Obviously internal expectations are to win every game this year and win the Conference USA Championship game. But I think a lot of fans are just hoping to see the Blazers reach five or six wins to get to a bowl game.
I hope UAB shocks us all and takes over the conference, but before we get too far ahead of ourselves, I want to draw a road map for the team to reach a bowl game this year by looking are our six most winnable games.
First things first, UAB has to win game one. No offense to our in-state partners, but if the Blazers don’t beat Alabama A&M in week one, it’s going to be a long season. However, I don’t see any way we lose to Alabama A&M who won just four games in the SWAC last year.
UAB travels to Ball State in week two in what will be their first road test. Fortunately, their first road game is to a place that had the worst attendance record in college football last year averaging just over 7,700 people a game. The Cardinals were 4-8 last year and return eight players to an offense that averaged 27 points per game. But they lose their top five tacklers on defense and return just four starters on that side of the ball. This one should be a shootout, and as long as the UAB offense is clicking, I think the Blazer defense will good enough to come up with a few stops for the win.
In week three UAB faces Coastal Carolina, who is entering their first season in Division 1. The Chanticleers are no pushover though. They’re 51-15 in their last five years and have won at least eight games a season during that span. In 2013 they beat Conference USA member Charlotte 50-25, and then they beat them again in 2014 59-34. They have just four players returning on offense, but will possibly have ACC transfers starting at quarterback and running back. There defense has six starters returning from a unit that allowed just 19.3 points per game last year. I’m hoping the home crowd and our size up front gives the Blazers the edge in this one.
On October 21 the Blazers will travel to play Charlotte. The 49ers have been one of the worst team in Conference USA since joining the league in 2015. This is not a game that UAB can afford to lose, even if it is on the road. Charlotte improved from two wins in 2015 to four wins last year. They return six players on offense and six on defense. Still, this is a game UAB has to win on the road.
With four games left in the regular season, UAB could be 4-4 entering their game with Rice. By this time the team will have had plenty of time to gel together. Rice is expected to be an improved team this year with seven starters back on offense and eight on defense from a team that won just three games in 2016. Still, their defense gave up 37.3 points per game last year. I think the UAB offense will be clicking on all cylinders by this point and ready to put up some big numbers on the Owls for win number five.
To add to the drama of this first season, it could come down to the last game of the year for UAB to become bowl eligible. The Blazers will host UTEP to end the regular season with a really good shot at getting that sixth win. The Miners were just 4-8 last year and return just five starters on offense. I think UAB will be the more talented team, and I think the atmosphere at home for the last game of the year with a bowl spot on the line gives the Blazers extra motivation to get the win.
Obviously there are other games UAB could win this year, these are just the six that I see as the most winnable games for the Blazers. The only teams I would be a little shocked if we beat are La Tech, Middle Tennessee and UTSA. To make matters even worse, we play La Tech and MTSU in back-to-back weeks.
I think this could be a very exciting first year for UAB with a lot of winnable games on the schedule. The key will be how quickly this team can get up to speed and learn how to play together.