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2017 UAB game page

HOUSTON (Nov. 2) – So it appears the next whistle stop for the Rice Owls in this thus-far benighted season lay in Birmingham, Alabama, against a team that wasn't even a team a year ago.

The Flock tries to break out of its six-game losing streak against the University of Alabama Birmingham, which this season renewed gridiron wars after taking a two- year vacation from major college football.

And the heck of it is that this bunch is undefeated,4-0, at home, and boasts a 5-and-3 won-loss record on the year. They are playing Saturday for bowl eligibility! The Owls, on the other hand, are playing for -- what do they call it again? "Playing for pride."

In what appears to have been a smoldering fire fight between UAB supporters and their betters on the University of Alabama system Board of Regents, the Blazers football uniforms were retired three years ago – took away attention and revenue from the Crimson Tide, you know – only to have been hauled out of the mothballs once a groundswell of local support in the State of Alabama's largest city reached critical mass.

In what’s been labeled locally as “The Return,” they've come back with a bang, utilizing a hodgepodge of former junior-college players, various and sundry transfers and hotshot freshman.

The team roster includes transfers from such high-level programs as Louisville, Michigan State, Iowa, and Fresno State. In many cases, those transfers were guys who busted academically at Division 1 schools, then spent a year in the juco hinterlands before finding a place to alight.

The incoming freshman class matriculating in 2017 was rated as number two among Conference USA recruiting hauls.

So this hastily-assembled assemblage includes real talent, which has the Blazers sitting in second place in Conference USA's Western Division, eight games deep into the season.

And the local contingent comes into the Rice game on a high, having won their first road game of the season this past Saturday with a 30-12 victory at Southern Miss. It was UAB's first road win since Nov. 29, 2014 when the Blazers once again defeated Southern Miss.

A win over the Owls would make the Blazers bowl eligible for just the fifth time in program history. UAB has only played in one bowl, the 2004 Hawaii Bowl, but was also bowl eligible in 2000 (7-4), 2001 (6-5) and 2014 (6-6).

UAB is led by callow youth, featuring top performers such as frosh running back Spencer Brown, who enters the game just 91 yards shy of 1,000 for the season.

Brown rushed for 209 yards at Southern Miss last week, which was the seventh most yards in program history. Brown is the nation's second leading rusher among freshmen with 909 rushing yards and has four 150-yard performances this season. He is averaging 113.6 rushing yards per game overall.

Blazer QB A.J. Erdely is a dual threat, with a good pair of feet. He enters the game with 19 total touchdowns, but his 10 rushing touchdowns are the 14th most in the nation and he leads all C-USA quarterbacks in that category.

On the defensive side, CB Darious Williams has recorded an interception in three straight games and is the league leader in passes defended with 11 (three interceptions, eight pass breakups).

The Blazer defense pitched a shutout in the second half last week at Southern Miss. In its five wins this season, the UAB defense is allowing just 17.4 points per game.

Blazers head coach Bill Clark is indeed defense-minded, first earning attention with five successful seasons at South Alabama as the Jaguars' defensive coordinator.

Prior to UAB, Clark was the head coach at Jacksonville State in 2013 and led the Gamecocks to an 11-4 record, their most victories since the 1992 campaign when JSU won the NCAA Division II National Championship. That number set an Ohio Valley Conference record and was also the most wins by a first-year head coach

Coach Clark came to UAB in 2014, stayed on during the football hiatus, and picked up where he left off once the Blazers returned to the field this past Setpember.

In his Monday press briefing, the UAB mentor wasted no time in piling on the sandbags, in referring to Saturday’s tilt with the Owls.

“I really could not say this any stronger that I feel like Rice is a really good opponent,” he insisted. “I told our players this morning that everybody is going to talk about records and that is the worst thing that could happen to us.”

“They played Louisiana Tech down to the wire and it was 28 all going into the final seconds, UTSA -- the same thing.”

“There is not a big separation from anyone in our conference,” he concluded. “Rice is well coached, they have good players that are still fighting and feel like they can win every game.”