2023 Tulsa Football Preview - Offseason Edition

By: Ryan Token
Date: 06/10/2023

Hello out there! I hope you're all enjoying the offseason and taking a breath before things get rolling again in just a couple short months.

Last week, Matt and I knocked off a bit of rust and made some new friends by joining Rice sports outlet The Roost for a podcast episode previewing Tulsa.

To continue the trend of getting ready for the 2023 football season, The Roost followed up and asked if we'd like to answer a few of their biggest questions about Tulsa heading into the year. We obliged, wrote up some answers and, with The Roost's permission, reposted those questions and answers here.

So, without further ado, here's our early Tulsa football season preview for 2023. Thanks to The Roost for getting us thinking about these things, and we hope it's a helpful write-up for Tulsa fans.

And please, let us know what you think in the comment section at the bottom of this post! I'm sure we're forgetting a thing or two.

2023 Tulsa Football Season Preview (ft. questions from The Roost)

1. Who will be the three toughest players to replace?

  • LB Justin Wright
  • WR Keylon Stokes
  • QB Davis Brin

The first two were easy picks. The last one is more complicated.

LB Justin Wright:

We lost nearly all of our primary linebackers. Justin Wright was king among them. Replacing him at the LB spot will be crucial for this team’s success.

WR Keylon Stokes:

We also lost our two best receivers in Keylon Stokes and JC Santana. Stokes has long been an anchor and leader on this team and it hurts to lose him. Malachai Jones is the de-facto chief of this year’s receivers group, and I’m very excited about him, but filling the shoes Stokes left behind is a tall order.

QB Davis Brin:

Brin is an odd one to put in here, because we already did replace him. Braylon Braxton started at QB for the final four games of the year. Brin, though, was plagued by injuries all season last season. Before he got hurt against Ole Miss in game four, he was leading the nation in passing yards per game and several other categories. He was electric early in the year.

He was never the same after his injury during the Ole Miss game. After more and more setbacks, Brin simply couldn’t play, and Braxton started at QB for the final four games. Brin has since transferred to Georgia Southern and Braylon Braxton will almost certainly be the starting quarterback this year. Everyone is fired up about Braylon, but Brin was seriously talented when not injured and Braxton still has a bit left to prove.

2. Who do you expect to be the three most impactful new arrivals? (recruits, transfers, players returning from injury, etc)

  • Sophomore RB/WR Braylin Presley (Oklahoma State transfer)
  • RS Sophomore LB Julien Simon (USC transfer)
  • RS Freshman WR Keith Wheeler (high school)

RB/WR Braylin Presley:

Braylin Presley has a chance to be an electric playmaker for us, especially after the departures of guys who got big minutes like Keylon Stokes, JC Santana, and Deneric Prince. While primarily a running back in his first season at Oklahoma State, it sounds like he will be much more of a hybrid RB/WR for Steve Spurrier Jr.’s offense.

LB Julien Simon:

The younger brother of current TU defensive lineman Jayden Simon, Julien transferred to Tulsa over the offseason from USC. He didn’t play much as a freshman at USC, but he was a four-star recruit out of high school and enters a Tulsa program that just lost its three most productive linebackers. I’d be surprised if he didn’t contribute right away under first-year defensive coordinator Chris Polizzi.

WR Keith Wheeler:

I mentioned already that we lost our top two receivers in Keylon Stokes and JC Santana. Malachai Jones will be the primary benefactor from that, but I think redshirt freshman Keith Wheeler will get a huge bump as well. He was our highest-rated recruit last year and has some real hype around him going into this season.

3. Which player(s) will be frontrunners for team offensive and defensive MVP?

  • Offensive: QB Braylon Braxton
  • Defensive: S Kendarin Ray

QB Braylon Braxton:

Braxton is stepping into his first year as the true, undisputed, starter at quarterback. His final two games last season against South Florida and Houston were his best two games, especially the Houston game. He absolutely lit up the Cougars. He has all the tools to be a great quarterback and I think he will excel under Wilson and Spurrier Jr.

S Kendarin Ray:

The guy has been a leader for Tulsa’s defense for like 12 years at this point and he’s back again to hold down the fort. Philip Montgomery once said Ray “has the potential to be one of the greatest safeties to ever play at Tulsa” - or something similar to that. I’m not sure he’s one of the greatest ever, but he’s rock solid and a crucial leader for a team that lost some big pieces last year.

4. Who is one player nobody outside your program knows by name who could be an all-conference caliber player by season's end?

I am so bad at reading the room when it comes to which players non-Tulsa fans know. I’ll go with redshirt sophomore DL Owen Ostroski though, and that does still count even if you know his dad’s name.

It sounds like our defensive line will be shifting from a pure 3-man front to sometimes a 3-man and sometimes a 4-man. I think Ostroski will get a stat bump from that shift, and I’d bet on him to lead the team in sacks. Real potential to be an all-conference player this season.

5. What's the biggest question mark on this team in 2023?

Who is going to step up at Linebacker?

We lost all three guys who ran the show last year in Justin Wright, Jon-Michael Terry, and Grant Sawyer. Linebacker has been a strength for Tulsa for several years in a row now, but with a new coaching staff, big losses at that position, and potentially a new defensive scheme, how much will that change this year?

As mentioned earlier, I think Julien Simon will be a huge factor here, but he’s still relatively inexperience and we need to see it on the field before calling this a solved problem.

6. What's the expectation for the team in 2023? The season will be a success if they achieve ... what?

Fans will be disappointed if we don’t make a bowl game this year, even if it’s year one for an entirely new coaching staff.

There is enough talent on this team to make a bowl game, and Kevin Wilson got lucky with the conference schedule in his first year. In conference play, we don’t have to play some of the best C-USA newcomers in UAB or UTSA, and we also dodge Memphis.

Here’s our conference home schedule:

  • vs Temple
  • vs Rice
  • vs Charlotte
  • vs North Texas

Those are 4 winnable games.

Temple went 3-9 last year and 1-7 in AAC play. While they are certainly going to be better this season, I don’t think they will be world-beaters in year 2 of the Stan Drayton era. Winnable game.

Rice went 5-8 but honestly I have no idea what their outlook is for this season. Apologies for my ignorance Rice fans. Chalking it up as a winnable game anyway though. Don’t @ me.

Charlotte was bad and fired their coach after 7 games. Winnable game.

North Texas was solid, but they lose Seth Littrell as well as both major quarterbacks in Austin Aune and Grant Gunnell. Winnable game.

Realistically Tulsa should win 3 of those 4, win 2 of their 4 non-conference games, and then they’d just need to beat one of FAU, SMU, Tulane, or ECU on the road. That gets you to a bowl game and is entirely within the realm of possibility for this team.

It’s bowl game or bust for 2023, but Kevin Wilson will not be fired if we don’t make a bowl in his first year.

And there you have it! Our offseason preview for the 2023 Tulsa football team. As we get closer to fall and depth charts begin to solidify, we'll start talking about this in more depth on our podcast, but until then - I hope you got something out of this.