There might be no college football team with a scarier mascot that strikes less fear in the hearts of opponsing fans than the UAB Blazers. Their mascot is a dragon -- a freaking dragon -- and yet, this is a team that has three winning seasons since 1999 and has not won more than seven games in that same stretch.
Neil Callaway might eventually get things turned around in the most pointless city in Alabama, but it will take some time. This is, after all, Conference USA. So the Blazers can still be the fourth best team in Alabama and find some way to win. Maybe then, people will fear the dragon.
Simply put, the Blazers were dreadful last year. UAB's 325.6 ypg ranked 104th in FBS and dead last in Conference USA. They averaged 19.6 ppg, "good" for 105th in the country. They did allow just 1.3 sacks a game. Then again, the offensive line had to be doing something -- it certainly wasn't making holes for running backs, as the rushing game came in 104th in the nation.
Joe Webb, the best UAB quarterback by last year's numbers, takes over under center this year. "Best," of course, is a relative term, but he did at least complete more than half his passes (55.8 percent) and throw more TDs (5) than INTs (1). His taking over at QB full time, though, will deprive the Blazers of their No. 2 WR -- trust me, you don't want to know. The rest of the top four receivers return. Of course, if Rashaud Slaughter moves to WR full-time as expected, that will remove the Blazers' most productive running back from the depth chart. You can't make this stuff up. (Dexter Barnett, who topped the depth chart in the spring, had nine carries and averaged 1.9 ypc in 2007.) ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA
Like its counterpart on the other side of the football, UAB's defense seemed to do its best to redefine the term "incompetent." Worst in the country against the run -- yes, worse than South Carolina. The best ranking in meaningful statistics was 83rd in pass efficiency defense. (Passing yardage was technically better, at 64th, but that was likely distorted by the fact that it was so easy to run on the Blazers.) Where the offense was good at avoiding the sack, the defense was bad at causing it, coming in 101st by averaging 1.4 a game.
A good deal of the defense returns. UAB fans can only hope that the team will get better with age. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA
UAB's kicking specialist is Swayze Waters, and you've got to appreciate a name like that. And he might be the best player on the team. He averaged 41.4 yards a punt last year and had 19 touchbacks in 57 kickoffs (that's a third of his attempts). Waters also hit 22 of 28 field goal attempts, though he was somewhat inconsistent, hitting 6-of-9 from 30-39, 8-of-10 from 40-49 and 3-of-4 from 50+. In other words, he had a better chance of making a field goal from more than 40 yards away than from 30-39 yards away. But this is quibbling. The return game was OK, and Kevin Sanders actually came in 29th in FBS with an average of 10.6 yards. Still. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA
Neil Callaway was offensive coordinator at Georgia until he left for UAB in December 2006. Georgia put up better numbers almost across the board in 2007. Callaway is a strong candidate to jump-start this program. But he hasn't done it yet. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA
This game actually worries C&F less than the contest against Wofford. That said, it could be a trap game of a sort. The Gamecocks could be expecting a challenge from the Terriers the week before and from Ole Miss the week after. But unless they overlook the Blazers entirely, or the entire two-deep contracts dengue fever, it should be a victory. WIN
NOTE: C&F initially forgot the poll. That has been corrected.