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This is a topic that I will expand on in August, as we get closer to the season, but right now, I feel I have a strong sense of what my expectations will be for the 2010 UTEP football season. To any college football outsider, Miner fans might appear delusional to expect too much improvement from last year's 4-8 season. As the season draws closer, I honestly think we have reason to be optimistic. So, what are "reasonable" expectations for Miner fans going into 2010?
1. RIP 3-3-5: You Won't Be Missed
Before we can talk postseason, or wins against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, we have to have improved defensive play. UTEP's 2010 postseason options won't be determined by Donald Buckram's rushing yards or Kris Adams' receptions; the season hinges on whether or not Andre Patterson's defense can stop somebody. Anybody. The firing of Osia Lewis, and a move away from the 3-3-5 is a hell of a start towards defensive improvement.
Finally, we can say goodbye to the worst defensive scheme in college football. Don't get me wrong, the 3-3-5 defense is awesome if you want your corners and safeties to lead the team in tackles (Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith loved it!), while simultaneously playing tons of man-to-man coverage. After looking at how UTEP finished the season defensively last season, you'll see why the Miners didn't get into a bowl game.
|Production||NCAA Rank||C-USA Rank|
|Scoring Defense||33.50 ppg||104||9|
|Tackles for Loss||5.17 pg||87||8|
Yup. Those are UTEP's defensive numbers. Don't you think it's strange that UTEP finished 98th in the country in pass defense when Cornelius Brown and Da'mon Cromartie-Smith both signed NFL free agent deals and knowing Braxton Amy is one of the best in the league? How is that possible? It's the scheme, stupid.
Andre Patterson, as we've discussed frequently here brings a new defensive mindset to UTEP. I do not, by any means, expect the Miners to jump from worst to first in any defensive categories. But, there's no reason why UTEP can't meet reasonable benchmarks. In a league, C-USA, where very few teams actually run the ball, there's no reason for UTEP to give up 200 rushing yards a game. With more men in the box, expect to see that number improve. Also, with a more creative blitz package, expect UTEP to get to opposing quarterbacks more often than 1.25 times a game.
If UTEP's defense can improve, even marginally, I think it's reasonable to expect to....
2. Beat the Teams You're Supposed To
First of all, I realize games aren't won on paper. And I know that any players or coaches who read this will and should mock me or anybody else who "expects" to win certain games from the bleachers. Luckily for me, the view is quite nice from the cheap seats, and I can say after following the league and UTEP for sometime that the Miners should beat Memphis and Tulane. Fans have expectations, that's the nature of college football.
The thing that really stung about 2009 was UTEP's inconsistency. The Miners were better than Memphis, Rice, and Tulane. Yet, each week it seemed like the team found new and improved ways to lose a game. I don't want to relive the frustrating conclusions to those games, and others, but it goes without saying that if UTEP could have made another play or two, usually on defense, the Miners 4-8 campaign easily could have been 7-5 or better. After beating Houston, we finally thought UTEP turned the corner because of the way the offense looked. We simply forget to notice that Case Keenum and company were able to score at will too.
I expect Trevor Vittatoe, in his senior season, to push UTEP past some of these teams. In college football, especially on the road, there will be upsets and letdowns. If UTEP is going to get back on track, the team will have to be stronger mentally and play with intensity every week, whether the opponent is a one win Rice squad or Top 10 Houston team.
If UTEP can improve on defense and avoid letdowns to the worst teams on the schedule, I expect to see...
3. A Bowl Bid
The last few years, the Miners have been close, agonizingly at times, to getting back into post season play. With new bowl games starting up this season, a 6-6 record should be enough for every team to qualify. Take a look at how the 2010 schedule shapes up.
Ark.-Pine Bluff Golden Lions
Saturday, September 04 2010
7:05 PM MDT
@ Houston Cougars
Friday, September 10 2010
8:15 PM MDT
New Mexico St. Aggies
Saturday, September 18 2010
7:05 PM MDT
Saturday, September 25 2010
7:05 PM MDT
@ New Mexico Lobos
Saturday, October 02 2010
4:00 PM MDT
Saturday, October 09 2010
7:05 PM MDT
@ UAB Blazers
Saturday, October 16 2010
2:00 PM MDT
Tulane Green Wave
Saturday, October 23 2010
7:05 PM MDT
@ Marshall Thundering Herd
Saturday, October 30 2010
Saturday, November 06 2010
7:05 PM MDT
@ Arkansas Razorbacks
Saturday, November 13 2010
@ Tulsa Golden Hurricane
In September, the Miners will be favored in three of their first four games. We'll know by September 26th, if UTEP's defense has improved (when they take on Houston) and whether or not the Miners will win the games they're supposed to (Ark-PB, NMSU, and Memphis). Houston is going to be tough, and the Coogs will be out for some revenge after UTEP spoiled their BCS dreams, but I expect a dog fight on ESPN. Patterson's defense, I fear, might still be learning the ropes which in Week 2 is really what we should expect. We may need another Herculean effort from the offense.
The Miners, at the very worst, should be 3-1 going in to October. You can't tell me that Memphis or NMSU can beat UTEP at the Sun Bowl. Those games will, hopefully, set up in a way for the defense to adjust to the new system and for Patterson to iron out the depth chart and rotation.
In October, UTEP has 5 games. New Mexico was atrocious on offense last year. Rice will be better with Sam McGuffie at running back but they come to El Paso. UAB lost their best player, Joe Webb, but David Isabelle should fill in nicely. Tulane should be terrible and they come to El Paso. Marshall is breaking in a new coach, but that's a long trip to Huntington. I expect UTEP to win the ones their supposed to, Rice and Tulane, and knock off one or two of the others. Really, UTEP should have at least six wins going into November which is by far the hardest month of the season.
SMU is going to score some points. Kyle Padron and that offense are really starting to get things done. But, it will be senior night for TV, Vittatoe, Braxton, and a cast of others. Arkansas has a first round QB, Ryan Mallett, and an SEC defense. Tulsa, at their place, will be a difficult game. The Hurricane will want to avenge last years heartbreaker and they do have the talent to win the C-USA West.
Which brings me to my final point. The parity in the C-USA West makes it absolutely reasonable that UTEP can....
4. Compete for the C-USA West Title
The Miners, obviously, will have to improve on defense first and foremost before we can expect this. And, like I said, we'll know by the end of September if the defense will be good enough to enable the Miners to beat the teams they are supposed to (Like Memphis and NMSU). I know many out in Houston think the Cougars are going to roll through their schedule and compete for a BCS spot. The problem? The C-USA West is very deep and all the teams have comparable talent.
SMU is going to be solid on offense. Tulsa should be better with G.J. Kinne coming back. UTEP will have the best running game in the league and has a favorable schedule by not drawing Southern Miss and East Carolina from the East. Houston, right now the favorite, has the most complete offense but has a defense that makes it possible for any or all of the others to knock them off. Remember, they are also breaking in a new defensive coordinator.
I don't expect UTEP to go from 4-8 to winning the C-USA West. Is it possible? Hell yes it is and anybody who says otherwise hasn't been paying attention to the rest of the West. Still, I understand that it will take time for the defense to come together. Playing at Tulsa, Houston, and Arkansas won't be easy. Still, the more I think about 2010, the more I can't help but expect the Miners to be in the discussion.
So, if UTEP improves on defense, I think it's very possible this squad could go bowling and be right in the thick of the C-USA West.
What do you expect?