By: Matt Rechtien, Ryan Token
One of the great things about sports is that they provide an opportunity to irrationally get angry at people for having different opinions as you in a way that is still acceptable in society. I am of course referring to rivalries. With the recent decision by the American Athletic Conference to get rid of divisions starting next football season, the concern came up about maintaining some natural rivalries between schools because of the new rotating schedule. One possible solution people have suggested was the creation of two new permanent rivals for every school that you would play each year while the rest of the schedule rotates. This creates the exciting question of just who those rivals would be for Tulsa. There are a lot of options, but there are four in particular that we think make the most sense. So to have a little fun, Ryan and I broke down our takes on why Houston, SMU, Memphis, and Tulane make the most sense as the new Golden Hurricane rivals.
I don’t think there is a more perfect team in the American better suited to be our rival than the Houston Cougars. The matchup has got everything you could ask for: history, (general) proximity, old grudges and more. Tulsa is Houston’s most played opponent in their history and Houston is our 4th most played, technically the second highest in the conference after Wichita State, but highest with an active football program. We’ve been in the same conference for almost 25 years spanning the Missouri Valley and Conference USA, but even when we were independents we played almost every year. Not only are we Houston’s most played opponent, but we’re the only team in the top-5 that isn’t from Texas. The team from Tulsa, OK was the first college team to win a game in the Astrodome for goodness’ sake! What more could you ask for? How about a 50-year old grudge? One of Houston’s biggest feats in their football history was at Tulsa’s expense. I’m referring, of course, to the infamous Astrodome game in 1968. That matchup is infamous because Tulsa’s entire team came down with the flu, bravely battled through the sickness and narrowly lost to Houston 100–6. No other college team has scored 100 points in a football game since. I don’t know about you, but this makes me, someone born 27 years after this game took place, irrationally angry just thinking about it. After playing each other 30 times from 1950 through 1993, we turned up the intensity when we were rejoined in the C-USA West Division in 2005. In the eight years we were in C-USA together Tulsa (4) and Houston (3) dominated the West, with one of us winning the division seven out of eight years. Even in recent history, as Tulsa has struggled to maintain football consistency and has lost four of the last five matchups, the games have remained competitive, with the biggest blowout actually coming in the season that we went 2–10 when we won 45–17. (Also they had too many men on the field in 2016 and we should have won that game, I’ll fight anyone who disagrees with me). Though Houston is further away than both SMU and Memphis, it’s still the third closest football school in our conference. It’s a reasonable travel destination and the city itself is massive and has loads of fun stuff to do and see. Plus it’s got the oil connection. Tulsa’s bread and butter industry is oil. Tons of energy companies started in or around the Tulsa area. Houston’s biggest market is oil as well (although they might be a wee bit bigger of a market). I think the only school that would even be on the same level as Houston would be SMU just because it’s the easiest school to travel to.
Potential rivalry name: Crude Control
Matt makes a compelling case for Houston here, and it’s hard for me to add anything meaningful to his argument. However, as you’ll read next, I list SMU as my favorite rivalry candidate. So Houston isn’t my first choice, and I’m likely going to stoke the fire a bit when I say this, but Houston wouldn’t even be my second choice for a rivalry opponent.
I have a deep level of respect for our history with Houston, and would be thrilled if we did get to play them every year, but I think there are two other options in this list that would be even better. Since I can’t add more for why Houston would make for a great rivalry on top of what Matt’s already said, I’ll argue for why they shouldn’t be our rival:
Once given the opportunity, it is clear that Houston will jump to leave the AAC for a Power Five conference. They are spending Power Five dollars on coaches for both basketball (retaining Kelvin Sampson) and football (pulling Dana Holgorsen from P5 West Virginia). They are spending Power Five dollars on facilities (appx. $275 million since 2014). And they have a Power Five-like booster in Tilman Fertitta, who ponies up the money they need for projects like this.
When the Big 12 was doing their whole open-tryout for joining the conference in 2016, Houston was at the top of nearly everyone’s list as a potential team to get the call. Their AD at the time, Hunter Yuracheck, said that Houston is ready to do “whatever we have to do” to join the Big 12. Yuracheck is now the AD at Arkansas, but their philosophy remains the same. The current university president, Renu Khator, is on the Big 12 warpath. There’s even a clause in head football coach Dana Holgorsen’s contract that states if UH is invited to join a Power Five conference at any time during his contract, he will receive a $1 million bonus and unspecified salary increase.
