The UTEP football team has won just one game over the last two seasons – and 2019 has to be much better for head coach Dana Dimel and his team.
The Miners open up their regular season at home Saturday, Aug. 31 when they host Houston Baptist at the Sun Bowl Stadium.
I’ve been asked how many wins I project for UTEP this year. My conservative answer is four, but they have potential to exceed that. To surprise fans this season, the Miners will need plenty of things to go in their favor.
The biggest key is health.
Last year, Dimel dealt with more injuries than he has seen in his 30-plus years in college football and was forced to play freshmen who might have otherwise been redshirted.
This could lead to a more experienced group with added depth to begin this season.
The Miners spent the summer with rigorous workout regimens in the weight room and did not practice much in full pads during fall camp. They also used special shells on their helmets to prevent concussions.
These preventative actions should help ensure a healthy start to the year. Whether the team can stay injury-free can be the difference between a handful of victories or a bowl-eligible football team.
Late summer transfers will also play a big role for the Miners. The team addressed its wide receiver needs with former Arizona playmaker Devaughn Cooper and also landed a potential impact freshman with Maricopa’s Jacob Cowing.
Former Purdue tight end Jess Trussell relocated to UTEP and the grad transfer has already climbed the depth chart to a starting spot. Ykili Ross arrived in El Paso just last week, and the former USC Trojan is already fighting for a starting spot at cornerback, as well as returning kicks.
These four players all have an opportunity to produce for the Miners like A.J. Hotchkins did a year ago when he arrived from Oregon and quickly became the team’s best defensive player.
The final storyline that I will be following closely is the Miners’ quarterback situation.
Brandon Jones begins the season as UTEP’s starting signal caller, and Dimel said that his job is not in jeopardy at the moment.
Kai Locksley is the backup, followed by Mark Torrez and Gavin Hardison. Jones was recruited by Dimel, who has repeatedly praised the quarterback’s leadership and maturity on and off the field. The Bakersfield, California, native has looked good in fall camp, but much of his success has been against UTEP’s second string defense.
Houston Baptist was one of the worst teams defensively in FCS last season, so Jones will not have to be fed to the lions like some UTEP teams in past years.
The following week, the Miners play in Lubbock against Texas Tech, which finished 2018 ranked dead last (130th) in FBS in pass defense. The start of the season could not be a better one for Jones, and he will look to capitalize on the opportunity and lead the Miners to a strong 2019.
If the Miners can stay healthy, get production from their newcomers and have a big senior season from Jones, how many games could they win?
CBS-4 Sports Director Lou Romano said that he sees as many as seven wins and a bowl appearance from the Miners.
As optimistic as Romano’s prediction might seem, remember that Sean Kugler took a two-win UTEP team and turned them into a seven-win team and a trip to the New Mexico Bowl in his second season as head coach.
The football team’s marketing campaign is “Orange Revival,” and UTEP fans hope Dimel’s group will deliver a winner.
Since 1997, Steve Kaplowitz has hosted “Sportstalk” from 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays on 600 ESPN El Paso. You can email him at email@example.com.