John Klein: Hurricane cementing its relevance after notching notable win
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Wednesday, January 02, 2013
1/02/13 at 4:35 AM
Go to John Klein's Blog Original Print Headline: Hurricane cementing its relevance
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Do not underestimate the significance of what Tulsa football did in the Liberty Bowl.
By not only beating, but beating up Iowa State of the Big 12 Conference, Tulsa gained a level of respect it has craved in recent years.
In all of the conference realignment mess, leagues are looking for schools with significant football teams.
Tulsa football is relevant.
It is relevant because coach Bill Blankenship, in his first two seasons, has been willing to change and adapt.
TU had been known for its wide-open, spread offense when Blankenship took over the program in 2011.
In the past two years, Tulsa has been transformed into a power running offense with a wicked defense.
Whatever the style, Tulsa is winning at the best rate since the Golden Hurricane of the 1940s.
The Golden Hurricane is not an elite program. It is not getting any membership applications for the SEC or the Big 12.
However, make no mistake, what Tulsa football has done in recent years has made it an attractive entity in college football.
Tulsa needed a victory over Iowa State to help legitimize what it has done over the past decade. The Golden Hurricane didn't just beat Iowa State, 31-17. TU dominated, running for a remarkable 317 yards against one of the better Big 12 defenses.
No need for tricks or gimmicks. Tulsa ran 60 times, passing just 23 times.
As the Golden Hurricane climbed back to respectability in football over the past decade, it has won league championships (two), bowl games (five) and 11 games in a season (twice).
In the past six years, Tulsa football has won 55 games. That's a level of success at Tulsa not seen in nearly 70 years.
Tulsa won 47 games from 1940-45 (six seasons).
However, in recent years, it has seldom won games against teams from the upper levels of the BCS.
That changed two years ago when Tulsa won at Notre Dame, the only victory over an automatic-BCS qualifying school in the past 14 years.
Then, Monday's victory over Iowa State snapped a 16-game losing streak against the Big 12 Conference.
No one will confuse the Cyclones with Alabama. However, Iowa State does play and occasionally win games in the Big 12.
Boise State, TCU and Utah all rose to prominence outside the BCS leagues over the past decade. TCU (Big 12) and Utah (Pac-12) used that success to jump up to BCS leagues.
Boise State used football success to make it the most attractive school among the schools outside of the five major conferences.
Tulsa is trying to climb into that discussion.
Tulsa's enrollment and market share are not attractive in conference realignment, but certainly TU football has become somewhat of a coveted entity.
That's why winning a nationally televised bowl game on New Year's Eve, against a team from one of the five power conferences, is a huge deal for TU.
Tulsa football, present and past, can be a positive in conference realignment. Leagues want football teams that play at a high level and can help bring notoriety to a league.
TU has gone to eight bowls in the past 10 years and has a 5-3 record in those games.
ESPN reported TU may be among as many as six teams currently under discussion for the newly expanded Mountain West Conference.
Tulsa also figures prominently in the future of Conference USA.
The way Tulsa has played in recent years, it would be a significant football member in either league.
If Conference USA does not add members, by taking back some floundering members who have gone off to the imploding Big East, then Tulsa and Southern Miss figure to be the football powers going forward in C-USA.
Boise State is apparently leaving the Big East before ever joining the Big East to return to the Mountain West. Boise would be the flagship football program in the Mountain West.
However, Tulsa football has evolved to the level that the Golden Hurricane would certainly be a factor in Mountain West football.
ESPN reported Boise State and San Diego State are both likely returning to the Mountain West. In addition, Houston and SMU, two C-USA teams, are reportedly reconsidering their moves to the Big East and may join a migration to the Mountain West.
Tulsa and UTEP were also mentioned as possible Mountain West teams.
All of them, and probably a handful of things we haven't even thought of yet, are possible.
Tulsa has been very conservative in conference realignment, preferring a wait-and-see attitude instead of jumping at the first opportunity like Houston, SMU and Memphis did to the Big East.
Now, as the Big East crumbles, all of those teams (six from Conference USA) are re-evaluating their situations.
No one should diminish the importance of football and what it means in realignment.
That's why what Bill Blankenship, Todd Graham and Steve Kragthorpe have done in the past eight years is so vital to the future of Tulsa athletics.
Since 2005, TU football has won nine, eight, 10, 11, five, 10, eight and 11 games.
For all of the talk about market share and attendance, no one should underestimate the importance of winning football games.
Tulsa is doing plenty of that these days.
Cody Green is tackled by Jacques Washington during the second half of the Iowa State vs. Tulsa Autozone Liberty bowl football game in Memphis. TOM GILBERT / Tulsa World