1. WHAT TO PLAY FOR? A year after contending for the Conference USA championship until the season’s final week, this year’s edition of Tulane football finds itself playing for pride with two games and three weeks remaining. Tulane was ensured of a losing season after its 38-7 loss to Memphis and must now head to the American Athletic Conference’s best stadium environment in East Carolina. Coach Curtis Johnson, however, insists motivation won’t be an issue for his supremely young depth chart which is still hoping to secure starting spots for 2015 and every snap is an audition before spring practice.
2. HARDY HANDS Tulane’s first assignment on Saturday will be slowing down East Carolina wide receiver Justin Hardy, who is just four catches shy of breaking the NCAA’s all record for receptions with 349. His matchup with either preseason All American cornerback Lorenzo Doss or AAC’s interceptions leader Parry Nickerson is sure to catch the eye of many NFL scouts. It’s also a place where Saturday’s game could likely pivot. If the Green Wave are able to slow the Pirates’ passing attack, the 17.5-point underdog can spring the upset.
3. RUNNING BACK ROTATION Tulane’s pair of top running backs, sophomore Lazedrick Thompson and redshirt freshman Sherman Badie are both questionable for Saturday’s game due to ankle injuries, meaning the load will once again fall on freshman Dontrell Hilliard. A week after churning up 180 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns in an upset win over Houston, Hilliard struggled in the loss to Memphis, losing two fumbles and not finding much running room until a touchdown run in the final minutes. Whichever version of Hilliard shows up on Saturday will go a long way in determining how Tulane’s offense functions.
4. TREND SETTING East Carolina won five consecutive meetings against the Green Wave in C-USA, before Tulane snapped its skid last year in a 36-33 overtime thriller that ended on a Devin Powell touchdown pass in the Superdome. Tulane has never won in Greenville dating back to 1991. ECU holds a 10-3 advantage in the series. The pair of schools both entered the AAC together, but this may be the last meeting for a few years after the conference splits them into East and West divisions in 2015.