NCAA Football Preview - U-A-B Blazers

8, but they could've easily 10 or 6-6 and playing for a bowl.

The Blazers lost to FAU by one point on opening day last year after their 28- yard field goal attempt was blocked. They beat Troy by a single point two weeks later after completing a 44-yard Hail Mary on the final play of the game, then lost 32-29 in double overtime to Tennessee the following week. They were a 20-point underdog at Mississippi State and lost by five after blowing a 24-23 lead in the fourth quarter, and the next week pulled off a 50-49 upset of Southern Miss in double overtime.

But losing to Marshall, East Carolina and Rice down the stretch cost UAB a bowl and ultimately was a sour ending to what had been a wild season.

2011 ANALYSIS:

OFFENSE: UAB generated 423 yards per game in 2010, and much of the production was attributed to the one-two punch of quarterback Bryan Ellis and running back Pat Shed. Ellis returns for his senior season after throwing for 2,940 yards, 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions as a junior, while Shed ranked in the top-five in the league in rushing with 847 yards and a 5.4 yards per carry average. Ellis has returning targets in junior Patrick Hearn (35 catches, 536 yards) and Jackie Williams (30 catches, 327 yards), while Shed will face stiff competition from Georgia transfer Dontavious Jackson. Jackson (5-10, 205) will be a change of pace back alongside the 5-9, 175-pound Shed.

"Bryan Ellis is back. He did a lot of good things last year and there are some things he has to work on. Bryan's the kind of young man where you can tell him once and he is going to do what you asked him to do," said Callaway. "He's a great guy and one of the best leaders on this football team. We have Pat (Shed) at running back. He brings a lot of juice to our team offensively. We do a lot of things with him. I like our corps of receivers. I think we have a bunch of guys that we can line up and win with."

UAB has four returning starters on the offensive line, having amassed 118 career starts between them. That includes left tackle Matt McCants (6-7, 295) who returns after an injury during the spring and will play his senior season with 31 starts under his belt.

DEFENSE: The defensive front lost 24 starts but does has two returners back, including 6-4, 275 pound Eliot Henigan. The senior tackle was a First Team All-Conference USA pick in 2010 after posting 15.5 tackles for loss in 12 starts, and he'll get a boost from sophomore end Connor Boyett, who started seven games as a freshman.

Junior college transfer Tevin Wells will help out right away on the interior, which has depth now that offensive line transplant Adam Arthur is moving over the defensive side of the ball.

At middle linebacker, junior Marvin Burdette will try to replicate his 2010 output when he registered 147 total tackles. "I'm very excited to start the season. It's been a long spring and summer, and I'm especially excited because our opening game is at Florida," says Burdette.

Lamanski Ware is healthy for his senior season, and UAB is hoping to get the production he gave between the 2008 and 2009 seasons: 16 starts and 94 tackles. Jamie Bender had a First Team All-Conference USA year in 2010, garnering 94 tackles and 10 pass deflections in 12 starts. In all, the Blazer secondary will have seven players with starting experience patrolling this season.

SPECIAL TEAMS: The UAB kicking game will feature both a new and old leg this season. Starting with freshman kicker Ty Long, who has not yet kicked a field goal for the Blazers, and ending with punter senior Trey Ragland, who has a 42 yard average per punt and landed 26 punts inside the 20 last season.

OUTLOOK: UAB will play two SEC opponents again this year in Florida and Mississippi State, but don't expect the Blazers to push the drama like they did a year ago. Nonetheless, Callaway believes he has the right components in place to have a special season.

"We are excited about this upcoming year. Our guys have worked hard all summer. The players got a lot accomplished this summer. We've got a chance to do things this year to make us all proud. We've got a situation offensively where we have a lot of guys with experience. We have an offensive line with starters who have played and some backups that have played," said Callaway.

UAB has 16 returning starters and pretty skilled upperclassmen - and yet the team has another senior class that has never been to a bowl. UAB's one and only bowl appearance came in 2004 at the Hawaii Bowl, and even though the program has come a long way since its inception in 1991, a second bowl appearance isn't an impossibility in 2011. They have quality, skilled offensive players in Ellis and Shed, and Bender and company in the defensive backfield, and they have veterans on both lines of scrimmage. This should be a club that contends for a six-win season.