In the 100 days leading up to the kickoff of the college football season on Saturday, Aug. 25, HERO Sports is ranking the top 100 teams in the FBS. Each day, starting May 17 and ending Aug. 24, a new team is revealed in the HERO Sports Top 100.
UAB delivered repeated proverbial kicks to their doubters' groins last season. Can they do it again in 2018?
The Blazers won't sneak up on anyone and lost some high-end talent but they return A.J. Erdely, Spencer Brown, Garrett Marino and a bunch of other guys that could deliver back-to-back eight-win season. They look a heck of a lot better on paper this year.
That team — the first in their return from a two-year absence — was supposed to suck. They were dead last in some preseason rankings and I didn't even consider them for my preseason Top 100.
They set the program record for wins, won three consecutive games for the first time since 2009, scored at least 20 points in 11 games (30 or more in six games) and reached a bowl game for the first time since 2004.
I still can't believe what happened at UAB last year.
Head Coach: Bill Clark (4th Year, 14-11)
UAB hit the jackpot when they hired Bill Clark away from his alma mater Jacksonville State as Garrick McGee's replacement in 2014. The 49-year-old Alabama native who's spent his entire career in The Heart of Dixie not only went 6-6 in his first season — the program's most wins in 10 years — he remained in Birmingham after the school disbanded the program and fought to resurrect it.
Scott Frost did a hell of a job at UCF last season but Clark should've been National Coach of the Year for winning eight games in the Blazers' return to the FBS.
DE Shaq Jones, DT Teko Powell, LB Tevin Crews, CB Darious Williams, S Garrison Mitchell
All of UAB's notable losses come on defense.
Shaq Jones and Tevin Crews led the Blazers in tackles for loss with 13 and 12, respectively, and tied for second on the team with three sacks apiece. Both began their college careers way back in 2012, played three seasons and returned to the field last year.
Corner Darious Williams demolished stat sheets, ranking fifth nationally in passes defended (20) and 11th in interceptions (five), and safety Garrison Mitchell transferred after a productive season.
Returning Offensive Players
QB A.J. Erdely, RB Spencer Brown, RB James Noble III, WR Andre Wilson, WR Collin Lisa, OT James Davis, G Rishard Cook, C Lee Dufour
It's kind of amazing UAB won eight games and averaged nearly 28 points despite having a mediocre and inconsistent offense. Clark fired coordinator Les Koenning and hired Bryant Vincent, who was coordinator in 2014 when they averaged 432 yards and more than 33 points per game.
Senior A.J. Erdely is back at quarterback after a mostly efficient season, his first after spending time at Middle Tennessee and Mississippi Gulf Coast. He completed 64 percent of his attempted over the final nine games, including a 20-for-21, three-touchdown game vs. Rice. The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder is a capable runner, especially in the red zone, where UAB had 24 rushing touchdowns and scored on 90 percent of their possessions (24th in the FBS).
"The biggest thing I'd say is that when coach is about to chew on somebody, A.J. knows when to step in front and take the bullet," his former JUCO coordinator Jason Phillips said. "Guys will respond because they know if he'll take it for me, I'd better do it for him."
They are stacked at running back. Spencer Brown was the 261st-ranked running back in the 2017 recruiting class but was not only one of the best freshman running backs in the country last season, he was one of the best running backs period. A rare first-year workhorse back (250 carries), Brown had six games with at least 125 yards and while his carries might be cut back a little with the additions of two transfers, he's still the clear-cut No. 1.
"I've never really tackled a train," then-senior linebacker Tevin Crews said after Brown ran for 151 yards on 17 carries in a Week 2 loss to Ball State. "He's made our defense a lot better. He's a full load. The kid squats (almost) 600 pounds as a freshman. He's a bad man."
Clark also said running back James Noble "had an unbelievable spring."
The line is in great shape with the return of three senior starters, including all-conference tackle James Davis, along with a fourth senior, guard Rishard Cook, who played well in a few starts last year and has since lost nearly 40 pounds.
Leading receiver and return man Andre Wilson is back for one more year and should once again top 50 receptions.
Returning Defensive Players
DT Garrett Marino, DT Anthony Rush, LB Fitzgerald Mofor, LB Stacy Keely, CB D.A. Williams, S Broderick Thomas, S Will Dawkins, S Duke Culver
UAB's defense had 14 interceptions, allowed quarterbacks to complete just 52 percent of their attempts and though the pass-rush wasn't great, they still doubled their sacks from 2014.
Garrett Marino really came on during the middle of the season when he racked up 7.5 tackles for loss over an eight-game stretch from mid-September through mid-November, including three vs. UTSA. The former Arizona State signee and Montana State transfer was called "aggressive" and "nasty" by former UAB teammate Teko Powell.
“Honestly, every team needs a few players like that,” Powell said last October. “Garrett Marino, he can help jumpstart the defense and the team in general, just with how he plays.
Stacy Keely led the team with four sacks last year and has the talent to double that number in 2018, which they badly need since they don't have another proven pass-rusher right now.
The secondary will be darn good, potentially the best in the conference thanks, in part, to the return of senior safety Broderick Thomas after an excellent junior season. The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder was all over the field, recording 90 tackles and leading the team with 66 solo tackles.
RB Kingston Davis, RB Jarrion Street, DE Antonio Moultrie
Two Alabama natives transferred to UAB from Power Five schools to bolster the Blazers' depth at running back. Jarrion Street is a 6-foot-1, 215-pounder from Trussville who played sparingly on defense in two seasons at Ole Miss. Kingston Davis, a Prattville native, is a big back (6-foot, 245 pounds) who had just two rushing attempts as a freshman at Michigan in 2016 before they moved him to fullback.
“I was not ready, I was immature,” Davis said. “I had to grow up, basically. [Michigan running backs coach] Tyrone Wheatley guided me along. The experience was great. I learned a lot, through mistakes and stuff like that.”
Defensive end Antonio Moultrie is a JUCO transfer from Northeast Mississippi, where had had four tackles for loss in eight games.
UAB hosts Tulane in Week 3, their first non-meeting as conference foes. As members of Conference USA, UAB and Tulane met nine times between 1999-2012; Tulane leads the series, 5-4.
Conference play opens a week later with a home date vs. Charlotte.
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