UAB was expected to be one of the worst teams in the FBS ranks after returning from a two-year hiatus. Didn't happen. The Blazers won eight games overall and went 6-2 in Conference USA, cementing Bill Clark's reputation as one of the most underrated coaches in the nation.
Previewing UAB Football's Offense for 2018
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UAB returns most of an offense that ranked 10th in Conference USA, but the Blazers will have a new look after coach Bill Clark dismissed coordinator Les Koenning and re-hired Bryant Vincent, the architect of the program's 2014 attack that set several school records.
Quarterback A.J. Erdely could contend for league honors after producing 29 total touchdowns in 2017. Conference USA Freshman of the Year Spencer Brown returns after rushing for 1,329 yards (the most ever by a UAB freshman), and the unit will be even better with Ole Miss transfer Jarrion Street and former Michigan Wolverine Kingston Davis supplying depth.
Most of the key receivers are back, including top pass catcher Andre Wilson and fellow seniors Collin Lisa, Xavier Ubosi and Sederian Copeland. UAB hopes to have slot receiver Jonathan Haden back from a knee injury before the season, and Clark signed junior college transfers Austin Watkins and Kendall Parham to challenge for time. The tight end position is deep as senior Donnie Lee moved from running back after catching 19 passes, joining returning key players Hayden Pittman and Logan Scott as well as two players who missed last season due to injury, Thair Blakes and Skylor Clinton.
Rishard Cook lost 35 pounds in the offseason and is primed for a starting role at left guard after starting four games last year.
Previewing UAB Football's Defense for 2018
The defense returns several key players but must replace team leaders such as Darious Williams, Shaq Jones and Tevin Crews, who were each with the program before it was shut down in 2014.
Safety Broderick Thomas established himself as one of the conference's top defenders in his first year with the program, and he'll be counted on for leadership and big plays in a secondary that will rely on young players to provide depth behind veterans Duke Culver, Will Dawkins, D.A. Williams and Brontae Harris. UAB trains its defensive backs to play multiple positions.
UAB was at its best when 6'7" Stacy Keely was healthy last year. He has moved to the Jack linebacker spot and should be one of C-USA's best edge rushers. The defensive line is a powerful group led by breakout candidate Garrett Marino, Anthony Rush and Quindarius Thagard. Watch for Blake McClain, who missed last year due to injury, and newcomers Antonio Moultrie and Fish McWilliams to contribute early.
Sophomore linebacker Thomas Johnston turned down Power 5 offers to sign with UAB. Fitzgerald Mofor and Chris Woolbright are also experienced, but UAB needs youngsters behind them to step up.
Previewing UAB Football's Specialists for 2018
UAB returns kicker Nick Vogel and punter Joel Dixon, though both could stand to improve. UAB was 13th in Conference USA in net punting, and while Vogel was perfect on field goals inside of 40 yards, he was just 5-of-9 past that mark. Wilson is UAB's top weapon in the return game.
Expectations will be high this year, due in part to the return of Vincent as the offensive coordinator and a defense that should remain stout despite the loss of some key personnel. This team should be a factor in the C-USA West title chase.