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FIU Golden Panthers vs UAB Blazers Preview

The FIU Golden Panthers head to Birmingham to take on the UAB Blazers in their conference opener. Can the Golden Panthers rebound from a tough start to season and slay the Blazers?

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Who: FIU Golden Panthers vs UAB Blazers

When: Saturday, September 27, 3:30 PM EST

Where: Birmingham, AL

Television: American Sports Network

Series: 2013: 27-24 UAB

PREVIEW

UAB is coming off a big home victory over in-state "rival", Alabama A&M. The Blazers picked apart their FCS foes en route to their second win of the season, matching last year's total. Alabama-Birmingham is only letting up a little over 23 points per game, but it is their offense that is really making strides in 2014. The Blazers are led by Junior College transfer, Cody Clements, and are already 28th in the country in points per game with 41. While their schedule has put them up against two Alabama cupcake teams, UAB's true test came in their Week Two match-up with Mississippi State. The Blazers kept things close with the new SEC starlets and will look to capitalize on their mistakes against the Golden Panthers this weekend.

FIU enters this weekend's contest and conference play with the 18th ranked defense in the nation. The Golden Panther defense is led by Demarkus Perkins and true freshman Anthony Wint who have accumulated 29 and 19 tackles, respectively. On offense, FIU has slowly handed over the reigns to two other true freshmen, Alex McGough and Alex Gardner. Ron Turner's squad may be poised for the future, but they too have already matched last season's win total and are searching for more. Last week's game against Louisville eventually got out of hand in the second half, but in the previous week, the Golden Panthers kept Pittsburgh up against the ropes.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Alex McGough

The true freshman has finally separated himself from incumbent starter EJ Hilliard. While his performance against Louisville showed how far away his game is from being truly effective, there is definitely still upside. McGough will need to take what the Blazer defense gives him and try not to force any throws into tight coverage.

Bill Clark

UAB has long been the ugly stepsister of the state of Alabama. Under head coach Bill Clark, the Blazers have already beaten two in-state teams and have shown tangible improvement over last season. Although they may not be competing for a C-USA title this season, expect UAB to be in the discussion soon enough.

FIU Defense

While the Golden Panther offense is still figuring out the pieces to the puzzle, the defense seems to have already begun to establish their identity. The unit has kept opponents to under 24 points per game and although this may seem like a large number, it is a steady improvement from last season. Look for plays to be made with FIU's front line in a fierce battle with the Blazer linemen.

No Big Plays

FIU had Pittsburgh scrambling for any semblance of organization in the first half two weeks ago until the gates opened up. Plays began moving at a faster pace and the tackles started breaking. The same can be said for the first quarter against Louisville last week. If FIU wants to keep it close with UAB, they will need to focus on limiting these big plays for all four quarters.

Keep Improving

Unfortunately, FIU isn't going to win Conference USA in 2014. With that said, a successful season can still be achieved with a victory in Birmingham. Improvement doesn't necessarily have to be concrete for this team. If the Golden Panthers can prove to be a formidable opponent for Bill Clark's much-improved Blazer squad, they may be able to steal a few wins down the stretch.

PREDICTION

Legion Field is arguably one of the worst college football stadiums in the country and typically, some of the nation's worst college football has been played there by UAB. This year appears to be a far cry from Blazer teams of years past. Bill Clark's JUCO-laden bunch looks ready to shake things up in C-USA and FIU will definitely have their hands full. Look for Alex McGough to find rhythm early, only to be disrupted late in the first half by a physical UAB defense. FIU has proven that they can keep tough games close, but unfortunately for the Golden Panthers, the Blazers will pick up their third win of the season.

UAB 35, FIU 24