NCAA Football

2011 College Football Season Preview: UAB Blazers

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2010 Record: (4-8, 3-5 in C-USA)

Head Coach: Neil Callaway (15-33, 11-21 in C-USA)

Last Bowl Game: 2004 Hawaii Bowl (lost to Hawaii 59-40)

Schedule

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9/10: at Florida

9/17: Tulane

9/24: at East Carolina (2010 result: lost 54-42)

10/1: at Troy (2010 result: won 34-33)

10/8: Mississippi State (2010 result: lost 29-24)

10/15: at Tulsa

10/20: UCF (2010 result: lost 42-7)

10/29: at Marshall (2010 result: lost 31-17)

11/5: Houston

11/12: at Memphis (2010 result: won 31-15)

11/17: Southern Miss (2010 result: won 50-49 OT)

11/26: at FAU

2010 Offensive Statistics:

Scoring: 26.3 ppg (7th in C-USA, 66th in Nation)

Rushing Yds/Game: 156.08 yds/game (5th in C-USA, 58th in Nation)

Passing Yds/Game: 266.8 yds/game (5th in C-USA, 24th in Nation)

Total Yds/Game: 422.8 yds/game (5th in C-USA, 30th in Nation)

2010 Defensive Statistics:

Scoring: 31.6 ppg (7th in C-USA, 95th in Nation)

Rushing Yds/Game: 150.83 yds/game (7th in C-USA, 59th in Nation)

Passing Yds/Game: 248.0 yds/game (8th in C-USA, 105th in Nation)

Total Yds/Game: 398.8 yds/game (6th in C-USA, 80th in Nation)

2010 Misc Stats:

Turnover Margin: -0.50 per game (6th in C-USA, 88th in Nation)

Penalties: 50.8 yds/game (7th in C-USA, 53rd in Nation)

Returning Starters:

Offense: 7

Defense: 8

Kicker/Punter: 1 

Top Returning Statistical Leaders:

Passing: QB Bryan Ellis, Sr (230 of 410 for 2937 yds, 25 TD, 12 INT)

Rushing: RB Pat Shed, Sr (157 for 847, 5.3 ypc, 3 TD)

Receiving: RB Pat Shed, Sr (47 rec for 471 yds, 4 TD)

Tackles: LB Marvin Burdette, Jr (114)

Sacks: LB Marvin Burdette, Jr (3)

Interceptions: DB T.J. Ballou, Sr (3)

2011 Predictions:

Athlon: 4th in C-USA East at 5-7 (4-4)

Phil Steele: 4th in C-USA East

UAB enters 2011 still searching for their second bowl birth since making the jump to the FBS in 1996. UAB returns some talent on both sides of the football and has senior leadership in QB Bryan Ellis and RB Pat Shed. This could be a make it/break it year for Neil Callaway as he's still looking for his first winning season at UAB since taking over in 2007. It won't be easy for the Blazers this year as they have a pretty tough schedule. They start at Florida and then after playing Tulane they play 5 straight teams that went bowling last year. That's a brutal seven games to open the year for a C-USA team. UAB also draws Houston and Tulsa out of C-USA West and they are two of the top three teams in that division. UAB has a tough road ahead of it as Neil Callaway tries to get the most out of what will be his most talented team since he's been Head Coach. To get a local view of the UAB Blazers we reached out to Tyler Cantrell, the football correspondent of Blazertv.com. Make sure you follow him on Twitter @Tyler_Cantrell.

Neil Callaway has struggled since coming to UAB as he amassed a 15-33 career record. Is he on the hot seat and what does he need to do to get UAB on track?

The record for Neill Callaway has not been good at UAB, but that can be misleading. Watson Brown left the Blazers in bad shape. Scholarship players were VERY low for Callaway when he arrived in Birmingham. But he has had time to turn things around and this will be the second year that the Blazers have a full roster, and these players have all been recruited by Callaway. In the last few years defense and special teams have struggled for the Blazers. While some fans wanted Coach Callaway gone after last season he bought himself another year by changing his staff for the first time. Former Memphis head coach Tommy West is the new defensive coordinator and special teams responsibilities will now be shared by different assistants. If the defense can show even minor improvement under West then this team may really get on track this year.

