Conference USA football: Tulsa won’t act like underdog at Arkansas
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Tulsa's football team is the class of Conference USA but, for the first time this season, the Golden Hurricane will enter a game as the underdog.
Tulsa (7-1, 5-0) visits Arkansas this Saturday. The Razorbacks have tumbled from the lofty perch of its preseason expectations, struggling to a 3-5 record under Coach John L. Smith, a last-minute replacement for disgraced and fired former Coach Bobby Petrino. The Hurricane's only 2012 loss came in its season opener against Iowa State.
After rattling off seven straight wins, the Golden Hurricane may be and underdog, but Tulsa Coach Bill Blankenship said the team won't act like an underdog.
"I think we're playing as a confident team right now. You can look at the film from the Rice game and go, 'Man, we've got to get a lot better if we're going to go to Arkansas and win.' All of that is a good thing for us. Whether Arkansas was coming off a win or a loss to Ole Miss, I don't think it was going to matter to us one bit."
Blankenship redshirted at Tulsa in 1976, the last year the Hurricane went to Fayetteville and won.
He went to the game as a spectator and remembers celebrating more than he would have if he were on the sideline. He doesn't know if his current players completely understand the history of the series - the two teams have played 72 times and Arkansas leads 52-16-3, winning the last 17. But he knows what a win would mean for long-time fans.
"It would mean a lot more to people who have been around Tulsa for a long time," he said. "I don't know that our players get the significance of that past history of (the TU-Arkansas series). To guys my age, it's certainly very meaningful. There are a lot of true-blue Tulsa fans (who would savor a victory over the Razorbacks). To the players on our team, it would be a significant win over a significant program."
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BOWL ELIGIBILITY has been hard to come by in C-USA. In week 10, only Tulsa and Central Florida have qualified for bowls in the 12-team conference. East Carolina, at 5-4, can reach that milestone with a win Saturday over 4-4 Houston.
The Pirates could have become bowl eligible last week, but gave up 512 rushing yards in a 56-28 loss to Navy. ECU Coach Ruffin McNeill said that technique on defense wasn't up to snuff against Navy, but after the practices he's seen in preparing for the Cougars, he feels the Pirates will be ready for Saturday.
"It's tough to take a loss like we did to Navy, because of the amount of work that we put into it, but that is what needs to be done," he said. "I am not a good loser, but at same time I know we still have plenty of yearly goals that we can accomplish and my job is to make sure our team realizes that."
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ANOTHER WEEK, another loss for Southern Mississippi.
The Golden Eagles, the 2011 C-USA champions and winners of 12 games last season, fell to 0-8 with a 44-17 loss to Rice. The Eagles turned the ball over five times against the Owls. USM has given up 103 points in its last two games and while negative thoughts are bound to creep up, Coach Ellis Johnson said all the team could do was soldier on.
"(Outside negativity) is going to happen when you're having a lack of success; everybody is going to be unhappy," he said. "Players are unhappy, the coaches are unhappy. I don't have anything to say to anyone other than we are going to work as hard as we can to put the best product on the field. The thing you have to do right now is you have to turn your attention to the team, to the players, and that we're 100-percent on top of that and helping them in any way that we can to improve and get better."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.