May 21, 2010
An absurdly premature assessment of the 2010 Blazers.
Why They Might Look Familiar: If it's not for the mascot, well, that's their own fault. The Blazers have a sordid history with "Blaze," who through the years has been personified as a viking from Oz, an optometrically inclined chicken and, for a short period, whatever this was supposed to be:
It may be tame, but compared to its predecessors, at least the disappointingly plush, Disney-fied Blaze the school employs today will never be mistaken by the stoners in the student section for a giant serving of cotton candy.
UAB also plays host every other year to division rival Memphis in the Battle for the Bones, America's most delicious football rivalry, complete with a barbecue cookoff and a trophy resembling a bronzed rack of ribs. When the team introduced the Bones Trophy in 2006, supposedly it was a reference to some kind of "barbecue rivalry" between two of the Deep South's most smoked-meat-centric towns, but really it was just a way for UAB to have a trophy to bring home every year – at that point, they'd whupped the Tigers six years in a row. UAB won the inaugural "Battle for the Bones," then got beat in '07 and '08, their first losses in the series since 1999. This is what you call "unfortunate timing." (The Blazers did take back the bones last year, though, with a 31-21 win in Memphis in November.)
Previously on: If you know anything at all about the actual football played in Birmingham lately, that's probably thanks to Joe Webb. The mid-majors' answer to Tim Tebow, Webb ranked 10th in the nation in rushing last year while also passing for nearly 2,300 yards and placing ninth in pass efficiency. Webb accounted for two-thirds of the Blazers' offensive output, ranked sixth nationally in total yards and was snapped up in the draft as a wide receiver by the Minnesota Vikings.
Behind Webb, the Blazers ranked seventh nationally in rushing offense and generally kept pace in a relentlessly offensive league. Unfortunately, they also ranked 114th in defense, and dead last against the pass. They did manage to play bowl-bound SMU close in an early 35-32 loss, waste turnover-prone Southern Miss to end a decade-long losing streak (sorry, Doc), and beat a squirrelly UTEP outfit by five on Halloween. All other wins came against the middling-to-terrible (even for the lesser leagues) likes Rice, Florida Atlantic and Memphis. A 5-7 finish left the Blazers next to last in Conference USA East, ahead of only the Tigers, and that's not saying much.
Encounters in the wild: Say this for UAB: For a relatively young program, it schedules like a man. The Blazers resume an occasional series with Tennessee in Knoxville on Sept. 25, and goes into the SEC again on Oct. 23 at Mississippi State. A road date with Central Florida on Oct. 6 has been singled out for a primetime Wednesday-night slot on ESPN2.
Stock characters: The fleet-footed heir apparent to Joe Webb is David Isabelle. As a freshman, the Huntsville native had more passing attempts than rushing attempts in only one game. Even in a backup quarterback capacity, Isabelle finished as the team's second-leading rusher behind Webb, which should tell you about how often UAB relies on a traditional back. The outstandingly-named Frantrell Forrest, last year's leading receiver, caught three touchdown passes in the spring game. And Derek Slaughter, he of 3.5 sacks and the best possible name for a defender, returns alongside Bryant Turner and Elliott Henigan on the defensive line.
Prognosis: Unfortunate. Isabelle appears systematically ready to fill Webb's cleats, but he's still a very young quarterback. Vague reports of improvement in the secondary out of spring ball aren't going to get the Blazers through a typically high-flying conference schedule and two SEC road trips. UAB has improved steadily in each year of Neil Callaway's tenure, and to get to 5-7 last year was no mean feat, but 2010 looks like another tough year looming.
- - - Holly welcomes your adulation and veiled threats at nastinchka-at-yahoo, etc.
Previous Absurdly Premature Assessments (alphabetically by team): Boston College ... Central Michigan ... Clemson ... Colorado State ... Connecticut ... East Carolina ... Florida Atlantic ... Florida State ... Fresno State ... Hawaii ... Houston ... Iowa ... Kansas State ... Kentucky ... LSU ... Marshall ... Memphis … Middle Tennessee State ... Missouri … Nevada ... Oregon State ... Pittsburgh … San Diego State ... Stanford ... UTEP.
Holly welcomes your adulation and veiled threats at nastinchka-at-yahoo, etc.