2011 should prove to be a very interesting year. Mike Price's seat is undoubtedly the hottest its been since he's been here. He has taken our Miner football teams to three bowl games in his seven years here, but he has lost all three of them. 2010 seemed to be a year when the Miners would be able to break through and have a successful season, but it obviously didn't turn out like that.
With a slew of seniors returning to many skill positions, the Miners seemed poised for success. That's not exactly how thing went down. As we all know, the Miners finished a very mediocre 6-6 on the regular season, and went on to get absolutely blasted by BYU in the New Mexico Bowl. Some felt that was the last straw with CMP, but the people who call the shots felt otherwise.
Coach Price certainly has his work cut out for him this year. Lost from last year's team was four year starting QB Trevor Vittatoe, star WR Kris Adams, tailback Donald Buckram, S/LB Braxton Amy, and a ton of other crucial pieces of the team. Coming in this season are 16 freshman to go along with quite a few junior college transfers. Many of whom, namely the JC guys, will be vying for starting jobs.
The biggest spot that is left to be filled is at the QB position. It is widely believed that JC transfer Nick Lamaison is the outright favorite to be the Miners starting QB, but three others are still trying to win that job for themselves. Lamaison started his career at Mt. San Antonio College in California. After his freshman season he signed a LOI to play football for the Tennessee Volunteers, but after things went south in Knoxville Lamaison returned to play at Mt. SAC.
Last year, Lamaison led the Mt. SAC Mounties to a 13-0 record, and no.1 national ranking to go along with their 2nd straight National Championship. Nick was named the offensive player of the year for both the All-California and All-America teams. Competing with Lamaison for the starting job are RS Freshman Javia Hall, Sophomore Carson Meger, and Senior Tate Smith.
There are a handful of talented and experienced players that return to the Miners starting lineup. Namely, Joe Banyard. The 5'11 210lb Senior RB from Sweetwater, TX returns as the projected starter in the Miners' backfield. Banyard came in last year and provided some solid running when star TB Donald Buckram was sidelined with a knee injury before the season even started.
As a Junior, Joe Banyard rushed for 623 yards on only 109 touches, and also had 8 touchdowns. Banyard also had 17 receptions for 107 yards, and returned 8 kickoffs for a total of 131 yards. His breakout game came in the regular season finale against Tulsa when he rushed for 155 yards, and 3 touchdowns on 20 carries.
Much will be expected this season of Joe Banyard. He will undoubtedly be the workhorse of a backfield that should feature fellow Seniors Vernon Frazier and Leilyon Myers.The three together will be leaned upon greatly, especially early in the season. They will need to alleviate some of the pressure for Lamaison, or whoever earns the QB job, while transitioning into that starting role.
The wide receiver position is one that will need to find someone to fill some big shoes in a hurry. Kris Adams was an amazing receiver with good size and speed, and who at times seemed to have glue on his hands. Adams is now working on making the roster with the Chicago Bears so unfortunately for us he's not around to make any more catches.
The receiving corps took another hit when WR/Return man Marlon McClure was dismissed from the team earlier in the off season. He was a game changer from a special teams standpoint, and a solid receiver that could've really given us some stability at a position where there literally is none.
Even with the losses of Adams and McClure, there is promise coming from a few of our wideouts. Senior Donovan Kemp will now be the most veteran player in on the outside, and will need to show some leadership for that group. Kemp has never had more than 300 yards receiving, but we'll need a lot more than that out of him this year if the Miners are going to be successful.
Newcomers Ishmael Harrison, Mike Edwards, and Cliff Tucker could provide a much needed spark, but that obviously is still yet to be seen. Ishmael Harrison is a highly touted FR out of Red Oak HS in Red Oak, TX. Harrison is 3 star athlete who is explosive and can play both the slot and outside, according to ESPN.com.
Mike Edwards may prove to be a huge addition for the Miners offensively. Edwards was QB Nick Lamaison's go to guy at Mt. SAC college in California. The fact that the two already have that chemistry could be huge for this team. Cliff Tucker is a local boy who played basketball under Gary Williams at Maryland, and after exhausting his eligibility in basketball decided to give football a shot. Tucker will only have one year in a Miner uniform, and even though its been a while since he played competitive football, he's still an athlete and could turn out to be a nice asset for this team.
I'm not quite sure where to start with the offensive line. We lost are offensive line from last season almost entirely. Now gone are Alex Solot, Rod Huntley, Will Osolinsky, Anthony McNac, Lance Evbuomwan, and Tanner Cullumber. Returning though is starter Eloy Atkinson, and backups Nathan McCage, James Nelson, and Paul Santillan. All played crucial roles on the o-line last year, but will be expected to be much improved this season.
