The Blazers have won two out of the last three Conference USA titles, and coach Bill Clark hopes a similar formula can put UAB back atop the conference in 2021. A strong ground attack led by sophomore DeWayne McBride will anchor the offense, while the defense is one of the best in the Group of 5 ranks. Back-to-back road treks to Marshall and UTSA in November will determine whether or not Clark’s team will win C-USA’s West Division once again.
Previewing UAB's Offense for 2021
In his sixth year with the Blazers, quarterback Tyler Johnston III is poised to hold off a challenge from Bryson Lucero. Lucero had more starts and more pass attempts and threw for more yards than Johnston, who battled injuries, but Johnston is a bit more efficient and takes better care of the ball (one interception to Lucero's eight).
The running back position is deep, experienced and talented. Sophomore DeWayne McBride has already set the UAB record for the longest run with a 75-yarder and also added a 71-yarder. The 230-pounder averaged 9.3 yards per carry. Jermaine Brown Jr., Lucious Stanley and Larry Wooden will fight for carries and will be challenged by Mississippi State transfer Lee Witherspoon.
Running room will be plentiful as the offensive line returns seven players who started at least three games last year and adds two junior college transfers. The only question mark will be at wide receiver. Trea Shropshire's five-catch, 180-yard performance in the Conference USA Championship Game was a glimpse of his potential, and UAB will need sophomores Ryan Davis and Samario Rudolph and 6'4" senior RaJae' Johnson-Sanders to step up after small roles last year.
The Blazers possess a solid set of tight ends. Hayden Pittman is a multidimensional threat, and Gerrit Prince can stretch defenses with his receiving ability (four of his nine catches went for TDs).
Previewing UAB's Defense for 2021
All-C-USA performer Kristopher Moll is already one of the best defensive players in school history. He'll play a fifth season for the Blazers. Moll moves back to safety from his linebacker spot.
UAB hit the transfer market and will be boosted by edge Justin Thomas (LSU), linebacker Charlie Benton (West Virginia) and safety Troy Young (Arizona), who will play the hybrid Star position.
The defensive line, led by Antonio Moultrie and Tyree Turner, is deep and experienced. UAB is counting on a bounce-back junior season from Alex Wright off the edge. Noah Wilder will lead the linebacker group after posting two highly productive seasons. Thomas will step in for the departed Jordan Smith at JACK linebacker, and the production should continue. Deshaun Oliver Jr. is primed for a bigger role at the other linebacker spot, but there is competition with Benton coming in as a graduate transfer.
TD Marshall was a second-team All-C-USA selection, and the cornerback returns to a leadership role. CD Daniels and Keondre Swoopes will battle for the other cornerback spot, while safety is also deep with Will Boler, Damon Miller and Grayson Cash challenging for a starting spot.
Previewing UAB's Specialists for 2021
Kicker Matt Quinn earned honorable mention all-conference honors, and punter Kyle Greenwell is a fourth-year starter. The only question mark is in the return game, but Starling Thomas V has experience returning kicks and punts, and Brown returned six kicks.
UAB has 12 seniors who took advantage of the extra year of eligibility allotted by the NCAA and returns 16 starters. This is a loaded team with high expectations and excitement as the Blazers open Protective Stadium in downtown Birmingham against Liberty on Oct. 2 after opening the season with four straight road games.
National Ranking: 67
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(DeWayne McBride photo courtesy of uabsports.com)