MOBILE, Alabama — South Alabama checked off one program goal by playing in a bowl game.
Now, the Jaguars are hoping an influx of UAB transfers will help avoid a substantial drop-off after losing nine starters on defense and eight on offense, including quarterback Brandon Bridge and leading rusher Kendall Houston.
"I think this team will be better than most people think," South Alabama coach Joey Jones said. "A lot of the guys have a chip on their shoulder, and are ready to prove the fact that this program is here to stay and win some football games."
The Jaguars, a program that started in 2009, made it to a bowl game faster than any other new FBS team before losing to Bowling Green on a late touchdown in the Camellia Bowl. They're picked to finish sixth in the Sun Belt Conference after going 6-7.
Wide receiver Danny Woodson Jr. is the only returning starter at an offensive skill position. The Jaguars got a huge boost, and a starting quarterback, with the transfer of nine former UAB players after that program was shut down. (UAB is trying to restart football now).
Jones has already declared former UAB quarterback Cody Clements as his starter. Clements started 11 games for the Blazers last season, and Jones said he was clearly the guy after four or five days of practice.
South Alabama opens Sept. 5 against Gardner-Webb but then visits Nebraska. The Jaguars host North Carolina State on Sept. 26.
Some things to watch during South Alabama's season:
FORMER BLAZERS: South Alabama picked up two former UAB coaches along with the players, offensive coordinator Bryant Vincent and tight ends coach Richard Owens. Along with Clements, wide receiver D.J. Vinson and guard Cameron Blankenship came into preseason camp listed as starters. Wide receiver Josh Magee arrived during the summer after starting nine games for the Blazers and linebacker Kalen Jackson started UAB's first two games before a season-ending injury while tight end Gerald Everett is also competing for a starting job. Jackson is battling for a starting spot after projected starter Jimmie Gipson III was lost for the season with a torn Achilles over the summer.
HURRY UP: Vincent and Jones plan to run the offense at a faster tempo this season. "I feel that is the key to our success," Jones said. "I don't care who the defensive coordinator is, they do not like hurry-up offenses for the simple reasons they and the players have to make decisions much more quickly and they have to line up sound against a team that is going so fast. To me it gives you an advantage. Why wouldn't you do it?"
PRESEASON HONORS: Right tackle Chris May, center Joseph Scelfo and placekicker Aleem Sunanon are all preseason first-team All-Sun Belt picks.
TRANSFERS PART II: Transfers from other schools besides UAB could have big impacts. Woodson and fellow receiver Marvin Shinn both started their careers at Alabama. Texas Tech transfer Blake Dees is a likely starter at inside linebacker. Junior college transfer Demarius Rancifer, who started his career at Kentucky, is vying to replace Gipson and play both inside and outside linebacker.
CORNERBACK PROGRESS: Jones said the cornerback play has been the most pleasant surprise of camp defensively. Seniors E.J. May and Margo Reed are expected to start. Jones also praised freshman Jalen Thompson, rated a Top 100 recruit by Scout.