Trey Watts spurred Tulsa to victory in the 2012 Conference USA title game, picking up a punt and dashing 54 yards for a tying touchdown, after Central Florida's Kemal Ishmael batted the kick.
But Watts said that's not his favorite play as a Golden Hurricane.
Last Oct. 6, playing with a bum leg and shoulder, Watts returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown to give TU a 37-25 lead on Marshall. Tulsa won 45-38.
“Everybody thinks it's the punt return,” Watts said of his favorite play.
And you can't blame them. The heads-up play on a little-known rule – if the kicking team touches a punt, play continues but the receiving team has the option to take the ball where it was first touched.
“It had happened to me in high school,” Watts said. “There was a punt return, it bounced off a guy's leg and I scooped it and took it to the house. So I knew the rule. Just fortunate enough to happen again.”
MONKEN BRINGS EXCITEMENT
Southern Mississippi had 18 straight winning seasons, capped by a 12-2 year in 2011 under former OSU offensive coordinator Larry Fedora.
But the Golden Eagles sunk to 0-12 last season under Ellis Johnson, who was fired, and Southern Miss hired another Cowboy offensive coordinator, Todd Monken.
Southern Miss linebacker Alan Howze said “you felt like the energy was back in the room” when Monken was hired. “It wasn't just me that was excited. It was everybody.”
Every OSU offensive coordinator since 2001 has gone on to be a head coach — Mike Gundy at OSU, Fedora at Southern Miss and North Carolina, Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia and now Monken.
“They hired me, specifically, counting on that we would be able to score,” Monken said. “We're going to be no-huddle, aggressive, throw the football around.”
RIVALRIES SHOULD FLOURISH
For the first time since 1994, when North Texas was a member of the Southland Conference, the Mean Green is in a conference that includes other members from Texas.
Texas-San Antonio, Rice and Texas-El Paso are in Conference USA with North Texas, which has spent time since '94 in the Sun Belt (2001-12), Big West (1996-00) and the independent ranks (1995).
“Get some rivalries going,” said UNT coach Dan McCarney. “To this day, I still haven't found out who the rivalries really were at North Texas before I got there.”
TULSA PICKED TO WIN
TU was a unanimous pick to win the West Division of Conference USA. All fourteen league coaches picked Tulsa to win, followed by Rice, Louisiana Tech, Texas-El Paso, North Texas, Tulane and Texas-San Antonio.
In the East, East Carolina drew 11 first-place votes. Marshall got two first-place votes and was second. Middle Tennessee got one first-place vote and was third, followed by UAB, Southern Miss, Florida Atlantic and Florida International.
Four Tulsa players were named to the preseason all-conference team: offensive linemen Jake Alexander of Jenks and Stetson Burnett of Lawton MacArthur, linebacker Shawn Jackson of Tulsa McLain and safety Marco Nelson of Glenpool.
McGEE HIGH ON BLAZERS
Second-year Alabama-Birmingham coach Garrick McGee is high on his Blazers, even though UAB was picked fourth in the seven-team East Division.
Can the Blazers win the conference? “Yes,” McGee said emphatically.
The former OU quarterback then rattled off his reasons: “Team chemistry first. The depth, the athleticism and speed. The fact we've got two quarterbacks (Austin Brown and Jonathan Perry) that could potentially start for teams in the conference. Really fast, aggressive, defensive players.”
McGee faces an uphill battle. Alabama-Birmingham went 3-9 last season and has posted just one winning record since 2001.
Conference USA is undergoing a massive change. Gone from last season are SMU, Houston and Memphis, to the American Athletic Conference. In are Texas-San Antonio, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, Florida International, Florida Atlantic and North Texas.
Next season, Tulsa, East Carolina and Tulane join the American Athletic Conference, while Old Dominion and North Carolina-Charlotte join Conference USA.
So in a three-year span, TU will have shared a conference with 22 schools. And Navy makes it 23 in 2015.
“The schedule comes out, and as a player, you really don't have too much control of who you play and who you don't play,” Watts said. “Where the road games, where the home games are. Just seize on your schedule and just start watching film and go try and beat whoever the next opponent is.
“Teams like Louisiana Tech and UTSA, you don't know too much about. It's like a non-conference game in part of your conference schedule. So it's a new experience and it's challenging.”
BY BERRY TRAMEL