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UTEP Football: Five Reasons UTEP will compete for a C-USA West Title in 2016

Football is around the corner, and the expectations should be sky high in El Paso for the 2016 season.

Returning production, a "manageable" schedule,  and some legit depth under center are just a few things of the top of the head that will help UTEP push past their doubters in 2016.

College football guru Phil Steele thinks UTEP will be one of the most improved teams in the nation in 2016. And even with the Orange tinted glasses on, there are legit reasons to be optimistic about the 2016 season.

We take a look at five reasons UTEP will compete not only for a bowl bid, but a C-USA West Title, and a C-USA Title shot, and dare we say it.....a bowl win?

Scheduling gods finally smile down on Sean Kugler

Not making excuses for UTEP's lack of consistency under Sean Kugler so far, but the schedule has been stacked against UTEP's fourth year head coach in his first three seasons.

In 2013, Kugs only had five home games, and had to face Johnny Druggie Football in College Station with just nine dressed out defensive backs, and finished the season with five of the last six on the road en route to just two wins.

2014 was a little better, but facing Arkansas, Texas Tech, and New Mexico State all on the road to open the 2015 season plus another set of five home games is frustrating no matter how Kugler deflected those "excuses' if you will.

2016 sets up nicely, very nicely.

NMSU to open the season at the crib should draw a 30,000-plus Sun Bowl crowd to open the season, then a continuation of the 2-for-1 body bag series with Texas in the 512 will tell us a lot about this 2016 version of the Miners in the first two games.

But then Army in front of another 30K-plus crowd, then C-USA contender Southern Miss at home before the calendar turns to October gives UTEP three of their first four at home, and no excuse (no injuries) to finish at worst 2-2 in that opening stretch of the season.

UTEP avoids Marshall, WKU, and Middle Tennessee for the second consecutive year in the conference play, and it wouldn't be too crazy or homerish to think UTEP can win back-to-back games, FIU-UTSA?, ODU-Baptist? Rice-North Texas? at one point once we truly find out what this team is made up of before October.

5-1 at home should be goal, and the road warrior mentality will have to be in full force in Ruston, San Antonio, and in Houston against Rice if dreams of contending in the standings become a real life possibility.

Aaron Jones will be back doing Aaron Jones things at some point

We don't know exactly when, but health wise Aaron Jones is a full go, and looks even more like a NFL prospect with the way his body is molding in the weight room.

Depending on a possible disciplinary suspension, Aaron Jones will be back, and will give the UTEP offense a much needed boost.

Jones has averaged 5.3 yards per carry on the road in his two seasons, and two games as UTEP's feature back.  The need for Jones' versatility will be key if UTEP wants to pull off any road wins which this team WILL have to do in order to compete in the C-USA West.

He's bigger, stronger, wiser, and his playmaking ability is like the WAR stat in baseball, his presence does wonders for this team, like a 2.5 WAR or something like that.

UTEP's experience on defense

Veteran safeties Dashone Smith, and Devin Cockrell will anchor an underrated secondary that could end up making the 3-4 defense effective come the fall.

Kalon Beverly, Nik Needham, Michael Lewis, and Brendan Royal had solid spring practices, and will be relied upon for production along with the Miners two returning vets in the secondary.

Throw in front seven producers like Alvin Jones, Sky Logan, and Nick Usher, and UTEP has a formidable lineup of front line players who showed in the spring they will continue to make plays.

It seems the zone blitzes allow guys in the secondary like Needham, Lewis, and Beverly to play to their strengths, as they showed struggles in exclusive man coverage schemes a year ago, and thrived in their back pedaling techniques, and breaks on the ball this past spring.

Speed, the perfect schematic fit, and experience will mold this entire defense group into something serious as the season wears on barring any devastating injuries.

Jaquan White, Tyler Batson, Hayden Plinke, and Terry Juniel

Okay so maybe there's more than five reasons, but these guys will help out whichever quarterback gets the nod as the starter.

Batson is the proven down field threat who is also a run solid blocker, and came up with some huge catches in key situations during UTEP's wins last season.

Plinke battled injuries for most of last season, and will be UTEP's top senior NFL prospect this season. He caught 37 balls for 410 yards which was among the top producers in the conference at tight end in 2015.

A fully healthy Plinke is a major boost in UTEP's passing game.

White broke out last season after catching only four passes in 2014, the speedy slot receiver hauled in 41 catches for 494 yards, with a 12 yard per catch average, and also became a security blanket down the stretch of the season

Juniel was the missing link last season without Aaron Jones.

You can't forget about the improvement and impact Warren Redix had last year, but Juniel not only brings the perfect mold of a slot receiver.  The hunger of being out a season will certainly drive his production in the passing game, and return game.

UTEP's wideouts had a flat out horrible spring game, but these leaders in the room, along with Warren Redix, and budding freshman Eddie Sinegal mixed with Plinke at tight end could increase UTEP's offensive passing numbers, and averages in 2016.

Quarterback play has to be improved, right?

Whether it's Greenlee, Metz, or Johnson, someone will step up and take this offense to another level, it just has to happen right?

Call it negative results if you want, but the experience Metz, and Johnson gained running UTEP's offense last year was very valuable, and both fit what Brent Pease will do on offense in the fall as evident of some spring practice performances from each sophomore-to-be.

Pease didn't show it much in the spring game, but the passing game will be more wide open, wideouts will actually use the middle of the field, and the run-pass balance could ultimately depend on the effectiveness of quarterback play.

Greenlee is rumored to be at the top of the current depth chart sitting a little over two months away from the opener.  But fall camp could show if the quarterback spot has improved, or will continue to be a major question for the UTEP Football Miners.

Bonus: This is Sean Kugler's program

The off season workout participation has been very high and productive, the notes of positivity from players on social media has been promising.  And after last seasons transgressions, its pretty apparent this team has grown mentally.

Kugler has put his stamp on this program in terms of education, community service, accountability, and getting in the weight room.  Now the next step is winning on the road consistently, taking care of business at home, and contending for a shot at a conference title.

It takes process steps to build a program, has UTEP finally built those pillars of college football success?