Tulane ready for Darion Monroe to return against Maine _lowres

UTSA tight end Cole Hubble, right, makes a catch as Tulsa's Darion Monroe defends during an NCAA college football game at the Alamodome on Saturday Nov. 9, 2013, in San Antonio, Texas. (AP Photo/San Antonio Express-News, Tom Reel) RUMBO DE SAN ANTONIO OUT; NO SALES ORG XMIT: TXSAE101

The alarm clock is going to sound early for Tulane’s football team Saturday.

For just the second time since 2008, the Green Wave will host an 11 a.m. kickoff in New Orleans. Its matchup against Central Florida is the earliest start time in Yulman Stadium’s young history.

While temperatures are expected to be ideal, with forecasts projecting a 68-degree sunshine-soaked afternoon, it’s not yet clear how the early morning will affect Tulane’s gameday environment.

When Yulman Stadium was opened last year, the school and its donors proclaimed it as a critical step in connecting students and Uptown neighbors back to the Green Wave football program. And in two night games (a loss to Duke and win over Maine), the atmosphere on campus has been festive.

At 11 a.m., however, even Green Wave players admit that could be difficult to replicate.

But, this is what life is like in the American Athletic Conference. Like most leagues, it traded flexibility for exposure, meaning television partners will dictate kickoff times for every Tulane home game (except rare nonconference contests being streamed only on ESPN3), including Saturday’s game on ESPNNews.

“It’s part of the deal with being in a conference where all your games are nationally televised — which is a fantastic thing,” executive associate athletic director Brandon MacNeill said. “We hope people will make a full day of it. The weather is going to be beautiful and we’ll keep tailgating open until at least 5 p.m. on the quad, so people can enjoy the day on campus.

“I just hope our students wake up early or just stay out really late. They make a huge impact.”

The Green Wave, for its part, seems largely unconcerned by the morning kickoff. Considering Tulane has practiced early nearly every day since the start of August, the wake-up call could even be considered n benefit.

“Well one of the things we do is practice in the morning,” Tulane coach Curtis Johnson said. “Our practice starts at 8:40 a.m. I thought we would have more day games so that’s why we practice at that time. I think it’s outstanding for us.

“We’ll be up and ready. Our kids get here around 7:30 every morning so I think this will help us and be an advantage for us.”

In fact, several Tulane players said they actually prefer kicking off early as opposed to the night games that many fans desire, saying they’d happily trade the extra few hours of sleep for the benefit of getting the game started quickly.

“Those night games are the tough ones because you’re just sitting there at the hotel just waiting all day and watching other people play,” senior safety Darion Monroe said. “So, you’re saying ‘Oh man, he should have made that tackle, blah, blah blah.’ So, those night games are hard to play because you kind of lose focus waiting all that time watching football and with all the anxiety of the game coming up you get tired.”

Johnson also added the kickoff time isn’t indicative of whether or not the team is locked-in mentally. While more empty seats typically greet the beginning of early games, he said he’s never seen a correlation between the time of the game and whether or not players are ready.

In fact, Monroe said it’s basically impossible to know who is prepared until the game is underway, anyway, no matter the start time.

“You kind of can but not really, because it’s all about that first play,” Monroe said. “Once you get those butterflies out of your stomach and make that first hit and that first play, then you can find out what your team has.”