For UAB, there's more bling where that came from
Updated: Aug 26, 2019
Bill Clark is a busy man, but he should try to find a few moments before fall camp kicks off to take care of some correspondence. He should write a personal note to every single media member who voted in the Conference USA preseason poll. That poll predicts Clark's defending conference champions from UAB will follow up their epic 2018 season by finishing … fourth.
Fourth? Fourth! And not fourth in the 14-team league. Fourth in the seven-team West Division. The poll spit out that insulting conclusion despite UAB receiving two first-place votes.
Clark's response to those voters who don't believe in Dragons should be a thank-you note. As if there were any chance of anyone in the UAB football program resting on his laurels, feeling his work was done, that poll helps extinguish it. For Clark, it's motivational manna, empirical evidence that some people still don't believe in the greatest comeback story in modern college football history.
Some skeptics clearly cling to the notion that last year was lightning in a bottle, the planets aligning behind an unusually large and special senior class brought together under unique circumstances, with an inevitable reality check to come this year. You would think the people who follow the conference most closely would know better.
In 2018, the preseason media poll picked UAB to finish third in the West Division. As the championship rings the Blazers received Tuesday prove, they did a bit better. They went undefeated in the division to win the West by two games. They then avenged their only regular-season conference loss by taking down East champ Middle Tennessee on the road to win the Conference USA Championship Game.
In 2017, the preseason media poll picked UAB to finish seventh and last in the C-USA West, which seemed obvious from the outside after two seasons on the shelf. Instead the Blazers went 6-2 in the league to finish tied for second in the division - tied for third in the league overall - with Southern Miss. The Blazers beat Southern Miss handily 30-12 in Hattiesburg and lost a heartbreaker at division champion North Texas 46-43 on a last-second field goal. In short, they were one play away from winning the division title in the first year of #TheReturn.
Even in 2014, Clark's first season in Birmingham, with the administrative ax surreptitiously sharpening behind the scenes to eliminate the program, UAB went 4-4 in the league to finish tied for third in its division. Those Blazers beat one of the teams that also tied for third, Western Kentucky, and came up just short of upsetting eventual league champion Marshall.
In three years at UAB, Clark and his Blazers are 18-7 against Conference USA opponents. They're 14-3 in conference games since returning to the field after the shutdown, which is the best record in the league in that time. They've won their last eight C-USA games at Legion Field, their last 12 home games overall.
They return players named to preseason watch lists for awards that will honor the nation's best player and running back (Spencer Brown), center (Lee Dufour), interior lineman (Garrett Marino) and defensive back (Brontae Harris), along with a quarterback in Tyler Johnston III who took over late last season and proved himself nothing but a winner.
Oh, and guess who else is back? Clark, the deserving recipient of the 2018 Eddie Robinson Award as national coach of the year. If you've spent any time around him this summer, you know success hasn't spoiled him in the least. That's not how he's built. He seems determined to prove to the holdouts that last season wasn't a one-hit wonder and UAB as a championship program is here to stay.
Why would anyone who knows anything about this coach and this school think they would finish as low as fourth in their division this season? Or ever? The two more realistic first-place votes aside, that uninformed prediction helps guarantee that kind of drop-off won't happen by handing Clark a symbolic stick to wave at his players during the dog days of August camp.
As for those championship rings that arrived Tuesday, those are the tangible carrots Clark can dangle to demonstrate what's possible. His players now know what can be done and what it takes to do it. So if you want a prediction about UAB football, hear this: There's more bling where that came from.