UTEP Football Predictions
The UTEP Miners missed out on postseason play in 2011, finishing up the regular season 5-7 overall and just 2-6 in Conference USA. It really didn’t come as a big surprise. The Miners lost six of their last seven in 2010 (including bowl), and had just 10 starters coming back (only two on offense). It’s been a real struggle of late for head coach Mike Price at UTEP. After leading the Miners to back-to-back 8-4 finishes in his first two years on the job, he has suffered six straight losing seasons. There is reason to be optimistic about 2012. Even though Price has just 13 starters returning from last year, this will arguably be his most talented team since 2005. Let’s take a closer look at what UTEP will send to the field on both sides of the ball in 2012.
Even though the Miners had to replace a three-year starter at quarterback, they were excited about the potential of junior college transfer Nick Lamaison, who was the 2010 JUCO Player of the Year. Lamaison came out threw for 365 yards on the opener, but a shoulder injury in the third game of the season really limited him the rest of the year. He finished up with 1,718 yards with 12 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions. UTEP is really counting on Lamaison to deliver a big season in 2012.
Senior wide out Mike Edwards is one of the big reasons why the Miners believe Lamaison is poised for a breakout season. Edwards had a team-high 50 catches for 657 yards and three touchdowns in 2011. He was clearly the go to guy in the passing game, and should only get better now that he has had over a year to work with Lamaison. The Miners also get back starting wide out Jordan Leslie (30 catches, 430 yards, 2 TDs) and tight end Kevin Perry (17 catches, 203 yards).
If the offense is going to take that next step and really put up some big numbers this year, they are going to need someone to step up and produce in the running game. UTEP has to replace their top three options from last year in Joe Banyard (832 yards, 6 TDs), Vernon Frazier (434 yards, 3 TDs), and Leilyon Myers (368 yards, 12 TDs). The Miners will likely turn to a couple of talented sophomores in Nathan Jefferey and Josh Bell.
While UTEP doesn’t exactly know what they are going to get out of the running game, there’s a good chance someone will put up big numbers with four of the five starters returning on the offensive line. The Miners averaged a 155 ypg on the ground last year and could easily match that number with an even more experienced front.
One of the big reasons the Miners have not been able to contend in the West, is they can’t stop the other team from scoring. UTEP allowed 30.3 ppg in 2011. It was the fifth time in the last six years they allowed over 30.0 ppg. Their biggest problem has been stopping the run. The Miners have allowed at least 184 ypg (190 ypg last year) on the ground each of the last six seasons.
The defensive front four will have to replace starting defensive end Bernard Obi and defensive tackle Jamie Fehoko, but I think the unit will be even stronger in 2012. Junior defensive tackles Germard Reed has started 20 games already for the Miners and this is the year he should start to really dominate inside. The same can be said for junior defensive tackle Marcus Bagley, who has started eight games. They also are very excited about junior defensive end Horace Miller (Louisville transfer), who started the final six games of 2011.
Even though the Miners lose their leading tackler in Jeremy Springer (70 tackles), I don’t expect to see much of a drop off in production. In fact, I think this unit could outperform last year’s group. The two players you have to keep an eye on are senior middle linebacker Jamie Irving and senior weak-side linebacker Josh Fely. Irving was second on the team with 79 tackles in 2010, but missed all of last season (medical red-shirt). Despite only starting in four games, Fely finished third on the team with 61 tackles and added 3 sacks.
The big concern I have with the Miners defense is their ability to stop the pass. Even though opposing offenses could run at will, the Miners secondary still gave up 252 ypg. Hard to expect a whole lot of improvement with the loss of starting corner Antwon Blake and free safety Travaun Nixon.
Conference USA Prediction – 4th West Division
Talent wise this is clearly one of the better teams Price will field in his tenure at UTEP, but it’s going to be extremely hard for this team to translate that talent into a winning season. For starters, UTEP has a brutal non-conference schedule with the likes of Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Wisconsin in the first four games of the season. They also have arguably the hardest schedule inside the conference, as they draw the three toughest teams out of the East in UCF, Southern Miss and East Carolina. While the Miners aren’t exactly a threat to win Conference USA, they are definitely a team to watch out for against the spread.
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