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You can read the entire UAB preview in Athlon Sports' 2013 National College Football magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
C-USA East PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Garrick McGee, 3-9 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Richard Owens | DEF. COORDINATOR: Reggie Johnson
Austin Brown returns for his second season as UAB’s starting quarterback after being selected to the C-USA All-Freshman team a year ago. At least Brown, who fought through a variety of injuries to throw for 2,673 yards and 15 touchdowns, is penciled in as the starter, but that could change at some point between the opening of fall camp and the first kickoff of the season. Senior Jonathan Perry, who started eight games in 2011 and was the starter heading into last season, is pushing Brown. The depth is excellent at quarterback with the addition of freshman Jeremiah Briscoe and junior college transfer Myles McKee.
Darrin Reaves should once again carry the load after becoming only the second running back in the program’s history to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark. But Reaves, who has a solid mixture of strength and speed, is just part of a crowded backfield that also includes versatile senior Greg Franklin, physical sophomore Bashr Coles and promising freshman Jordan Howard. Fullback Santonio Jones, a former walk-on linebacker, is an excellent blocker.
Senior wide receiver Jackie Williams, who has 140 career catches, is one of the top receivers in the conference. He’ll lead a strong group that is bolstered by the return of Nolen Smith, who can play either tight end or wide receiver, from a knee injury that kept him out last season. Tight end Kennard Backman should be one of the team’s top targets. He caught 23 passes for 235 yards and four scores as a sophomore.
UAB lost its best lineman — tackle Chris Hubbard — to graduation but returns virtually everyone else. Redshirt freshman tackle Victor Salako could be a star in the future, but this year’s line is built around center Billy Autrey and tackle Kaycee Ike.
UAB will change its look at times — lining up in a 3-4 and 4-3 — in hopes of improving a defense that wasn’t very good last season. Replacing middle linebacker Marvin Burdette, the school’s career leader in tackles, won’t be easy, but the Blazers should be good at linebacker. Sophomore Shaq Jones and seniors Daniel White and Patrick Bastien will anchor the middle while outside linebackers include converted safety Jake Ganus, Tevin Crews, Destin Challenger and Derek Slaughter.
The defensive front is potentially a strength with returning regulars Deric Scott, Connor Boyett, Diaheem Watkins and Chris Walton. Jontavious Morris and Chris Rabb are proven as well.
Senior safety Calvin Jones will provide leadership for a young secondary. Sophomore cornerback Lamarcus Farmer, a former walk-on, was one of the more consistent secondary players a year ago despite playing through injuries. Sophomores Kelton Brackett and Devon Brown should be much better after a year of college seasoning.
Ty Long is one of the more consistent kickers in Conference USA. The steady junior was 30-of-36 on field goal attempts in his first two seasons and was much more effective on kickoffs as a sophomore. Punter Hunter Mullins ranked 12th nationally with a 44.8-yard average, but the Blazers ranked 114th in the nation in net punting (33.5-yard average).
UAB will be better in Garrick McGee’s second season as the head coach. Will that show in the win-loss column? It should, even though the Blazers’ non-conference slate includes trips to SEC members LSU and Vanderbilt and in-state rival Troy during the first four weeks of the season. If the Blazers are healthy after that stretch, they could threaten to finish in the upper echelon of the revamped Conference USA. If not, then it could be another difficult season.