(Eds: With AP Photos.)By KURT VOIGTAP Sports Writer
Bill Blankenship has no problems with championship expectations at Tulsa, and he’s well aware of just how high those hopes are this season.
The Golden Hurricane coach spoke at the team’s media day on Monday, just moments after last season’s Liberty Bowl champion finished its third practice of preseason camp.
Tulsa finished 11-3 and won the Conference USA title last year and it is once again expected to be among the league’s best this season – thanks in large part to an offense that returns eight starters, including quarterback Cody Green.
Last season’s championship came in Blankenship’s second season as the head coach, following an 8-5 record during his first season. The quick success was hardly a surprise in Tulsa for those who know Blankenship, a former quarterback at the school who established himself as a top prep coach in the area before entering the college ranks as an assistant with the Golden Hurricane in 2007.
Tulsa’s season, including the Liberty Bowl win over Iowa State, helped raise the profile of the mid-major, as well as expectations. Blankenship is just fine with that.
”I think the reasonable standard should be that we win at a high level, that we’re competing for championships and that we win more than we lose in championships,” Blankenship said. ”I think that’s reasonable. Now, that’s not my standard, but I think that’s what reasonable people should think.”
Last season was the second 11-win season in Tulsa history, matching the 2008 team. Blankenship was a part of both of those teams, having worked as the special teams coordinator in 2008, and is aware of how fleeting the national attention could be if the school doesn’t continue to win.
”I think we’ve kind of raised the bar, and we have a very high standard,” he said. ”We’re always wanting to do better than we did last year. Nobody’s going to care that we did that last year if we don’t do it again this year.”
Tulsa’s identity recently, dating to former coach Todd Graham, has been its offense. The Golden Hurricane didn’t disappoint last season, finishing 28th nationally with an average of 457.1 yards of total offense per game.
The output came behind Green, the former Nebraska quarterback who was seeing his first action after sitting out for a season. He completed just 54 percent of his passes but accounted for 2,875 yards of total offense (2,592 passing, 283 rushing) and 21 total touchdowns.
Now a senior, the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Green is more comfortable than ever and he’s not shy about his own expectations this year.
”We win a lot of football games, and it’s fun to be around,” Green said. ”There’s no doubt that our ceiling is way higher than anyone else thinks our ceiling is. Our expectations are to be in a BCS game at the end of the season.”
Green has a trio of experienced receivers in Keyarris Garrett, Jordan James and Thomas Roberson, all made better by the backfield duo of Trey Watts and Ja’Terian Douglas.
Watts, the son of former Oklahoma quarterback J.C. Watts, was the most valuable player of the Liberty Bowl after rushing for 149 yards. The former walk-on led Tulsa with 1,108 yards rushing last season as a junior, and he received plenty of support from Douglas, who added 936 yards rushing and averaged 6.8 yards per carry.
”There’s a special feel to our offense right now, even though it’s early in fall camp,” Watts said. ”There are just so many returners back, and there’s just so many guys, that who do other teams really key on when we can all make plays? I think it makes for a really special year.”