Tulane tries to keep ride rolling in crucial matchup with Tulsa

Darion Monroe knows there’s only one thing left to get the respect he feels Tulane’s football team has earned.

Keep winning. Win enough to play in bowl games and for championships. And win those, too.

The sophomore safety said he tries to stay away from headlines and point spreads and attendance totals, but the chatter around the locker room and around campus is hard to ignore. So he recognizes the importance Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. kickoff against Tulsa holds for Tulane (5-2, 3-0 Conference USA) as it looks to wrestle back the dignity 11 consecutive losing seasons cost the program.

A victory over the Golden Hurricane (2-4, 1-1) would make the Green Wave bowl eligible for the first time since 2002 and keep Tulane on a path to controlling its own destiny en route to a potential C-USA West Division championship. This is latest into a season Tulane has competed for a championship of any kind since it went undefeated and won C-USA in 1998.

This game provides Tulane’s best opportunity to knock off Tulsa for the first time since 1968 following eight consecutive blowout losses (by an average deficit of 31 points) to the Golden Hurricane since it joined the league in 2005.

Tulane officials also hit the pavement and airwaves for two weeks in an effort to bolster the crowd, investing heavily in local advertising and promoting an array of ticket specials, which included mailing two free tickets to every season-ticket holder. Several athletic department representatives said they expect Saturday’s game will draw Tulane’s largest crowd against a non-SEC opponent in nearly a decade.

In preparation for the uptick in customers, Tulane requested that the Superdome double its number of entrances, concession areas and ticket windows from the typical Green Wave home date, according to marketing and event sales director Jason Potuto.

“We can tell people are getting excited around us,” senior receiver Ryan Grant said. “It’s fun to be here right now.”

So, Green Wave storylines are plentiful as kickoff approaches, but much of the momentum will fail to advance beyond this week unless Tulane extends its winning streak to four games and enters the November stretch playing for a banner. It’s something that hasn’t escaped Monroe or any of his teammates, who said they can sense suspicion from the outside of the program.

Despite holding a superior record, Tulane enters Saturday as a consensus three-point underdog in Las Vegas casinos, and critics have pointed to the Green Wave’s nation-leading 20 forced turnovers as a stroke of good fortune due to run out.

Starting quarterback Nick Montana was sidelined during Tulane’s 36-33 win over East Carolina, and his status has vacillated between doubtful and questionable according to coach Curtis Johnson. It means backup Devin Powell, who took the majority of practice snaps this week, may be starting against a Tulsa defense that sacked him six times in less than three quarters during a 45-10 loss last year.

“I know how people are predicting this game and the point spread and that stuff,” Monroe said. “They think it’s a fluke this year. They think we are getting a lucky bounce or something. Last year we didn’t get any of those bounces, and this year we are.

“It’s not a fluke. It’s how we play. We make those breaks. We have been doing it for seven games now. It doesn’t matter who our quarterback is. We are a good team, and we need to keep proving it.”

While Johnson spent the past two weeks urging his players not to buy into the hype of being named USA Today’s “most surprising team in the country” and other accolades from national media, his players have instead sought and found extra motivation from those who still don’t believe.

And Monroe said he’s going to take it with him to the field. Ultimately, it’s the only place that matters.

“(Cornerback Lorenzo Doss) is more of the technology guy, and he’s always searching the internet for stuff about Tulane,” Monroe said. “I mean, we see where we are on the bowl predictions and saw that we’re still rated in the 50s in the rankings. They are still predicting us to barely make the New Orleans Bowl.

“I mean, we feel disrespected by stuff like that because they feel like we can’t keep this up and compete to win the conference or make a different bowl. We just use it as fuel. We keep coming out with a fire, and they are just adding to it.”