The UAB Blazers back from football hiatus, full of mystery

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) The UAB Blazers are college football's mystery team.

The Blazers will take the field after a 1,007-day hiatus from games with an assortment of ultra-patient holdovers from the 2014 team, transfers and youngsters. The Sept. 2 game against Alabama A&M officially starts the comeback tour for a program that was shut down after that season for financial reasons.

Every team has question marks going into a season but none more so than the Blazers.

''That's what keeps me up at night,'' coach Bill Clark said. ''We can't go back and say, `This guy played in this game last year and this is what he did. And we can count on him.'

''Good or bad. There's no measuring stick other than practice.''

UAB opened fall camp with some three dozen junior college transfers, a number of players from other Division I programs and a whole bunch of freshmen.

Clark has pieced together the team since UAB decided to bring back the program just over two years ago. He had just completed his first season when the decision to shut down football, bowling and rifle was made, and the Blazers had been bowl eligible for the first time in a decade.

They're back with new facilities made possible by an unprecedented amount of financial support for UAB athletics.

Linebacker Shaq Jones knows there are plenty of Conference USA teams weary of all the attention received by UAB, which never got all that much nationally before the shutdown.

''Everybody thinks about the Cinderella story but everybody's not fond of that,'' said Jones, a key defender on that 2014 team. ''Some people, they're not going to root for you so they can say, `Hey, I told you so.' Especially the people in our conference. They're tired of hearing about UAB. Nobody wants to get beat by a team that hasn't played a football game in two years. Everybody's got us circled.''

The return is made somewhat easier by a group of holdovers from that 2014 team, particularly on defense. That group is led by Jones and 25-year-old linebacker Tevin Crews, along with defensive backs Darious Williams and Jordan Petty.

Returning wide receiver Collin Lisa had a big spring game.

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Here are some other things to look for going into UAB's season:

WHO'S THE QB: A.J. Erdeley holds the edge over redshirt freshman Tyler Johnston III. Erdely played in five games as a freshman at Middle Tennessee before transferring to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. Both had solid spring games.

FBS TRANSFERS: This group includes running back Kalin Heath (Kansas State), defensive backs Duke Culver (Louisville) and Will Dawkins (Indiana), defensive lineman Teko Powell (Illinois) and wide receiver Jonathan Haden (Arizona). Haden is the brother of Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden.

RUNNERS: Heath, converted linebacker Donnie Lee and James Noble III are among the players vying for carries. All three topped 60 yards in the spring game. Erdely also is a threat to run. There's likely no Jordan Howard, the 2014 standout now with the Chicago Bears.

KEY GAMES: They're all big for this team, but a few notable ones include Oct. 14, Middle Tennessee; Oct. 28 at Southern Miss; Nov. 18 at Florida.

QUOTABLE: ''You open up a preseason paper or something like that. Those guys who are supposed to know it all say we're supposed to not even win two games, but that's their opinion. We know what we've done. We know how hard we're working. Like coach Clark always says, Just come see us.'' Tevin Crews.

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More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

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