|UAB Preseason Preview|
||Date: September 11th, 1999
UAB's 1998 Record: 4-7
UAB's Conference: Conference USA
Official Web Site: UAB Athletics
The Blazers spend their first season in Conference USA this year, less than a decade after they started their football team as a Division III entry in 1991.
MU's 3-8 record from last year fool you. The Dukes played in an incredibly tough A-10 conference, where six members (William & Mary, Richmond, UConn, Villanova, Rhode Island, and eventual national champion UMass) were all ranked at some point in the season.
JMU's wins were against Elon, Maine, and (most impressive) Northeastern. As you can see from their 1998 results, the Dukes were blown out a few times (most notably against Richmond and Hofstra), but for the most part, they were in their losses and just couldn't play a full four quarters of football. They had UMass (28-26 loss), Maryland (23-15 loss), and W&M (24-12 loss) on the ropes when they played them.
So although the Dukes will probably be an outgunned 1-AA team that will be no match for the Hokies, they're not the most horrible team to walk the planet.
JMU's biggest task is warming up to new coach Mickey Matthews, who has done stints as an assistant at Baylor, Georgia, and Marshall. Matthews was hustled into the job in late March after previous coach Alex Wood bailed on the Dukes on March 15th, a rudely late date.
Matthews inherits no defense, and a pretty good offense.
On defense, the Dukes last year gave up 370 yards and 26 points a game. And then they graduated their top two tacklers, All-America free safety and NFL draft pick Tony Booth, plus strong safety Mike Masella (and let me point out that if your two safeties are your top two tacklers, that's a bad, bad, bad thing).
The good news for JMU is that the Dukes return some serious players on offense. Their strong suit will be their running game, where tailbacks Curtis Keaton (1,064 yards) and Delvin Joyce, who set team single-season all-purpose yardage records in his first two years, will return. JMU also has a talented receiver in junior Earnest Payton, who smashed the team single-season receiving record by eighteen catches when he caught 82 passes last year as a sophomore.
But hidden in that silver lining, there's a black cloud. Quarterback Greg Maddox, who could have challenged most of JMU's career passing marks as a 1999 senior, left the program after former coach Wood moved him to wide receiver during the off-season.
How ironic is that? The coach ran off a talented quarterback by moving him to a new position ... and then the coach left!
The Dukes will also have much to fear on special teams. As the Hokies pin back their ears and try to build on their nationally-famous kick-blocking expertise, the Dukes will line up kickers who have almost zero game experience. JMU graduated both their punter and their kicker from last year's team, so they enter a game against the top kick-blockers in the country with wet-behind-the-ears kickers who will no doubt be suffering culture shock long about the second or third blocked kick of the game.
You never like to put a game in the bag before it's played, but the season opener against JMU is about as sure of a thing as you can get. If the Dukes pull the upset, last year's Temple debacle will pale by comparison.
The focus of this game will be on the Hokies' new quarterback, Michael Vick, and whether or not the Hokies can shut out the Dukes. No one will be expecting anything more than a glorified scrimmage with about 50,000 fans in attendance.
HokieCentral says Tech will win in a romp, as expected.
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