Ted Lewis: Tulane might not be in free fall, but the state of the program doesn’t look great _lowres

Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (1) is taken down by Tulane during the first half of the NCAA college football game in New Orleans, Friday, Oct. 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

A year ago, 17-point underdog Tulane upset Houston 31-24 on the Cougars’ home field.

Three weeks later, the Green Wave closed the season with a 10-3 loss to Temple, which was playing for bowl eligibility.

Friday, Tulane lost at home to Houston 42-7. A week before the Wave was beaten at Temple 49-10.

To be sure, the concussion suffered by quarterback Tanner Lee in the first half of the Temple game was a major factor. But the question remains: Has the Wave regressed that much since last season, or have those other two programs improved that much?

Obviously it’s some of both.

But last week, the announcement came that the search committee to find athletic director Rick Dickson’s successor is hoping to complete its work sooner than later. That’s a strong sign that an evaluation of Curtis Johnson will be forthcoming at the season’s end.

As it should be.

While the rest of the American Athletic Conference continues to make strong impressions — Memphis knocking off No. 13 Ole Miss on Saturday being the latest — Tulane is not.

At least not to those who supposedly care about the program. And they’re increasingly hard to find.

A visit to the Glazer Family Club on Friday night, where those who donate beyond the price of admission to watch Tulane football congregate, revealed few if any caring too much.

Oh, there were plenty of people there, including school president Michael Fitts. But they seemed far more interested in the ongoing social hour than what was happening on the field.

Can’t blame them, really.

If they had been paying attention, they would have seen a team of limited talent with an unimaginative offensive scheme playing undisciplined football.

How so?

Johnson said he had warned his team that the officiating crew was known for calling things tight.

Predictably, at halftime, Houston had drawn nine flags and Tulane eight.

But in the second half, the Cougars drew only one more — on the first play of the third quarter — while Tulane drew four, including one for unsportsmanlike conduct when Tanzel Smart picked up the flag after a defensive offsides call.

That’s not good.

Devin Powell, who started in place of Lee, was an abysmal 11 of 28 for 88 passing yards. He seldom threw beyond the sticks even though Tulane faced 18 third-down situations.

That might be understandable if Powell had no experience. But he’s a fourth-year junior.

And when things got out of hand, redshirt freshman Glen Cuiellette, the only other scholarship quarterback, was passed over in favor of senior walk-on Jordy Joseph.

After four years under Johnson, is the depth at quarterback that bad? Maybe he should try expanding his recruiting boundaries beyond Louisiana.

At least there were no botched punt snaps — which, considering that the Wave punted 11 times and successfully pulled off the fake for what would have been the 12th — isn’t too bad. That is, unless you consider that Houston’s Demarcus Wares returned eight of them for 175 yards, including a 73-yarder for the Cougars’ final touchdown.

It added up to another dismal performance — in its four losses, the Wave has been outscored 203-34 — by a team that now must play this Saturday at 4-1 Navy before travelling to Memphis to meet the sure-to-be-ranked Tigers on Halloween.

Scary.

After the game, Johnson said he was hoping that when “these kids get a little bit older,” Tulane would be “more like those teams.”

But according to the depth chart, 17 of the 22 starters were in at least their third year in the program.

When, exactly, does a college football cease being a “kid”?

“Just playing more mature,” Johnson said.

And, mature or not, Johnson said he would likely use more younger players against Navy, especially on defense. Considering that the Midshipmen run the option meaning that following assignments is essential for the defense, that’s almost as scary a prospect as the trip to Memphis.

Tulane is now 2-4, and winning two of its last six games may be expecting too much.

Over on the Houston side, the Cougars were celebrating being 6-0. Add in Memphis and unbeaten Temple and AAC is likely to have three Top 25 teams this week.

And with Boise State’s loss to Utah State Friday, the AAC championship game winner is the No. 1 contender for the CFP bowl berth that goes to the top team from the Group of Five conferences.

Being in contention for that berth was a reason that Houston fired coach Tony Levine after two straight eight-win seasons, replacing him with Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman.

Beyond that, Tillman Fertitta, chairman Houston’s Board of Supervisors, has publicly declared that school’s intention to gain Power Five membership.

Cougars Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek said Friday his role is to put his school in the best possible position to make that happen. And, at the least, make Houston the dominant school in the AAC.

Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that this is the 50th anniversary of Tulane leaving the SEC.

Who knows what the school’s athletic history would have been if that decision, which had sound reasons behind it, had been different?

The SEC already has one Vanderbilt. Would it have two?

One thing’s for sure.

Whoever the next athletic director at Tulane may be has some work to do, or Tulane will be the Vanderbilt of the AAC.