Better Know a Conference USA Opponent: The UAB Blazers

Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Spor

Vanderbilt will face Alabama-Birmingham for just the second time in school history on Saturday. What should Commodore fans know about UAB headed into the 'Dores third non-conference game of the year?

The School: The University of Alabama at Birmingham

Record: 1-2 (3-9 in 2012)

Ranking: 105th in the Real Time RPI (behind four I-AA programs), 98th in Warren Nolan's rankings.

Mascot: Blazers. In this case, a dragon and not a piece of Brooks Brothers apparel.

Location: Birmingham, Alabama.

Conference: Conference USA. Or, as it is better known to football fans, the New and Improved* Sun Belt.

In the past 10 years vs. Vanderbilt: These two teams have not played in the last decade.

The Last Time We Saw These Guys: The year was 1996, and a rudderless America was suffering through the final week of Macarena fever before that arthritic dog of a song was finally put down and replaced by the undeniably superior No Diggity at the top of the Billboard charts. Vanderbilt football celebrated this changing of the guard by beating UAB 31-15 and posting the ultimate victory in that year's 2-9 season.

Most Potent Offensive Threat: Darrin Reaves. The Blazers have a strong trio of playmakers that features starting quarterback Austin Brown and wideout Jamarcus Nelson, but tailback Reaves is the player who could give Vanderbilt the most trouble this weekend. He's rushed for 122 yards per game so far this season, and that included a 14-carry, 84-yard performance against LSU in which he added an 11-yard touchdown run. The junior is coming off of a 1,000 yard, 13-touchdown season in 2012 that earned him first-team All C-USA honors last winter.

Most Potent Defensive Threat: Jake Ganus. Ganus is UAB's version of Karl Butler. He's a hybrid player who can play either linebacker or safety who displays an inherent ability to get to the ball and make plays. He started 10 games as a true freshman and he currently leads the Blazers in tackles, tackles for loss, and forced fumbles through three games this year.

Matchup to Watch: Vanderbilt versus the spread. The Commodores put together a letdown performance in Foxboro last week. Vandy struggled to move the ball against a bad UMass team and allowed a program that's gone 1-15 since moving up to FBS play to stick around until late in the fourth quarter. That has helped drop the 'Dores to less than a 20-point favorite - a spread that a bowl-bound SEC team should have little trouble covering at home. Can James Franklin's team inspire some confidence with a big win at Dudley Field this weekend?

Interesting Fact: UAB is one of two founding members that still call Conference USA home. For their loyalty, they have been rewarded with new member institutions like Middle Tennessee State, Texas-San Antonio, Old Dominion, and the opportunity to never play Memphis in football ever again.

Bonus Fact!: UAB/Memphis is also responsible for this glorious photo, albeit from their basketball rivalry:

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I promise you that sign was made with finger paints.

If UAB wins, we: make plans for December travel. If the 'Dores lose to UAB, it's a strong indicator that this team won't be making it to a third consecutive bowl game. The odds are in Vanderbilt's favor, and the promise of a #BrandNewVandy suggests that this won't be an inexplicable loss. Still, if the Commodores lose to the Blazers, expect a full "sky is falling" narrative to surround this program.

*Sun Belt may not actually be improved. Your results may vary.

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