What you need to know ... It'll be another year of bombing away
after finishing ninth in the nation in passing offense while averaging
32 points per game. Jordan Palmer is back for his fourth year as the
starting quarterback with the talent, experience and arm to have another
big season, but he has to cut down on his interceptions. The receiving
corps should be better than ever with Johnnie Lee Higgins the veteran
leading a relatively inexperienced but very promising group. RB Marcus
Thomas has the potential to be an all-star behind an average line that
won't be a liability.
Passing: Jordan Palmer
258-434, 3,503 yds, 29 TD, 19 INT
Rushing: Marcus Thomas
149 carries, 791 yds, 5 TD
Receiving: Johnnie Lee Higgins
49 catches, 837 yds, 9 TD
Star of the offense: Senior QB Jordan Palmer
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore
OT Tyler Ribitzki
Unsung star on the rise: Junior WR Joe West
Best pro prospect: Palmer
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Palmer, 2) WR Johnnie
Lee Higgins, 3) RB Marcus Thomas
Strength of the offense: Passing, experience
Weakness of the offense:
Turnovers, proven number two quarterback and running back
Jordan Palmer has the potential to be the Conference USA
Player of the Year with the arm, experience, and skills to carry
the Miners to the title. However, it's telling that the team
seems to lose, or struggles, when he has his biggest passing
games. He throws way too many interceptions needing to cut his
mistakes in half for the offense to be more consistent. The
backup situation is interesting with gigantic bomber Brandis Dew
and speedy former Florida State receiver Lorne Sam pushing for
the number two job and to get in a position to be the 2007
The key to the unit: Jordan Palmer has to be more
efficient and mistake free while the backups a number two
quarterback needs to be settled on.
Quarterback Rating: 7.5
- Jordan Palmer, Sr. - 258-434, 59%, 3,503 yds, 29 TD, 19
INT, 2 rushing touchdowns
Palmer is back for his fourth season as the starter meaning this
has to be the year everything comes together. He has bombed away
for 7,482 passing yards and 62 touchdowns holding the UTEP
record in just about every category, but he also has thrown a
whopping 50 interceptions including eight during the team's
puzzling three game demise to end the season. He has the size,
the arm, and the knowledge of the offense, and now he needs to
stop forcing plays that aren't there and become a better overall
decision maker. He has 15 multi-interception games and has
thrown a pick in 24 of the 34 games he has played.
- Brandis Dew, RFr.
Dew is a massive, too massive at times, 6-5, 265-pound bomber.
He has a huge arm and can be a precision passer with a little
bit of mobility as long as he keeps his weight down. He was a
way-too-heavy 290 pounds last year.
Lorne Sam, Soph.
An interesting prospect to throw a curve ball in the quarterback
mix, Sam is a former Florida State wide receiver who will push
hard for the number two job as well as likely seeing some time
catching passes. He's not nearly the passer Jordan Palmer and
Brandis Dew are, but he's fast adding a mobility element that's
missing from the Miner quarterbacks.
The Miners lost good backs in Tyler Ebell and Matt Austin,
but the emergence of Marcus Thomas at the end of last year gives
hope that the ground attack can be even better. There's a
question mark among the depth with big Johan Givens and speedy
Jon Lane battling for the number two job, but neither has enough
experience to be counted on right away as a starter. Incoming
freshmen Jason Williams and Donald Buckram will look to get into
the mix right away.
The key to the unit: A couple of backs need to emerge
to give Marcus Thomas a little bit of help. Thomas needs to
build on the productive end to the 2005 season.
Running Back Rating: 6
- Marcus Thomas, Jr. - 149 carries, 791 yds, 5.3 ypc, 5
TD, 32 catches, 440 yds, 13.8 ypc, 3 TD
The star recruit of a few years ago lived up to his promise
leading the team in rushing and finishing third on the team in
receiving. He's a big 6-1 and 215 pounds who got a lot faster
this off-season working his 40 time down to around 4.4. He
turned into a perfect fit for the attack growing into a great
receiver as well as a workhorse over the last five games of the
season carrying it 110 times over the final stretch. He set a
school record with four straight 100-yard games highlighted by a
122-yard effort against UAB.
- Johan Givens, Jr. - 3 carries, 3 yds
The 220-pound junior is a strong, physical runner who'll add
more power than Marcus Thomas. He has to prove he can catch the
ball on a consistent basis and he isn't going to tear off too
many big plays.
- Jon Lane, Soph. - 11 carries, 27 yds, 2.5 ypc, 1 TD, 2
catches, 29 yds
After starting out his UTEP career in the secondary, Lane moved
to running back serving as a reserve last season. He's athletic
and fast with the potential to tear off big plays in chunks if
he can get a little room to move.
Johnnie Lee Higgins is back for another year as one of
Conference USA's most dangerous targets, but the passing game
lost Chris Francies, Jayson Boyd and Aaron Givens. Even so,
don't expect a drop-off in production with Joe West and Chris
Day looking like top playmakers waiting to burst out along with
big, fast reserves like Daniel Robinson and David Sutton waiting
in the wings. Freshmen Dashan Miller and Dustin Bell are also
expected to play big roles. The tight end situation is fantastic
with Jake Sears, Jamar Hunt and Casey Mauch all good enough to
be reliable targets.
