Facing the unknown is often a tricky part of season-opening college football games. Potentially facing 11 new starters on the opposing defense, which UAB could do on Thursday night against Alabama A&M, takes unknown to a new level.

“It’s definitely different going in,” said UAB quarterback Dylan Hopkins. “[We have to] be ready for anything, especially with all the new transfers, don’t expect the same team as last year, just expect them to be ready to play.”

Alabama A&M’s starting defense probably won’t be fully clear to the Blazers until soon after the 7 p.m. kickoff at Protective Stadium. But the Blazers have an important ingredient to counter what they don’t know before a game that will be telecast on CBS Sports Network: they have an experienced starting quarterback.

“It’s something we say a lot in this building, you can’t buy experience,” said UAB head coach Bryant Vincent. “Anytime you have a quarterback that’s coming back and has played in big games, and went out and won big games, has been in those moments, I think it’s a huge advantage for your football team.”

Hopkins will be the first game starter for the first time since he arrived at UAB in the summer of 2018. He was handed the job several games into his redshirt freshman season in 2019 because of an injury to starter Tyler Johnston III. He won the starting job four games into last season because of his play. Both of those seasons, he fought through injuries to stay on the field.

Now, he enters the season in good health, with more confidence and the knowledge of a veteran.

“We feel like Dylan has a great grasp of the offense,” Vincent said. “He understands all the protections, he understands all of our checks. It’s a really good feeling having Dylan starting this game going into game one.”

Hopkins didn’t reach this point without competition. Jacob Zeno was the top quarterback in the spring because of Hopkins’ offseason surgery of his non-throwing shoulder, and the Baylor transfer had a strong fall camp. Hopkins was just a step better entering the season.

“I’d say this is probably my best camp,” Hopkins said. “With the quarterback room, too, the level of competition is definitely boosting everyone in the room each day. That was a huge part of it.”

Part of Hopkins’ responsibility is making sure that the UAB playmakers get a chance to make plays. It’s hard to imagine better running backs in FBS Group of Five football than DeWayne McBride and Jermaine Brown Jr., who combined for 2,002 yards and 20 rushing touchdowns last season. Deep threat Trea Shropshire will get his chances downfield, and the UAB coaching staff feels they have a plethora of playmakers at the wide receiver spot.

On the other side, Alabama A&M has a pair of proven threats in running back Gary Quarles, Jr. and All-American wide receiver Adbul-Fatai Ibrahim. Quarles rushed for 955 yards with 10 touchdowns last season and is a dynamic kick returner. Ibrahim has 85 catches for 1,285 yards with 11 touchdowns in 13 games as a college player.

Quarterback is a question mark for the Bulldogs. All-American Aqeel Glass, the starter against UAB in 2017, has moved on. It appears the starter will be either Pelham High grad Xavier Lankford, who played in eight games last year while backing up Glass, or Quincy Casey, who played in part of two seasons at Jackson State and played in one game for the Bulldogs last season.

“That kind of goes back to Coach Maynor’s history,” Vincent said. “You go back and look at the history of his program, they’ve always been real good at quarterback. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll have a quarterback ready to play. We fully expect those guys to be prepared and be very good offensively.”

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email steve.irvine@1819news.com. Don't miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.

Don't miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.