Things didn’t go to plan for Texas El-Paso last season after finishing with a 5-7 record and only three wins in Conference play. Big losses to UTSA and FIU stood out on the Schedule and that was made possible by an offense that averaged 20.7 points per Game. The Miners just couldn’t get things going and struggled to Scoremore than 20 points in Conference play. And so, Sean Kugler added Brent Pease as the new offensive coordinator coming over from stints with Washington, Florida and Boise State.
UTEP will likely remain a run-first team, but when averaging a collective 3.9 yards per carry, that doesn’t really work. The return of stud running back Aaron Jones should help after he only played in two Games last year. The loss of Jones became a huge detriment to the offense as he’s great as a runner between the tackles as well as a pass catcher. He’ll be running behind a stacked offensive line that returns Four starters as well as numerous junior college transfers. The line will have depth and should lead this team to a much better running Game with Jones.
Quarterback is another issue with MACk Leftwich taking himself out of the race due to multiple injuries over the past couple years. Sophomore Ryan Metz was the expected starter, but UTEP added Fresno State transfer Zack Greenlee to the mix and those two should fight it out well into the fall. Getting more consistency from under center will be important in improving the offense for Pease. To help, the Miners return all of their top receivers with Jaquan White (41 receptions, 494 yards, 7 TDs), Tyler Batson (395 yards, 3 TDs) and tight end Hayden Plinke (37 receptions, 405 yards).
Defensively, more questions come about with new coordinator Tom Mason who joins from Hawaii. Keep in mind, the Rainbow Warriors actually had a worse defense statistically than the Miners in 2015.
With Mason comes a 3-4 scheme, a vast difference from last year’s 4-2 look. They return eight starters in all to the defensive side, but most of those guys will be in different positions, so that experience may not mean too much.
Middle linebacker Alvin Jones will be the anchor of the unit after leading UTEP in tackles last season. In front of him is nose guard Gino Bresolin, who’s probably the most experienced player on the defense. The secondary was absolutely gashed last year and finished last in the Conference yardage wise, but will get all those guys back with sophomore corners Kalon Beverly and Nik Needham hoping to build on last year.
UTEP gets a boost in its Schedule with only one road Game (at Texas) in non-Conference play. That could lead the way to three non-Conference wins and a better possibility of a bowl Game. However, the Miners start C-USA play with Southern Miss and a road Game at LA. Tech right off the bat, which could easily be two losses. But outside of that, the Miners get three of the weaker teams out of the East and that should pave the way for a better overall record.
That said, their over/under at 5Dimes was sitting at 6 wins with the over at +160 in July, so not many are expecting the Miners to reach a bowl Game. But give them three non-Conference wins and it’s definitely in play. UTEP should have a better offense even with a question at quarterback, as their offensive line should pave the way along with Aaron Brown to at least six wins.
2016 UTEP Miners Football Schedule
Sept. 3 vs. New Mexico State
Sept. 10 at Texas
Sept. 17 vs. Army
Sept. 24 vs. Southern Miss
Oct. 1 at Louisiana Tech
Oct. 8 vs. Florida International
Oct. 22 at UTSA
Oct. 29 vs. Old Dominion
Nov. 5 vs. Houston Baptist
Nov. 12 at Florida Atlantic
Nov. 19 at Rice
Nov. 26 vs. North Texas