Football preview: UAB looks to defend C-USA title; Alabama high schools battle for No. 1

Football preview: UAB looks to defend C-USA title; Alabama high schools battle for No. 1
Five years to the week after the decision to end football at UAB, Coach Bill Clark's resurrected Blazers will play for the program's second straight Conference USA championship Saturday against Florida Atlantic. (UAB Athletics)

Timing is everything, and the timing of Bill Clark’s press conference before leading his Blazers into a second straight Conference USA title game could not be ignored.

The weekly press conference fell on the five-year anniversary of the declaration that UAB was shutting down its football program. The program came back for the 2017 season, then won a Conference USA championship the next year.

The 2019 campaign would be without 34 seniors whose careers ended last year. But the Blazers have rallied for a return trip to the title game and fans will assemble outside the Football Operations Center at 6 tonight for a sendoff of the football team, which will face Florida Atlantic at 12:30 p.m. Central Time Saturday at FAU Stadium on CBS Sports Network.

“That’s a bad memory that turned into a good memory,” Clark said of the 2014 shutdown of the program. “I don’t know if we’d be here today if we hadn’t had to go through that. We wouldn’t want to wish that on anybody else. A lot of great things have happened since then.”

Coach Bill Clark and the UAB Blazers talk about a season of adjustments from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The UAB Blazers take a 9-3 record into Saturday’s Conference USA championship game. Opponent Florida Atlantic has an identical record. (UAB Athletics)

The Blazers and Owls take identical 9-3 records into the title tilt. And while UAB is making its second straight trip to the championship game, FAU is there for the second time in three seasons.

Clark laid out a laundry list of concerns as he and his squad prepare to face the Owls and their head coach Lane Kiffin, the former Alabama offensive coordinator.

“They’ve got an All-American tight end … and they get the ball to him every way you can get it to him,” the Blazers coach said of senior Harrison Bryant. “(They’ve got) really good running backs. Their quarterback, I think I saw him throw about 70 yards in the air. Big arm. Athletic. Very well-schooled.”

And then there’s Kiffin and his creative offense.

“There’s no doubt he’s a good play-caller, very innovative,” Clark said. “And they’re very good defensively. Like us, from the early games to the end, they’ve gotten a lot better. They’re very dynamic on offense and they’ve got really good special teams, so just they’re a good football team.”

This marks the second time in three years that the championship will be played at FAU Stadium. This will be the seventh all-time meeting between the Blazers and Owls and the first since 2014.

Florida Atlantic leads the series 4-2.

HIGH SCHOOLS

Five defending state champions pulled out wins in the 54th AHSAA State Football Playoff semifinals Nov. 29 to advance to the Super 7 State Championships at Auburn University’s Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Defending Class 7A champion Central-Phenix City earned a rematch with its fellow 2018 finalist Thompson on Wednesday night. The sequel went to the Warriors by a 40-14 score. It is Thompson’s first state title since 1982.

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Championship action on the Plains continues today and Friday. Here’s the lineup.

Class 6A: Oxford (13-1) knocked off two-time defending champion Pinson Valley in the semifinal last week. The Yellow Jackets, ranked No. 4 in the final Alabama Sports Writers Association poll, face Spanish Fort (9-4) at 7 p.m. Friday.

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Class 5A: Defending champion and No. 4 Central of Clay County (12-2) knocked off Region 5 rival Mortimer Jordan 27-0. The Volunteers face No. 3 Pleasant Grove (13-1) at 7 tonight.

Class 4A: Defending champion UMS-Wright (13-0) came from behind to nip Andalusia 21-14 in its semifinal. The No. 1 team will take on No. 5 Jacksonville (12-2) at 11 a.m. Friday.

Class 3A: Mobile Christian (9-4) takes on No. 5 Piedmont (13-1) at 11 a.m. today.

Class 2A: Defending champion Fyffe (14-0) blanked Collinsville 21-0 and will play Reeltown (13-1) in the final at 3 p.m. Friday. Fyffe is No. 1 in the state ranking and Reeltown No. 6.

Class 1A: Defending champion and No. 1 Mars Hill Bible (14-0) beat Pickens County 22-18 to set up a final with unbeaten No. 2 Lanett (13-0) at 3 p.m. today. Lanett won the 2017 Class 2A title.

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