2011 Record: (3-9, 3-5 in C-USA)
Head Coach: Garrick McGee (first time head coach)
Last Bowl Game: 2004 Hawaii Bowl: lost to Hawaii 59-40
Must Win: 10/6 vs SE Louisiana, 11/17 vs Memphis
Out of Conference: 9/15 at South Carolina, 9/22 at Ohio State
Stat to Cheer: allowed 19 sacks in 2011 (4th in C-USA)
Stats to Fear: only had 8 sacks in 2011 (last in C-USA, last in Nation), scored a TD on 46.51% of red zone trips (last in C-USA, 118th in Nation)
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: (Offense: 7; Defense: 4; Specialists: 1)
Key Defensive Returnees: LB Marvin Burdette (92 tackles), LB Greg Irvin (75 tackles), DE Diahheem Watkins (31 tackles, 1.5 sacks)
Key Offensive Returnees: QB Jonathan Perry (10 TD, 8 INT), WR Jackie Williams (58 rec), OT Chris Hubbard
CFBZ: Garrick McGee takes over as a first year head coach. What are your initial impressions now that he's been on campus for a few months?
Tyler Cantrell: Garrick McGee has energized the UAB fan base in a way not seen in years. He has provided a face for the program by going out and selling the program during a recent caravan tour across the state. McGee and his staff are putting more emphasis on local recruiting as one of their top goals is to keep Alabama talent in-state. McGee surprised some with his comments after the spring game that immediately put higher expectations on this season.
“I was surprised. When you read about a team that hasn't had a winning season in a while, you think you're going into a situation where you have to go and regroup and recruit players. But, once we got going, we got a lot of really good players on this team.”
CFBZ: Which players do you think will be a good fit for the offensive system that McGee is bringing to UAB?
Tyler Cantrell: Junior QB Jonathan Perry looked very good in this offense in the spring. Perry clearly has grown into more of a leader after gaining experience starting the second half of last season. Perry has solid depth behind him at the QB position with Austin Brown and Josh Greer providing depth at a position that UAB has lacked recently. The wide receiver position is stacked with Jackie Williams, Patrick Hearn, and Nick Adams all returning. The key playmaker may turn out to be Jamarcus Nelson who has NFL type speed but is now developing into the entire package at wide out. Nolen Smith came on strong last season at TE and showed no signs of slowing down in the spring. Look for the running back position to play a much bigger role than it did during the Callaway era. The position is four deep with Greg Franklin, Darrin Reeves, Dontavius Jackson, and Bashr Coles all expected to get carries. The only obvious weakness for the Blazers offensively appears to be the offensive line. While Chris Hubbard is a preseason All C-USA pick, he is also the only returning starter. The question entering the season will be if this new line can protect Perry enough for him to find his playmakers.
CFBZ: UAB was 11th in the conference in scoring defense and total yardage. Who are some players that need to step up on the defensive side of the football?
Tyler Cantrell: UAB had a really young defensive line last year. That unit will be lead by junior Connor Boyett and sophomore Diaheem Watkins and appeared in spring to be showing considerable improvement. The strength of the defense will again come at the linebacker positions. Marvin Burdette returns for his senior year with a realistic opportunity to break the Blazers career tackling record. He will be joined by fellow seniors D. A. Autry and Greg Irvin to make that position a strength again. The secondary will look totally revamped this season at the safety and cornerback positions. McGee has moved some players around and feels strongly that the unit is coming together quickly. The Blazers will need JUCO transfer safety Cortez Webb to make an immediate impact and senior CB Cornelius Richards to provide leadership to the young corners for this unit to be improved.
CFBZ: What is your gut feeling on the final record for the 2012 season and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
Tyler Cantrell: UAB has a very difficult first four games in 2012. Success this season depends on how well they come out of the gate. The opener against Troy is winnable and pivotal. Four or more wins would be a good start for the Garrick McGee era. However if the offensive line can protect Perry and the defensive secondary can gel quickly, this team has the playmakers to get to bowl eligibility much easier than some may think.
Garrick McGee has his work cut out for him at UAB. Not only does he inherit a team that hasn't had a winning season since 2004 but he also gets to face Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer this year. UAB showed flashes last year as they beat UCF and C-USA Champion Southern Miss but they also got blown out four times and somehow lost to FAU to end the season.
McGee is tasked with turning around UAB and it's going to be a game by game, play by play progression. As Tyler mentioned above, the offensive skill players are in place for UAB to have a good offense this season depending on how quickly they adapt to McGee's scheme but the OL is the concern. The OL returns just 17 starts which is among the least in the Nation. Did I mention Jadeveon Clowney was going to be facing them in just their second game this year?
We mentioned the defense had just eight sacks last year but that wasn't where the bad news ended. They also gave up 38.8 points per game and 485.6 yards per game. Maybe it's a good thing they only have four returning starters. Despite the loss of starters, UAB still projects to have around eight upperclassmen in the starting line-up so they do have practice experience even if they haven't seen the field that much. The defense has to be good enough this year to at least give the Blazers a shot to win. Six of UAB's nine losses were by more than two scores. Can the defense take that step this year?
An inexperienced OL and a defense coming off of a really bad season isn't a recipe for success. There is no doubt that this is a rebuilding year for McGee and a year for him to install his system and then start to get his kids into the program. The key for UAB this year is to be competitive and to get progressively better as the season goes on. Don't expect a one year turnaround.
2012 Prediction: 4-8
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