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Previewing New Mexico's 2010 Opponents: UTEP Miners

UTEP was the oddest team last year in college football as they lost to Texas by gaining a miniscule amount of yards, then were able to somehow beat Houston, and then lost to Memphis all in a three week span. The Miners were an odd team last year as they were all over the map and ended up with four wins.  The first two years of the Mike Price era brought in two bowl appearances, but since then the Miners have alternated four and five win seasons.  Not going to say Price is on the hot seat, but he is getting very close if he does not show improvement in 2010.  SB Nation's UTEP site Miner Rush feels Price is safe; for now because of being a liked guy on campus:

From the outside looking in, I can see why any numbers of publications view Mike Price as an "embattled coach" or as being on the "hot seat." As someone who follows Miner athletics regularly, I donít believe his situation is quite so dire. Despite his record (18-30 in the last four seasons, 34-28 overall), Price is still quite popular among Miner boosters and the school administration.


Athletic director Bob Stull, a former UTEP football coach himself, understands the difficulties of recruiting to El Paso and knows that winning will be cyclical. While last season was clearly a struggle, Price's supporters found solace in knowing that the team lost six games by seven points or less. UTEP's offense was one of the best in the league and finished 20th in passing offense, 18th in total offense, and 35th in scoring offense nationally. With a three-year starting quarterback, Trevor Vittatoe, and Doak Walker semifinalist Donald Buckram coming back, Miner fans were more than willing to give Price another season to see if he can find some payoff with this group.


What does Price need to do to be around in 2011? Make a bowl game. Any bowl game. If Coach Price can get this team to 6-7 wins, which is very realistic, then he'll become the first Miner coach to take a UTEP team to three bowl games in the history of the program. Stull has to be concerned about attendance. Last season, the Miners averaged 29,010 fans per home game, the fewest since 2004 (Gary Nord's last year in El Paso).


If Price fails to make a bowl game, and attendance stays at those levels, then for the first time I think El Paso's faithful will really turn on Coach Price. Even then, I think Stull would give Price another shot. If it plays out like that, I'd say that 2011 would be the year where Price is officially an "embattled coach."

Now onto the players who will be passing, tackling, and catching for the Miners.

The outlook for the Miners by the 'experts' puts UTEP at fourth in the Western division of C-USA, and this puts them squarely at four or five wins yet again. The Miners return seven players on offense which was 2nd in C-USA and 21st nationally at 426 yards per game.  The offense should be just as good if not better in 2010 as they return  QB Trevor Vittatoe who was second behind Houston Case Keenum but it was not even close as Vittatoe was 130 yards behind Keenum.  The only improvement that would make Vittatoe take the next step is to improve his completion percentage which was decent at 55 percent.  If he can bump that up to 60 percent then he can possibly get the Miners an extra win this year.  Also, his interception mark was not great with 12 picks in 2009 compared to only 19 touchdowns.

The running game is where the offense will shine as Donald Buckram had an amazing season last year with over 1,500 yards and 18 touchdowns and was fourth in the nation in rushing. Once you toss in his receiving yards he was just around 2,000 yards.  He managed to get these yards despite being in shootouts or blowouts in either end, plus consider that in the Texas game where he managed only 46 rushing yards and 18 receiving yards.  In the entire game the Miners only managed 53 total yards.  The 2010 season has no Texas on the schedule so expect Buckram to challenge Pitt's Dion Lewis as the top rusher in FBS this year.

 

The receiving corp is who needs to step up as they lose their top receiver from 2009 and the top two leading return receivers are WR Kris Adams was running back Donald Buckram.  The spin on this is that the UTEP offense slings the ball to many different targets, but every team needs a play making receiver.  With the running game that UTEP has they just need to have decent receivers who can catch the ball to boos the completion percentage which will make the defense not be able to stack the box with seven or eight players.

On to the defense (not good) they were eighth in C-USA for total defense, but they only return four starters.  While, playing Texas, Tulsa, SMU, and Houston last year can make any defense look bad this team somehow loss to Memphis, so keep that in mind.  What will really help the defense will be the offense not scoring too quickly especially against the high flying teams on the schedule which include all the teams mentioned above except replace Texas for Arkansas which will throw the ball a lot with Ryan Mallet slinging the ball around. 

The defense just needs to stop Memphis and the other comparable teams in the league to get a decent shot to get to a bowl game, because the offense is just fine.  When the Miners play teams with a great offense the defense just needs to make a few stops here and there to give them a decent chance.

For the season I think UTEP has a shot to win at least six games and with their schedule I can honestly see the Miners sitting at 5-1.  This is their first six games: Arksansas-Pine Bluff,  @ Houston, New Mexico State, Memphis, @ New Mexico, and against Rice.  The back end schedule is tough, but a bowl game looks to be in reach if things go right.

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