Schedules in college football are huge. In most cases, besides the roster or coaching situation, the schedule is what sets expectations. With that in mind we begin our look at the toughest three-game stretches in Conference USA with the UAB Blazers who will complete #theReturn to the gridiron in 2017.
College football fans have uncertainties about UAB’s returning team this season. For Bill Clark and his Blazers, the element of surprise could be their biggest ally. The Blazers will finish “The Return” to the field with the Alabama A&M Bulldogs on September 2nd.
The following two opponents could prove to be tougher than most think. UAB will head to Ball State in their first road game of the season, facing a talented running game led by junior James Gilbert (1,332 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns last season). The Blazers will return to Legion Field to host a Coastal Carolina team with some gaps in its offense. The Chanticleers won 10 games last season in FCS play but only return three offensive starters and five defensive starters. All three games are winnable. If UAB starts 3-0, they could potentially steal a few games later in the season to become bowl eligible.
Where it gets tough: at UNT, vs Louisiana Tech, vs MTSU
UAB will face its second road trip of the season to Denton, Texas to take on the North Texas Mean Green. The Mean Green finished the 2016 regular season with a 5-7 record but made the Heart of Dallas Bowl due to the team’s high Academic Progress Rate (APR) score.
These two teams met in 2014 and it was anything but close. UAB had three defensive touchdowns in the game and went on to win 56-21. UNT brings back starting quarterback Mason Fine and running back Jefferey Wilson but will have to replace almost all of their receiving corps. UNT also only brings back four starters on defense. Why is it a tough game? Any road game for the Blazers is going to be tough this season. This could also be a winnable game that gets UAB closer to a bowl eligible record.
Following UNT, UAB will have a much-needed bye week before their next opponent, the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs. Louisiana Tech is 5-0 all-time against UAB, including a 40-24 victory over the Blazers in 2014. The Bulldogs finished the 2016 regular season 8-4 then fell to Western Kentucky in the C-USA Championship game. Louisiana Tech did finish on a high note defeating Navy in the Armed Forces Bowl 48-45. La Tech will be starting a new quarterback for the fourth year in a row. Inexperience doesn’t bother Louisiana Tech, however, since the Bulldogs have had a top three offense in C-USA since 2014. The only question for the Bulldogs is in the secondary. Louisiana Tech brings back three defensive line starters but only has one secondary starter returning.
The MTSU Blue Raiders will not be any easier for the Blazers. MTSU is coming off of an eight-win season and brings back many familiar faces. The Blue Raiders have a high-powered offense to complement an experienced linebacker and secondary corps on defense. If Louisiana Tech doesn’t test the UAB defense, MTSU surely will.
Quarterback Brent Stockstill threw for 3,233 yards last season, and 1,625 of those yards went to returning wide receiver Richie James. As good as MTSU may seem, they do have a few weak spots. MTSU lost three starting offensive lineman as well as the entire starting defensive line. MTSU will also have to replace I'Tavius Mathers, who ran for a school-record 1,561 yards last season.
UAB will play back-to-back road games at Charlotte and Southern Miss. In November UAB will take on the Rice Owls and then head on another two-game road stretch at UTSA and at Florida.
The final game will be against UTEP at home. A few of these teams are projected to finish near the bottom of C-USA, which could mean potential wins for UAB. UAB may start at the bottom in all the preseason polls, but the Blazers are ready step back on the field and from looking at the schedule, they have a chance to showcase “The Return” in a winning way.