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UTEP had bigger goals last season, but continued its downward trend since 2014 when it finished 7-6 with a bowl loss. Sean Kugler enters his fifth year with the team and could be in trouble if the Miners show more regression. They had five wins in 2015 and four in 2016. With some of their top playmakers gone, reaching a bowl could be tough yet again.

Quarterback Ryan Metz (14 TDs, 4 INTs) is expected to throw a bit more this season after tossing for just 1,375 yards last year. Stud running back Aaron Jones is gone (1,773 yards, 17 TDs) so the Miners will probably work out Metz’s arm more. Quardraiz Wadley is expected to step in at RB and he finished with only 168 yards last season. Eddie Sinegal (338 yards) is the top returning wide receiver, while David Lucero has to take over for top tight end Hayden Plinke (8 TDs). The line has plenty of experience led by guard Will Hernandez, so there’s at least a base for this team to surpass 26.3 points per game.

The defense gets more pieces back and should improve on its 34.9 points per game allowed. The secondary stood out the most last season and three of those starters return with juniors Nik Needham and Kalon Beverly at cornerback. But the big name to know is linebacker Alvin Jones (93 tackles) with Dante Lovilotte and Jayson VanHook also providing experience at the position. While the back seven looks set, the front four is more of a question with only one returning starter from a group that struggled against every opponent.

The Miners won’t get much time to work out early kinks with early tests against Oklahoma and Arizona. A home game against Rice in September needs to be a win if UTEP wants more than two Conference USA wins again. But given the rest of the schedule, it’s extremely unlikely this team makes a bowl game. The Miners get WKU and MTSU out of the East division, the projected two best teams. The best chances for conference wins will be Rice, UTSA and at UAB. Any other win will probably be considered an upset.

Unless Metz really steps up at quarterback, UTEP is set for another three or four win season with three looking more likely (over/under at 2.5). The Miners are tied with two other teams for the worst odds (+17500 at 5Dimes Sportsbook) to win the conference and that’s not surprising. If Wadley can quickly fill the shoes of Aaron Jones at running back, the outlook would be better, but even then, five wins would be a stretch.


2017 UTEP Miners Football Schedule

Sept. 2 at Oklahoma
Sept. 9 vs. Rice
Sept. 15 vs. Arizona
Sept. 23 at New Mexico State

Sept. 30 at Army
Oct. 7 vs. Western Kentucky

Oct. 14 at Southern Miss
Oct. 28 vs. UTSA

Nov. 4 at Middle Tennessee
Nov. 11 at North Texas
Nov. 18 vs. Louisiana Tech
Nov. 25 at UAB

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