Premature Preview 2011: UAB

Previously: Memphis, Auburn, LSU, Louisiana Tech, Georgia

As promised, I bring you back-to-back Premature Previews in an effort to get back on schedule. It was Georgia yesterday, and today we look at MSU’s Week 6 opponent. It’s the third of four non-SEC games, and the second of those on the road. Let’s just say it’s not the strongest non-conference schedule in the world.

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UAB Blazers (Oct. 8, in Birmingham)

Conference: Conference USA

2010 record: 4-8 (3-5, 5th East Division)

Final ranking: Not ranked

Coach: Neil Callaway (15-33, four years)

Returning starters: 19 (7 offense, 9 defense, 3 specialists)

Last meeting: MSU, 29-24 (Oct. 23, 2010, in Starkville)

On the Web: uabsports.com

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This might be the best team Callaway has fielded, and Phil Steele predicts the Blazers will finish fourth in the C-USA East Division this year. So maybe UAB’s higher-ups see success coming with Callaway.

Last year could have been better if not for some stunningly shoddy field-goal kicking by Josh Zahn: his missed 3-pointers cost UAB in a 32-29 OT loss to Tennessee and a 32-31 loss to FAU. Zahn, who is not back, was 7 of 17 on field goals for the season.

What could make this season special for UAB? Start with the quarterback, 6-foot-2, 205-pound senior Bryan Ellis. In 11 games last season, he completed 56.2 percent of his passes for 2,940 yards, 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Plus, he did this. For what it’s worth, Ellis passed for 250 yards in the first half of UAB’s spring game.

Also returning is tailback Pat Shed, the Starkville High product, who was fifth in C-USA at 70.6 rushing yards per game. He gained 847 yards on 157 carries (5.4 yards per carry) and scored three touchdowns. Shed is big in the passing game, too, totaling 471 yards and four TDs on a team-high 47 catches in 2010.

UAB loses top receiver Frantrell Forrest but returns a pretty good one in Nick Adams, who missed last season with an injury. The 6-foot-2 senior had 277 yards (18.5 yards per catch) in 2009, and Steele reports he has great hands. Adams has been through some tough times in his life.

The offensive line should be solid and is led by first-team all-conference pick Matt McCants (6-7, 295).

On defense, there’s a name you probably recognize: Tommy West. The former Memphis head coach is the new defensive coordinator at UAB. The Blazers were middle-of-the-pack in most defensive categories last year, so there’s certainly room for improvement. They allowed 31.6 ppg (seventh in C-USA) and 398.8 ypg (sixth).

This will be MSU’s fourth meeting with UAB, including its second trip to Birmingham. The first visit resulted in a dogfight, with State pulling out a 16-10 overtime win in 2006. Last season in Starkville, UAB led 24-23 in the fourth quarter before the leg of kicker Derek DePasquale lifted MSU to victory.

UAB has two road games prior to this matchup (East Carolina and Troy) and will be back on the road the next week (Tulsa). So the Blazers will probably be both a bit worn out and very relieved to be at home. MSU will be coming off a visit to Georgia. I believe they call this a “trap game,” and remember, last year’s meeting came the week after State won at Florida.

Up next: South Carolina