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Troy (0-0) at UAB (0-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 1st, 12:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Legion Field (72,000) -- Birmingham, Alabama. Television: FCS. Home Record: Troy 0-0, UAB 0-0. Away Record: Troy 0-0, UAB 0-0. Neutral Record: Troy 0-0, UAB 0-0. Conference Record: Troy 0-0, UAB 0-0. Series Record: Troy leads 5-4.
GAME NOTES: The 2012 college football season kicks off for the UAB Blazers when they host the Troy Trojans of the Sun Belt Conference at Legion Field on Saturday afternoon.
Troy has been a FBS program for just 11 seasons but has done fairly well in that time especially since 2006. That bit of success ended last season when the Trojans had a 3-9 overall record, their worst since joining the FBS. In the five seasons previous Troy had at least eight wins each season. Last year it was a 1-7 swoon down the stretch that put Troy out of bowl eligibility.
UAB can commiserate with its opponent in this matchup. UAB also finished 3-9 and near the bottom of the Conference USA. The Blazers have not tasted a winning season since 2005 which caused the team to sack head coach Neil Callaway and bring in Garrick McGee. An offensive minded coach, McGee was an assistant under Bobby Petrino at Arkansas before taking over in Birmingham.
In terms of the all-time series, Troy leads by a slim 5-4 margin, earning the edge with a 24-23 win last season. It was the second straight game decided by a single point in the series.
Just like head coach Larry Blankeney, who has led Troy for 22 years, there will be a familiar face leading the Troy offense this season. Quarterback Corey Robinson is back for his third season. He has started since coming on as a freshman. Last season was a very good one for the junior, as he threw for 3,411 yards and 21 touchdowns in leading the Trojans' spread attack.
Blankeney is expecting improvements in the running game after the team ranked 117th in the category (88.7 ypg) last season. Having a returning starter in Shawn Southward should help. Southward had a team-high 556 yards rushing last season and also caught 27 balls out of the backfield.
The receiving corps has its best pass catcher back in Eric Thomas. The 6-1 junior caught 67 passes for 875 yards and nine scores last season, all team-highs. No other receiver on the roster caught more than 18 balls last year. Three starters return on the offensive line led by senior left guard Kyle Wilborn.
Although the offense was nothing to brag about for Troy last season it was markedly better than the defense. Troy ranked 113th in total defense and did not crack the top 100 nationally in scoring, passing or rush defense.
From that unit only five starters return so the hope is that new personnel can bring new success. Safety Brynden Trawick is the team's most proven and talented player. The senior had a team-high 123 tackles last season.
Brannon Bryan is the most experienced player at linebacker after recording 82 tackles last season. The rest of the linebacking corps is largely untested.
Up front the Trojans need to replace sack leaders Johnathan Massaquoi and Jonathan Robles. Defensive end Tony Davis is the best chance there as he had 2.5 sacks in 2011, third on the team.
Like Troy, UAB struggled on offense and defense last season but with McGee there is cause to believe things can be turned around. This is especially true on offense where McGee has plenty of experience.
McGee is especially skilled in working with quarterbacks and his first pupil at UAB will be Jonathan Perry, who started last season. Perry threw for 2,042 yards, while completing 58.0 percent of his passes, with 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Perry can also run as he led the team in rushing attempts last season.
With Perry throwing the ball, the Blazers' best facet offensively was the pass game which ranked 60th nationally. Two starting receivers return to help that attack improve in Jackie Williams and Nick Adams. Williams led the team in receptions (58) and yards (607) last season.
UAB desperately needs a more dependable running game this season. Last year no back really stepped up with Greg Franklin (430 yards) being the team's lead rusher. Franklin will again be the starter this season. Sophomore Darrin Reaves will also push for carries. How far the offense goes may depend on how well the four new starters on the offensive line assimilate to McGee's offensive system.
UAB was not a strong defensive team last season. The Blazers ranked 114th in the nation in total defense (485.6 ypg) and allowed opponents to find the end zone far to often.
With that said there is some talent on that side of the ball led by linebacker Marvin Burdette. Burdette recorded 92 tackles last season which ranked second on the team behind the departed Jamie Bender.
Outside of Burdette though, the defense is thin in experience. Only three other starters return with Greg Irvin, also a linebacker, the second leading returning tackler (66). Defensive end Diaheem Watkins and defensive tackle Connor Boyett are the other holdovers.
These teams were almost mirror images of one another last season, as evidenced by the tight contest they played in 2011. However both teams addressed the poor campaign in different ways. UAB hired a new coach, while Troy kept things largely the same. Troy is just a year removed from an eight-win season so that strategy may not be a bad one. With more returning starters on defense and consistency on offense, Troy should earn a win against a UAB squad still adjusting to a new system.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Troy 21, UAB 14
08/31 10:31:51 ET