The football season is inching closer, unfortunately though, not fast enough. We've still got 93 days before the September 1st kickoff against Oklahoma. Last week we previewed the non-conference games for the Miners, and this week we'll be doing the second segment of the series, previewing the conference home games. Hope you enjoy it.
The Miners don't play a conference home game until the sixth week of the season, and it won't be an easy one as they take on C-USA West favorite SMU. Last year the Mustangs escaped with a win in Dallas against a rebuilding UTEP team who lost their QB midway through the 2nd quarter of that game. This year, they might not be so lucky.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Mustangs will have to find a replacement for departed senior QB JJ McDermott. Last year he stepped in for then starter Kyle Padron just a couple snaps into the season. Padron has since transferred, and McDermott has graduated, leaving the QB spot up in the air heading into the season.
The Mustangs do welcome in Texas transfer QB Garrett Gilbert, and also bring back a couple of underclassmen. Assuming everything pans out in Gilbert's transfer process, I wouldn't be surprised to see him under center come the fall. SMU also brings back RB Zach Line (1,200 yards in 10 games in 2011), and leading WR Darius Johnson.
The defense will have to replace quite a bit of production from 2011, after losing their top two tacklers in DEs Taylor Thompson and Marquis Frazier, as well as top DB Richard Crawford. The good news for SMU is the line backing corp remains almost fully intact, and some solid incoming recruits should help make this one of the better defensive units in C-USA West.
Prediction: In 2011, the Mustangs barely scraped by at home against a rebuilding UTEP squad who had their starting QB knocked out of the game. Now, with SMU trying to put a few pieces back together, I like the Miners spot, at home, 6 games into the season. The 2012 Mustangs may enter the season at the favorite in C-USA West, but I believe this game will allow the Miners to step forward as another possible contender.
Miners 31, Mustangs 28.
Week 8: UTEP Miners vs. Tulane Green Wave - 10/20/12 - The Sun Bowl - El Paso, Tx
2011 wasn't so good for Tulane, as the Green Wave played 13 games on the season, and won only 2. That poor mark cost headman Bob Toledo his job. New Orleans native Curtis Johnson takes over the reigns, but its still yet to be seen whether or not he can bring any change to the Wave's on field performance.
Offensively, the Green Wave bring back 7 starters, including QB Ryan Griffin and RB Orleans Darkwa. Griffin has shown some promise in his time at Tulane, but he ended last season in a bit of a slump. Darkwa has also been somewhat his or miss, but if the two can get things going consistently in 2012, this offense could be a competitive one.
The defense also returns 7 starters, including leading tackler LB Trent Mackey who racked up a ridiculous 120.5 tackles in 2011. Along with Mackey, Tulane returns nearly the entire crew of linebackers, and a handful of DBs, but will have to replace the majority of a mediocre (at best) defensive line.
Prediction: The change of coach to a younger, more energetic, native of the area will create a bit of buzz for the Tulane program. But, all in all, the team still has a long way to go. Last year the Miners were able to handle the Wave 44-7 in New Orleans, so I wouldn't expect a much different outcome in El Paso.
Miners 38, Green Wave 17
Week 11: UTEP Miners vs. UCF Knights - 11/10/12 - The Sun Bowl - El Paso, TX
Last year the Knights handed the Miners a straight ass kicking to end the season in Orlando. With the Knights struggling, and bowl eligibility on the line for UTEP, the Miners laid an egg. We were down 31-0 heading into the 4th quarter before we finally were able to manage some points. Truth is, it wasn't even a game.
Offensively the Knights return quite a few starters, but QB will be somewhat of a question mark for them in 2012. Former QB Jeff Godfrey was relieved as the starter in 2011, and subsequently left the program. He apparently returned soon after, but will still not be under center in 2012.
Blake Bortles, who did well in 8 appearances last year completing 68% of his passes, could be the starter, as could Missouri transfer Tyler Gabbert. In either case, its still yet to be seen how strong the Knights will be at the QB position.
Top rushers Brynn Harvey and Latavius Murray also return from 2011, who combined for well over 1,100 yards on the season. Also, add to that combo Miami transfer Storm Johnson. UCF also gets back its top two receiving targets, and its been said that Jeff Godfrey will also play WR for the Knights.
Defensively, the Knights will have to replace two great playmakers in LB Josh Linam and CB Josh Robinson. CB AJ Bouye, who was out for most of 2011, could help ease the loss of Robinson, as will some up and coming underclassmen, but there are still questions to be answered in the front 7. All in all though, this has been one of the most consistent defenses over the last years in C-USA, and I wouldn't expect much to change now.
Prediction: The Miners always play well at home. We might not always win, but its rare that we aren't at least competitive. That said, I think this one will be a close one. The Miners should have that season ending loss on their mind when UCF comes to town, and that should provide for some added inspiration. The outcome of this game will depend on whether on not the Knights can put it together offensively. If they struggle to move the ball, like they did at times with Godfrey, the Miners could have a shot. But, I'm not counting on that.
Knights 27, Miners 17
Week 13: UTEP Miners vs. Rice Owls - 11/24/12 - The Sun Bowl - El Paso, Tx
Last year the game against Rice was a very disappointing one. Outside of Houston, everyone knew who the better team was, yet somehow the Miners managed to score 37 points and still give the game away. Here's the good news for 2012: We get the Owls at home, and its the season ender. Over the last 5 years, the Miners are 1-4 in season enders, but the lone win also happened to be the only time UTEP has ended the season at home in that time.
Offensively the Owls only return 5 starters, including QB Taylor McHargue. He shared time with senior Nick Fanuzzi in 2011, and while he struggled at times, he certainly has the tools and experience for a breakout year. Top receivers Vance McDonald and Luke Willson (TE) also return, as does combo back Sam McGuffie.
On the defensive side of the ball the Owls also return 5 starters, led by LB Cameron Nwosu (108 tackles in 2011). Bryce Callahan and Phillip Gaines should help matters for the Owl secondary, but overall this unit, which was one of the worst in C-USA in 2011, will be very young and will have to make some quick strides for Rice to be successful.
Prediction: Heading into last year, the Rice game was circled on the schedule as a must win for the Miners if they wanted to reach bowl eligibility. As it turned out, they lost, and that win would have given them the six necessary wins to make it to a bowl. Considering the brutal slate, that "must win" scenario could be the case again in 2012, and I think this time around the Miners will fair a little better.
Miners 34, Owls 21