Thursday, September 21, 2006

Come Saturday, UAB will host Mississippi State at Legion Field. It will be the first time the Blazers have played an SEC opponent at home, and it's being considered a sort of defining moment in UAB history:

"It's a big thing for Conference USA," (Linebacker Orlandus) King said. "It's a big thing for Birmingham, especially UAB. Not just have an SEC school come here but let them know we can compete with the SEC. We're trying to be where they are."

While it's nice to have a BCS team pay a mid-major conference team the respect of a visit to their stadium, hosting Mississippi State isn't something that is going to boost the prestige of the UAB football program. If we really wanted to show we can compete with the SEC, our best opportunity to do so passed us by on Saturday in Athens.

I spent a good bit of Saturday at a local sports bar watching football. My old roommate Lee is getting married in a few weeks, and the plan was to watch a lot of football, drink a lot of beer, and cook a lot of meat for his bachelor party. At one point there was some discussion about strip clubs, but that was quickly voted down by everyone else because we're all apparently getting old and by the fourth quarter of the Florida/UT game even the bachelor himself was ready to go home and get some sleep. Anyway, midway through the third quarter of the UAB/UGA game, with no hope of winning and a shut out imminent, Lee looked at me with a dejected frown and drunkenly muttered "We'll never be more than a second tier team, will we?" It was a profoundly sad moment, not just because his team was losing in spectacular fashion on the day of his bachelor party, but because Lee is one of those rare breed of UAB fans that isn't also a (bigger) fan of Alabama, Auburn, or some other major football program that adopted the hometown Blazers as a secondary team. He's green and gold through and through, and in that moment it seemed like he had just realized all the hope and faith that he's poured into the Blazer football team was nothing but wasted and there was no way they would/could ever return even a fraction of the love he's shown them.

I suppose that, at some point, all the diehard fans of the mid-majors of the world eventually reach that moment. Unless your team is one of the Alabamas, Michigans, Notre Dames, or Southern Cals of the world, you really have no reason to expect anything more than competitive conference play and maybe the occasional upset. Sometimes you get lucky, like the Utahs and TCUs, and your school is the stopping off point for coaches headed for bigger and better things, but for every Urban Meyer there are five Watson Browns, guys who will run a clean program and give you the old "we're just about to turn the corner" shuck and jive, win just enough games to keep things interesting, but never get your team over the hump and still hang around 'cause the school doesn't really care about the football team and isn't going to pony up the cash to get a better coach. Unfortunately for us, we have the Watson Brown.

I told Lee as such, that I wouldn't really care if we dropped two paycheck games every year and are nothing more than a second tier team, but it would be nice if we could at least get competitive in conference play. Finally beating Southern Miss would be a bigger boost for this program than beating Mississippi State. We're 1-0 against the Bulldogs and look to make it 2-0 come Saturday, but we're 0-6 against the Golden Eagles. Finally getting that monkey off our backs and getting in the hunt for at least a division title is more important to me than whipping a basement dwelling SEC team that is routinely beaten by it's OOC opponents.

Two weeks ago at Legion Field I watched the Blazers return to form after pushing Oklahoma in the opener. An ECU team that gave up over 400 yards rushing to Navy the week before completely shut down our "power run" offense. A game that should have been a blow out for us ended with a miracle forced fumble to hold off a winning touchdown drive. I suppose that's progress, though, considering the only highlight video featuring UAB on YouTube is the SMU Hail Mary. The defense even held up pretty well against Georgia, despite eventually giving up 34. The Dawgs held only a 14-0 lead at the half, and costly special teams errors (seems like I've heard that before) provided their second half success. It might have been a "moral victory" if maybe we'd scored a few times, but as it stands it was just an old fashioned ass whipping.

This weekend, well, I just don't know what to expect. The Blazers are a 10 point favorite, but whenever this team should be a lock is when it's most likely to fail. And that's the real problem facing the Blazer football program, that no matter what, we seem to find ways to fail when we shouldn't and stumble bass ackwards into victories that no one expects. No one will take this team seriously or imagine they can compete on a higher level until the day comes when we can live up to high expectations and exceed low ones. If Watson truly wants to build this program, trying to get BCS teams to give you home and home arrangements is a waste of time. Beat the teams in your conference that are coming to your stadium on a regular basis first. That's all we ask.

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