So make no mistake, this is what Houston wants, and it would be very disappointing to lose a rival to another conference. Part of me says to myself, “well, we should enjoy it while we have it, then”. But if Houston is just waiting to get out of this conference, they’re not going to be as excited to play us, and I want a rivalry game that has both teams excited to play each other every year. Because of this, I’m looking to the future and would rather create a rivalry with a newer, improving foe with which we share many commonalities.
My other argument against Houston is purely a selfish one. I like to travel, and will very likely be traveling to these rivalry games whenever they’re away. Considering the fact that my #1 vote went to SMU, I’d rather our second permanent opponent not also be in the state of Texas simply for the purposes of travel diversity. A bit silly, and certainly selfish, but I’d definitely enjoy it more if one of our rivalry games was in Texas and the other was in Memphis or New Orleans.
Potential rivalry name: I really love Matt’s idea here, so I’ll echo Crude Control
SMU is my favorite potential rival for several reasons. First, if you listen to the podcast, you know that I am a staunch proponent of the rivalry formerly known as The Boomtown Showdown. Though it has its critic (stares at Pat) I will stand behind this beautiful rivalry name until I die. It’s unique, fun, and historically accurate—Tulsa and Dallas are even mentioned in the same sentence in an article about historic oil boomtowns from The Encyclopedia of the Great Plains:
“At the eastern margins of the Great Plains, two major management and finance centers–Dallas, Texas, and Tulsa, Oklahoma– became the hometowns of wealthy oil investors who founded their own corporations...”
The Encyclopedia of the Great Plains
TU apparently came up with this rivalry name in 2015, but, for reasons still unknown, quickly abandoned the moniker after the 2016 football season. As far as I know, the below screenshots are the only two tweets from TU that ever reference this name.
The first reference: December 29, 2015
The second and final reference: February 9, 2016
Only two references ever, but I was hooked from the beginning. Why did they get rid of it? I have no idea. Please bring this back, @TulsaHurricane.
Second, we are two very similar schools. Of the four options we’re discussing here, SMU’s 6,500 undergraduates are the closest to Tulsa’s 3,200. TU loves to tout that it’s the smallest D-I FBS school, and having a bona-fide rivalry with a school this close in size simply makes sense.
Tulsa and SMU are similar in several ways beyond just student population as well. We are both private universities who have a basis in Protestant Christianity (Tulsa: Presbyterian, SMU: Methodist), we both have endowments of over one billion dollars, we both have blue and red in our colors, we’re both in the northeastern corner of our respective states, etc. I could go on, but I’ll stop there for all of your sakes. Bottom line: we’re similar schools, and that adds to a fun rivalry.
Third, and most obviously, we’re close by. Except for Wichita State—who doesn’t play football—SMU is the closest school to us in the conference; and it’s easy to get there. If you leave straight from TU, just take 75-South for about 255 miles and you’ll pretty much be on SMU’s campus. If you want a good rivalry game, make it easy for fans to travel to the opposing school. It doesn’t get much easier than that.
And finally, we have a lot of history. As noted above, we first played in 1935—much earlier than all of the other options we have here. However, we are behind both Houston and Memphis in number of total matchups. Regardless, games against SMU always seem to be good, hard-fought battles. Just last year, SMU was a 5-win team, and a 2–9 Tulsa team beat them in the last game of the season to keep them out of a bowl game.
Further, there hasn’t been a game decided by more than ten points since 2011 when we beat SMU 38–7. It’s almost always a good game, and you can’t ask for more than that. We also have a fantastic history in basketball. The most notable recent basketball games that come to mind include the 2015-2016 season when Tulsa beat #16 SMU on the road to break their 15-game home winning streak, and in 2014 when James Woodard set a conference record, hitting ten three-pointers against SMU in a loss in the American Conference tournament.
Should the conference choose to go with two permanent rivalry games for each team starting next season, SMU needs to be one of those two teams.
Potential rivalry name: The Boomtown Showdown (of course)
Ryan pretty much nailed it on the head here. SMU makes a ton of sense as a rival and after coming into these rankings with my mind made up one way, I am now in complete shambles because all four of these schools are great options and Ryan’s take on SMU was one the most convincing cases I’ve seen.
