Four wins, eight losses.
That was my prediction for UAB’s first year back from the gridiron crypt and, really, that would’ve been fine.
When I sat at Legion Field on the first Saturday in September, 2017, I was so thrilled the Blazers had returned that wins, losses and even performance didn’t matter a whole lot.
I figured UAB would win that game – against Football Championship Subdivision foe Alabama A&M – and then somehow manage to get three more before the 12-game season reached its end.
Football Bowl Subdivision schools that lose their program don’t just come back and compete, not when they’ve been out of the game for two years.
But UAB proved me wrong last season, going 8-5, winning every game it played at Legion Field, and earning a Bahamas Bowl berth.
I couldn’t have been prouder, and couldn’t have been more pleased to be so wrong.
At least I thought I couldn’t.
Because on Saturday, when the final seconds ticked away on a 27-25 Blazers victory over Middle Tennessee that secured the 2018 Conference USA championship, I was even more proud – and wrong again.
Oh, I had high hopes for another good season that included a postseason, but league title?
Not two years out of the grave.
But here they are, sitting on 10 wins and prepping for MAC champion Northern Illinois in the Boca Raton Bowl on Dec. 18.
“We talked about when we brought this group in, the joke was who was going to play us in the movie, because you know there is going to be a movie someday, and then it was how do we want this movie to end,” UAB coach Bill Clark said during the postgame news conference on Saturday. “We wanted the movie to end with a championship.”
When UAB president Ray Watts pulled the plug on the football program on this date four years ago, it was supposedly because it was a money-losing proposition.
“As we look at the evolving landscape of NCAA football, we see expenses only continuing to increase.” Watts said. “When considering a model that best protects the financial future and prominence of the athletic department, football is simply not sustainable.”
But a lot of us wouldn’t accept that (yes, I’m raising my hand, here) and the Birmingham business community galvanized behind UAB football.
Give us a chance to be competitive, we said, and we’ll make it worth your while.
Saturday’s outcome was an object lesson in faith.
“I think the city of Birmingham and UAB, the people believed in this,” Clark said. “I mean, we raised $50 million to bring this program back. This is a thank you them, too. All of those people who really gave their own personal money, to believe in us and get us in a facility where we would have a chance to compete.”
Throughout its history, Blazer football has been hamstrung by a University of Alabama system board of trustees that didn’t want it and certainly had no desire to help it.
Enough people got to together, though, to take that decision out of their hands.
Now there’s an operations building and practice facility that any Group of 5 program would be proud of.
A new stadium is on the way.
Clark is a coach who, thanks to a contract extension the day before the league championship game, is being paid closer to what he’s worth.
And players who decide to wear the green and gold do so because they want to be part of something special, not because they have no place else to go.
For the first time, the UAB football program is in a position to succeed.
Four years after having no future, the future has no limits.
“I was a high school coach and my dad was a high school coach, and that’s really what I want to see from them is taking these things and saying, ‘OK, if I work really hard, if I believe in something, good things can happen,’” Clark said. “That’s what happened with this group, they believed in each other.”
It’s easy to believe, now.
And I don’t believe I’ll ever predict a 4-8 season again.