Sunday, July 02, 2006
A REASONABLY ANTICIPATORY ASSESSMENT OF: ALABAMA-BIRMINGHAM
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SMQ spins the wheel for a hastily-rendered but not too-soon look at a random school's prospects for the fall, sans inevitable academic and criminal suspensions, sudden transfers, debilitating injuries and other miscellaneous misfortunes of the long summer
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Loss of MVP might signal start of lean times for team past opportunities for peaking
PAST FIVE SEASONS: 28-30 (21-18 C-USA) - 2005: 5-6 (3-5 C-USA)
STARTERS BACK, ROUGHLY: 12 (6 Offense, 6 Defense)
WHAT'S CHANGED: After about a decade of running roughshod over terrified, would-be tackler townsfolk like Grendel emerged from the swamp in a Medieval peasant village, 250-pound Darrell "Li'l Daunte" Hackney was felled by graduation after the best statistical - and least victorious - season of his underrated career. He was 0-4 against Southern Miss, but still Hackney was annually the most frustrating league opponent SMQ's Golden Eagles faced, as much as DeAngelo Williams even: oft-hurried but virtually impossible to bring down, he was able to escape anyone's grasp, find open receivers on the run, and make just about any throw from any point on the field, and much of the Blazers' reputation as a consistently not-terrible lower-tier team has rested with his abilities. The three guys vying for his spot are, uh, not expected to be as good.
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The years in perpetual fear seemed unending, but helpless C-USA defenses need fear the beast Hackney no longer...
WHAT'S THE SAME: The depth chart still lists three receivers in the base set, though the trigger man is gone and the backs don't seem very well suited to it. Dan Burks and Carlton White both seem to predate Hackney's reign of terror, but - improbably unstoppable representations on successive versions of EA Sports' NCAA Football notwithstanding - have never been much more than fairly average plodders. Burks is a Great White Hope at 218 pounds and 1,800-plus career yards; 235-pounder White has 1,553. Not horrible stats for a tandem, but neither is remotely a break-away threat, and a traditionally atrocious but senior-laden line with four returning starters is the key to finally turning them into the consistent workhorses they're built to be, rather than injury-prone inconsistents who struggle to keep defenses off-balance and put leads in the freezer - UAB lost second half advantages in four of five C-USA losses last season. A blocking back might help in that regard.
WHERE HAVE ALL THE TOUCHDOWNS GONE?: The Blazers have graduated a surprise all-league receiver each of the last two years - Roddy White in 2004 and Reggie Lindsey last year - and also lost more than 100 combined catches in Jhun Cook, Lance Rhodes and tight ends Chico Cleveland and Cedric Hampton from last season. The only bet to come anywhere near the all-conference numbers is Norris Drinkard, a possession guy who had 42 catches but a per catch average in the single digits and two touchdowns, and the depth - which includes Watson Brown's son, Steven, a "rising star" according to Athlon - isn't very fearsome, either.
THE AUDITION PROCESS: Whether UAB will continue to earn some degree of respect and climb back in the bowl picture could rest largely in the hands of the anti-Hackney, 5-foot, 11-inch senior Chris Williams, who threw just three passes in 2005 but went 1-3 as a sophomore in 2003 when Hackney was hurt - though the fact that Williams' first two appearances that season were mere field goal road losses to TCU (this was the Horned Frogs' 11-2, OMG BCS Buster! year) and Georgia has not kept Watson Brown from declaring the team will definitely play two quarterbacks to open up. The other horse in the racee is likely to be sophomore Middle Tennessee transfer Sam Hunt - "the best running threat" behind center - though redshirt freshman Joseph Webb is an option, too.
OVERLY OPTIMISTIC POST-SPRING CHATTER: Preseason hype continues to roll in for defensive end Larry McSwain in the form of ubiquitous watch lists - the Nagurski, the Hendricks and the Lott so far [What, he's not up for your Onyenegecha Award? - ed. I think that list is dominated by very large Samoans, except for Norris Drinkard]. McSwain led the league with 13 sacks as a sophomore but dropped to just 3.5 last year, with five tackles for loss - OK, but not all-league level. He did have three forced fumbles, though all in one game, against UTEP, easily his best. His second straight all-C-USA selection may impress the UAB media department, but SMQ suspects this pick was based at least as much on reputation following his breakout sophomore season than on rapidly falling production [So watch him get, like, four sacks against USM... - ed. You shut up]. The opposite end, Jermaine McElveen, has been fairly productive with much less attention, getting three sacks each of his first two seasons with fairly consistent pressure (led the team with 21 hurries as a freshman in 2003, when he also had 50 tackles) before breaking his wrist after Game Three last year. But the rush was not as strong last season as in previous years.
REASON FOR HOPE: The team was, uh, over-reliant on Hackney, maybe? A non-cannon-armed passer might help the team develop a more consistent power running game behind the veteran line. The defensive ends have proven they can get to the quarterback; all three linebackers return.
REASON TO BE AFRAID, VERY AFRAID: Team that won just five with Hackney, the young program's defining player to date, can't turn out much better without him. The offense in general lacks weapons. The defense, after a pretty nice start in '05, was just not very good.
IF THIS TEAM WERE ANY POP CULTURAL, HISTORICAL, LITERARY, POLITICAL OR OTHERWISE NOTABLE FIGURE, IT WOULD BE... The X-Files, post-David Duchovny: the whole production was about the charismatic central figure carrying this absurdity virtually alone against stacked odds, so what is interesting now that he's gone? Maybe things were beginning to go down hill right before the departure, but it was usually at least respectable when Mulder/Hackney was around. Look for Hackney, after a short, failed NFL career, to return to UAB's sideline as an assistant coach in a few years...and maybe also to turn out to be the father of the child mysteriously carried by Watson Brown, which could actually be an alien-human hybrid intent to prepare the human race for colonization (you think the NCAA doesn't know about this? They're behind it, man!).
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The truth is out there...
HONESTLY, WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE SCHEDULE, SMQ'S THINKING... Five wins, which would equal the '05 total but ought to be considered a step backwards, because the team should have won more last season and has higher expectations after four straight winning years previously. C-USA is not a strong league at the top, but it is deep enough, with enough parity, to cause a lot of problems for a team like this that enters searching for a new indentity.
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PREVIOUS REASONABLY ANTICIPATORY ASSESSMENTS:
June 3: Boston College...June 4: Arkansas State...June 6: Hawaii...June 8: Virginia...June 10: Rice...June 11: Boise State...June 14: Tulane...June 18: Oregon...June 21: Colorado...June 24: South Florida...June 26: Fresno State...June 30: Minnesota
ABSURDLY PREMATURE ASSESSMENTS:
April 3: Central Michigan...April 4: BYU...April 5: Kentucky...April 7: Bowling Green...April 8: Southern Cal...April 11: Rutgers...April 12: Marshall...April 13: Florida State...April 15: San Diego State...April 16: Alabama...April 19: Oregon State...April 20: Buffalo...April 21: N.C. State...April 23: Arizona...April 24: Memphis...April 25: Louisiana Tech...April 28: Iowa...April 30: Toledo...May 2: Ohio State...May 3: Mississippi State...May 5: Southern Miss...May 7: Louisiana-Lafayette...May 11: Akron...May 12: North Carolina...Michigan State...May 15: Air Force...May 17: Stanford...May 18: Georgia Tech...May 21: Connecticut...May 23: Purdue...May 24: Navy...May 27: UCLA...May 28: New Mexico State...May 29: Tennessee
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