UAB receiver Jamarcus Nelson is one of the Blazers' top returning players. (Marvin Gentry / USA Today Sports / August 31, 2013)
The Orlando Sentinel's college insider Matt Murschel has ranked all 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country entering the 2014 season. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 128 to our projected No. 1 team.
Today at No 117: UAB Blazers
Coach: Bill Clark (0-0, entering first season; 11-4 overall)
2013 record: 2-10 (1-7 in Conference USA, tied for fifth in Eastern Division)
Look back: UAB continues to struggle to field a competitive football team, posting just three winning seasons since joining Conference USA in 1999. The most recent winning season was in 2004. The Blazers are adapting to a new head coach for the second time in the past three seasons. The school fired Neil Callaway after his fifth consecutive losing season in 2011 and hired Garrick McGee. After going 5-19 in two seasons, McGee took over as Louisville's offensive coordinator. McGee said he made the move because he believed he had a chance to win a national title working with head coach Bobby Petrino mentoring the Cardinals.
The departure was the latest sign it has been difficult for UAB to find its footing. The Blazers have lost bids to build a stadium on campus, playing at aging Legion Field. The team has long played more of a spoiler role in Conference USA rather than acting as a squad that could consistently win close games.
UAB hired Bill Clark to take over the program, selecting a coach accustomed to working with limited resources and rebuilding a struggling team. Clark led Jacksonville State to an 11-4 record last season, their most victories since 1992 when the Gamecocks won the NCAA Division II National Championship.
Offensive starters returning: 8
Offensive starters lost: 3
Defensive starters returning: 8
Defensive starters lost: 3
Key losses: QB Jonathan Perry, RB Darrin Reaves, OT Kaycee Ike, C Billy Autrey, DT Deric Scott, LB Patrick Bastien, FS Greg Franklin
Top returnees: RB Jordan Howard, WR Jamarcus Nelson, WR Jamari Staples, TE Kennard Backman, LB Jake Ganus, SS Jordan Petty, CB Jimmy Jean, K Ty Long
Strengths: UAB returns eight starters on defense and eight starters on offense, giving Clark an experienced lineup to work with this offseason.
Senior Jamarcus Nelson recorded four 100-yard receiving games last season, finishing with a team-high 846 yards and eight touchdowns. He averaged 20.1 yards per catch.
Tailback Jordan Howard ranked second on the team in rushing behind departing starter Darrin Reaves. Howard rumbled for 881 yards and two touchdowns as a true freshman.
Kicker Ty Long has been a steady threat for UAB, connecting on 16 field goals and three kicks from beyond 50 yards during last season.
Weaknesses: UAB must offset the loss of some key offensive players, including playmaking quarterback Jonathan Perry and Reaves. Perry, a senior, bumped Austin Brown out of the starting job after seven games. Brown decided to transfer, leaving the Blazers without a quarterback who had any game-day experience.
Reaves led the team with 928 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns, serving as a steady force for the offense.
UAB has bigger problems to solve on the defensive side of the ball. The team was No. 119 out of 123 FBS-recognized teams last season in scoring defense, giving up 43.8 points per game. The Blazers ranked No. 109 in run defense (221.3 yards per game) and No. 115 in pass defense (276.5 yards per game.)