***** NCAA Football Preview - UAB Blazers *****
 By Lucas Gulotta, Associate College Football Editor
 Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
 2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: Garrick McGee's first run as head coach of the Blazers
 was not quite what the former Oklahoma quarterback was hoping for. After
 taking over a team that finished 3-9 in 2011, there was plenty of room for
 McGee had trouble securing his first victory as a head coach as UAB lost to
 Troy (39-29), South Carolina (49-6), Ohio State (29-15) and Tulsa (49-42) to
 begin his tenure with the school. The Blazers coasted to a 52-3 victory over
 Southeastern Louisiana to improve to 1-4, but they then lost three in a row to
 Houston (39-17), East Carolina (42-35) and Tulane (55-45), which gave them an
 0-4 record in conference play with four games remaining. UAB showed some life
 by posting a pair of upsets over Southern Miss (27-19) on the road  and
 Marshall (38-31) at home. The decision over the Thundering Herd was the final
 of 2012 though, as UAB suffered lopsided losses to Memphis (46-9) and UCF
 (49-24) to arrive at a 3-9 overall record.
 The Blazers had a high-powered offense and were very tough when everything was
 clicking, but their defense was able to limit just one of its FBS opponents to
 less than 20 points.
 OFFENSE: UAB had the 19th best passing offense in the nation last season with
 an average of 308.8 yards per game through the air. The pass-first mentality
 left the Blazers with one of the worst rushing attacks in the FBS, as they
 yielded just 110.3 yards per game on the ground.
 The quarterback position is not quite settled as sophomore Austin Brown and
 senior Jonathan Perry both have made a case to be the opening day starter.
 Brown was a C-USA All-Freshman Team selection last season after finishing with
 2,673 yards passing with 15 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. Perry was the
 starter early on last season during the team's slow start and also for the
 majority of the 2011 season. Although the team performed worse against the
 tougher competition early on, Perry completed 61 percent of his 122 attempts
 for 1,033 yards with six touchdowns against only one interception.
 Senior wideout Jackie Williams will be a starter for a fourth season after
 leading the team with 799 yards on 52 catches last year. He comes into 2013
 with a streak of 26 straight games with multiple receptions. Tight end Nolen
 Smith is back after missing all of 2012 with a knee injury, and he and fellow
 tight end Kennard Backman will serve as secondary options for UAB's passers.
 The most dangerous Blazer on the offensive side of the ball is halfback Darrin
 Reaves, who became just the second player in school history to break the
 1,000-yard mark in 2012 as a sophomore.
 "I've been very fortunate to coach some really good offenses and have seen
 some really good skilled players and quarterback play, but what we have going
 on now is a very, very fast offense," said McGee on his personnel. "We have
 depth at every position. We have three running backs that are capable of
 starting for us, with one of them being an all-conference running back."
 Reaves and the other rushers for UAB are fortunate that the team returned four
 starters on the offensive line and have a viable replacement for the open spot
 in redshirt freshman tackle Victor Salako (6-6, 315). The average weight of
 the projected starters on the offensive line is 300 pounds, and that size
 should be beneficial in improving the team's allowed average of 3.5 sacks per
 game, which ranked 116th in the FBS.
 DEFENSE: The Blazers were unimpressive defensively last season despite the
 presence of middle linebacker Marvin Burdette, who was the leading tackler in
 the nation. Burdette's departure is going to be tough to cope with for a team
 that gave up averages of 427.3 total yards of offense and 37.5 points per
 UAB is planning on switching to a 3-4 base defense in hopes of turning things
 around defensively. Connor Boyett (6-5, 285), Deric Scott (6-3, 285) and
 Diaheem Watkins (6-4, 260) form a solid trio up front on the line.
 Senior linebacker Patrick Bastien's leadership ability will be tested as he is
 the only returning starter to the corps. The senior linebacker set a new
 career-high with 33 total tackles last season, including six stops for loss
 and two sacks.
 "I think the team enthusiasm is at an all-time high," said Bastien on his
 upcoming senior campaign. "I've been here for five years and the optimism and
 how everybody is feeling great and we have really bought in. We have put in
 the hard work and now we are waiting to see the results."
 The secondary's key asset is senior safety Calvin Jones (5-10, 190), whose 71
 total tackles in 2012 make him the team's leader in that category. He is the
 only upperclassman in the defensive backfield though, as sophomores Lamarcus
 Farmer (5-11, 170) and Kelton Brackett (5-11, 190) are slated to start at
 cornerback, while fellow sophomore Vashon Landers (6-1, 175) will line up
 alongside Jones.
 SPECIAL TEAMS: Junior place kicker Ty Long has proven his accuracy through his
 first two seasons of college football, converting 30 of his 36 field goal
 tries as an underclassman. Long's ability as a kickoff specialist has steadily
 grown as well which makes it hard not to see him competing for All-Conference
 honors as a junior.
 Junior Hunter Mullins will be one of the top punters in the C-USA as well.
 Mullins averaged 44.8 yards per punt on 50 attempts last season, placing 12
 inside the 20 and setting a season-long with a 61-yard boot.
 Williams uses the same speed, quickness and vision that makes him unstoppable
 as a wideout in the return game quite well. In 2012, he averaged just under 10
 yards per punt return and took one back for a touchdown and led the team with
 227 kick return yards.
 OUTLOOK: UAB's slow start to 2012 can easily be attributed to its dreadful
 non-conference schedule. The 2013 slate is not much more favorable despite
 Ohio State and South Carolina being replaced.
 The Blazers will seek revenge from last year's opening loss as they square off
 with in-state rival Troy on the road. They will stay away from home for their
 second game as they look to upset the mighty LSU Tigers before heading back to
 Legion Field for their home opener against Northwestern State. McGee's unit
 then has another tough road test at Vanderbilt before it begins its conference
 season at home versus Florida Atlantic. The Blazers' road trip, including
 stops at FIU and Texas-San Antonio, is going to be very important in the fight
 for positioning in the conference standings. Those are going to be vital
 contests as they have four difficult games in a row against Middle Tennessee,
 Marshall, East Carolina and Rice before their regular-season finale versus
 Southern Miss.
 UAB has an big task ahead of it to reach its first bowl game since 2004.
 McGee's goal of starting a winning tradition could be attainable in the near
 future if he can build a more capable defense.
 08/19 09:32:26 ET