Here’s my line of thinking; on one hand, Dallas is super close, one of my best friends lives in Fort Worth, and I hate SMU which all make this rivalry make sense. But, on the other hand… you know what I am actually struggling to come up with some reasons against SMU. I guess their fans annoyed me one time in college and people from Texas have that superiority complex where they believe Texas is better than everything else. Sigh, which honestly makes me want this rivalry more. Pony Down Dallas.
Already existing rivalry name: Boomtown Showdown
Perhaps controversially, I would put Memphis down as my fourth choice for a team to have a permanent rivalry game with. This is almost definitely due to recency bias. I went to TU from 2013–2017. Since 2013, Tulsa has played Memphis five times and lost four of them. Though our one win over them was nearly a 30-point win, the four losses were all by 20 points or more.
Because of that, I just don’t feel the same fire that I do when playing SMU, Houston, or Tulane. None of the recent games have been close in either direction. You could certainly call me a hypocrite and say that we’ve also lost four of our last five against Houston, but only two of those have been decided by more than ten points. Houston has been a very tight series over the past ten years, and that includes playing three top-15 Houston teams.
Don’t get me wrong, though. If the conference chose to pair us with Memphis every year, I wouldn’t complain. They are a consistently strong team in both football and basketball, they’re the second closest to us after SMU, and we have a lot of history with them in both Conference-USA and the Missouri Valley. Memphis is also just an awesome city.
As a guitar player and a music lover, getting to hang out in the blues clubs on Beale Street after Memphis beats us by 20+ again sounds like exactly what the doctor ordered. Maybe there’s something to this Memphis rivalry after all!
All kidding aside, I do think Memphis would make for a solid rivalry candidate. We won four in a row against them from 2005–2010, and the thirty point win in 2016 was one of the more fun games that I’ve had the pleasure of watching. That was prime Dane Evans/Keevan Lucas time, and we slaughtered them. Keevan Lucas had nine catches for 91 yards and two TD’s? More of that, please. Maybe Keylon Stokes, Keevan’s younger brother, can one-up his brother for us this year.
Potential rivalry name: 20+ or Bust
Before traveling to SMU this season, the only time I had traveled for a Tulsa football game was back in 2014 when one of my buddies on the Collegian and I made a last minute decision to drive to Memphis on Halloween. It just felt like a college experience. We skipped class, got to Memphis late, scarfed down some B.B. Kings, and then watched Tulsa get beat 40–20 in the freezing, wet, October night. All things considered it was pretty great.
So a potential rivalry with Memphis holds a special place in my heart. Allow me to walk you through a fun weekend in Memphis when you visit for this rivalry. After you get all settled in on Friday night, you can spend the night on Beale Street and choose between countless food and bar options. With kickoff at noon on Saturday you’ll have plenty of time to check out Mud Island, the Rock’N’Soul Museum, or Graceland. All of which are incredible. Then game time!
After watching TU win in a thriller, make sure you get to the Peabody to watch the ducks (adorable) and grab some BBQ afterwards. Sunday is yours, do with it what you will.
In all seriousness, ignoring the recent history, a rivalry between these schools makes sense. They are Tulsa’s second most played opponent in the conference (ignoring WSU), we’ve already been in the same conference as them for almost 20 years, and we both wear blue.
Memphis also isn’t as big a threat to jump from the conference because; a) they aren’t as massive as Houston, b) they don’t make as much geographic sense for anyone other than maybe the SEC and I doubt Tennessee would let them in, and c) Memphis, while a really cool city, isn’t a big enough TV market to be a big priority for the Power Five head honchos. I think I might’ve just convinced myself to rank this rivalry higher than Houston. And I want to plan a trip now too.
Potential rivalry name: Walking in Memphis on Tulsa Time
Tulane might just be the perfect rival for Tulsa. I mean they literally abbreviate their school as TU. If you are a fan of TU, this should really grind your gears. How dare they be TU. We’re TU. That should be enough to fuel a rivalry for generations, but I’m told that’s not a good enough reason. So here’s some facts about our schools I guess.
Tulane is the only school on our short-list that Tulsa actually has a winning record against, winning 11 out of their 15 matchups. But that’s changed in the last couple of years with Tulane taking the last two games in the series, including a 62–28 drubbing back in 2017. While Tulsa has been trying to re-find their footing since the 2016 season, Tulane under Willie Fritz has been on the up-and-up. This is a series that could be very competitive going forward, especially now that Tulsa has found their answer at quarterback with Zach Smith.
