Lewis: Hopping on the Tulane bandwagon? Save room

It’s always nice to know that somebody actually cares about what you’re doing.

Especially if you’re a Tulane football player and that kind of attention has been rare of late.

“I like to eat at this place called The Orchid,” senior receiver Ryan Grant said. “And everybody’s going, ‘Wow, man. You guys are really playing good. Keep it up.’ I’d like to think we’re getting lot of people on the bandwagon.”

From the amount of attention being given the team, it certainly seems that way.

And, as Green Wave coach Curtis Johnson puts it, so many people are climbing aboard that, by the end of the season, two bandwagons might be needed.

Certainly there’s a chance to make a statement about how far the program has come Saturday. After a dismal decade-plus, the Green Wave can officially turn one corner with a victory against Tulsa in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Winning would make the Wave (5-2, 3-0 Conference USA) bowl eligible for the first time since 2002.

But even though fliers promoting the game emphasize that point, much loftier accomplishments are within reach. Winning out would mean Tulane is the champion of C-USA’s Western Division and the host for the league title game.

“We didn’t go into this season thinking, ‘Man, if we can just get to six wins,’ ” senior center Zach Morgan said. “But if you start thinking about the big picture, you’re going to get off track. We’re not going to do that.”

Especially not with Tulsa as Saturday’s opponent.

The defending conference champions may be an uncharacteristic 2-4 (and 1-1 in C-USA), but that mark has come against a much stronger schedule than the one Tulane has faced. Plus, Tulsa has thoroughly dominated Tulane in their eight seasons as C-USA divisional foes, outscoring the Wave 346-123.

Asked whether he has any favorite memories of playing Tulsa, Wave secondary coach Jason Rollins, who has been on the staff since 2008, said, “Not a single one.”

Last year was particularly painful with the horrific paralyzing injury suffered by Devon Walker that put an even darker cloud over a program trying to climb out of a deep hole.

“I just kind of tripped out coming home after that game,” Grant said. “I couldn’t believe what had happened to Devon. We kept battling, but it was just a bad, bad day.”

And, not to put a damper on this season’s success, it’s worth noting that the Wave is only 12th in the league in total offense and likely will be without starting quarterback Nick Montana for the second straight game.

Tulane hasn’t scored an offensive touchdown in its past seven quarters of regulation, although a plus-nine turnover margin will make up for those deficiencies. There’s a reason why the Wave is a three-point underdog.

“We have to play outstanding to stay with this team,” Johnson said. “And they have to give up some stuff.”

But even if the Wave should stumble Saturday, the fact that the next three opponents before the regular-season finale against co-division leader Rice have a combined record of 5-15 should portend that a title-game berth will be on the line in Houston that day.

“What I said in the first meeting is that was one of the expectations,” Johnson said. “Bur our goals are really short-sighted. We talk about one game, one step at a tine. The one thing I’m guarding against is reflections.”

That’s why, Morgan conceded, last week’s open date — which followed Tulane’s dramatic triple-overtime victory against East Carolina — came at a good time.

“It gave us a chance to relish the moment,” said Morgan, who along with his teammates was given a promised week off to do just that. “We probably needed that.”

And, to Rollins, they deserved it as well.

“It’s nice to see the reaction towards the guys,” said Rollins, who has been on the staff since 2008. “They’re getting a great reception on campus and, when you go around, you’re seeing Tulane shirts and cups and stuff for sale when it’s usually just confined to the campus. People want to talk about Tulane football and who these guys are. It’s nice to see them finally getting the true college football experience.”

Morgan’s favorite moment came after the East Carolina game, when he and his teammates were high-fiving fans.

“All of a sudden, this woman grabbed my hand,” he said. “I thanked her for coming out to support us, and she said, ‘No, thank you. We’ve been waiting for this for a long, long time.’

“Nobody had ever thanked us like that before.”

That’s because usually there wasn’t anybody there to do it.