UAB-Alabama State: Expect another magic night in the Magic City
The last time UAB played a football game against an in-state opponent, history happened all over Legion Field. A school-record crowd of 45,212 watched the program rise from the ashes in the 2017 Return against Alabama A&M.
Bill Clark remembers it well. He wants to see another magic night in the Magic City when UAB and Alabama State collide Thursday to open the 2019 season.
"I'd love to see if we could break that (attendance) record again," Clark said.
It's a tall order, but if the weather cooperates, conditions could be ripe. Alabama State will be no stranger to Legion Field, where it meets rival Alabama A&M every October in the Magic City Classic, the best HBCU Classic in the country. Birmingham has a heavy population of ASU grads, fans and friends, and the campus is just 90 miles down I-65 in Montgomery.
Hornets should be buzzing all around.
As an added attraction, State is bringing its amazing band, the Mighty Marching Hornets, who always put on a dazzling show. Efforts are in the works to help local high school band members turn out in force. This will be college football the way it was meant to be.
"They're going to bring a great crowd," Clark said. "It's a little bit of a home game for them. Legion Field won't be new to them. They're right down the road, and that's what we want. We want this great experience for our fans and our players."
Off the field, Alabama State presents the kind of challenge to the UAB fans and band that, outside of Alabama A&M, almost no other Football Championship Subdivision opponent could bring.
On the field, Clark understands that playing an in-state opponent - which UAB also will do Sept. 21 against South Alabama at Legion Field - ups the ante for him and his football team. Alabama State actually has a 2-1 all-time record against UAB, although the two State wins came while the Blazers were an FCS program themselves.
"There's more pressure," Clark said of in-state games. "I don't think there's any way around it."
In his first game as a college head coach at Jacksonville State, Clark and the Gamecocks barely survived a season-opening trip to Alabama State, escaping ASU's fourth-quarter comeback with a 24-22 victory.
Clark's respect for the Hornets goes back even further to his years as the Prattville High School head coach. Oh, and fun fact: Clark's wife, Jennifer, earned her master's degree in education from Alabama State.
"She's got to pull for us this week, though," he joked.
Despite the added pressure of these backyard brawls, Clark is 6-0 as a college head coach against in-state opponents. In his one year at Jax State, he swept Alabama State, North Alabama and Samford. At UAB, he's gotten the better of Alabama A&M twice and Troy once.
Of course, UAB should beat those teams. The Blazers have established themselves as the No. 3 program in the state behind Alabama and Auburn, and in winning the 2018 C-USA Championship en route to an 11-3 record, they had a season far superior to the Tigers.
If you've watched any of their preseason work and done any homework, you understand the Blazers have the potential to put together another special season. More history starts at home Thursday.