COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2011 PRESEASON TOP 25
C-USA East PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Garrick McGee, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jeff Brohm | DEF. COORDINATOR: Reggie Johnson
UAB should have as many good skill players as virtually any other Conference USA team. The offense will revolve around junior quarterback Jonathan Perry, who threw for 2,042 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. He should flourish in the offensive system that has been brought to Birmingham by first-year Blazers coach Garrick McGee.
The receiver corps is deep and talented. Junior Jackie Williams, who had a team-best 58 catches last season, is the most accomplished receiver. But seniors Nick Adams and Patrick Hearn are quality targets, and speedy sophomore Jamarcus Nelson is one of the top deep threats in the conference. Tight ends Kennard Backman and Nolen Smith are also legitimate pass-catching threats.
Running back is also a strength with the quartet of junior Greg Franklin, senior Dontavius Jackson, sophomore Darrin Reaves and redshirt freshman Bashr Coles sharing the load.
The problem, however, is that senior tackle Chris Hubbard is the lone experienced player on the offensive line. Former defensive lineman Cody Payne moved over to line up alongside Hubbard, and junior tackle Kaycee Ike might finally be ready to contribute. UAB needs to find a center.
The strength of the defense resides at the linebacker position. Marvin Burdette is a playmaking middle linebacker who shed 25 pounds in the offseason and appears ready to be one of the top players at his position in C-USA. The 5'11", 223-pound senior is the key part of a deep and talented corps that will also include beefy senior D.A. Autry, junior Patrick Bastien and steady senior Greg Irvin.
Defensive line, a problem the past few years, could now be a strength with the expected emergence of sophomore defensive end Diaheem Watkins and the move of two-year starting junior Connor Boyett from end to tackle. That’s just the start of a group that is not big but expects success thanks to quickness and strength.
The Blazers had only eight sacks last season, which helped expose the secondary. On paper, the secondary is even less talented this season. Senior cornerback Cornelius Richards has the size (6'1", 179 pounds), speed and experience to be one of the top defensive backs in the league. But he’s the lone experienced cornerback, and the safety position is equally inexperienced.
Ty Long had an outstanding freshman season, hitting 16-of-19 field goals, and he should be better this season. Sophomore punter Hunter Mullins has a strong leg but needs to be more consistent. Nelson has the ability to be one of the top kick returners in the conference.
UAB received a scare in the spring when McGee was rumored to be returning to Arkansas to replace his mentor Bobby Petrino. That didn’t happen, and the Blazers surge forward with an excitement level from the fan base that hasn’t been seen in Birmingham since the year after UAB played in the 2004 Hawaii Bowl.
Playing with a quick tempo will be an emphasis for the Blazers. McGee and offensive coordinator Jeff Brohm have installed an offensive system that should produce a lot of points. But will UAB be able to stop anybody? The Blazers seem to have taken a step forward on the defensive side, but it will be hard for defensive coordinator Reggie Johnson to completely turn things around in one year.