Incoming transfers James Robinson and James Martin, along with Freshman A.C. Patterson and others should see significant playing time, and will undoubtedly be relied on to help protect our QBs, as well as open up holes for our tailbacks. We definitely lost a lot from last year's team, but we still have a good nucleus to build on.
The defensive side of the ball, like the offensive, lost some crucial players in S/LB Braxton Amy, DL Robert Soleyjacks, and LB Anthony Morrow, but overall they are in much better shape. Defensive Coordinator Andre Patterson did a great job in his first season last year, and I would like to believe that we can only expect better things in this, his second season.
The defensive line will be anchored by 6-1 330lb sophomore Marcus Bagley. Bagley appeared in every game as a true freshman, and started the last five. SR Bernard Obi and SO Germard Reed were also two of our top DL in 2010, and after getting more time under their belts with Coach Patterson they should all be ready for breakout seasons. The Miners boast an amazing 19 players on the roster that play DL so there should be absolutely no problems with depth or talent there.
The linebacking crew will bring to the table a group of veterans and newcomers that may be just as deep and talented as the defensive line. Leading the LBs are Sr Jamie Irving, Sr Isaiah Carter, and Sr Royzell Smith, who had 79, 75, and 72 tackles respectively. Sr Jeremy Springer, and Jr Aubrey Alexius have already seen significant playing time throughout their careers and will certainly see plenty of action this season as well.
Also coming in with expectations of seeing the field right away are Jr JC transfers A.J. Ropati and Josh Fely. Ropati is a 6-0 230 lb LB that garnered second team All West Conference honors as a sophomore at Los Angeles Harbor College. Fely also is an outstanding player and should definitely see significant playing time. The 5-11 225 lb junior was a two time first team All Conference player at San Diego Mesa College. He shouldn't skip a beat.
The defensive secondary did lose the likes of Braxton Amy, Martel Strange, Brandon Miller, and Wiston Jeune, but they also return stars like Travaun Nixon, Antwon Blake, and DeShawn Grayson to go along with key reserves Drew Thomas and Richard Spencer.
Newcomers Shane Huhn, Derrick Morgan, and Darren Woodard could and should also be competing for playing time in their first year with the Miners. Shane Huhn is a FR out of Cibolo, TX who was praised highly by coaches and recruiters. Woodard and Morgan are two JC transfers who should be able to provide some stability for our defensive backfield.
Overall our defense seems like it is in great shape. From the DL, to the LBs and DBs, there is plenty of depth and talent all the way around. Combine that with coach Andre Patterson now being in his second year, and we might be looking at the best defense we've seen in years here at UTEP. We can all see that the offense will be looking to fill plenty of holes, so this year would definitely be a good one to have that defense we can always rely on.
One thing is for sure. Its now or never for Coach Mike Price. He has undoubtedly been the best thing that has happened to UTEP athletics in a long time, but he also must be held to some kind of standards. We have seen overall improvement from the pre CMP era to the current, but still it is not enough.
Last year was the perfect example as we returned almost our entire skill crew, and hired defensive coordinator Andre Patterson. 2010 seemed so promising, and remained that way all the way through the 10th game of the season. The Miners went to Feyetville, AR at 6-4, but got hammered by the Razorbacks and just stumbled the rest of the way.
The season finale at Tulsa was completely in our hands, but again, like usual we just couldn't get it done. We ended the regular season at 6-6, and as we all know, went on to get absolutely embarrassed by longtime rival BYU in the New Mexico Bowl. It was a very disappointing showing, not only in the bowl game, but throughout the entire season, as expectations were much higher than how things turned out.
Regardless, here we are, in the 8th year of the CMP era. Its a little unfortunate that he faces such a crucial season with so many holes around the offense. Perhaps that's why he has decided to take over the reigns as offensive coordinator. His sons, Eric and more recently Aaron had been calling the offensive shots the last few years. Now its Mike's turn.
Yes this team will absolutely have a learning curve. Let's just hope that they clear the hump early in the season. The offense will have to build chemistry very quickly, and the defense will have to show up from day 1. Our defense this year will absolutely be our strong point, and they are going to need to support us as long as the offense needs it.
The Miners are picked to finish last in the Conference USA West which I have to say is absolutely understandable and expected. But, these Miners have the talent and ability to finish much better than that. A bowl game this year is certainly not out of reach, though a conference championship probably is.
In any case, I hope to see these Miners come out and start the season at least 2-2 if not 3-1. If we can somehow pick up a win at SMU or at USF we will definitely be looking at a good year. If we dont, that's ok, we can still be successful. It will just all depend on if and when our offense can put it together...Can't wait for September 3rd. Go Miners!!!