(CBS Local)- It’s championship week in college football, which means a stacked schedule is set for Saturday as nine conferences will crown their champions.
The marquee names, #1 LSU, #2 Ohio State, #3 Clemson and #4 Georgia will, of course, be in action, but there are some under-the-radar matchups that will be fun to watch as well. One game that fits into that category is the battle for the Conference USA title between the University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers and Florida Atlantic Owls.
“First and foremost, this game features two of the last champions in Conference USA. FAU won it in 2017, and UAB won it last year,” said CBS Sports Network college football analyst Aaron Taylor. “These are teams that have proven that they belong and deserve to be there and are capable of winning it all.”
As a college football fan, you may remember UAB from last season, when they won the C-USA title just five years removed from having the program discontinued following the 2014 season. All head coach Bill Clark has done is lead the Blazers right back to the title game, sporting a 9-3 record and looking for just the second conference title in program history.
Opposing that quest? Lane Kiffin and the Owls, who won the conference in 2017 before a disappointing year last season. Kiffin’s team has been built around a high-flying passing attack that has given conference opponents fits this year. That attack offers a fascinating contrast to UAB’s more ground-heavy, stingy defense-led style, making for a fun “styles make fights” matchup on Saturday.
“This is the old-school, defense-led UAB Blazers with a simple, heavy-run, ground-and-pound attack on one side. Then there are those fast and fleet-of-foot Owls from FAU, who like to stretch the field vertically and have tremendous length, speed and athleticism on the offensive side of the ball,” said Taylor. “Old-school versus new school. Defense, three yards and a cloud of dust against wide-open, spread-vertical concepts is going to be an interesting trend to follow throughout the game to see which of those styles prevails and emerges as the one that ends up getting it done.”
To illustrate the point, UAB allows just 176.8 yards per game through the air (sixth-FBS), while FAU amasses over 277 yards per game passing (31st-FBS). Something has to give. The Owls defense is suited to stop what the Blazers do well also. Kiffin’s crew gives up just 3.8 yards per carry and 136.5 yards per game on the ground. The Blazers, working with their backup quarterback, have been a punishing team in the run-game. Over their last three games they have totaled 49, 44, and 48 rushing attempts for 353, 166 and 203 yards respectively. How the Owls handle that attack will be a key in determining whether they can wrest the title away from the Blazers.
But perhaps the most fascinating story line in this contest is the opportunity for UAB to win back-to-back championships just five years after the program was cut.
“If UAB finds a way to win this game, to win back-to-back championships… if you had said five years ago that not only would you have a program and be playing football again, but you guys will win back-to-back championships? Nobody, not even Bill Clark himself, would have believed it, and yet here they are,” said Taylor.
The Blazers get that opportunity this Saturday, as the C-USA title game kicks off at 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time on CBS Sports Network.