2012 UTEP Preview

Posted Aug 11, 2012

CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - UTEP Miners

UTEP Miners

Preview 2012

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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Mike Price Eighth year: 45-52
Returning Lettermen
Off. 21 Def. 21, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 23 4
Ten Best UTEP Players
1. P Ian Campbell, Sr.
2. WR Mike Edwards, Sr.
3. C Eloy Atkinson, Sr.
4. DE Horace Miller, Jr.
5. DT Germard Reed, Jr.
6. S DeShawn Grayson, Sr.
7. LB Jaime Irving, Sr.
8. QB Nick Lamaison, Sr.
9. RB Nathan Jeffery, Soph.
10. WR Jordan Leslie, Soph.
2012 Schedule
Sep. 1 Oklahoma
Sep. 8 at Ole Miss
Sep. 15 NMSU
Sep. 22 at Wisconsin
Seo. 29 at East Carolina
Oct. 6 SMU
Oct. 11 at Tulsa
Oct. 20 Tulane
Oct. 27 at Houston
Nov. 10 UCF
Nov. 17 at Southern Miss
Nov. 24 Rice
Mike Price is living a charmed life in El Paso.

Apparently, only at UTEP can a coach pilot his team to six consecutive losing seasons, yet still remain on the payroll. Price, though, might finally be running out of good fortune in West Texas. Although he was brought back for another season, 2012 represents the final year of his contract. In athletic director speak, that's code for win now or else a short list of possible of successors will need to be crafted.

Do the Miners boast enough overall talent to get over the hump and back to the postseason in order to salvage the jobs of the current staff? On paper, it doesn't appear so. While seven players earned honorable mention All-Conference USA or better in 2011, just two are back at UTEP, P Ian Campbell and C Eloy Atkinson. UTEP is sorely lacking in star power on both sides of the line, pressuring the JUCO and high school newcomers to get out of the blocks quickly.

A lot of the Miners' success this fall will hinge on the health of QB Nick Lamaison. His live arm and moxie were offset a year ago by nagging injuries, thwarting the evolution of the UTEP offense. And this is the kind of program that will never reach its full potential unless the attack is able to reach full bloom. The Miners will have a chance to be dangerous as long as Lamaison is flinging the ball all over the field, maximizing the underrated skill set of wide receivers Mike Edwards and Jordan Leslie.

The clock is ticking on Price, who seems to have been living on borrowed time for the past three or four years. If his Miners compete in the West Division and bowl in December, the coach will be back in 2013. If not, it's hard to imagine that he'll be employed by UTEP beyond the winter. Price will be surrounded by a ton of veterans, but it remains to be seen if they possess enough talent to avoid a reshuffling of the staff.

What to watch for on offense: The emergence of Nathan Jeffery. The program believes it has a budding star in the backfield, the kind of player who can be a catalyst for the ground game. Jeffery was one of the standouts of the spring, routinely zipping through the defense for a big gain. He has good size at 5-11 and 195 pounds, and is also explosive enough to force opposing defenses to pay attention to the Miners running attack. With enough touches, Jeffery is a 1,000-yard back sans all of the notoriety and preseason expectations.

What to watch for on defense: The line to be surprisingly assertive. UTEP was just 87th nationally in tackles for loss a year ago, but is poised to fly past that ranking in 2012. The D-line harbors enough speed, quickness and experience to catch a lot of opponents off guard in the fall. On the outside are pseudo-outside linebackers Horace Miller and Greg Watkins. On the inside, three-tech tackle Germard Reed moves as if he's a defensive end. Together, the trio will put pressure on offensive lines all year, supporting a back seven that will welcome the help.

The team will be far better if … it can learn how to finish … both games and seasons. One of the most disturbing trends of the Mike Price era is how necrotic the Miners have been as closers. The team has shown a penchant falling apart as the season grinds on, whetting appetites before falling short in a postseason run. Whether it's attributable to a lack of focus or poor conditioning, the results paint an alarming picture of futility. Since 2006, UTEP has gone 8-29 beyond the middle of October. If the Miners are unable to maintain their level of play throughout the season, a bowl game will once again be completely out of reach.

The Schedule: The Miners aren't taking it easy in non-conference play having to deal with Oklahoma, Ole Miss and Wisconsin, but at least the date against the Sooners is at home. There aren't many conference breaks with two road games in the first three with trips to East Carolina and Tulsa wrapped around a killer game against SMU. Not only does UTEP have to go on the road early, but it has to get away to play Houston and Southern Miss along with a brutal home game against Rice. It's not a stretch to think that the only two winnable conference games could be at home against Tulsa and Rice.

Best Offensive Player: Senior WR Mike Edwards. Even if Edwards isn't the most eruptive of UTEP's talents, he sure has proven to be the steadiest. The starter at "Z" is coming off a season in which caught a team-high 50 passes for 657 yards and three scores. Even better, more than half of his receptions resulted in either a first down or a touchdown. The former recruit from Mt. San Antonio (Calif.) College plays with a flair for the clutch, running good routes, and often locating the soft spots in a defense.

Best Defensive Player: Junior DE Horace Miller. When Miller decided to transfer from Louisville to El Paso, he looked like a natural to play the Buck, a position that mandates an ability to get after the quarterback. So far, so good. The 6-1, 240-pounder, with the boundless energy, is on the verge of a breakout second season as a Miner after laying a nice foundation in 2011. Despite starting just six games a year ago, he was still able to make 36 tackles and team-highs with eight stops for loss, five sacks and seven quarterback hurries.

Key player to a successful season: Senior QB Nick Lamaison. UTEP might survive with a defense that has pockets of potential, but it'll only thrive if the offense is able to match some of the more potent programs in Conference USA. The linchpin will clearly be Lamaison who was never quite able to locate a rhythm during last season's injury-plagued campaign. He has the potential to be a 25-touchdown type hurler, which is exactly what this offense needs in 2012. It's no coincidence that the last two times the Miners won eight games, their quarterback threw at least 25 touchdown passes.

The season will be a success if ... the Miners can find six wins on a brutal schedule to earn that much-needed spot in the postseason. UTEP will need to make hay in league play for a change in order to bowl at the conclusion of the regular season. The non-conference slate is unusually thorny, including an opener with Oklahoma and trips to Ole Miss and Wisconsin. With the first half of the year offering little respite, the team will have to finish strong in November for the first time in almost a decade.

Key game: Sept. 29 at East Carolina. By Week 5, the Miners are likely to already be two games below .500, having lost to opponents from the Big 12, SEC and Big Ten. Digging an even deeper ditch in Greenville might all but end hope for bowl eligibility. It is imperative that UTEP rebound swiftly from its trip to Madison by surprising the Pirates at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. The team will be in dire need of momentum and a confidence boost at this stage of the season.

2011 Fun Stats:
- Average yards per yards: UTEP 4.5 – Opponents 5.2
- Interceptions thrown: UTEP 17 – Opponents 12
- Sacks: UTEP 24 - Opponents 35
- 2012 UTEP Preview | 2012 UTEP Offense
- 2012 UTEP Defense | 2012 UTEP Depth Chart
- UTEP Previews 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006