UAB has been a model of consistency through the years, even to the point of having the third-best league record in Conference USA over the past five seasons. But what has that 20-16 mark produced for the Blazers?
Perhaps a little recognition, but not the reward coach Watson Brown and his players covet -- an elusive postseason game. The Blazers have missed out on bowl invitations because, with the exception of 2001, they've been unable to post a winning league and overall record in the same season.
Brown believes the key to being a great team is avoiding the rash of injuries that have plagued the Blazers the past two seasons.
Two years ago, there were 21 Blazers who underwent knee operations. Last year, UAB was jolted by the loss of quarterback Darrell Hackney at midseason when he suffered a thumb injury in a loss to nationally ranked TCU. Running backs Dan Burks and Bo Moncur also were limited by injury.
"We've had some injury problems here for two years," Brown said. "We've got to work to correct that."
OffenseJunior Darrell Hackney is one of the top quarterbacks in Conference USA. He gives the Blazers a dual threat -- a tough, physical runner and a productive thrower who has passed for 3,636 yards and 23 scores in just 18 career games.
Hackney is a fearless leader who thrives in pressure-filled situations. He had the Blazers leading a nationally ranked and unbeaten TCU team in the third quarter before injuring his thumb.
"Darrell may be the most talented [quarterback] in this league," Brown said. "But he can't play a half season for us to reach the goals we want to reach."
If Hackney does get sidelined, the Blazers find themselves with more depth at the position. Sophomores Curtis Falany and Chris Williams were pushed into service when Hackney was injured last season, and the Blazers brought in highly regarded junior college quarterback Chad Wilmott, an All-American who led his team to NJCAA title.
If Burks can give the Blazers the 500-plus yards he gained as a freshman two years ago, the running game will be healthy.
Sophomore Corey White emerged late in the season as a productive back. Built more like a fullback, White (6-foot-2, 225) rushed for 325 yards in the Blazers' final three games, including 138 against Tulane and 123 against Houston.
DefenseThe UAB defense made strides under first-year defensive coordinator Wayne Bolt, who welcomes back 10 starters.
The defensive line will be strong, led by tackle Shamar Abrams, a wide body who possess excellent quickness. Abrams had 10.5 tackles for lost yardage among his 84 stops. Sam Williamson is back at the other tackle spot after missing the second half of the season with injuries.
The foundation of UAB's defense is at linebacker, where seniors Zac Woodfin, Nigel Eldridge and Gaylon Black return with a better understanding of Bolt's system. They combined for more than 340 tackles, led by Woodfin's 149.
SpecialistsSenior Nick Hayes, an All-America candidate, gives the Blazers one of the conference's, and nation's, top field goal kickers. He has made 44-of-57 field goals and all but one of his 73 extra-point tries.
Sophomore Parker Mullins averaged 41.1 yards on 72 punts and gives UAB a solid kicking game.
The return game didn't put up impressive numbers a year ago, but senior Jason Southall has shown an ability to be effective returning kicks. As a sophomore, he ranked fourth in the league with a 24-yard return average. Brown would like to see more productive punt returns and may give Carlos Hendricks and junior college transfer Reggie Lindsey looks.
Final AnalysisIf Hackney proves durable, the Blazers should be successful. And with the signing of Wilmott, they may also be able to survive Hackney missing a game or two. The defense will be led by a linebacker corps that is one of C-USA's best.
The result may be the program's first bowl game, an attainable goal in Brown's mind.
"We haven't had any bad teams," Brown said. "We've always had good teams. Now we want that great team."