NEW ORLEANS - Political advisers always plead for candidates to “stay on message” during a campaign.
This offseason, Tulane coach Bob Toledo and his team have followed that mantra precisely. Despite a disappointing 4-8 season in 2010, the standard of expectations is undeniably raised, and it’s being done by Tulane itself.
“I don’t believe it’s any good any longer to just be competitive,” Toledo said during Tulane’s annual football media day on Wednesday afternoon. “I want to win. And our players want to win. So our goal now is to win a conference championship and to go to a bowl game this year. Anything short of going to a bowl will not be good in my opinion.”
Retained for his fifth season with the Green Wave, despite compiling a 13-35 record at Tulane, Toledo has the message of bowl-or-bust branded on the remainder of his tenure. It’s a simple measurement, and one that has eluded the program since December 2002.
The eight-year bowl drought is on top of the mind for those associated with Tulane football. And if it stretches to a nine, speculation regarding a program overhaul is likely to be rampant.
To avoid that fate, Tulane will need to find seven wins along its 13-opponent gauntlet, starting in the Superdome on Sept. 3 against Southeastern Louisiana and ending on Thanksgiving weekend in Hawaii’s Aloha Stadium, site of the Wave’s last bowl appearance.
“Seven wins is the baseline expectation for us right now,” junior cornerback Jordan Sullen said. “We think we can do better than that, and we expect to win Conference USA, but the minimum for us this season is to win seven, get to a bowl game, and get everything around here moving in the right direction.”
It’s an illustration of a newfound level of accountability among the Green Wave, one Toledo claims is the best he’s seen since his arrival in New Orleans.
And he’s taken part in it as well.
This season, Toledo will call his own plays, intricately controlling the offense’s philosophy from the head coach position. He fills in for former offensive coordinator Dan Dodd, who departed the program after four years, and Toledo said he’s not afraid to loosen the reins.
“I will be probably pretty aggressive,” Toledo said. “I have been aggressive in the past. You have to take some shots down the field. We’ve been too much of a dink and dunk and safe (offense), and I think we’ve been too simplistic. People catch up to you.
“I want to create more problems for the defense. I’m not opposed to taking shots.”
It’s imperative for Tulane to improve on an offense that finished 10th in Conference USA with 24.9 points per game, a process that will be aided by seven experienced starters returning to the field, including quarterback Ryan Griffin.
Griffin, who begins his third season in charge of the Green Wave attack, has helped generate much of the optimism around the locker room. After undergoing foot and shoulder surgery during the offseason, the redshirt junior is back to 100 percent health and expects to improve upon his 2,371 passing yards and 14 touchdowns from a year ago.
Toledo named Griffin the unequivocal starter and expressed full faith in the Westlake Village, Calif., product.
“He led us this summer,” Toledo said of Griffin. “He was like the coach on the field. He took the whole team and directed them during the summer workouts and did a great job. He’s had several great days of practice.
“If he stays healthy, he is going to have a heck of a year.”
Junior receiver Wilson Van Hooser concurred with his coach, expressing high hopes for Griffin, and said this is the time for the Wave to produce tangible results.
“It’s just different around here,” Van Hooser said. “We all believe that we are a team that can win and win now. For us, it’s do or die, and it’s up to us to perform.”
After eight seasons without a bowl game, the Green Wave may be saying all the things to make people believe in a change of fortune.
Now the question is: Can Tulane live up to its message?
“It’s time for us to do something,” Toledo said. “I’ve tried to build this program on a solid foundation, and it’s a tougher job than I thought it was going to be. We’ve had some high points, but we’ve had a lot of low points. And it’s just time to put up. I will be disappointed, to be honest with you, if we don’t get to a bowl game.”