Adrian Mac over at Miner Rush was kind enough to answer some questions about this weekends New Mexico Bowl. They did the same for me last week with some question about BYU, so definitely go check that out.
1. Is the UTEP fan base excited about facing an old WAC rival in BYU?
Absolutely. It really couldn't have worked out better from our end then going to Albuquerque to take on a team that we care about playing. No offense to the New Orleans Bowl, and New Orleans would have been a great place to visit, but Miner fans can legitimately be excited about the opponent because UTEP had such a rich history with BYU during the old WAC days. This is absolutely the best case scenario for Miner fans.
2. Non New Mexico Bowl related news, but there is a rumor about UTEP and Utah State joining the Mountain West, with an announcement after. Would UTEP make that move if asked?
If it's Utah State, I'm not sure. I'd say the fanbase is at a 50/50 split on wanting to stay or leave. The rivalry with New Mexico aside, Miner fans would probably prefer to keep opponents in Houston and Dallas where UTEP alumni live rather than have UTEP play in Reno or Fresno.
The gamechanger would be if it looked like the MWC was making a move for other C-USA West schools. So far, the leagues have stayed away from each other and seem intent on some sort of scheduling agreement. But, if the MWC changes course and makes a move for Houston or SMU, and it looked like C-USA West's coalition of Texas teams is in jeopardy of breaking up, UTEP would have to jockey to not be left out.
Nothing would be worse than if Houston and SMU left and UTEP was left holding the bag... again. One thing to remember is that Houston's Athletic Director is Mack Rhoades who was previously Associate AD at UTEP under our current AD Bob Stull. Stull was his mentor and I'd suspect that UH and UTEP will be well aware of what each other is doing.
Stull has said on the record that he wants to stay aligned with the other Texas schools. So, if Utah State was the 11th member, I would guess that UTEP would stand pat.
3. Quarterback Trevor Vittatoe is still gimpy from his hurt ankle, is there anyway he does not play. If he does not play who is the backup and what should we know about them?
If he has to play in a boot he will. Trevor is the Brett Favre of Conference USA and has started every single game he's played in over his four year career. There's no way he won't play in his first bowl game. UTEP does use reserve James Thomas II in a Wildcat package. Thomas II doubles as a wide receiver. He's quick, elusive, and can make plays with his feet. I'd expect to see an expanded package with him in the bowl game. Mike Price loves trick plays and any that get Trevor a rest, and get the running game going, will be more than welcome.
4. UTEP started 5-1 but ended the season on a 1-5 skid, so what happened?
It was the perfect storm of injuries, improved competition, and coaching blunders. At that point in the season, UTEP's offensive line that had helped the offense peak at #18 in the nation in total offense a month in to the season, started to lose key members. For example, by midseason, UTEP was playing their fourth string center. UTEP also obviously benefited by opening the season against some teams that were among the worst in the nation (see the New Mexico schools). Some losses, like many in UTEP's past, were simply inexplicable. For example, UTEP had the Marshall game in hand after scoring a late touchdown. Then, a 2 point conversion attempt was intercepted and returned 100 yards by a Marshall defensive back. The play was a backbreaker that never should have happened.
The injury to Trevor Vittatoe was also a factor. When Trevor is on, he's simply a great college quarterback. When he's off, he's one of the most frustrating players in America to cheer for. He's Joe Montana one week and Joe Mantegna the next. He threw inexplicable interceptions in crunchtime against Tulane, Tulsa, and Marshall.
5. Does BYU have anyone who can guard WR Kris Adams? For those who do not know about him explain to all how good he is.
It was criminal that he wasn't selected to the All-CUSA team. He's a 6'3 wide receiver that's the best deep threat in the C-USA and I'd say one of the best in America. Trevor and him have great chemistry on deep passes and Adams is a master at the long ball. He led C-USA receivers in yards per reception (20.8) and was among the best with 11 touchdowns. The thing is that UTEP doesn't run a spread offense. The Miners run the 1 back offense, so Adams doesn't have inflated statistics. That's one of the reasons why nobody outside El Paso seems to know who he is. I will say that against an SEC defense, Arkansas, Adams shredded the hogs for 148 yards on 5 receptions (29.6 per catch). BYU has a good team defense, but I'll take Adams. I really hope he gets an invitation to the Senior Bowl so he can showcase his talent to some NFL scouts.
6. Who wins and why?
I've checked around on some BYU blogs and message boards and I get the sense BYU fans will be disappointed with a close win. They seem to expect BYU to at least cover a double digit spread. I've crunched the numbers too and I'd be surprised if UTEP doesn't keep this game close through four quarters. That said, UTEP simply hasn't been able to seal the deal in winnable games down the stretch. I think BYU willl win it late, probably after a key Miner turnover. But, if I was a betting man, I'd take UTEP with the points.