When the American Athletic Conference announced plans Wednesday that wouldn’t affect any of the University of Tulsa’s scheduled football games, the news quickly spread through Hurricane media day.
“I just got word that we’re going to have a full season,” quarterback Zach Smith said. “That would be awesome if that is actually true. I’m really excited for whatever happens. We’re going to go out there and try to win every game that we have.”
TU is among only a handful of FBS programs that has not had a game crossed off its schedule because of COVID-19. With some conferences going to league-only models, the American opted to allow its member schools to play nonconference games at their discretion in addition to the typical eight conference games.
“I’m excited that the conference is doing that,” running back Shamari Brooks said. “There’s really no reason at this moment to cancel any games, so I’m proud the AAC is at least giving it a shot and seeing if we can play all 12 instead of canceling it all off what they don’t know yet.”
The Hurricane has four nonconference games scheduled: at home against Toledo (Sept. 5) and Northwestern State (Sept. 19) and on the road against Oklahoma State (Sept. 12) and Arkansas State (Sept. 26). Toledo is in the Mid-American Conference and Northwestern State is an FCS team in the Southland Conference. Neither league has announced its plans for the 2020 season.
Arkansas State is in the Sun Belt Conference, which took a similar stance as the American. Oklahoma State is in the Big 12, which is allowing one nonconference game for each team. The Cowboys’ nonconference opponent is expected to be TU.
“Right now, we’ve got our eight and four — and that’s today,” TU coach Philip Montgomery said. “That’s the way I think everybody has to think about it: That’s today. It might change.”
Asked whether he feels confident a full season is possible, Montgomery said: “I really don’t have an answer for that ... because there’s just so much unknown about it.”
The Hurricane, which won 10 games in 2016 and only nine games in the three seasons since then, seemingly has a more complete team that will be better equipped for competition. TU opens fall camp Friday, having no active COVID-19 cases.
“It’s going to look totally different (because of safety measures),” Montgomery said. “We’ve got to go out and do what we planned and be able to adjust with that, as well.
“From a social-distancing aspect, we want to keep guys away and separated. Obviously the time on the field, it helps us that we don’t huddle. You don’t have that close contact part of it.”
After a spring-practice period that was cut short and an unusual summer that included minimal work with teammates, the Hurricane players and coaches are ready to get back on the field.
“I think it’s something that is kind of unprecedented that we’re going through,” Smith said. “Obviously we have to take precautions off the field, but once we’re on the field it’s football. … It’s full speed ahead. I’m excited about it.”