Yesterday it was announced that UTEP senior quarterback Nick Lamaison and senior punter Ian Campbell were both voted as preseason First Team All-Conference selections. Campbell has already been named to the Ray Guy award watch list, and others like senior center Eloy Atkinson and sophomore running back Nathan Jeffrey have been named to watch lists as well.
My point? It's starting to become apparent that big things are to be expected of this UTEP football team. And for once, those expectations are growing outside of the program and the city of El Paso.
That's not to say that hopes are low from all Miner fans, but there isn't much optimism surrounding the program right now, especially considering the toughness of the team's schedule. But, if others are taking notice, maybe it's time the rest of us do as well.
First, Conference USA has always been a high powered offense league. Quarterbacks and offenses put up points and yards at will, and the league has seen some solid names at the QB position in recent years. So, for Nick Lamaison to be considered tops in the league by C-USA coaches, that says a lot about the talent we've got under center.
And speaking of our center, senior Eloy Atkinson is also one to watch out for, as he's been named to the Rimington watch list. Also our top RB, sophomore Nathan Jeffrey, was recently named to the watch list of one of the most prestigious awards a college RB can receive. The Doak Walker Award.
Throughout the offseason, I've expressed my thoughts as to how the team will fare in 2012. And, while a 6-6 prediction isn't an unfair assessment, all things considered, even I am beginning to think that I may be selling this team a bit short.
More than just multiple players being given preseason recognition, we have an extremely experienced team. Especially on the defensive side of the ball. That unit will start 8 seniors, and the other three, who all happen to be on the line, will be juniors, and all have tons of ability.
The offense, will have a handful of seniors as well, including our QB, our number one WR, and a couple of lineman. And, some of the underclassmen that do happen to be starters on offense, Jeffrey and WR Jordan Leslie, also happen to be some of our most explosive players.
And add on to all that, the fact that the stakes have never been higher. At least in the Mike Price era. While some people have taken issue with the job that Price has done in his time here, there is no questioning that he has brought the program up from where it was before he arrived. And, with this being the final year on his contract, the time is now...or never.
Last, and perhaps more important than anything, this team believes in itself. In getting a chance to talk with senior QB Nick Lamaison a couple weeks ago, we were able to hear, from the source, just what this team is thinking heading into a very tough season.
"I can tell you that as a senior group, the sky is the limit for us...This is the first time that's its really been the whole team all together...Everyone is on the same [page], we have some great competition, so we'll have to stick together and show our unity, but I think the sky is the limit. There's no telling how good we can be."
There's no questioning that the Miners are facing an extremely tough task. The schedule is hands down the toughest that I've ever seen a UTEP team play, and it could possibly be the toughest slate ever. But, that doesn't mean that this team can't succeed.
The team believes in what they can do, their coaches believe in what they see, and even coaches and others outside of the program see just how much potential there is with this team. So, isn't it about time that their fan base feels the same?