For the first time in a while, you can say the UTEP football team will have a chance to do something special this upcoming season and not sound like a total homer.
So much proven depth returns along UTEP's projected depth chart, but there are still questions about UTEP's offensive skill positions not named running back.
But no matter who is throwing and catching passes, UTEP has the pieces to again make a bowl appearance and compete towards the top of the C-USA West.
Although for that to happen, the following impact players have to be there week in-and-week out.
1. Aaron Jones, Junior, Running back
This is obvious. Expect Jones to eclipse 300 carries, and flirt with a 1,500 yard season. Keeping him healthy along with balanced play calling will be the key in helping Jones to what he needs to do in helping this team grab W's.
2. Roy Robertson-Harris, Senior, Defensive End
Big Roy has improved mightily every year under Kugler, and this season could be the big production year we thought we could see from the 6'7 rush end. With him and Nick Usher coming off the edge, UTEP has a legit pass rushing duo with package and situation depth behind them. With NFL scouts watching closely, will Robertson-Harris be the first-team All-C-USA candidate he is capable of?
3. Devin Cockrell, Junior, Safety
Another defensive player who has improved, and thrived in the past two seasons. UTEP's junior leader in the secondary is a surefire tackler, and play maker. Next step is getting stingy with the takeaways. Its been a learning process for Cockrell as he started as a freshman, but now in his third year expect for him to be a household name if he already isn't across the league's deep catalog of talented defensive backs.
4. A quarterback
Not necessarily a particular quarterback is wanted or needed for this one. UTEP has four legit contenders that will fight for a spot coming up here in the fall. Whoever wins the battle doesn't have to throw for over 2,500 yards, and 20 touchdowns, but just be able to keep UTEP's offense on the field in winning the ever important time of possession battle. Third down play maker anyone? Command in the huddle, poise, a high completion percentage, and some football IQ could win the job for either of the four candidates. Talk is it's Mack Leftwich's job to lose, but could a versatile true freshman come in and lead this team? Stay tuned.
5. Autrey Golden, Senior, Wide Receiver
Golden should be recognized as one of the best kick returners in NCAA history, and his production there is a given. But what could propel Golden into some high profile NFL prospect recognition is Golden's potential production on offense. Patrick Higgins HAS TO get Golden at least 10-15 touches per game on offense in multiple capacities. A homerun hitter doesn't hit them out all of the time, but with 10-15 tries per game, Golden could become UTEP's Barry Bonds (without the roids).
6. Eric Lee, Senior, Center
One of the more important pieces to the UTEP offensive line. Lee is a tremendous leader, and will also have NFL scouts watching this year. UTEP returns four of five starters on the offensive line from a year ago, and Lee is important not only from his stout physical play, but his knowledge of the system, and expertise in line checks, and calls.
7. Trey Brown, Senior, Linebacker
Trey Brown came through like a senior in the clutch last season, but now entering his actual senior year Brown looks to become one of UTEP's main play-makers in the middle. The former three-star prospect has played in 33 games in his first three years as a Miner, that experience, along with the production he put out last season should have Brown on the fringe of All-C-USA honors with another strong season.
8. Jaquan White, Junior, Wide Receiver
With the huge schematic loss of M.J. McFarland, UTEP will be looking for a #2 target in the passing game in Ruidoso, which I feel White can step in and provide that. White had four catches for 95 yards last year, but had a very strong spring which showed the promise, and production he could bring to the UTEP passing game in 2015.
9. Alvin Jones, Sophomore, Linebacker
Jones broke onto the production scene last year by just following the main focus of UTEP's defensive scheme. Fly around, and make plays. His speed is a great asset to have from a linebacker spot in the 4-2-5. I would predict more sacks and TFL's for Jones, combined with more situation packages drawn up for him as well giving UTEP a dynamic, and have to be game-planned against linebacking corps in 2015.
10. Dashone Smith, Junior, Safety
Smith had a solid spring and bounced back nicely from missing the latter part of last season with a serious non-football related health issue. Smith has grown into one of, if not UTEP's best open field tacklers. UTEP's duo of Cockrell and Smith is underrated by most who follow C-USA football. That two season chemistry built by him and DC should explode this season in terms of consistent production from UTEP's safeties.
11. Alex Villarreal, Senior, Defensive Tackle
UTEP wants size, speed, and toughness to become staples of the defensive line and Alex Villarreal will bring that in 2015. The JUCO transfer saw plenty of snaps as a rotation guy in 2014, but now Villarreal will be a starter and see way more action. The 6'4, 300 pound versatile defensive tackle told us in the spring he's poised for a big senior year, Sean Kugler agreed after an uber physical showing in the spring from Villarreal.
12. Traun Roberson, Senior, Defensive back
Roberson has been a warrior for UTEP over the years, battling through injuries while still producing at cornerback. Scott Stoker must have been relieved to have Roberson back for an extra year. When Roberson is healthy he gives UTEP a physical corner who can make plays on the ball and away from it. An extra year can give a guy motivation to breakout, and I feel Traun will have a huge year at both safety and corner.
13. Trent Trammell, Senior, Defensive back
The BYU transfer was almost a recruiting gift to the UTEP coaching staff. A big, and physical defensive back, Trammell will see most of the starts at corner, and he too should be hungry after not playing last year for BYU. Trammell will add some experience and leadership factors to a very young secondary group.
14. Kelvin Fisher Jr., Senior, Defensive back
The former Arkansas transfer had a nice first season with UTEP last year, but is expected to take on a huge role in UTEP's secondary. Fisher Jr. appears to be replacing Jameel Erving at the safety spot Erving thrived in a year ago. Fisher could also see himself become an NFL prospect with a productive senior season.
15. Jeremiah Laufasa, Senior, Running Back
Though it didn't effect UTEP's bowl bid try in 2014, Laufasa's injury last year was a big hit depth wise on the UTEP offense. I wouldn't be surprised to see him more involved in the pass game, i.e. Josh Bell from a year ago. Bell played a huge rule on offense, as a third down back, and early down chain mover. Laufasa showed he can break a big play, but now it appears it's Aaron Jones and Laufasa as UTEP's running back combo mixed in with Treyvon Hughes with David Hamm no longer listed on the official roster.
16. Terry Juniel, Sophomore, Wide Reciever /Punt Returner
Juniel is dealing with a foot issue right now that Sean Kugler says will limit him in the fall, but will not cause him to miss any early games. Juniel was Kugler's first slot receiver mold signee since he took over, but the punt return game is why Juniel makes this list. With UTEP's style of play, and the prospects of a strong defense. Juniel will be needed to flip field position, and give UTEP a weapon to score on special teams. UTEP's punt return game has been non-existent under Sean Kugler, I feel Juniel changes that and will become a big play threat.
Right behind the top-16
Derek Elmendorff -OG
Will Hernandez -OG
Tyler Batson -WR