Appropriately for Mid-major
Monday Tuesday, the crapshoot among Conference USA's half-dozen contenders takes its second roll tonight, when SMQ's Golden Eagles travel to beautiful Tulsa, Okla., to face the defending league champion Golden Hurricane (not to be confused with C-USA's Golden Knights, defeated by Southern Miss last Tuesday and squaring off with Marshall this Wednesday). This, on the heels of the stunning 17-point margin that announced Tulsa's arrival and hijacking of the conference in Hattiesburg last year, is a grudge match. Oh yes it is.
To boil the blood, SMQ's weekly sit-down with a blogger, reporter or other "insider" of Southern Miss' upcoming opponent took him to the one-time "Oil Capital of the World" to meet with beat writer Eric Bailey of the myopically-named Tulsa World over Gateau de Crepes a la Florentine, Lavender-Scented Goat Cheese Soufflé and Quiche Lorraine to discuss East Coast bias, the perversity of distorting the mimetic illusion of narrative, and metaphorically Darwinian aspects of ontological prioritization as it relates to the triunity of space, time and causality.
SMQ: Statistically, like last year, nothing much stands out about Tulsa. Paul Smith doesn't get sacked and throws for some decent yardage, but there's no go-to guy a la Garrett Mills. The pass defense is good, but that's at least partly due to playing strictly grounded Navy. What's to fear about this team?
EB: Experience is the biggest factor of this football squad's success. Many of the players returned from last year's Conference USA championship and Liberty Bowl team. Paul Smith isn't asked to be a superstar, but just manage football games. He's deceptively elusive and can create plays with his feet. The defense's heart is the linebackers, who lead the team in tackles. The secondary is good, but only a handful of interceptions last year.
SMQ: On the same note, there's no obvious soft spot. What's to exploit? BYU ran wild, but Navy was relatively contained. Is the run defense to be trusted?
EB: Like most teams, playing a balanced offense really disrupts the Hurricane. If Southern Miss throws the ball well, it'd really open up holes for its running game. Tulsa's defense, which missed many tackles at BYU, held Navy nearly 70 yards below their rushing average, which ranked second nationally. The defensive line isn't as experienced as the linebackers and the secondary and that could be a matchup to watch.
SMQ: The BYU win seemed to be a sign of "OK, back to
Earth" after the way last season ended, yet the team has rebounded. Is there still a sense that Tulsa's the "team to beat" in the West division, or that it's just another squad scrapping and hoping for the best?
EB: There's three teams to beat in the West - Houston, Tulsa and UTEP. I really do sense that the program has a championship attitude swirling around it, especially after last year's success. The Hurricane has won 10 of its last 12 games, beginning with the 34-17 victory at Southern Miss last season. I think BYU is better than most expected, especially with the way they nearly beat Boston College and upset a talented TCU team in Fort Worth.
SMQ: What's the general impression of Southern Miss?
Tulsa held on to the ball for like 45 minutes in Hattiesburg last year, forced a ton of turnovers and won very, very easily - how much confidence has carried over from that game?
EB: TU Coach Steve Kragthorpe always said last year is last year. But I'm sure he's aware that Southern Miss players remember how much TU dominated that second half by scoring 27 unanswered points. Tulsa isn't taking Southern Miss lightly, especially after they beat N.C. State and UCF. Tulsa seems to always enter games with confidence, but it's guarded confidence.
SMQ: Tulsa's mascot is an anthropomorphic tornado named "Captain Cane," which in practice looks much the old "Powdered Toast Man" from Ren and Stimpy. Is there any justification for this?
EB: I always thought Captain Cane looked like an upside-down "bugle," which is a snack cracker. I have to admit that Captain Cane isn't that imposing a figure. A fierce-looking eagle wins this battle, hands down.
[But not as decisively as a goofy cartoon eagle! - ed.]
Spot Tulsa's mascot
SMQ: Tulsa was once unfairly mocked as the epitome of backwater Middle America for at least an entire episode of the little-missed show "Friends." To right this wrong, what is the basic level of information visiting Southern Miss fans - or anyone heading to Tulsa - should know about the university and city as a destination?
EB: That's what Chandler gets for falling asleep in the meeting - getting banished to Tulsa. Just kidding. I'm proud to call Tulsa my hometown. It's where I've grown up and graduated from high school. When I was in Mississippi last year, I discovered that the residents there were some of the nicest people I've ever met. I think visitors to our state will find the same thing about Tulsans.
A word of advice to visiting fans: get to the game early. There's a lot of construction on campus and parking can be at a premium.