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New Mexico Football: Early Preview of the UTEP Miners

The bitter rivals will began their 2014 season on Saturday, August 30th at 6:00 PM MST.

Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sp

The New Mexico Lobos will open the 2014 season at University Stadium against their long time rival, the UTEP Miners.  This is the second game of a two year home-and-home against the Miners. Last year's meeting was the first since 2007, though the two teams had previously played every year from 1955 to 1999.

Coach: Sean Kugler

Kugler has over 20 years of coaching experience which includes stints with the Detroit Lions, Pittsburgh Steelers and the Buffalo Blls as an Offensive Line Coach.  Kugler replaced Mike Price as UTEP's head coach in December 2012, and in his first season the Miners finished just 2-10 and last in Conference USA with a 1-7 record.

Location: El Paso, Texas

Nickname: Miners

Stadium: The Famous Sun Bowl

Conference: Conference USA, West

2013 Record: 2-10 (1-7 CUSA)

Returning Starters: 15 (8 offense, 7 Defense)

Sat, Sept 7 0-1 (0-0)
Sat, Sept 14 1-1 (0-0)
Sat, Sept 21 1-2 (0-1)
Sat, Sept 28 1-3 (0-1)
Sat, Oct 5 1-4 (0-2)
Sat, Oct 12 1-5 (0-3)
Sat, Oct 26 1-6 (0-4)
Sat, Nov 2 1-7 (0-4)
Sat, Nov 9 1-8 (0-5)
Sat, Nov 16 2-8 (1-5)
Sat, Nov 23 2-9 (1-6)
Sat, Nov 30

2-10 (1-7)

Players to Watch:

1.  Jameill Showers, quarterback: The senior transferred from Texas A&M prior to his junior season. In 2013, he made seven starts but missed five games due to injury. In those seven games, Showers led all UTEP quarterbacks with 107-of-188 passes completed (56.9 percent) for 1,263 yards, 11 touchdown passes, a two-point conversion and four interceptions. He also rushed 62 times for 195 yards and 4 touchdowns. The four touchdowns were the most by a Miners QB in 10 years.

2. Aaron Jones, running back: As a freshman, Jones appeared in nine games, starting six. He missed the last three games of the 2013 season due to injury. Jones was the Miners' leading rusher last season, as he set a freshman record with 811 yards on 155 attempts and also scored four touchdowns. He earned many honors, most notably being named to Conference USA's All-Freshman team, College Football News All-Freshman team honorable mention honors and Athlon Sports Freshman All-America third team.

3.  Anthony Puente, linebacker: In 2013, Puente started all 12 games and is UTEP's only returning starter on the second level in 2014. He recorded 60 tackles (34 solo, 26 assist) with two tackles for a loss, good for third on the team.

4.  Devin Cockrell, safety: Cockrell started the 11 games that he played in as a freshman.  He was the Miners' leading tackler in 2013 by recording 76 tackles; he also notched 2 pass break ups and one interception. Cockrell is part of an experienced UTEP secondary that returns all five starters.

Offensive Overview:

In 2013, the Miners offense could charitably be described as inconsistent.  They finished outside the top 100 in FBS last year for points scored per game (103rd , 21.8) and passing yards per game (113th, 163.3).  UTEP returns eight starters on the offensive side, which includes leading rusher Jones, leading passer Showers and three offensive linemen. Barring any major injuries in 2014, the Miners should find the consistency they lacked last season.

Defensive Overview:

UTEP allowed an average of 39.3 points and 468 yards per game last season. The Miners allowed a startling 248 yards per game on the ground, as well, and must replace three of its four starters on the defensive line. The strength of the defense will be the secondary, since they return all five starters including the team's leading tackler, Devin Cockrell.

Early Prediction:

In Kugler's second year, the Miners will be an improved team with plenty of experience in the 15 starters they return and one of nation's best young running backs. The Lobos are in year three of Bob Davie's rebuilding process but return a lot of key pieces from last year's 3rd-ranked rushing attack. One can only hope that this year's game will be as exciting as last year's 42-35 overtime shootout. I believe the home field advantage, the Lobos' rushing attack and the lack of experience on UTEP's defensive line will give New Mexico the edge in this game. New Mexico 28, UTEP 24