Tulane is the team on this list that we’ve played the least and spent the least amount of time sharing a conference with, but I don’t think that hurts them from a rivalry perspective. Getting rid of divisions could be the perfect time to start a fresh rivalry with a new opponent (as long as they don’t try and force it like UConn did with the Civil ConFLiCT). Do something that acutally makes sense, like "TU Title Belt", but make the I and T capital in Title and connect them so it kind of looks like a U if you squint.
Side-note, when you throw Temple in to get all three of the TU schools the rivalry becomes the “TUTU TUssle”.
Tulane and Tulsa just make sense. We both have long, rich football histories. Tulane is one of three teams in the American that have had a football program longer than Tulsa. So while we might not have super long histories playing each other, we do both have long histories and adding a new rivalry could be… a new chapter. I’m sorry for that one.
Tulane and Tulsa jumped over to the American at the same time, we’re both private research institutes, we’re both under ten-thousand students, and we both have mascots that are color-based water phenomenons. Plus New Orleans has amazing food. I will support this rivalry just for the food alone.
There’s a lot of good reasons why Tulane makes sense as a rival and I could go on and on about it, but I’m going to let Ryan throw his thoughts on the matter.
No doubt rivalry name: Battle of the Color-Based Water Phenomenons
Tulane is my second choice for a rival, and there are three primary reasons. Matt covered most of the important history, so I’ll leave that alone and stick to the three reasons I’d be most excited to have Tulane as a rivalry opponent on a yearly basis.
The most important factor here has got to be the similarity in university name and mascot type. It just screams rivalry. Matt discussed both a bit, so I won’t go too far into it - but I definitely agree. The fact that they 1) go by TU, and 2) are a color-based water phenomenon, is simply too much to ignore. The Green Wave vs. the Golden Hurricane is so in your face you can’t look past it. Score one for the Tulane rivalry.
Next is a superficial, but still important, factor. The single best uniform in college football belongs to Tulane. Look at these beauties:
The color combination is one thing, but the colors alone don’t set this uniform apart from the rest of college football. The mascot on the helmet WITH this color combination is what does it. The mascot in question here is the Angry Wave, and it is the stuff of legends.
That, dear reader, is a fantastic mascot. Tulane originally came up with this in 1963. However, in the worst decision that university has ever made, they ditched it in 1998. Fast forward to 2016, and Tulane brings it back with a vengeance.
The Angry Wave is on midfield, and a huge, 3D Angry Wave lives on top of their video board. Or at least it did at some point, I can’t confirm whether it’s still there or not. Just imagine if Tulsa brought back Herc, our cute little popcorn/cloud mascot. We could have the duel of the century. I can see it now.
Enough on the uniforms and mascots, though. Another reason Tulane would make for a great rival is the fact that they’re in the wonderful city of New Orleans. If you hang out in New Orleans for the day, you’ll have a huge variety of unique things to do. Take a walk through the French Quarter? Easy. Go on a swamp tour in a kayak? Piece of cake. Practice some casual voodoo? Not a problem. New Orleans is a great city that’s incredibly different than Tulsa. This allows for a really nice, different experience than what we’d find elsewhere in the conference, and I think the fans would enjoy that.
Finally, Tulane is an exciting, up-and-coming team. They were nowhere to be found in the Big 12 expansion search that I discussed when arguing against Houston, and they appear to really love this conference. They seem to have found their guy in Willie Fritz, and I feel confident that if anyone can turn their ship around in basketball, it’s Ron Hunter. I firmly believe that starting a fresh rivalry with Tulane would benefit Tulsa longer term. Plus, Tulane was in the SEC from 1933–1965. Therefore, by the transitive property, every time we beat Tulane we beat a historic SEC team—and who doesn’t want more SEC wins?
No doubt rivalry name: The Battle of the Color-Based Water Phenomenons
I’m not going to lie, when we came up with this article idea I had two teams set in stone in my mind. Even when I started writing this I had a clear hierarchy, but after working on this with Ryan my original rankings have fallen by the wayside and I don’t know what’s true anymore. So here’s my new ranking.
As opposed to Matt, my opinions have not been swayed by the chatter of the masses. While doing research for this article, I was pretty sure my #1 was going to be either Houston or SMU, but I also knew that they wouldn’t both be in my top 2. After further research, I decided on SMU as my #1 for the reasons listed above - the other three fall into place for the reasons detailed in the article.
Do you agree with our rankings? Send us your personal rankings on Twitter or Instagram @GoldenHurricast or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading and remember, Stay Golden!