It's hard to believe the Miners are heading into their 10th year in Conference-USA after jumping the WAC ship. UTEP is rapidly on its way to becoming one of the 'deans' of the conference, especially in the West Division; only new West Division addition Southern Miss will have more seasons as a C-USA member. Of the 6 teams that comprised the West Division when UTEP first joined the conference, only Rice remains alongside the Miners. Here's a look at the Conference-USA overall standings since UTEP joined:
|Team||C-USA record||C-USA winning %||overall record||overall winning %||West Division titles||Winning Seasons|
|North Texas *||.6-2||0.75||.9-4||0.692||0||1|
|Louisiana Tech *||.3-5||0.375||.4-8||0.333||0||0|
*have only played 1 season in C-USA.
The standings until now look pretty bleak for the Miners. If we exclude the schools with only one year of C-USA play under their belts, only Tulane has a worse conference winning percentage. Even worse, after just one season of play in Conference-USA, both UTSA and North Texas have matched UTEP's total number of winning seasons as members of the conference. UTEP settled for underachievement during the Mike Price era in part because even the seasons Price was delivering at UTEP were a step up from the dismal history at large for the Miners.
Meanwhile, during this same time period of underachievement, the Sun Bowl has consistently outdrawn other stadiums in the division. The Miner fans' excitement and optimism is unmatched, given how few reasons the UTEP football program has given them to cheer.
All this is to say that the UTEP football program is due. Mike Price may have increased the average wins per year a few digits, but he failed to build a consistent winner, as evidenced by an academically-minded private school like Rice exceeding the Miners in winning seasons 4 to 1. Sean Kugler enters his second year, and he will likely be given time to build his program with his players, but I believe Kugler will be held to a higher standard than Price was. UTEP football's distant past is bleak, its recent past has been disappointing, and its future is bright, but the stakes are much too high for us to wait for that bright future another decade. As the big money-maker in collegiate athletics, football drives conference alignment, and if the program does not make a quick turnaround under Kugler, the Miners may miss their ship in the next big conference shuffle and end up playing in a ever weaker iteration of the C-USA with the likes of NMSU. UTEP's dreams of playing in the Mountain West or another bigger name conference as a better stage for its basketball programs may lie in the next few football seasons.