1 – UAB post-Bill Clark
In an abrupt and shocking offseason move, Bill Clark announced his retirement as the head coach of the UAB Blazers citing health issues. Clark has long been considered one of the best coaches in the group of five, many always wondering why he never got a shot at more prestigious program. After going 6-6 in 2014, UAB football was shut down, only to return in 2017 still under the guide of Clark. The Blazers went 8-5, seemingly never missing a beat after the shutdown, and the Blazers never finished below .500 during his six seasons at the helm.
So what will UAB look like in 2022?
Bryant Vincent, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, will step into the interim role after being recommended by Clark. He will be given the opportunity to earn the long term position dependent on how the Blazers perform this season. Returning contributors Dylan Hopkins (QB), DeWayne McBride (RB), and Trea Shropshire (WR) will look to build upon an offense that averaged out in the middle of the pack among CUSA competitors. Defensively, UAB was the cream of the crop within the conference, and the expectation is that will continue in 2022 with several returning starters on the back end of the defense.
UAB should easily make a bowl game in 2022 and I wouldn’t expect much falloff. UTSA, the Blazers biggest challenger within the conference, will travel to Birmingham for that matchup, and besides a mid-November trip to Baton Rouge against LSU, every other game will be a winnable one.
2 – *Meep Meep*
Jeff Traylor and the UTSA Roadrunners stormed onto the scene in 2021, going 12-2 and winning the Conference USA Championship behind a high powered offense that ranked 11th nationally in points per game and top 50 in both passing and rushing. With Traylor staying committed to UTSA this offseason, and the returning core of quarterback Frank Harris and wide receivers Joshua Cephus and Zakhari Franklin, the Roadrunners look to be front runners yet again in the conference.
The biggest test for the Roadrunners will surely be the out-of-conference schedule, one of the hardest in college football this year. Opening up with Houston, a team with New Year’s Six aspirations, followed by road trips to triple option nightmare Army and in-state behemoth Texas leaves UTSA with a very real chance to open the season 0-3. The good news is that things open up a bit more after that crucial opening three game stretch.
Texas Southern comes to town to finish the non-conference slate, followed by Middle Tennessee. With the uncertainty of Western Kentucky, a road trip to UAB as mentioned above is the only game in which UTSA may not be the favorites heading into the game.
Regardless of how those opening games go, I would be shocked to not see UTSA in the conference championship again. There just isn’t many decent teams in the conference, and the Runners are likely in a tier by themselves.
3 – Western Kentucky Experiment: Phase Two
In the ever changing landscape of operations in college football, one of the most intriguing moves was made by Western Kentucky last offseason. Coach Tyson Helton brought Zach Kittley over from Houston Baptist to run his offense after impressive offensive showing against FBS opponents the season before. They didn’t stop there, though. The Hilltoppers brought in quarterback Bailey Zappe and the Sterns brothers at wide receiver, all transfers from Houston Baptist. Western Kentucky transplanted an entire side of the football and it worked wonders, lighting up scoreboards and ultimately winning the Boca Raton Bowl by putting up 59 points on Appalachian State.
The real question now for Helton and company is what they can do after that jumpstart. Zappe and Jerreth Sterns are both gone, but the Hilltoppers did bring in Jarret Doege from West Virginia and Austin Reed, a standout quarterback from West Florida. Its hard to envision this offense not winning six games in a weak conference, especially if its helmed by a former power five starter like Doege, but the question will remain how high is the Toppers ceiling and can they build this new found system into a long term solution for a program that seems stuck during realignment.
4 – Predictions and Notes
5 Biggest Games
Houston at UTSA (Sept 3) – Can UTSA keep their 2021 momentum together enough to upset one of the projected best group of five teams in the opening week?
UTSA at Texas (Sept 17) – UTSA travels to Austin looking to pull off a major upset against the in-state super program Texas Longhorns.
Western Kentucky at Indiana (Sept 17) – If the lighting rod Hilltoppers offense can get off to a quick start with its new tools, Western Kentucky could prove problematic against low tier power five Indiana.
Western Kentucky at UTSA (Oct 8) – A rematch of last years Conference USA Championship game and an opportunity for the Roadrunners to solidify their spot atop the conference this season.
UTSA at UAB (Nov 5) – A late season matchup of my predicted Championship matchup.
UTSA defeats UAB
Predicted Final Standings
- Western Kentucky
- Florida Atlantic
- North Texas
- Louisiana Tech
- Middle Tennessee
- Florida International