Back in action for the 2017 campaign and #11 in our CUSA Football preview are the UAB Blazers.
On December 2, 2014 - just three days after defeating Southern Miss. and becoming bowl eligible for the first time in school history - UAB President Ray Watts announced that the Blazers would not field a football team after 2014. Budget issues were cited as the reason for program elimination. The bowling and rifle teams were also dropped.
The news of elimination was met with immediate outrage and criticism. Protests were held outside of a UAB administration building, the Internet was introduced to the #FreeUAB hashtag, and a UAB player even graduated carrying his helmet.
On June 1, 2015 - six months after program elimination - news reported that UAB Football would be reinstated. On July 21, 2015 a UAB press release stated that UAB Football would return in 2017.
Despite return, there is still frustration and a large chip on the program's shoulders, and rightfully so: making the Blazers dangerous in 2017.
Wins: Troy, Alabama A&M, WKU, North Texas, FAU, Southern Miss.
Losses: Mississippi State, FIU, Middle Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana Tech, Marshall
Notes: The 2014 squad boasted one of the best special teams in the nation and were led by CUSA Coach of the Year Bill Clark. Despite being bowl eligible, the Blazers were not invited to a bowl.
As you will see with both offense and defense, there are a lot of unknowns. However, head coach Bill Clark has brought on a lot of junior college and other transfers to ensure as much experience as possible.
A.J. Erdely - a Middle Tennessee and Mississippi Gulf Coast transfer - appears to be QB1: beating out Alabama state high school Player of the Year Tyler Johnston. While at MGC, Erdely accumulated 1,881 yards and 14 touchdowns with a 64% completion rate. During the spring game, Erdely went 7-10 for 108 yards. Johnston went 8-12 for 161 yards and had a 58 yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Collin Lisa. Johnston also ran for a 7 yard score.
The Blazers are a bit thin at skill positions. This is not to say that UAB does not have playmakers, however, there is very little depth and a lot of questions. Four running backs could see significant playing time. Former walk-on James Noble had a solid spring game as well as Donnie Lee. Noble posted 62 yards and a touchdown. Lee put up 68 yards and 2 touchdowns. Notably, Lee had moved from linebacker to running back.
Wide receiver Collin Lisa seems to be the name that is mentioned most often from the receiving corps. Lisa began his career at UAB in 2014, transferred to Buffalo, and has returned. In 2015, Lisa had 325 yards for 2 touchdowns. Eyes are also on Xavier Ubosi: a junior college transfer from California.
In 2016, Bill Clark had concerns about the offensive line. Looking to build in the trenches, Clark signed four linemen and two tight ends in December: all are expected to play immediately.
Compared to offense, defense seems pretty solid. Linebacker Shaq Jones will lead the Blazers on defense. Jones was UAB's third leading tackler in 2014 and opted to remain at UAB despite opportunities to transfer. In 2014, Jones had 50 total tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 1 interception 3 pass breakups, 4 pass deflections, 1 quarterback hurry, and 1 recovered fumble. Tevin Crews (LB) also returns; in 2014, Crews accumulated 33 total tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 pass breakup, 1 pass deflection, 2 quarterback hurries, and 1 forced fumble.
Defensive tackle Teko Powell was a promising pickup by the Blazers. Powell - a three-star recruit out of Miami - spent three seasons at Illinois, however, missed much of 2014 and all of 2015 due to injury. The secondary seems a little questionable which is loaded with transfers. Fortunately for the Blazers, corners Jordan Petty and Darius Williams were both part of the 2014 squad. Petty had 29 total tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 interception, 4 pass breakups, 5 pass deflections, 2 quarterback hurries, and 1 forced fumble. Williams had 23 total tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 6 pass breakups, and 7 pass deflections. Louisville tackle Duke Culver will join the Blazers at nickel.
Placekicker Nick Vogel returns to UAB. Vogel transferred to Southern Miss. and returned to UAB when the program was reinstated. The Blazers signed Australian punter Joel Dixon.
Many of you who have kept up with our CUSA Football Preview series are probably wondering why we ranked UAB - without much experience and depth - at #11 and above Charlotte, UTEP, and Rice. Good question. Head coach Bill Clark is a proven asset. He could have left the team, but stayed. We also cannot help but think the Blazers will have a rather large chip on their shoulder and ready to prove naysayers wrong. UAB actually has a pretty solid roster given the circumstances. We would rather not count them out.
SCHEDULE & PREDICTION
Sept. 2 vs. Alabama A&M
Sept. 9 @ Ball State
Sept. 16 vs. Coastal Carolina
Sept. 23 @ North Texas
Oct. 7 vs. Louisiana Tech
Oct. 14 vs. Middle Tennessee
Oct. 21 @ Charlotte
Oct. 28 @ Southern Miss.
Nov. 4 vs. Rice
Nov. 11 @ UTSA
Nov. 18 @ Florida
Nov. 25 vs. UTEP
Projected Wins: Alabama A&M, Coastal Carolina, Charlotte, Rice
Projected Losses: Ball State, North Texas, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, Southern Miss., UTSA, Florida, UTEP