Defensively, UAB gave up over 30 points per game last year. Who are the main guys on defense that must step up this year if UAB is to have a winning season?

It may not be individual players but the new system that Tommy West is putting in. West is running a much simpler system than previous defensive coordinator Eric Schumann ran. All through spring practices you could tell that the defense had a new out look and despite a slow start in the spring game competed well with the offense, which has never occurred since Callaway has been here. The improved spring game for the Blazers happened despite the fact that several key defenders Elliot Henigan, Jamie Bender and Chase Daniel were held out of most or all of spring.  Henigan dominates the defensive front line and is one of the main reasons the Blazers have been successful against the run. Last year the secondary looked to be strong but a rash of injuries took out key players in the two deep across the board. For the defense to be successful this year, senior safeties Bender and Daniel need to stay healthy. The linebacker spot may be the best it has been in years with senior Marvin Burdette joined by junior D. A. Autry who looked outstanding in spring. If this defense can improve even a little and stay healthy, then the Blazers could easily go bowling.

For those that don't follow Conference USA, who are some under-the-radar guys that might make some noise for the Blazers this year?

Bryan Ellis is a very good QB capable of putting up big numbers every single game. Also in the back field with Ellis is extremely under-rated senior running back Pat Shed. Look for Coach Callaway to find as many ways as possible to get the football in Shed’s hands. These two guys should have great years as they work behind a senior dominated offensive line that has a chance to be one of the best in C-USA. While the Blazers did struggle on special teams last year, punter Trey Ragland was consistent. If the defense can improve Ragland’s ability to pin teams deep in their own territory, this may be more of a game changing factor this season.

Looking at the schedule, what are the most important games for UAB this year?

UAB has Mississippi State coming to Legion Field this year. It is the first time in several years that an SEC team has come to town for the Blazers. Last year the Blazers let a win over the nationally ranked Bulldogs slip away in the 4th quarter at Starkville. This game will be most likely be nationally televised and give the Blazers a chance to show that this program is ready to take the next step. Neill Callaway has some nice wins in his tenure. Including leading the Blazers to their first ever wins over Southern Miss, UCF, and Marshall. But the big out of conference win has eluded him and this would be a momentum gainer for the Blazers as a team and a program.

What is the one game on the schedule that the fan base wants to win the most this year?

UAB fans love beating Southern Miss. The Blazers lost their first ten games to the Golden Eagles before winning the last two in dramatic fashion. There should be more intensity in the rivalry now that UAB has gotten some wins in the series. Southern Miss has a good football team year in and year out and Blazer fans know that to get where they want to be the road will always lead through Hattiesburg. A distant second would be Troy from the Sun Belt Conference as this is developing into a nice in-state rivalry.

What is your gut feeling on the final record for the 2011 season and what makes the season successful in your eyes?

This team needs to go bowling for this season to be a success. There is talk of an on-campus stadium in the near future and the Blazers need momentum moving into it. Neil Callaway needs his first winning season in Birmingham to quiet his critics. This team has made progress during his tenure in Birmingham but in year five of the Callaway era the fan base is ready for their second trip to the post season.

Next Preview: Miami (Fl) 

2011 Team Previews

ACC- Clemson

Big East- Louisville

Big Ten- Minnesota

C-USA- East Carolina, Houston , Marshall, SMU, Southern Mississippi, UCF

Independent- Army

MAC- Ball St, Bowling Green, Buffalo , Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Temple, Toledo

MWC- New Mexico, UNLV, Wyoming

Sun Belt- FAU, FIU, Louisiana, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Troy , ULM, Western Kentucky

WAC- Idaho, San Jose St