Finishing the regular season in December for the first time in 10 years and on its latest date since 1947, Tulane has to create its own energy in preparation for Saturday’s game against Temple at Yulman Stadium.
As the nation’s attention turns to conference championship games and the selections for the first four-team playoff, the Green Wave (3-8, 2-5 American Athletic Conference) is one of four teams playing out the string with no bowl possibility and the only one of those four coming off an open week.
“It feels strange when I look around and see all the conference championships games the same week,” cornerback Lorenzo Doss said. “I kind of wish we had that opportunity. It’s strange, but I’m glad we still have a game and are still able to play.”
Tulane’s Tuesday workout was as boisterous as any all year, with the defense celebrating every pass breakup and the offense cheering each completion when the starters faced each other. At least on the surface, the disappointment of back-to-back losses to Memphis and East Carolina by the combined score of 72-13 has not weighed down the Wave. Those were the most recent of five defeats by 24 or more points on a schedule that featured seven bowl teams plus Temple (5-6, 3-4), which needs to win Saturday to become bowl-eligible.
“We remember how last season ended, and going into the offseason after a bowl loss was tough, and it hurt,” quarterback Tanner Lee said. “As we go into the offseason, a win will help recruiting, it will help our confidence, it will help everything.”
It would be an experience Tulane has not felt in a long time. The Wave has lost 10 consecutive season finales dating to a victory against East Carolina in 2003, so no one on the roster knows what it is like to finish on a high.
“Whenever you’re playing, it’s for something,” coach Curtis Johnson said. “All of the good teams I’ve been on, you never talk about the tangible things. Even the Super Bowl years and the national championship years, you always talk about the next thing in front of you, and that’s what we’re trying to do with this program, too. We’re planning to send these seniors out in the best possible way we can because that’s what they’ll remember. We’re playing for our fans and the people in the stands.”
The challenge is getting recharged after an open date that came when most teams’ seasons ended. Despite not having a championship game — an issue that will go away next year with the addition of Navy as a 12th team — the AAC wanted to remain visible into December. With an uneven number of teams, someone had to be off last weekend, and Tulane sat out while the rest of league played conference games.
“It was kind of weird,” center Nathan Shienle said. “The discontinuity was strange, but you can’t just go out there and go through the motions. You want to win, and we know we have to show intensity in order to win.”
For one week, they want to wipe away the frustration of a long year. Although outside expectations were low considering the upgraded schedule, the players expected to pick up where last year’s team left off in the New Orleans Bowl.
“I had my mind set on a bowl game, and obviously we didn’t reach any of our goals this year,” Lee said. “It’s just tough. That’s a huge negative. We know what it’s going to take, and sometimes it takes even more. We want to win. We don’t want any more seasons like this, and that’s what guys understand.”