UAB (0-0) at Troy (0-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, August 31, 7 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Veterans Memorial Stadium (30,000) -- Troy, Alabama. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: UAB 0-0, Troy 0-0. Away Record: UAB 0-0, Troy 0-0. Neutral Record: UAB 0-0, Troy 0-0. Conference Record: UAB 0-0, Troy 0-0. Series Record: Troy leads 6-4.
GAME NOTES: For the second straight season the UAB Blazers and the Troy Trojans will each open their respective campaigns against one another, as they meet up at Veterans Memorial Stadium to kickoff the 2013 year.
Last season it was Troy that came away with a 39-29 victory against the Blazers in Birmingham. It was one of a number of tough losses for UAB which finished the season at just 3-9, despite some prolific offensive numbers. It was the second straight 3-9 season for the Blazers who have not had a winning record since 2004. Garrick McGee made his head coaching debut for the team against Troy and is looking to get the Blazers moving forward in his second season.
As for the Trojans, they were marginally better in terms of wins and losses, finishing 2012 at 5-7. The good news is that the five wins marked a two- victory improvement from the previous year when the team went 3-9, its worst mark as an FBS program.
Shawn Southward rushed for 210 yards and three touchdowns as Troy took the win against UAB last September despite being out-gained, 459-453, in total yards. Troy has now won six of 10 all-time meetings.
UAB can't really be faulted for its offensive production, especially through the air, last season. The Blazers averaged 308.8 yards per game in passing which was among the top 20 totals in the country.
That was accomplished despite some controversy at quarterback. Austin Brown didn't begin his freshman year as the starter but he finished it in that role. Brown threw for 2,673 yards and 15 touchdowns and was named to the All- Conference USA Freshman team. Brown will need to improve on his accuracy though as he completed 57.7 percent of his passes and was intercepted 12 times. If he struggles again, Jonathan Perry, who began last season as the starter, is waiting in the wings.
Jackie Williams is a talented pass-catcher who Brown will try to get the ball too as often as possible. Williams led the team with 52 receptions for 799 yards last season. Jamarcus Nelson (22 receptions, 414 yards, 4 TDs) will get more looks this season as he steps into a starting role.
Darrin Reaves rushed for 1,037 yards and 13 touchdowns last year but even his efforts weren't enough to keep the Blazers out of the bottom of the nation in terms of rushing yards. The Blazers ranked 109th in that regard, picking up just 110.3 yards per game on the ground. Reaves is back though and is also valuable in the passing game where he had 41 receptions last season.
The Blazers struggled equally against the run and the pass last year on defense. In all UAB allowed more than 400 yards per contest, while allowing 37.5 points per game.
The struggles have forced the Blazers to take on a new approach this season as they shift from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4. The Blazers have lost a big producer at linebacker in Marvin Burdette (157 tackles), but both Jake Ganus (63 tackles) and Patrick Bastien (33 tackles) return with starting experience.
The defensive line will be chock full of returning starters. Connor Boyett (three sacks), Diaheem Watkins (1.5 sacks) will start at the ends, but need to step up as pass rushers.
Safety Calvin Jones (71 tackles) and cornerback Lamarcus Farmer (50 tackles) headline the secondary.
The Trojans were a prolific offensive team once again under 22-year head coach Larry Blakeney. Troy amassed 498.8 yards per game, which ranked 11th nationally. Blakeney likes to air the ball out as much as possible to keep the team running at a torrid pace. Blakeney will be able to keep doing that this season with Corey Robinson back for his senior season.
Robinson completed and impressive 66.1 percent of his passes last year for 3,121 yards. However the Trojans tended to score on the ground more often as Robinson had just 12 touchdown passes to nine interceptions. Deon Anthony threw for 856 yards and had 17 total touchdowns (nine passing, eight rushing) as a change of pace quarterback and will be utilized similarly this season.
Unfortunately the rest of the offensive roster has largely been stripped of contributors with only two other returning starters, including just a single member on the offensive line.
Eric Thomas (55 receptions, 667 yards, seven TDs) was one of Robinson's favorite receivers and will be relied on even more this season. Chandler Worthy (46 receptions, 544 yards, two TDs) is another solid option, although neither he nor Thomas exhibits much big play ability.
The situation is even more dire at running back. Khary Franklin is set to become the starter after rushing the ball just three times last season.
Due to the aggressive pace the offense plays in Blakeney's spread offense, the Trojan defense was rarely given a break and thus lagged in producing stops. The Trojans let up 443.6 yards per game and gave up just over 30 points on average.
Under new defensive coordinator Wayne Bolt the Trojans are instituting a schematic shift to the 4-2-5.
The scheme isn't the only thing that is changing as just two starters return on defense. Those two players are defensive end Tyler Roberts (two sacks) and safety Chris Pickett (61 tackles), neither of which are particularly explosive defenders. Cameron Hudson had 50 tackles last season as he worked into the rotation in the secondary.
This game has all the makings of a shootout, with two teams that are predicated on explosive offensive production and lacking the same on the defensive side of the ball. Troy was able to take care of the Blazers last season on the road. With Robinson under center the Trojans should repeat that result.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Troy 39, UAB 31
08/28 10:47:12 ET