When Chris Scelfo took the reins at Tulane at the end of the 1998 season, the foundation was set for a high-scoring, wide-open offense. During Scelfo's first five seasons, the Green Wave averaged 28 points per game.
All that may change in '04. Tulane enters the season with major questions on offense for the first time since Scelfo's arrival. While the receiving corps will remain the team's strength for the second straight year, the player delivering the ball is still a mystery.
The Green Wave will be starting anew in the backfield after losing quarterback J.P. Losman and running back Mewelde Moore, the team's primary offensive weapons the past two seasons.
Scelfo has learned that a team cannot survive on offense alone. If the Wave is going to be competitive in C-USA, its defense has to step up and get the job done.
"I think the biggest challenge is we've got to get better on defense and special teams," Scelfo said.
OffenseThe quarterback job is up for grabs heading into fall camp. Redshirt sophomore Nick Cannon was the heir apparent but did not claim the spot during spring drills. Lester Ricard, who transferred to Tulane from LSU before the start of last season, and redshirt freshman Richard Irvin join Cannon in the race. Of the three, Cannon is the only one with experience in '03, although not much of it. He played in four games and was 2-for-2 for 16 yards passing.
Coach Scelfo may have to go with more than one quarterback early in the season.
"It may not be decided until early fall, but I'm not opposed to going into the season rolling the quarterbacks until one establishes himself," Scelfo said.
The uncertainty at quarterback could lead to some underutilized wide receivers. The Wave's top offensive threat is Roydell Williams, a 6-foot-2 senior who caught 66 passes for 1,006 yards and nine touchdowns last season.
While the Wave is stacked at receiver, it has only two quality backs -- power runner Jovon Jackson, a 5-11, 210-pound junior, and 5-10, 195-pound freshman speedster Ray Boudreaux.
Just how successful the Wave's offense is will hinge on two things -- the effectiveness of a line that has experience but lacks depth, and how quickly the team can develop a quarterback who can handle the heat and not make mistakes.
DefenseThe defensive line was a weak point a year ago, and things don't figure to get much better this fall. Tulane needs tackle Bamm Mateen and end Michael Roberts to remain healthy and provide some leadership. Taurean Brown, an imposing 6-6 sophomore tackle, could emerge as a run stopper in the middle.
Anthony Cannon will lead a young group of linebackers. Cannon, a 6-foot junior, has recorded more than 100 tackles in each of his first two seasons. Cannon will be joined by sophomore Kelvin Johnson in the middle and junior Antonio Mason on the strong side. Wesley Heath, a starter in '02, is back from a high ankle sprain to provide experienced depth.
The defensive backfield, led by senior free safety Joey Dawson, has a group of proven veterans. "This could be the strongest part of our team," Scelfo said. "Dawson staying healthy will be critical for us."
SpecialistsSophomore punter Chris Beckman ranked second in Conference USA with a 43.5-yard average. The Wave is waiting for placekicker Barrett Pepper to live up to expectations. Pepper made 40-of-43 PATs as a freshman but was just 3-of-7 on field goals.
Final AnalysisThe Green Wave pulled out of a five-game tailspin and ended the season by winning two of its last three games. Carrying that momentum into the '04 season will not be easy.
The Wave has to replace Moore, the school's all-time rushing leader, and Losman, a two-year starting quarterback. The focus of this team may shift from a high-scoring offense to one that is more conservative and relies on its defense to come up with big stops and big plays.
A bowl team just two years ago, Tulane has slipped to the bottom of Conference USA. The presence of Army means a last-place finish isn't likely, but Tulane will struggle to win more than a couple of league games.