The key to the unit: Chris Day and Joe West have to
shine right away as the complementary targets to Johnnie Lee
Higgins, and the big JUCO transfers of the past few years,
Daniel Robinson and David Sutton, have to play up to their
Receiver Rating: 7
- Johnnie Lee Higgins Jr., Sr. - 49 catches, 837 yds, 17.1 ypc,
Higgins has next level speed and big-time playmaking
ability as the most dangerous target in the attack over the last
two seasons. Over his first three years he has caught 108 passes
for 1,899 yards and 19 touchdowns with a whopping 17.6
yard-per-catch average while also serving as a top kick and punt
returner. He was bottled up a bit over the second half of last
season after torching Houston for 156 yards and three touchdowns
on the way to catching 30 passes over an early four game
stretch, and now he has to be a bigger playmaker for a full
- Joe West, Jr. - 19 catches, 246 yds, 12.9 ypc, 2 TD
The 6-2, 210-pound junior is a big, physical target who grew
more and more in the offense as last year went on finishing with
a six-catch day against Toledo. He's a great athlete who should
be a perfect number two receiver to take the heat off Johnnie
- Daniel Robinson, Sr.
The 6-4, 200-pound senior sat out last season after catching two
passes as a junior. The former JUCO star is a physical receiver
who took over the starting spot after a
- Tight end Jake Sears, Jr. - 8 catches, 119 yds, 14.9
While not the receiver that Jamar Hunt is, Sears is a physical
blocker with nice hands and good route running ability. He's a
strong blocker at 6-3 and 250 pounds.
- Chris Day, Soph.
Day didn't do anything in his redshirt freshman season after
tearing it up as a scout teamer. Now he'll be counted on to be a
key receiver on the inside. He's not big at only 5-9 and 175
pounds, but he has the sticky hands and 4.5 speed to grow into
- Dashan Miller, Fr.
Miller has the potential to be a big-time producer in the Mike
Price offense. At 6-0 and 200 pounds, he's bigger than starter
Chris Day with great hands along with tremendous wheels.
- David Sutton, Sr. - 2 catches, 12 yds, 1 TD
The 6-5, 225-pound senior has the best all-around skills in the
corps with 4.3 speed to go along with his size. The former JUCO
transfer has too much athleticism and too much talent to be kept
on the bench for too long. He'll start out behind Johnnie Lee
- Chris Marrow, Sr. - 21 catches, 164 yds, 7.8 ypc, 3 TD
Marrow is a shifty, quick receiver with 87 career catches for
976 yards and eight touchdowns to go along with a history of
injuries. He is trying to come back from a banged up knee and
should return in time to battle Daniel Robinson and Joe West for
- Tight end Jamar Hunt, Soph. - 27 catches, 258 yds, 9.6
ypc, 2 TD
While he'll be listed as a backup behind Jake Sears, the
6-7, 260-pound sophomore will be a key target in two tight end
sets and should end up seeing some starting time after finishing
fourth on the team in receiving. He turned it on over the second
half of last season highlighted by a ten-catch, 88-yard day
- Tight end Casey Mauch, Sr. - 5 catches, 29 yds, 5.8 ypc,
Mauch is a big, reliable third tight end who's good around the
goal line. His playing time has been diminished with the
emergence of Jake Sears and Jamar Hunt, but he'll still be a key
part of the offense.
The line was decent last year giving up 29 sacks in 458 pass
attempts, and now the goal is to be more physical in the running game.
The left side has to be replace losing stalwarts Josh House and Jose
Garcia, but Oniel Cousins is a great looking prospect at left tackle and
Andy Smith is experienced enough to handle himself well at guard.
There's experienced depth to rely on, but it'll be a slew of redshirt
freshmen who push hardest for playing time as Colby Meek, Cameron Rachke
and Daniel Garcia will be the nucleus for the future.
The key to the unit: Provide more of a push for the
ground game and be more consistent in pass protection. The tackle play
has to be a strength right away.
Offensive Line Rating: 6
- OT Oniel Cousins, Jr.
Cousins will look to replace Josh House at left tackle, and he has the
athleticism and skills to do it. He's 6-4, 300 pounds, and is one of the
team's fastest linemen. He should grow into a strong pass protector.
- OG Andy Smith, Sr.
Smith can play center or guard getting the first look at the left side
to replace Jose Garcia. He's experienced and should be good for the
- C Robby Felix, Soph.
Felix won the starting job over Andy Smith last season and now should
settle in to the role and be a fringe all-star candidate. He hit the
weights hard getting from 265 to 290 while keeping his quickness.
- OG James Riley, Jr.
Riley can play either tackle or guard getting the starting spot again at
right guard once he returns from a knee injury. He's a physical blocker
who's improving in pas protection.
- OT Tyler Ribitzki, Soph.
Ribitzki took his lumps as a redshirt freshman, but he got better as the
year went on finishing as the starter over the final six games. He's 6-5
and 300 pounds with the athleticism and potential to be an all-star.
- T Tim Ford, Jr.
Ford is a very athletic 6-5 and 270 pounds with a little bit of
experience. He won't win the left tackle job, but he'll see plenty of
time backing up Oniel Cousins.
- T Humberto Padilla, Sr.
The former defensive lineman is still finding his way on
the offensive side. He was a JUCO superstar at San Francisco City
College as a top interior pass rusher, and now the 6-5, 305-pound senior
will push for time at right tackle.
- G Colby Meek, RFr.
The 6-4, 295-pound redshirt freshman is a very strong prospect who'll
get every show winning the number two guard spot on both sides. He's not
as huge as some of the other prospects, but his strength makes up for