As I look at the 2021 OSU football schedule, there’s a game that stands out. Sure, there are the nine Big Ten games, and Michigan where it belongs – last. Oregon is a game that we missed last year and look forward to this year; it’s when we’ll find out just what the Buckeyes have this year. And Akron. Akron’s an in-state opponent, and it seems that there’s always at least one of them on the schedule every year. That leaves Tulsa.
I close my eyes and try to hear their crowd chant “We are . . . Tulsa!” Because I’d like to know who they are. I’d also like to know whether the game will be a walk through the tulips or through a minefield.
The Ohio State-Tulsa series record doesn’t give us much to go on. The two teams have played only once — in 2016, when the Bucks clobbered the Golden Hurricane 48-3. Probably nobody who played in that game will still be around for the Sept. 18 matchup this year.
If you were paying attention to college football nationally in 2020, however, you noticed that Tulsa was ranked in the Top 25 for several weeks. In fact, the Golden Hurricane rose to No. 20 in the AP poll before losing the American Athletic Conference championship game to 6th-ranked Cincinnati, 27-24. Close game. Not bad.
Tulsa finished the 2020 season 6-3 and beat a couple of nationally-ranked teams along the way: 11th-ranked University of Central Florida, 34-26, and 19th-ranked SMU, 28-24. In addition to Cincinnati, the Hurricane lost to 11th-ranked Oklahoma State 16-7 and then to Mississippi State 28-26 in the Armed Forces Bowl. The bottom line here is pretty clear. Tulsa played some pretty decent competition and played them tough. They weren’t anybody’s patsy last year.
What about 2021?
Tulsa, in 2020, had a quite balanced offense, passing for an average of 253 yards per game and rushing for an average of 161. They lost, however, both their top passer, Zach Smith, and top ball carrier, Corey Taylor II. This year, redshirt junior Davis Brin is projected to start at quarterback. He saw limited action last year, completing 19 of 29 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns. More experience than the Buckeye starter – but not much more.
Deneric Prince will likely be the primary running back. In 2020, he carried the ball 88 times and gained 475 yards, good for a 5.4 yds./carry average. All of the top receivers from last season – Keylon Stokes, Josh Johnson, Sam Crawford, and Josh Stewart – are back for 2021, so Brin will have experienced players running his passing routes. Also returning is massive offensive tackle Tyler Smith (6-foot-5, 332 pounds), who was first-team all-AAC last year.
Last year the Golden Hurricane defense was stout, giving up only 330 yards and 21.6 points per game. Most of the starters return. One big exception is linebacker Zaven Collins, who was American Athletic Conference defensive player of the year and dominated Tulsa’s defensive stats last season with 54 tackles, four sacks, and four interceptions. Selected 16th overall by the Arizona Cardinals in the first round of the NFL Draft, he’ll be missed.
All-AAC defensive lineman Jaxon Player (6-0, 290) is back, as are Kendarin Ray and Cristian Williams, the two starting safeties. No doubt, they will have their hands full trying to keep up with Ohio State’s stellar receivers. All in all, the Tulsa defense should still be pretty good.
I expect coach Philip Montgomery’s team to be competitive and ready to play in Ohio Stadium.
Should we worry?
I don’t think so.
Even though Tulsa plays tough, Ohio State enjoys a tremendous edge in talent. If you look at 247Sports’ rankings of football recruiting classes over the past four years, you’ll see the Buckeyes ranked second in 2021, fifth in 2020, 14th in 2019 (only 17 recruits as Bucks changed coaches), and second in 2018. The average player’s score over that period was 92.73. The Golden Hurricane classes ranked 127th this year, preceded by 116th, 107th, and 97th. Their players’ average score was 80.97. Tulsa’s class this year had seven three-star players, but no four- or five-star players. Ohio State? Seven five-stars, 13 four-stars, three three-stars. A huge difference!
That 48-3 score a few years back was no fluke. I don’t see the Golden Hurricane presenting the Bucks with anything to worry about.