This post continues our series previewing our 2012 opponents. Today, we're looking at our third nemesis, the UAB Blazers. This should be a very, very easy game. In fact, it should be our easiest; UAB is a perennial bottom-dweller in Conference USA and will be breaking in a new coach this season, and while we play an FCS opponent in Wofford, we are well aware of the rigors of figuring out the Terriers' triple-option offense and of their gusto for making things hairy for South Carolina and Clemson. I'm not sure who would win between UAB and Wofford, but I'm certain that Wofford will make things more difficult for us than will the Blazers. Regardless, I'll be measuring success against UAB in terms of whether we've put the game away by halftime and have our backups in for the second half, not by whether we win the game, and by whether we escape sustaining any major injuries. That being the case, I'm going to keep this one short and limit it to a few observations:
--UAB is entering its first season under head coach Garrick McGee. The name should be familiar: Since 2010, McGee was the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator under Bobby Petrino at Arkansas, where he helped Petrino produce some of the nation's most prolific offenses. As you may recall, there was some talk of McGee doing an about-face and returning to Fayetteville to man the ship after Petrino was ousted for hiring his mistress. McGee is a solid coaching prospect who is likely hoping that a few good years in Birmingham will give him a chance to move up and out of the mid-majors. He'll bring an offensive style of football to the job, looking to keep defenses guessing with a balanced pass-run game but also seeking to air it out with the best of them. I expect McGee to take some risks against USC as he goes for the upset, but I don't think he has the personnel to hurt us too much.
--UAB graduated four of five starters on the offensive line, including talented LT Matt McCants. The Blazers do have some talented guys with solid experience at the skills positions, including a good QB in Jonathan Perry who is capable of being the guy McGee needs at the position. However, the likely raw offensive line will make things difficult for them, particularly against a team with a nasty pass rush like South Carolina.
--The real worry for this team is its defense. On the flip side of its offensive line woes, this team had a more or less negligible defensive line last year, one that made very few plays near the line of scrimmage. This is a team that notched eight--EIGHT--sacks last year and that was 119th in tackles for loss. UAB loses some of the players from that defensive line and has no obvious candidates for better production. To make matters worse, it graduated its entire secondary and will be playing lots of underclassmen in those positions. Suffice it to say that I'm hoping for a few highlight-reel plays in the passing game.
Conclusion: McGee seems like a good up-and-coming coach, and while there are some built-in difficulties at UAB, including poor fan support and a defeatist administration, Birmingham is conveniently located near several fertile recruiting grounds, although McGee will have to be creative and choose wisely among the projects that Auburn and Alabama don't want to take chances on. That's all to say that I do think that he can win here. However, it's going to take time, as McGee inherits a bad football team with lots of roster turnover. This season is going to be an upward climb to notch more than three or four wins, and USC should win by several touchdowns.
One thing that I would like to note is that this game replaces last year's Navy game, and I'm really happy that we're playing a bit easier opponent in this slot. We have enough challenges on deck without having to play a feisty mid-major team like Navy, particularly one that runs the triple-option, which requires extra preparation that could otherwise be used to get ready for our SEC opponents. This year, we can use part of UAB week to begin thinking about Gary Pinkel's Missouri Tigers, which will present some big challenges for our defense. Lastly, I feel that playing big-time OOC opponents means playing a game where you don't get any credit for winning but where you run a real chance of losing, which can have a very negative effect on your season. Better to play a team like UAB.