We are 101 days until the kickoff of the 2012 UTEP football season, and with that, its time to take a more in depth look at what the Miners will be up against. We'll go ahead and break that up into three segments; non-conference, conference home games, and conference road games. This here is segment no. 1, and you guessed it, it features the non-conference slate. So without further ado, here is MinerRush's breakdown of the 2012 UTEP football schedule.
Week 1: UTEP Miners vs. No. 5 Oklahoma Sooners - 9/1/2012 - The Sun Bowl - El Paso, TX.
The Miners will be thrown to the lions right off the bat, as they face Big 12 favorite, and potential national title contender Oklahoma to get the 2012 season underway. The Sooners sit at No. 5 in ESPN's preseason poll, and could potentially climb even higher than that as the season approaches. Four suspended OU players will likely miss at least the season opener, but things still don't bode well for the Miners.
On the offensive side of the ball, the biggest strengths for the Sooners have to be senior QB Landry Jones, and his offensive line. Jones is already the school's all time leading passer, and with good reason; he's got all the tools, and he's given the time to throw. His o-line, which returns 4 of 5 starters, only gave up 9 sacks in all of 2011. All together, the offense brings back 8 starters from last year's squad that went 10-3.The Sooner defense welcomes back 7 of 11 starters, including star CB Demontre Hurst, but does have to replace three first team all conference players, and one second teamer. Also, former Arizona coach Mike Stoops, brother of OU coach Bob, is back in the booth for the Sooners as defensive coordinator after an 8 year break. All in all, this should be one of the better defenses in the Big 12, if not the country.
Prediction: I hate to sound negative before the season even begins, but it doesn't take a genius to see how, more than likely, this game will end up. The Miners are simply outmatched on both sides of the ball, and will do well to keep the game close into the second half. Maybe if this game was a few weeks later, the Miners might have their feet under them, but considering its week 1, the outcome probably won't be in our favor.
Sooners 45, Miners 14.
Week 2: UTEP Miners @ Ole Miss Rebels - 9/8/2012 - Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium - Oxford, MS.
If the Miners are gonna have a chance at entering conference play with a .500 record, this here is a must win. The Rebels are coming off a 2011 season that saw them go 2-10 on the year, and lose their head coach. New head man Hugh Freeze certainly has his plate full, but with a 30-7 head coaching record, the guy knows how to win games.
The offense returns 8 starters from that 2011 squad, but no one really knows who will actually take the field when the Miners face them on September 8th. The starting QB still hasn't been determined, there were apparently some academic issues with leading rusher Jeff Scott, and the offensive line is far from set. So, to say the offense is still coming together would probably be a bit of an understatement.
The defense returns 7 starters from a year ago, including some big time playmakers in the back 7. Linebackers Mike Marry and D.J. Shackelford look to lead the way for the Rebels, but the defensive line is still much in question. Considering last year's production, or lack thereof, it'll be interesting to see how this year's unit fairs.
Prediction: I've got to be honest here. While the Rebels return quite a few starters from last year's team, they are almost completely in rebuilding mode. New coach, new system, new schemes, new players. It takes time. But, this is still an SEC team that we're talking about. And, our Miners have been absolutely terrible on the road for years. Yes, this should be a game that we can win, but it will take getting over our road woes once and for all. That said, I'm in on the W.
Miners 24, Rebels 21.
Week 3: UTEP Miners vs. New Mexico State Aggies - 9/15/2012 - The Sun Bowl - El Paso, TX
Finally, a break from the big boys. No disrespect to NMSU, but this is certainly a step back from playing a top 5 team, and an SEC team on the road. At the same time, 2012 is an audition of sorts for New Mexico St., as they're still trying to find a home for their athletics programs. Expect that to be an incentive to pick up any win they can.
Offensively, the Aggies return only 5 starters. After 2011, they said goodbye to a handful of WRs, QB Matt Christian, three members of the offensive line, and offensive coordinator Doug Martin. The good news is Andrew Manley, who started against the Miners last year, is back from injury in 2012. He might not be the team's savior, but hey, it's a start.
On the defensive side of the ball the Aggies return only 3 starters from 2011. Depending on how you look at it, that could be a good thing or a bad thing. Down the stretch last year, that defense was giving up nearly 50 points a game. But, look for both LB Bryan Bonilla (71 tackles-2011) and DT Walter Taumoepaeu (3 sacks-2011) to lead the Aggie defense in 2012.
Prediction: Well, there's not a ton to say here. While the Aggies did well to beat UNM, Minnesota, and Fresno State last year, the program has been struggling under head coach DeWayne Walker. A couple of solid recruits could help matters this year, but the Miners seem to be in a much better spot at this point than are the Aggies.
Miners 34, Aggies 20
Week 4: UTEP Miners @ No. 19 Wisconsin Badgers - 9/22/2012 - Camp Randall Stadium - Madison, WI
Here's another extremely tough test for the Miners. The Badgers are another team ranked in the preseason top 20, and should easily be one of the top teams in the Big 10 conference. Again, like with week 1, the key here is health. Hopefully we will enter this game as healthy as possible, and leave in the same condition. That in itself will be a victory.
Offensively, the Badgers will have to replace a ton of production from the 2011 season. They return 5 starters, but lose QB Russell Wilson, WR Nick Toon, and a few offensive linemen as well. They do however, return RB Montee Ball, a Heisman finalist. Ball rushed for over 1,900 yards last year, and a whopping 33 touchdowns. Needless to say, this offense will revolve around him.
The Badger defense returns 6 starters from 2011, including 2 on the line, 2 linebackers, and 2 in the secondary as well. The strength of the defense definitely lies in the middle, where both Chris Borland and Mike Taylor turned in All-Conference performances last year. Borland was first team, Taylor was second.
Prediction: This game is a little tough to predict. No, I'm not so much a homer that I'll predict another big time road win, but I do think this game could be closer than we think. Wisconsin's offense will heavily rely on Montee Ball, and we do have a pretty solid front 7 that could do a decent job with him. If they were to, I'd expect a competitive game. But again, the only thing we should care about, is getting out of Madison in relatively good shape health-wise.
Badgers 38, Miners 17
Obviously, this is by far the toughest schedule that a Miner football team has seen in a long, long time. The three games against power 6 conference schools is a first in the Mike Price era, as is taking on two top 20 non-conference opponents. Of course, we'd love to see our Miners win all four games, but in reality, the real victory is staying healthy. If we can do that, we should set ourselves up for a solid conference run. Go Miners!