UAB returns with lots of promise for upcoming season
HUNTINGTON -- Sometimes, record isn't everything.
UAB is a perfect example of that.
Last season, first-year coach Garrick McGee led the Blazers to their second consecutive 3-9 football season, but the gains made were impressive from start to finish -- gains that included an upset of Marshall, which ultimately kept the Thundering Herd out of a bowl game.
McGee now heads into his second year with lots of promise, but also plenty of obstacles.
Several players with tons of promise return for the 2013 season, led by running back Darrin Reaves and quarterback Austin Brown. Neither player began 2012 as a starter, but by the middle of the year, they had vaulted their way to the top of the depth chart and turned some heads in Conference USA.
Reaves ended up as one of the conference's biggest surprises, finishing with 1,037 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns while adding 41 catches for 302 yards.
Brown, meanwhile, took the reigns after week four and proved to be a viable threat for the offense, throwing for 2,673 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Consistency and taking care of the football will be Brown's biggest concerns. While he engineered the offense well, ball security was scarce for the freshman signal-caller last season.
Part of the issue with Brown's ball security was based on the fact that he was scrambling for his life much of 2012.
In terms of protecting the passer, UAB finished 2012 ranked 116th nationally in sacks allowed, which forced Brown into some bad situations.
Senior Kaycee Ike will be looked at as the leader at left tackle while redshirt freshman Victor Salako takes over at the other tackle spot. McGee and the Blazers' staff are extremely high on Salako.
Brian O'Leary takes over at center for Billy Autrey, who moves from center to the right guard spot. At left guard, Cameron Blankenship returns for his second season and was one of the team's better run-blockers in 2012.
John Hix also returns as the backup at both guard spots who can fill in should injuries arise. He made six starts last season.
Defensively, the Blazers are still a long way from where they need to be to compete for a conference championship.
Defensive coordinator Reggie Johnson will need to get creative with this unit to see success -- something that was accomplished last year against Marshall when the Blazers gimmicked their way into baffling the Herd for three quarters.
With linebackers Marvin Burdette and Greg Irvin now out of the picture, the team's defensive leader is strong safety Calvin Jones, who returns after a year in which he had 71 tackles.
Joining Jones in the secondary will be fellow returnee Jake Ganus at free safety and cornerbacks Lamarcus Farmer and Kelton Bracket. No UAB cornerback in the two-deep is older than a sophomore.
At middle linebacker, senior Patrick Bastien will need a breakout year while sophomore Shaq Jones will be featured on the weakside. The 'Jack' linebacker will be Derek Slaughter, who is 5-foot-11, 195 pounds and built more like a safety.
Speed and athleticism will be the basis of Johnson's scheme, and the defensive front is no different. Possibly the biggest surprise has been the emergence of Chris Rabb -- a 5-10, 220-pound defensive end who is a high-motor player that goes on pure hustle.
The interior of the defensive front returns Deric Scott and Jontavious Morris at the tackle spots while Connor Boyett is leading for the other defensive end spot. Junior college transfer Demetrius Campbell, a 6-3, 290-pound tackle, also has the tools to work his way into the fray once acclimated with the scheme.
In the special teams department, there won't be many kickers any better than Ty Long in C-USA. In two seasons, he is 30-of-36 on field goal opportunities while being perfect inside 40 yards.
Punter Hunter Mullins is also a solid commodity for the Blazers after averaging 44.8 yards in 2012.
While UAB has the talent in several spots to wreak havoc and come up with wins such as the one over Marshall last season, the Blazers have yet to see the consistency needed to become a major player.
That consistency will need to be realized by the offensive front and the front-7 defensively. Should the Blazers continue to make strides under McGee, they could fight for bowl eligibility.
They will have to overcome a rigorous schedule that includes five of the first seven games on the road, including games at LSU and at Vanderbilt.
There is also a brutal November road duo with back-to-back games at Marshall (Nov. 9) and East Carolina (Nov. 16), which will be difficult to overcome.
However, with a new-look C-USA and several teams just getting acclimated to the style of play, the Blazers do pose the ability to continue their growth.
It all starts with a rivalry game Aug. 31 against in-state foe Troy. That game should be the difference between a 1-3 start in non-conference or a break-even non-conference slate.
2013 Marshall football opponents
Nov. 9: UAB
Conference affiliation: Conference USA (East Division)
Location: Birmingham, Ala.
2012 record: 3-9
Head coach: Garrick McGee (second year, 3-9 overall)
Key returnees: RB Darrin Reaves, QB Austin Brown, K Ty Long, WR Jackie Williams, DT Deric Scott, LB Patrick Bastien, SS Calvin Jones, FS Jake Ganus, CB Lamarcus Farmer
Key losses: LB Marvin Burdette, LB Greg Irvin, OT Chris Hubbard
UAB football schedule
Aug. 31 at Troy
Sept. 7 at LSU
Sept. 21 Northwestern State
Sept. 28 at Vanderbilt
Oct. 5 Florida Atlantic
Oct. 12 at Florida International
Oct. 26 at UTSA
Nov. 2 Middle Tennessee State
Nov. 9 at Marshall
Nov. 16 at East Carolina
Nov. 23 Rice
Nov. 30 Southern Miss
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