Top 10 for Tulane

Green Wave finishes memorable season ranked No. 9 in the nation
Illustration by Paddy Mills

Chris Price is an award-winning journalist and public relations principal. When he’s not writing, he’s avid about music, the outdoors, and Saints, Ole Miss and Chelsea football.

They poured out of AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, euphorically singing to the tune of the classic New Orleans commercial for Rosenberg’s Furniture, “Cotton Bowl, Cotton Bowl, 46-45, Tulane!”

The crowd’s excitement was as easy to understand as it was contagious.

Whatever equity The Wave built in the first half of its existence was lost in later years. Even when the team went 12-0 in 1998, they were uninvited to a major bowl game. But this year was different.

In 2021, the team — forced to relocate to Birmingham, Ala., after Hurricane Ida — posted a 2-10 record and tied for last in the American Athletic Conference. They rebounded to post an 11-2 mark, win the AAC in 2022, and earn an invitation to a New Year’s Six bowl game.

The Green Wave were rewarded with a trip to the Cotton Bowl to face the University of Southern California, college football royalty, who has a 783-322-40 (68.3 winning percentage) since beginning play 101 years ago. No. 10 USC featured Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Caleb Williams, whose hamstring injury in USC’s loss to Utah in the Pac-12 championship game prevented the Trojans from making the four-team College Football Playoff.

Before kickoff, the game appeared that it would be a one-sided mismatch, USC’s to take, and No. 16 Tulane should have been thrilled just to be there.

For much of the game, Williams guided USC up and down the field, completing 37 of 52 passing attempts for 462 yards and a Cotton Bowl-record five touchdowns.

While Tulane played honorably, they trailed 45-30 with 4:30 left in the game. As many Green Wave faithful were ready to pack it in and congratulate themselves on an unexpectedly great season, the improbable happened.

Running back Tyjae Spears scored a touchdown with 4:07 left. On the ensuing kickoff, USC’s Mario Williams signaled for a fair catch but fumbled the ball out of bounds at the 1-yard-line. Two plays later, defensive tackle Patrick Jenkins stonewalled Trojan running back Austin Jones in the end zone for a safety. After receiving the Trojan kick, the Green Wave methodically moved the ball down the field until quarterback Michael Pratt found true freshman tight end Alex Bauman in the endzone with 9 seconds left in the game.

Initially ruled incomplete, video replay proved Bauman caught the 6-yard pass, arguably the most important touchdown in Tulane history, to tie the game. After not having the lead in the game for 59 minutes and 51 seconds, Kicker Valentino Ambrosio split the uprights to give the Greenies a 1-point lead and their most significant bowl win since capturing the Sugar Bowl in 1935.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, over the past five seasons, teams had been 1-1,692 when trailing by 15 or more points with 5 minutes or fewer remaining in the fourth quarter, before Tulane became the second team to do it by scoring 16 points in the final 4:07.

“I might have had a heart attack,” Tulane coach Willie Fritz said to ESPN on the field moments after the contest concluded. “Huge win for the program, huge win for the university, huge win for the city.”

Other than the 2021 Ida-marred season, Fritz has had Tulane on an upward trajectory. As the 2022 regular season concluded, Fritz won the Bobby Dodd National Coach of the Year Award and emerged as the front-runner to be the next head football coach at Georgia Tech. However, the 62-year-old coach decided to stay in New Orleans and sign a contract extension with Tulane, where he’s been since December 2015.

“The timing wasn’t right for me,” Fritz told the Times-Picayune in November, explaining his decision to remain at Tulane. “Everybody has put a whole lot of time, effort and energy into the program, including myself. My loyalty was to the team and to the players. We’re excited about the future of our program, and we want to continue this momentum right now.”

When the final college football polls were released last month, Tulane was ranked No. 9 in both the Associated Press and Coaches’ polls.

For his part, Fritz was invited to reign as grand marshal of the Endymion parade this month. It will be a hell of a hullabaloo, one last hurrah to celebrate an amazing season and a win in, arguably, the best college football bowl game of all time.