With a standout defense and an offense poised to improve behind a healthy year out of quarterback Tyler Johnston and running back Spencer Brown, UAB is a heavy favorite to win Conference USA in 2020. The Blazers have earned a bowl trip in three consecutive seasons and claimed the West Division title in back-to-back years. Thanks to the return of 19 starters, UAB should hit double-digit victories for the second time in three years.
Previewing UAB's Offense for 2020
UAB’s success offensively depends on the health of junior quarterback Tyler Johnston III, and the coaching staff will have to figure out a way to keep him from getting hit so much. He’s expected to hold off sophomore Dylan Hopkins, who started five games. Hopkins didn’t have as much success moving the ball as Johnston, who was dynamic to close out the 2018 season.
Spencer Brown enters his senior season already having set UAB’s career rushing yards record, but he had just 566 yards as a junior and averaged 3.8 yards per carry, as he was hampered by a foot injury. Jermaine Brown Jr. exploded onto the scene as a freshman with 446 yards, and junior Lucious Stanley, finally healthy after injury-plagued seasons in 2017 and 2018, is also a key cog in the group.
Austin Watkins is just the third UAB receiver in history to record more than 1,000 receiving yards in a season and the first since NFL All-Pro Roddy White accomplished the feat in 2004. Myron Mitchell is also an accomplished starter, and slot Markus Grossman will see a bigger role as he steps into a starting position. Senior tight end Hayden Pittman is a four-year starter. The line is experienced, as six returning players earned starts last season.
Previewing UAB's Defense for 2020
The Blazers return star power and experience, led by edge rusher Jordan Smith and linebacker Kristopher Moll, two of Conference USA’s best defenders and two legit NFL prospects. Noah Wilder was a big surprise last year at linebacker, finishing with 85 tackles. He’ll be pushed by Jarrion Street, who missed last season with an injury. Smith (17.5 tackles for a loss) and sophomore Alex Wright (8.5 TFLs) are terrors coming off the edge, while South Alabama transfer Tyree Turner and junior college transfer Kelle Sanders figure to make an impact there as well. Inside, senior Tony Fair is an all-conference candidate, but the Blazers need big seasons from a combination of sophomore Fish McWilliams, veterans Antonio Moultrie and Michael Fairbanks II and junior college transfer Isaiah Forte.
The backfield is experienced, with all-conference cornerback Brontae Harris expected back from a foot injury that cost him all of last season. Cornerback is the deepest and most experienced position, with TD Marshall, Starling Thomas V, Devodric Bynum, Keondre Swoopes, Xavier Lanier and C.D. Daniels vying for time. Will Boler and Grayson Cash will man the safety spots, while Dy’jonn Turner is coming off a breakout season at the STAR secondary position.
Previewing UAB's Specialists for 2020
Sophomore Wilson Beaverstock and freshman Matthew Quinn are battling to replace Nick Vogel at kicker. Neither has game experience. Kyle Greenwell enters his third year as the starting punter. Mitchell is dynamic on kick returns.
Going into the fourth season since the program was resurrected in 2017, expectations have never been higher. The Blazers are coming off back-to-back C-USA championship games and return more players with starting experience and more proven depth than in previous seasons. UAB must up its game against better competition, as the Blazers were not competitive in four of their five losses. There is reason to believe the defense will be the best in Conference USA, and UAB could reach new heights offensively if Johnston can stay healthy.
National Ranking: 63
(Top photo by Kamp Fender/UAB Athletics)