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UTEP Football: Breaking down and predicting the 2017 slate

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A new voice on the Rush gives his predictions on the upcoming season ahead of fall camp.

NCAA Football: Southern Mississippi at Texas El Paso Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

Hello Miner Nation!

My name is Mark and I am the newest contributor to Miner Rush. I am currently a Ph.D. student at UTEP, studying rattlesnakes. I was also a paratrooper in the Army, and hold a M.S. from California State University San Marcos, and a B.S. from Washington State University. I am very much looking forward to covering UTEP athletics.

Now that you know everything there is to know about me, let’s get down to business…

Football season is just around the corner, so the question is: How will the Miners do this season? Answer: BRING ON ‘BAMA. Wait, no….

While we all love the Miners, it’s probably better to try and remain grounded in reality. I wish I had a better prediction for you, but 5-7 is as good as I can do, and that’s being optimistic.

Perhaps I can break down the X’s and O’s of the team another time, but for now, let’s take a look at each game:

@ Oklahoma

As I said, we all love UTEP. However, if I pick them to win this game, I will likely lose all credibility right out of the gate. Bold prediction: Oklahoma, for obvious reasons. Record: (0-1, 0-0).

vs. Rice

This is a tough one to pick. I remember last season when UTEP played Rice in the second-to-last game of the season. Both teams had equally horrible records at that point, so I anticipated a good matchup between two not-so-good teams. I was wrong, and the Miners lost by 20. That doesn’t happen this season, and UTEP earns their first win of the season at home against a C-USA West opponent. Record: (1-1, 1-0).

vs. Arizona

I remember when Washington State steamrolled Arizona last season 69-7 (that’s not a typo). That was a fun game. And unfortunately for UTEP, while Arizona will likely again be bottom feeders in their division and conference, they still have Pac-12-caliber athletes. They will be tough on the Miners, and QB Brandon Dawkins (assuming he will be the starter) is capable of making electric plays. Arizona wins it. Record: (1-2, 1-0).

@ New Mexico State

Eight in a row over the Aggies. That streak continues in Las Cruces. Record: (2-2, 1-0).

@ Army

We all remember UTEP getting unexpectedly smeared by the Black Knights in the third game of the season last year, and that was the first real indication to many that it could be a long season (it was). Unfortunately, that was an Army team not overly loaded with seniors, so we can expect many of the same players for the next go round. Therefore, Army should be decent. UTEP loses on the road, although I do not expect the same bloodbath as last season. Record: (2-3, 1-0).

vs. Western Kentucky

Back to conference play. WKU is again expected to be pretty good. As in probably-going-to-win-the-East-Division good. The Hilltoppers have been dominant in the conference for awhile now, and Mike White is a heck of a quarterback. However, their offensive line did lose three all-conference players after last season. Additionally, WKU has a new coach in Mike Sanford, previously the offensive coordinator at Notre Dame. This is still a team loaded with talent, and I do not believe UTEP will be able to overcome the defending conference champions. Record: (2-4, 1-1).

@ Southern Mississippi

While most projections have Southern Miss falling off a bit this season, they are still expected to compete. The biggest question mark is at QB, as Nick Mullens is gone (as far as I know, a starter has not yet been named, although it will probably be Keon Howard). On defense, there are also concerns in the secondary. There is still talent though in the receiving corps and at running back. Brett Favre’s Alma Mater wins. Record: (2-5, 1-2).

vs. UTSA

Who could forget the 5-OT thriller from last season? Or Coach Kugler in a post-game interview declaring that the game had cut into his “beer drinking” time? UTSA boasts a dominant defense. Will Hernandez and the rest of the big guys up front will have their hands full, but Phil Steel says the Miner line is the best in the conference, so I am looking forward to this O-line/D-line battle. What gives me hope are the concerns about the Roadrunners’ offense, particularly in the passing game. That, combined with a Miner home field advantage, leads me to my admittedly risky prediction of a UTEP victory. Record: (3-5, 2-2).

@ Middle Tennessee State

According to the C-USA media, MTSU will finish the season second in the East. They very well could, with accurate QB Brent Stockstill and Richie James, one of the top receivers in the conference, if not the country. A poor run defense last year, combined with a new defensive coordinator in Scott Shafer, does leave some questions on that side of the ball. Still, many expect this team to potentially challenge WKU for the East Division title. This team will be too much for the Miners to overcome. Record: (3-6, 2-3).

@ North Texas

UTEP unexpectedly clobbered the Mean Green 52-24 in the last game of the 2016 season, even though the Miners’ season was already over (where the hell was this UTEP team the previous 11 games?). UNT was one win away from a bowl eligible 6th win, yet UTEP were the ones that played like they had bowl eligibility on the line (UNT still got a bowl game, despite winning only five games). UNT had a successful season under first year head coach Seth Littrell, who is in the process of rebuilding this program. This is my road upset pick, and UTEP goes to Denton and earns a hard-fought, and probably largely unexpected, win. Record: (4-6, 3-3).

vs. Louisiana Tech

LT is again projected to win the West, and even challenge WKU for the Conference title. UTEP is projected to challenge for the bottom of the division, and probably the conference, as well. This one could be ugly. Record: (4-7, 3-4).

@ UAB

I admit I had to do some extra digging on UAB, since they didn’t have a team last season. The main consensus that I’ve seen is that they have a strong (?) linebacking corps and a lot of unknowns on the offense. Head coach Bill Clark also apparently brought in a bunch of JUCO transfers for the upcoming season. I will take UTEP in this one. Record: (5-7, 4-4).

Please feel free to share your thoughts, Miner Nation. Thanks!