2011 UTEP Preview
UTEP RB Joe Banyard
UTEP RB Joe Banyard
Posted May 21, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - UTEP Miners

UTEP Miners

Preview 2011

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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Mike Price
8th year: 40-45
Returning Lettermen
Off. 18 Def. 23, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 24
Ten Best UTEP Players
1. SS Travaun Nixon, Sr.
2. LB Isaiah Carter, Sr.
3. RB Joe Banyard, Sr.
4. LB Royzell Smith, Sr.
5. LB Jamie Irving, Sr.
6. FS DeShawn Grayson, Jr.
7. DE Bernard Obi, Sr.
8. CB Antwon Blake, Sr.
9. DT Germard Reed, Soph.
10. P Ian Campbell, Jr.
2011 Schedule

Sep. 3 Stony Brook
Sep. 10 at SMU
Sep. 17 at NMSU
Sep. 24 at USF
Oct. 1 Houston
Oct. 15 at Tulane
Oct. 22 Colorado State
Oct. 29 Southern Miss
Nov. 5 at Rice
Nov. 12 East Carolina
Nov. 19 Tulsa
Nov. 26 at UCF

UTEP has now gone five straight seasons without a winning record. And that's no Miner problem for the school or head coach Mike Price.

Price stands at five games below .500 during his seven-year stay in El Paso, lucky to still be employed. It's hard to imagine that this is the same coach who used to take Washington State to Rose Bowls and was once entrusted for a brief time with the Alabama program. After starting fast and winning eight games in each of his first two years, he's lost the magic and gone just 24-37 since 2006. Take last year, for instance. If UTEP was going to have a resurgence, it would have been in 2010. The two-deep was littered with seniors and returning starters, including all-time leading passer Trevor Vittatoe. Yet, the results were predictably the same. Overstating the importance of a postseason game would be a huge mistake since losing to BYU, 52-24, in the New Mexico Bowl wasn't exactly a sign of progress. Plus, bowl-eligibility came at the expense of five FBS opponents with a combined mark of 15-47.

With all of the stars properly aligned, the best UTEP could do was 6-7. With nine starters gone from the offense, the bottom might be ready to fall out of the program. Even when the team was losing, the Miners always felt as if they could put points on the board. However, the graduations of a record-setting quarterback, all-star back, top receiver, and all five linemen will have the attack in full-fledged rebuilding mode. While the other side of the ball is a mirror image, returning nine starters, it's never a positive sign when this school looks to the defense as a catalyst.

It's tough to win in West Texas, and it's about to get even harder for Price & Co. UTEP has a ton of question marks on offense and not enough defensive playmakers to carry the team during the rebuilding phase. Unfortunately for Miner fans, hopes for that long-awaited winning season are likely to get the shaft.

What to watch for on offense: The situation at quarterback. While it's not as if Trevor Vittatoe is irreplaceable, UTEP failed to establish his successor over the last couple of seasons. The quartet battling for the job includes a rookie, a walk-on, a journeyman, and a junior-college transfer. The latter, Nick Lamaison, came out of spring with the lead. A hard-throwing hurler from Mt. San Antonio (Calif.) College, he also spent time at Tennessee as a Lane Kiffin recruit. He'll need to be the answer in the passing game because no one else appears ready to lead this offense.

What to watch for on defense: The maturity of the defensive tackles. The Miners handed the inside of the line to a pair of freshmen in 2010, and lived to tell about it. Now the program would like to crow about it. DT Germard Reed and NT Marcus Bagley did solid jobs in their debuts, combining to make 59 tackles and 5.5 stops for loss. Active and, in the case of the 330-pound Bagley, stout, the pair provides a ray of hope to a Miner defensive front that's been far too ineffective for far too long.

The team will be far better if … it can find a way to finish seasons on a better note. The disturbing trend under Price is that his teams have had a habit of starting fast and then tanking in the second half of the year. Call it conditioning or a lack of focus, but the numbers paint an alarming picture of futility. Since 2006, UTEP has gone 6-25 after the middle of October. If the Miners are unable to maintain their level of play throughout the season, another bowl game will be completely out of reach.

The Schedule: Getting Stony Brook and New Mexico State in the first three games will help, but all that matters early on is the Conference USA opener at SMU. After going on the road three times in September, the Miners get three home games in four in October. The problem is the interdivisional games; UTEP doesn't get any break whatsoever, having to face East Carolina, Southern Miss, and UCF from the East, while missing layups like UAB and Memphis. In West play, though, the Houston amd Tulsa games are at home, and road games at Rice and Tulane aren't that bad.

Best Offensive Player: Senior RB Joe Banyard. Banyard is the kind of player every coach loves having on his roster. A former walk-on, with the right work ethic, he stepped up to lead the team in rushing when Donald Buckram was injured and also had 16 tackles and a forced fumble on special teams. Blue-collar to the core, he'll fight for every yard, rushing for 623 yards and eight touchdowns on only 109 carries, and catching 17 passes for another 107 yards.

Best Defensive Player: Senior SS Travaun Nixon. In just one season removed from junior college, Nixon elevated to the top of the Miner and to the All-Conference USA second team. A 6-0, 195-pound safety, who plays the pass like a cornerback, he caused all kinds of problems for opposing quarterbacks. Reading their eyes and breaking quickly on their throws, he debuted in El Paso with 75 tackles, four stops for loss, four interceptions, and eight pass breakups.

Key players to a successful season: The offensive line. Of course, the downside to a senior-laden line is the tricky period the following line. That time is now for UTEP, which will be breaking in five new starters. Like most offenses, the Miners have potential at the skill positions, like Banyard and WR Donavon Kemp, but they'll only be as productive as the five blockers in blue and orange allow them to be.

The season will be a success if ... the Miners can find six wins on the schedule and earn a second straight postseason bid. While hardly a given, confidence can be found in a schedule that includes games with Stony Brook, New Mexico State, Tulane, Colorado State, and Rice. Last year, a 6-6 regular season qualified as a disappointment. This season, considering all of the turnover on offense, it'd go down as an upset for Price and his staff.

Key game: Nov. 5 at Rice. This is one of those pivotal dates on the schedule that could dictate what the team is playing for at the end of the month. Perfectly nestled between four home games at the Sun Bowl, two in the rear and two in the front, it could be a launching point game on the road. At 7-23 outside of El Paso since 2006, UTEP needs to show it can handle similarly talented opponents away from home.

2010 Fun Stats:
- Average yards per yards: UTEP 4.3 – Opponents 4.9
- Fourth quarter scoring: UTEP 89 – Opponents 64
- Time of possession: UTEP 28:51 - Opponents 31:09

- 2011 UTEP Preview | 2011 UTEP Offense
- 2011 UTEP Defense | 2011 UTEP Depth Chart
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