2014 CFN Preview - UAB Blazers
UAB RB Jordan Howard
UAB RB Jordan Howard
Posted Aug 1, 2014

Preview 2014 - With a new coach comes a new attitude for the Blazers. (Getty Images)

UAB Blazers

Preview 2014 

- UAB Previews 
2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006

By Rich Cirminiello
- 2014 UAB Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players
- VOD: College football breakdowns on Campus Insiders

Head coach: Bill Clark
First year: 0-0
Returning Lettermen
Off. 20, Def. 24, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 20
Ten Best UAB Players
1. WR Jamarcus Nelson, Sr.
2. RB Jordan Howard, Soph.
3. LB Jake Ganus, Jr.
4. DE Diaheem Watkins, Sr.
5. WR Jamari Staples, Soph.
6. TE Kennard Backman, Sr.
7. CB Lamarcus Farmer, Jr.
8. FS Calvin Jones, Sr.
9. PK Ty Long, Sr.
10. CB Kelton Brackett, Jr.
2014 Schedule

Aug. 30 Troy
Sep. 6 at Mississippi St
Sep. 13 Alabama A&M
Sep. 27 FIU
Oct. 4 at WKU
Oct. 11 North Texas
Oct. 18 at Middle Tenn
Oct. 25 at Arkansas
Nov. 1 at Florida Atlantic
Nov. 8 Louisiana Tech
Nov. 22 Marshall
Nov. 29 at Southern Miss

How bad has the situation become in Birmingham? The former coach voluntarily left to take a coordinator’s job.

Garrick McGee bolted to Bobby Petrino’s Louisville staff on Jan. 13 following two seasons and just five wins with the Blazers. McGee had no confidence in the future of UAB football, one more emotional hurdle for the current players to overcome. Enter Bill Clark, the former Jacksonville State head man who knows his way around the state of Alabama from his days as a high school coach. He inherits a sagging program that plays in a dilapidated building and hasn’t had a winning season in a decade.

Clark is clearly staring at an uphill climb, by every possible measurement. But early returns indicate he’s the right man to take on the challenge. And it doesn’t hurt the new regime that McGee was not a popular individual, inside or outside the locker room. If the spring is an accurate barometer, Clark’s first UAB team will be more prepared, better conditioned and as enthusiastic as either of McGee’s two teams.

At a very basic level, Clark will need more talent, and then he and his assistants must coach those kids up. Firmly located in SEC country, the Blazers have long understood the need to transform overlooked and underrated high school recruits into productive D-I players.

UAB has a better shot of being competitive on offense than on defense this season. The line returns three starters, and last year’s top two receivers and second-leading rusher are back as well. The biggest unknown is at quarterback, where junior-college transfer Cody Clements has the upper hand to replace Austin Brown.

The D, on the other hand, has a much longer way to go after yielding almost 44 points per game. It’s light on proven players, most of whom were out of position—and generally lost—throughout the 2013 season. Since the two-deep will be littered with try-hard kids, none of whom qualify as next-level playmakers, the staff is hoping that tinkering with schemes and paying more attention to detail will result in modest progress on this side of the ball.

The Blazers’ quest for competitiveness is the proverbial marathon, and everyone in Birmingham knows it. Locally, McGee’s abrupt departure was greeted with a sigh of relief, especially after Clark was named the successor. Clark is genuinely excited to be at UAB. The program hopes the coach still feels that way two years from now.

What to watch for on offense: Yo, D.J. pump this party. Yes, Jordan Howard will be the feature back for the Blazers this year. But keep an eye on D.J. Vinson, who fits the new offense well, and will bring a dose of explosiveness to the attack. The senior has had a quiet career to this point. In fact, he’s sat out the last two seasons. During the offseason, though, the converted inside receiver brought some much-needed dash and elusiveness to the UAB ground game.

What to watch for on defense: Back to the basics. There’s no magic formula for first-year coordinator Duwan Walker to turn around a unit that ranked among the easiest to navigate in the FBS last year. Walker and his assistants have dived into film from the moment they arrived in January, and fundamentals are being stressed to veterans and rookies alike. The defense is also benefitting from the presence of strength and conditioning coach Zac Woodfin, a former star UAB linebacker from the Class of ’05.

The team will be far better if … it forces more field goals. There are so many areas for improvement at UAB, but tightening up in the red zone is as good a place to start as anywhere. Of the 60 times that opponents reached the 20-yard line, 48 resulted in touchdowns, a dreadful 80% rate that ranked 120th in the FBS. If the Blazers can stiffen once in a while, not only will games be inevitably tighter, but the momentum generated will impact the defense as well as the offense.

The Schedule: Can the Blazers get by Troy to start the season? They might need to with Mississippi State coming up next. It's not a horrible schedule with three of the first four games and four of the first six games at home. However, the second half comes down like a hammer with three straight road games at Middle Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida Atlantic. It's a bad break to get Marshall from the East, but at least it's at home with two weeks to prepare for it.

Best Offensive Player: Senior WR Jamarcus Nelson. In Nelson, UAB has its own version of DeSean Jackson, an explosive playmaker capable of changing the tenor of a game from anywhere on the field. Nelson is a diminutive field-stretcher, both as the “X” receiver and as the Blazers’ primary kickoff and punt returner. He has legitimate track speed, sub-4.4 jets to go along with the soft hips to render defenders helpless in the open field. Nelson is only limited by the arm strength of his quarterback.

Best Defensive Player: Junior LB Jake Ganus. Ganus is the embodiment of what the Blazer defense wants to be. The two-year starter is a try-hard defender, who’s already had a major impact at UAB as a safety and as a linebacker. He led the team in tackles in 2013, lining up wherever he was needed most. Ganus is one of the best competitors in Birmingham, with the flexibility to press up into the box to stop the run as easily as he drifts back into coverage to neutralize the tight end. Wherever the ball is, No. 4 won’t be far away.

Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Cody Clements. The Blazers could be decent on offense this season. But only if Clements builds on a spring session that earned him the top spot on the depth chart. The 6-2, 210-pound transfer from Cerritos (Calif.) College began his career at Washington State before moving on in the pursuit of more reps. Clements has stood out above the rest from the moment he arrived from the West Coast, in terms of his leadership and his ability to move the offense.

The season will be a success if ... the Blazers double their win total to four, while generally playing at a more competitive level. Bowling for the first time since 2004 is a longshot. Realistically, UAB is building toward a postseason run … in 2015. For now, progress will be achieved if the team can find four wins on the schedule, as it assimilates to the expectations and the new systems on both sides of the ball. Conference USA isn’t so scary that this team can’t be in the hunt before too long.

Key game: Aug. 30 vs. Troy. These two Alabama programs, separated by a short two-hour car drive, have played some entertaining games over the last five years. Unfortunately for the Blazers, they’ve fallen short in the last three meetings by an average of five points, including last August’s overtime defeat. UAB would love to set the tone for the Bill Clark era by snapping the losing streak to an in-state rival with which it competes for local high school talent.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Yards per play: UAB 5.8 – Opponents 7.2
- Red-zone touchdowns: UAB 53% – Opponents 80%
- Sacks: UAB 18 - Opponents 26

- 2014 UAB Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players