Photo courtesy of UAB athletics
The 2020 season may be the year that Bill Clark proves just how good he is.
It’ll be his seventh year as the UAB head football coach, but that doesn’t tell the full story.
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
The 2014 year went much better than anyone expected as the new head coach took the Blazers from 2013’s 2-10 record to a bowl-eligible 6-6. Birmingham’s Southside Dragons didn’t get invited to a bowl in 2014, but that’s another story for another day.
Clark orchestrated a turnaround for a team that had been brought to the Iron City by three different head coaches. That alone deserves some praise, but gives little insight on what a Clark-coached team is capable of. The next year the Blazers fielded a team was 2017, after a 2-year hiatus. Chances are, you have a pretty good understanding of why that happened.
Picking Up Where He Left Off
The 2017 UAB team was a collection of well-rested transfers, high school recruits, and a few loyal members of the 2014 team. This team surprised the world and gave UAB football fans their best fan experience yet – a program best 8-5 record, a bowl game, and the start of a still-active home winning streak.
The 2018 season was even better as the Blazers went 11-3, won Conference USA, won the Boca Raton Bowl, and earned Coach Clark the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award. UAB had never seen this much success on the gridiron and “the vocal few” were vindicated. Without a doubt, Coach Clark can be given heaps of credit for building a championship team out of nothing. It only took two years, but is it sustainable?
Don’t Call It A Comeback
The 2017 and 2018 Blazers get a lot of criticism (looking at you, Louisiana Tech) for being a team that was older and more physically mature than their competition. It’s true that both years, UAB was one of the oldest FBS teams due to the high number of junior college players and transfers needed to field a competitive team.
The 2019 squad was a different story, though. Most of the transfers had expired their eligibility. Only two players from the 2014 team remained. UAB had gone from the oldest team around to the absolute youngest after losing 35 players. The Blazers had four returning starters when they kicked off the season.
With expectations low, Coach Clark again surprised everyone by navigating the grueling (FBS-weakest) schedule to an overall record of 9-5, another division championship, a C-USA title game appearance and another bowl berth. UAB fell short in it’s final two games, but that shouldn’t diminish the success of the season.
Putting On The Finishing Touches
This year, Clark’s fifth season on the field in green and gold, should be a glimpse of exactly what he is capable of. The team is all his – all his recruits and no longer a post-shutdown mosaic of players. They are no longer young. The team no longer needs to get in-game experience.
This is the best scenario one could imagine to have a cohesive, experienced, driven team. Penalties, fumbles, and interceptions should be at an absolute minimum with the experience that will be suiting up.
Add to that another incredibly weak schedule. C-USA can be generous with its match-ups, but UAB’s non-conference schedule is a confidence-building masterpiece. South Alabama and New Mexico State both went 2-10 in 2019 and few expect much more this year. Alabama A&M finished in the middle of the pack in the FCS’ SWAC at 7-5.
The toughest non-conference foe, Miami, went 0-2 against C-USA in 2019. The Hurricanes should be much improved in 2020, but we’ll believe that when we see it. Western Kentucky and Southern Mississippi will be the biggest conference competition, but both games are at Legion Field where UAB has been unbeatable for three years.
Nowhere To Go But Up
2020 is the year UAB should go undefeated — at least in conference play. With returning talent and a weak schedule, it’ll be hard to excuse that early-season away loss. There will be no blaming silly mistakes on inexperience.
Nobody knows how the next college football season will look given the current health crisis, but all the pieces are in place for Clark’s Blazers to run the table and put UAB in a New Year’S Six bowl. After the success of the last four seasons, it’s the next step in the progression.