team to kind of see where we are on Week 1.”
In terms of advance scouting, there can be some benefits to opening against a team which experienced relatively little offseason turnover, Pratt said.
“I think we’ve got a good idea of what they’re going to do, and how to attack and break it down,” said Pratt, who passed for 3,010 yards and 27 TDs last season to go with 478 yards and 10 TDs rushing. "So, we’re feeling pretty confident.”
FILLING A VOID
Tulane's biggest question on offense is how it'll fill the void created by running back Tyjae Spears' departure for the NFL. Spears rushed for 1,581 yards and 19 TDs to go with 251 yards and two TDs receiving last season.
Fritz said Ashaad Clayton-Johnson, a 2022 transfer from Colorado, will start, but added that a “bunch of guys” will get opportunities. And with Pratt being the focal point of the offense, the ability to pass block will be a big factor.
Returning starters on the South Alabama offense include four players who accounted for the bulk of the Jags' yards and scoring last season. It starts with QB Carter Bradley, who passed for 3,335 yards and 28 TDs. Running back La'Damian Webb rushed for 1,067 and 13 scores. Devin Voisin had 867 yards and five TDs receiving, while Caullin Lacy had 812 yards and six TDs receiving.
While Tulane has not overhauled its defensive scheme under new coordinator Shiel Wood, there will be some new wrinkles. Wood prefers more blitzing than his predecessor, Lance Guidry, who left for Miami. The Green Wave ranked 100th in sacks per game among Football Bowl Subdivision teams in 2022, but third in the AAC in yards allowed (360.4) and second in the league in points allowed (22.2).
Fritz has said he's confident Wood can meld what he did at Troy with the defensive scheme Tulane played last season.
South Alabama will be playing its second consecutive game in New Orleans. The Jaguars ended last season with a 44-23 loss to Western Kentucky in the New Orleans Bowl, which was played in the Superdome. Saturday night’s contest will be the first for South Alabama in Tulane’s on-campus Yulman Stadium, which is outdoors and holds close to 30,000. The last time the Jaguars visited Tulane was in 2013, when the Wave played home games in the Superdome. South Alabama won that game.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll