NEW ORLEANS — Tulane has a new, on-campus stadium, a new conference and a new starting quarterback in 2014.
Those changes come on the heels of a 2013 campaign that saw the Green Wave post its first winning record — and earn its first bowl bid — since 2002.
Tulane looks to carrying some momentum into its maiden season in the American Athletic Conference. But coach Curtis Johnson is bracing for more difficult schedule than the Conference USA slate the Wave played in 2013.
"This is a powerful conference," Johnson said. "What Central Florida did last year, I thought it was utterly amazing. I couldn't go to sleep that night watching what they did to a great Baylor team" in the Fiesta Bowl.
"Our upcoming opponents are going to be very tough," Johnson added.
Tulane opens play at Tulsa on Aug. 28, with redshirt freshman Tanner Lee taking over at quarterback for Nick Montana.
Here are five things to watch with Tulane in 2014
QB DEPTH: Montana, the son of Hall of Fame QB Joe Montana, was inconsistent during an injury-plagued 2013 campaign. Earlier this month, Johnson announced the decision to go with Lee, one of many former New Orleans-area high school standouts brought in under Johnson's mandate to recruit aggressively in talent-rich south Louisiana. In explaining the quarterback change, Johnson said Lee has "a strong arm, command of our offense, great leadership skills and doesn't make many mistakes." Montana, meanwhile, will spend his final season competing with Devin Powell for the backup role.
DEFENSIVE UPKEEP: The real strength of Tulane last season was its defense, which ranked 22nd nationally in yards allowed per game (352.1) and forced 35 turnovers. However, the Wave has to replace several key defensive players including interior lineman Chris Davenport, who used up his eligibility after starting his career at LSU, and defensive back Jordan Batiste, who withdrew following a season in which he led the Wave with seven sacks and forced four fumbles. Still, the Wave returns cornerback Lorenzo Doss, who had seven interceptions last season; safety Sam Scofield, who was last season's leading tackler; and linebacker Nico Marley (grandson of Reggae singer Bob Marley), who had 67 tackles as a freshman.
HOMECOMING: Tulane also hopes that moving from the cavernous downtown Superdome to a more intimate, on-campus, outdoor stadium (with a capacity of 30,000 spectators) will bring new advantages as well. "We have our own place," Johnson said. "Our guys are proud of it."
KICKING IT: The Wave has to replace one of the best kickers in school history, 2012 Lou Groza award winner Cairo Santos. Freshman Andrew DiRocco and walk-on Steven Broccoli are competing for that job.