Heading into the 2016 season, Sean Kugler has put high expectation on his 2016 Miners.
The first three years saw a good number of tough losses, but also brought some key wins, particularly in the 2014 bowl season.
Each win prior to this 2016 seemed like a program building block, here is how we rank Kugler's 14 career wins so far.
1. vs. Middle Tennessee 11/19/14, 24-21
I have this game saved on my DVR, and have watched it three times since 2014. Kugler's biggest win of his still budding UTEP career launched UTEP into the 2014 New Mexico Bowl. Jameel Erving will always have a special place in UTEP football history with his big interception. But more importantly, UTEP beat a pretty good, and respectable Middle Tennessee team/program, and proved the 2014 Miners weren't just some lucky pushovers.
2. @ NMSU 09/14/13, 42-21
Freshman combo Aaron Jones, and Darrin Laufasa combined for almost 200 yards rushing, and Sean Kugler picked up career win number one. We were fully introduced to UTEP's power run game with both Jones, and Laufasa and a big splash of LaQuintus Dowell. LA Dowell busted a 54-yard TD run which broke 21-21 tie and established UTEP's identity as a smash mouth running offense.
3. @ New Mexico, 08/30/14, 31-24
One of the biggest wins of the Sean Kugler era set the tone for 2014's bowl appearance. Aaron Jones cemented himself as a legit C-USA star running for 237-yards, and three touchdowns. UTEP ran for 333 yards as a team but special teams was key down the stretch. UTEP forced three fourth quarter turnovers. UTEP hadn't won a season opener in three years until this road triumph in Albuquerque, avenging 2013's heartbreaking loss to the Lobos in the Sun Bowl.
4. @ UTSA, 10/25/2014, 34-0
This game will always have a special place in UTEP fans hearts. Jameill Showers set the tone early with a 75-yard pass-and-catch to Jaquan White. UTEP's defense was the story, only allowing two first downs, and 70 yards of UTSA offense which set the program mark for fewest yards allowed in UTEP football history. Aaron Jones had a game sealing rushing touchdown late, and took a swing pass 40-yards for a score in the drubbing. Every win listed above set UTEP's program identity, this win took those traits to another level.
5. @ NMSU, 09/19/2015, 50-47 (OT)
A wild night in Las Cruces, ended up with some unlikely heroes. You know what happened, Ryan Metz found Cedrick Lang in OT, and the Miners overcame a two score deficit late in the fourth quarter. After a rough start with two road losses, the Aaron Jones injury, and uncertainty at quarterback, Metz gave UTEP fans hope for the future, and hope for the rest of the 2015. Still get chills thinking of Metz performance in the final four minutes of regulation, and the overtime drive. LOL @ NMSU
6. vs. Rice, 11/06/2015, 24-21
Rice has been a thorn in Sean Kugler's side in his first two years, but Kugler finally got Bailiff's boys in the Sun Bowl. UTEP beat the Owls at their own game, they controlled the line of scrimmage, controlled the clock, and played just enough defense to stop the Owls. It was a turning point in whether UTEP would fold, or try to fight through numerous injuries, and give themselves a shot at six wins. Nick Usher blocked a go-ahead attempt at a field goal, and in turn UTEP drove 73-yards in 16 plays which milked 7:25 to set up Jay Mattox for a game winning boot. This defined what Sean Kugler is building here at UTEP, a mentally, and physically tough team who won't lay down, and rises to the occasion in the clutch.
7. vs. FIU, 11/16/13, 33-10
2013 was a disaster, but this win felt sweet, and it snapped a seven game losing streak. UTEP ran for 327 yards, and held FIU to just 200 yards of total offense. Nathan Jeffery, and Blaire Sullivan both had 100-yards rushing each as UTEP ran the ball 53-times. After being pushed around all season, it was good to see UTEP finally do some pushing of their own in 2013.
8. vs. ODU, 10/11/14, 42-35
The week before this game, UTEP was thrashed 55-3 on the road at LA Tech, and no one knew how this team would respond. UTEP jumped out to a physical 21-7 lead, and held off a strong second half by the ODU offense, which set up a legit midseason turnaround, and eventual bowl berth. In UTEP's previous five games before this one, the Miners only piled up two sacks, but got to ODU quarterback Taylor Heinicke three times. Aaron Jones, Josh Bell, and Nathan Jeffery all had over 70-yards on the ground, and UTEP offensive line moved the ODU defense all night, including in the final minute as UTEP held off the Monarchs.
9. vs. Southern Miss., 11/01/2014, 35-14
For the second straight game in 2014, UTEP's defense won the day. In what I labeled as the "UTEP defensive renaissance era" the Miners forced five turnovers, three of which lead to 21-points on the board for UTEP. Trey Brown had a 51-yard pick six, and Nick Gathrite recovered a fumble and took it 59-yards to the house. UTEP's offense struggled against a big Southern Miss. front four, but the Miner defense continued its up-tick in a big way against the then struggling Golden Eagles.
10. vs. NMSU, 09/13/14, 42-24
NMSU knew it was coming, they just couldn't stop it.......again. UTEP ran for 344 yards. Jones rushed for 168-yards, and two touchdowns, and Darrin Laufasa continued his assault on the Aggie defense scoring twice. NMSU actually took an early 10-7 lead, but their undersized defense had no answer for UTEP's run game that night. Another signature Kugler win.
11. @ North Texas, 11/28/2015, 20-17
It was cold as you know what, UTEP's quarterbacks and offense struggled, but the Miners found a way. Dashone Smith recorded his second career pick six, as the UTEP offense turned it over five times, but the defense only allowed 205 total yards. UTEP's senior trio of Trey Brown, Jimmy Musgrave, and Roy Robertson-Harris took things over on the defensive side. Kavika Johnson ran for 75 yards, leading UTEP to run for 187 yards. Warren Redix also had a nice day, and proved he is a future playmaker.
12. vs. North Texas, 11/15/2014, 35-17
UTEP jumped out to a 28-0 lead at halftime, and just dominated the Mean Green a year after getting beat down in Denton. Aaron Jones led the way with 178 yards, leading the rushing attack to rack up 357 yards on the ground. North Texas averaged just 3.5 yards per play, UTEP led 31-3 heading into the fourth quarter giving UTEP four wins in a big five game stretch in a month span during UTEP's 2014 bowl run.
13. vs. FAU, 10/24/2015, 27-17
UTEP shutout FAU in the second half, and overcame a 17-14 halftime deficit led by Mack Leftwich. UTEP's signal caller threw for 271 yards, and three touchdowns in his return from injury. Leftwich played a clean game, and the UTEP defense saw Alvin Jones pile up eight tackles and two TFL's which led the second half shut down.
14. vs. Incarnate Word, 09/26/15, 27-17
UTEP dodged a MAJOR bullet in this one. The Miners couldn't slow down Word's offense at one point, but the legend of Ryan Metz led to their second straight win in the 2015 season. Metz threw for 275 yards, leading the UTEP offense to over 400-total yards. UTEP was unable to get the run game going, but forced three turnovers. Hayden Plinke had his UTEP coming out party with 80 yards on just four catches. It was ugly, but it was a win.