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Updated: August 8, 2003, 4:19 PM ET

NEW ORLEANS -- Tulane's pass-happy, high-scoring offense of recent years is back, with most starters returning including the quarterback, running back and a top receiver.

The defense, which had been a major weakness for Tulane until a sharp improvement last season, is once again an unknown because of the loss of eight starters.

Such a lack of experience could be exposed by the Green Wave's schedule, which includes Conference USA favorite TCU and SEC stalwart Mississippi State in two of the first three games.

"When we come out of September, we'll have a great feel for what our team is made of," head coach Chris Scelfo said. "Then in November we have three straight road games. It's a very demanding schedule. I would hope we have the leadership and maturity to handle it."

At the very least, Tulane has confidence, Scelfo said. After being picked to finish near the bottom of Conference USA before last season, the Wave put together a 7-5 regular season that included a late-season triumph over Southern Miss, which helped send Tulane to the Hawaii Bowl.

The bowl appearance was a de facto road game for Tulane because the other team was Hawaii, playing in its home stadium where it was a huge favorite and had lost only once all year. But the Wave swamped Hawaii with spectacular plays on special teams, a defensive effort that produced three turnovers and eight sacks, and a balanced offensive attack that racked up 384 yards and three TDs. The Wave took a 36-28 victory.

"The way we ended last year, the expectation level has been raised. They got a taste of a bowl game and they want to do it again," Scelfo said.

Senior J.P. Losman, who struggled at times last year in front of an inexperienced offensive line and with a receiving corps that seemed prone to dropping passes, will be back at quarterback. He still threw for nearly 2,500 yards and 19 touchdowns last season. In the backfield with him will be running back Mewelde Moore, a running and receiving threat who already owns 23 school records.

Moore has gained more than 1,000 yards on the ground in each of the last two seasons, and coming into this season, he has more career rushing yards (3,449) and all-purpose yards (5,182) than any other active Division I-A player.

Back from injury is receiver, Roydell Williams, a tall, fast threat who two seasons ago caught a team-leading 56 passes for 886 yards. He missed most of last season after fracturing his ankle in the third game of the year.

"Roydell really is a difference-maker in the passing game. He's a big receiver that can run and catch the ball, stretch the defense," Scelfo said. "With Losman and Moore in there, there are not many other teams, I feel, that have three guys in those three positions who are as exciting."

Scelfo said that although most defensive starters will be new, he has never seen more talent and speed on that side of the ball in his four seasons as head coach.

Tulane will have to replace the entire defensive line and secondary, with the only returning starters at linebacker.

"They're going to be thrown into the mix early and will have to grow up quick," Scelfo said.

"We need to establish leaders and continue path we started on last fall," when defenses began to win games for Tulane by forcing turnovers at a rate that led all of Division I.

At safety, Scelfo has high hopes for sophomore cornerback Sean Lucas, while he expects sophomore Michael Roberts and junior Wallace Mateen to become solid new starters on the line.

Tulane anticipates increased fan support as well.

When boosters and the athletic department successfully fought to save Tulane's Division I sports status earlier this year, they ran a ticket drive that more than doubled football season-ticket holders. Tulane also scheduled two outdoor home games at Tad Gormley Stadium, which is more conducive to tailgating with its City Park location.

Tulane will host Northwestern State in the park on Sept. 6 and then host Houston there for homecoming Oct. 11. Last year's homecoming game at Tad Gormley was regarded as a major success despite rain that drenched fans and turned much of the park into a bog. Paid attendance surpassed 28,000.

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This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index