NEW ORLEANS — Entering its final season as a Conference USA member, Tulane’s football team received a measure of respect by having three players named to the preseason All-Conference USA first team.
Kicker Cairo Santos was named preseason Special Teams Player of the Year, while senior receiver Ryan Grant and sophomore cornerback Lorenzo Doss were named to the league’s first-team offense and defense, respectively.
However, the reverence shown toward Tulane’s individuals didn’t translate to the Green Wave as a whole. Tulane was picked to finish sixth in the seven-team C-USA Western Division, ahead of only newcomer UT-San Antonio.
It’s a ranking Green Wave coach Curtis Johnson said he understands, considering the program’s 10-year bowl drought as well as the 2-10 record Tulane compiled in his first season as coach.
“I would have voted us sixth or seventh or whatever last place is probably,” Johnson said. “That’s how we finished, and we have to show people that our best ball is yet to come. I think we are probably picked just about where we should be for preseason though. We lost a great quarterback and some other good players and have lots of improvement to make, so it’s up to us to do better than they think.”
Tulsa was picked as the favorite to win the West, followed by Rice, Louisiana Tech, UTEP and North Texas. East Carolina led the way in the Eastern Division voting, trailed by Marshall, Middle Tennessee, UAB, Southern Miss, Florida Atlantic and Florida International.
The 14-team league lost four schools to the re-branded American Athletic Conference over the summer, which Tulane will join next year, and added six schools to replace them. Still, the Green Wave didn’t generate much enthusiasm among the league’s coaches, a fact which bothered some Tulane players.
“I don’t feel like we are respected by Conference USA,” Grant said. “The other coaches, I think, say, ‘Aw, it’s just Tulane. They’re an academic school that can’t play football.’ I’ll tell you one thing: We are definitely going to turn some heads and break a few teams off something proper this year.”
Only three teams — Tulsa, East Carolina and Marshall — had more selections than Tulane’s three on the preseason All-C-USA first team. It’s also Tulane’s most selections since the 2003 preseason, which was fresh off of the Green Wave’s last winning season and bowl game.
Santos’ designation hardly comes as a surprise considering the reigning Lou Groza Award winner hasn’t missed a field goal since 2011, converting all 21 attempts last year.
Grant, who was named to the Biletnikoff Award Preseason Watch List on Tuesday, earned his way onto the list by leading the league in receiving yards per game (95.75) while making 76 catches and racking up 1,149 yards.
Doss was one of only three sophomores selected for the team, thanks in large part to nabbing a school-record five interceptions during his freshman season. The New Orleans native said he was surprised and humbled by the honor.
“I think making this list a real honor for me, personally, just to even be mentioned by guys like Cairo and Grant who are some of the best in the country at what they do,” Doss said. “I think this shows that we have some great players on our team and we are ready to turn that into wins.”