|UAB, Ohio in battle of 8-4 teams at Bahamas Bowl|
Alabama-Birmingham has gone from not fielding a team the last two years to playing in its first bowl game in 13 seasons when the Blazers play Ohio in the Bahamas Bowl on Friday at Nassau.
The Blazers football program was cut, along with two other sports, because of financial reasons after the 2014 season. A fundraising effort by businesses and fans in the Birmingham area resulted in an announcement six months later by the university that the program would return in 2017.
After the two-year hiatus, UAB returned to the field this season and won a school-record eight games. Head coach Bill Clark did not leave the program after the 2014 season. He nurtured it back into what it is now, an 8-4 team that finished 6-2 in Conference USA's West Division.
The last time the Blazers were in a bowl was in 2004, when it lost to Hawaii 59-40 in the Hawaii Bowl.
"The program was at total shutdown after the 2014 season," said Clark, who is 25-14 in three years overall as a coach, including at Jacksonville State in 2013. "The students voted to raise their tuition to bring our program back and for our players, coaches to do this (earn a bowl bid), was such a big deal, it really capped off a storybook ending to this season."
The Bahamas Bowl features a young coach in Clark, who is on the rise at 49 years old, and a successful veteran who has already reached the plateau of his profession in Ohio's Frank Solich.
While UAB will play in only its second bowl game in program history, Ohio (8-4) is playing in its ninth bowl under Solich since his hire in 2005. Solich, 73, played at Nebraska before Clark was born and coached the powerhouse Cornhuskers when Clark was at the outset of his coaching career at the high school level.
When Clark was born in 1968, Solich was in his third year coaching high school football in Lincoln, Neb. When Clark began his coaching career in 1999 as a high school head coach in Prattville, Ala., Solich was coaching the Cornhuskers to a Big 12 title two years after replacing the legendary Tom Osborne.
The Bahamas Bowl gives them a chance to witness their careers cross paths.
"Ohio is a very solid team led by an outstanding coach in Frank Solich, and it is going to be a great game," said Clark, who is 14-10 in his two seasons with the Blazers. "Our players will be ready for the challenge and look to become the first team to win a bowl game at UAB."
Solich, 154-90 in 19 years of coaching, said, "They are a great football team on the opposite side. Coach Clark has done an amazing job. I know we will have to beat them because they won't beat themselves. They'll be hungry for a win just like we will be."
Freshman running back Spencer Brown is symbolic of UAB's revigorated program. His performance is vital to the success of the program this season as he has averaged 125.4 yards in the Blazers' wins and 72.3 in their losses. He has 1,292 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.
Clark apparently wants to see Brown grow and avoid talk of coaching elsewhere. He recently signed a five-year contract extension.
"Literally, we were doing it with me and (a few) coaches," Clark told CBSSports.com of the last two years when UAB did not field a team. "The rest were GAs and volunteers. ... My dad was an old high school coach. One thing he said was, 'Don't ever get cocky.' There's no doubt I'm proud."
While UAB has won six of its last eight games, Ohio limps into the Bahamas Bowl having lost its last two games of the season, both on the road.
The Bobcats' potent running game is by committee with quarterback Nathan Rourke and backs AJ Ouellette and Dorian Brown combining to rush for 2,467 yards and 35 touchdowns.
The game also pits Ohio's No. 14-ranked offense, averaging 38.9 points per game, against a UAB defense that ranks No. 47 at 24.3 points per game allowed.
It appears the passing game will be neutralized between Ohio and UAB's secondary. Ohio is averaging 187.8 yards per game behind Rourke. That is less than the UAB secondary allows through the air -- 188 yards per game.
UAB senior cornerback Darious Williams leads the Blazers with five interceptions, which is tied for eighth-most in the nation.