The UTEP Miners and Texas Tech Red Raiders will get together for a Saturday night showdown that will kick off the Miners' home campaign. The two schools haven't met since since 2007, and haven't squared off in El Paso since 2006.
That 2006 game saw the Miners put up a valiant effort against the then 24th ranked Red Raiders, before falling 38-35 in overtime, while the 2007 contest served as somewhat of a coming out party for one Michael Crabtree who finished the day with 15 receptions for 188 yards and 2 scores in a 45-31 victory.
Those high scores and high flying offenses are exactly what Texas Tech has been known for in recent years, and there's nothing to say that anything will be changing in 2014. Former Raider quarterback Kliff Kingsbury enters his second year at the helm, and led one of the nation's top offenses a year ago.
In 2013, the Red Raiders started off the season 7-0, climbing to as high 10th in the nation after a 37-27 dismissal of West Virginia. Five straight losses to the Big 12's powers sent them stumbling to the finish, but the Raiders bounced back by knocking #21 Arizona State 37-23 in the Holiday Bowl.
That run was led by a pair of quarterbacks, true freshmen mind you, who played extremely well at times, and pretty poor at others. In the end though, after somewhat of a mess of a quarterback situation, only of those remain coming into 2014.
In fact that one, Davis Webb, was the only quarterback on the depth chart after spring ball. Webb finished 2013 with respectable numbers (62.6% completion percentage, 2718 yards, 20 touchdowns, 9 interceptions) so it'll be interesting to see what kind of progress he makes in his sophomore campaign.
Despite being a very pass heavy offense, averaging nearly 55 attempts a game last year, Texas Tech still has a pair of capable running backs returning. Kenny Williams and DeAndre Washington come back after rushing for 497 and 450 yards in 2013, respectively, with each holding averages of better than 4 yards a carry.
The Raiders will have to replace their top two receivers from a year ago, but still have a pair in Jakeem Grant and Bradley Marquez who combined for 189 grabs, 1430 yards, and 13 scores. That'll happen when you're the 2nd ranked passing team in the country.
Up front, the Raiders return all but one starter, right guard Beau Carpenter. The only question there is depth. There are some returnees, but all have limited experience so that unit could be one of question.
Another question, and perhaps the biggest in Lubbock, is that of the defense. A year ago, Tech ranked 85th in total defense, 88th in scoring defense, and 99th in rushing defense. The did rank in the top 40 in passing defense, but that's where the holes begin for this unit.
Starting with the secondary, the Raiders will need to replace all four starters from a group that totaled nearly 200 tackles and 20 pass breakups. Strong safety Keenon Ward returns as the most veteran player in the defensive backfield, but not a ton is known beyond him.
In the middle, Texas Tech finds themselves looking to replace weakside linebacker Will Smith who was the team's leading tackler in 2013 with more than 100. This likely though will turn out to be the biggest strength of the defense, as they return plenty of experience with 4 seniors and 3 juniors in the group.
On the line, the Raiders will have to replace a pair of departed seniors, but do return junior defensive end Branden Jackson who was second on the team in sacks behind Smith. Only three others players return with any significant game experience, so depth and experience could turn out to be an issue for this unit.
On special teams, Tech will have to replace their punter, but do return placekicker Ryan Bustin, and both their top kick returners. Bustin however, did miss 3 extra points and was only 1-3 from beyond 40 yards in 2013.
Despite not being ranked in any preseason polls, the Raiders are, always, a team to look out for. That gunslinging, fast-paced offense is something that could be a real issue for Miners.
Now, UTEP was ranked 49th in passing defense in 2013, but that was mostly due to the fact that most teams elected to run the ball. Only one team was thrown on fewer times a game that the Miners a year ago.
After getting off to fast starts in each of the last two seasons, the Raiders will be looking to continue the trend in 2014. Only question now is, will the Miners be able to do anything about stopping that come September 6th.