NEW ... 2010 UTEP Preview
UTEP RB Donald Buckram
UTEP RB Donald Buckram
Posted Aug 6, 2010 2010 Preview - UTEP Miners

UTEP Miners

Preview 2010

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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Mike Price 7th year: 34-38
Returning Lettermen
Off. 25 Def. 19, ST 1
Lettermen Lost: 25
Ten Best UTEP Players
1. RB Donald Buckram, Sr.
2. QB Trevor Vittatoe, Sr.
3. WR Kris Adams, Sr.
4. S Braxton Amy, Sr.
5. LB Royzell Smith, Sr.
6. OG Rod Huntley, Sr.
7. OT Alex Solot, Sr.
8. DE Bernard Obi, Jr.
9. DE Robert Soleyjacks, Sr.
10. C Tanner Cullumber, Sr.
2010 Schedule

Sept. 4 Ark.-Pine Bluff
Sept. 10 at Houston
Sept. 18 NMSU
Sept. 25 Memphis
Oct. 2 at New Mexico
Oct. 9 Rice
Oct. 16 at UAB
Oct. 23 Tulane
Oct. 30 at Marshall
Nov. 6 SMU
Nov. 13 at Arkansas
Nov. 20 at Tulsa

After guiding UTEP to back-to-back eight-win seasons in 2004 and 2005, head coach Mike Price had the glow of a savior. These days, he's just fortunate to have saved his job for another year.

The run of losing seasons in El Paso has now reached four, with no immediate end in sight. Sure, the Miners will still score plenty of points, about 30 a game, but without any help from the defense, it's been difficult to parlay all of those fireworks into victories. The program has lacked discipline and consistency late in games and seasons, often faltering when outcomes and bowl eligibility hang in the balance. This simply has not been a well-coached team, yet Price is back and determined to recapture the magic he had early in his tenure.

Like the last few editions, the 2010 squad will only go as far as the offense can take it. It's a good thing there's plenty of talent on this side of the ball. Trevor Vittatoe returns for his fourth season as the starting quarterback, eyeing a rebound to the first two seasons of his career. Donald Buckram is one of the most exciting runners in the country, coming off a 1,594-yard, 18-touchdown season. And WR Kris Adams is two years removed from catching 14 touchdown passes. The Miners can score points in bunches. They'll have to in order to compensate for one of the nation's flimsiest defenses.

Price is on shaky ground in West Texas. Or is he? The locals are no doubt becoming frustrated by the mediocre results and sub-.500 seasons. Still, they also recognize it'll be impossible to attract another coach with a better resume to these parts. This is a difficult place to win consistently, as the past four years have clearly shown.

What to watch for on offense: The rebuilt left side of the line. About the only things that'll halt the Miner offense this fall is if QB Trevor Vittatoe can't get his act together or if the front wall is flimsy. While the former should work itself out, the latter is a genuine concern. UTEP lost all-star Mike Aguayo and steady Cameron Raschke, and could replace them with inconsistent Will Osolinsky and Anthony McNac. If the holes are smaller for Buckram and the pocket collapses too quickly, the Miners will have no chance of reaching the .500 mark.

What to watch for on defense: The situation on the interior. This is always an issue in El Paso. In 2010, it'll be a full-blown crisis. Not only did the Miners lose two key seniors to graduation, but a switch to a 4-3 means a need for more bodies on the inside. Making matters worse, the roster features an aggregate of one letter and zero starts, a sure-fire recipe for problems in run defense. A year ago, UTEP allowed over five yards a carry, which could wind up being a victory for this tattered group in 2010.

This team will be far better if … it can create more turnovers. The Miners had just 18 takeaways last season, ranking them in a three-way tie for eighth place in Conference USA. That's an unacceptable number for a team that has plenty of good athletes and prides itself on flying all around the field. UTEP won't stop too many folks this fall, but if they can change the possession arrow a few more times and get the ball back to a potent offense, it'll have made a significant contribution.

The Schedule: The Miners only play one BCS team, Arkansas, and that comes in mid-November, and the rest of the non-conference schedule (Arkansas-Pine Bluff, New Mexico State, at New Mexico) is light and bounce. The two best teams in C-USA might be Houston and Tulsa, and those two games are on the road. Getting UAB, Marshall, and Memphis from the East isn't a problem; missing East Carolina, UCF, and Southern Miss is a break. The problem is the off-week – there isn't one.

Best Offensive Player: Senior RB Donald Buckram. For years, the staff raved about Buckram's speed and incendiary bursts through the line of scrimmage. It wasn't until last season, however, that he stayed healthy for an entire season and reached all of his potential. In one of the best individual seasons in UTEP history, the 5-10, 195-pounder erupted for a school-record 1,594 yards and 18 touchdowns on 259 carries. Running as if shot from a cannon, he's lethal once he gets past the line of scrimmage and out into open space.

Best Defensive Player: Senior SS Braxton Amy. The defense got a big break when Amy was awarded an extra year of eligibility related to the ACL tear that cost him all of 2008. He's the heart-and-soul of the defense, bringing leadership and playmaking potential to a unit that desperately needs it. A Big 12-type athlete at 6-0 and 205 pounds, he had 52 tackles and five interceptions in only eight games. In his last full season two years ago, he piled up 112 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks.

Key player to a successful season: Senior QB Trevor Vittatoe. What was that in 2009? Despite having a decent line, led by an all-star left tackle, and dynamite support from the backs and receivers, Vittatoe slumped as a junior. Heck, prior to the finale, he had thrown more picks than touchdowns, a stark contrast to his first two seasons. UTEP needs to see the hurler, who threw 58 scoring strikes to just 16 interceptions in those two years. If that player reappears, the Miners could be unstoppable on offense.

The season will be a success if ... the Miners bowl for the first time since 2005. While this is not a potent program, neither is the schedule. Aside from a trip to Houston in Week 2, not one of the first nine games is out of reach. With lightweights, such as Arkansas-Pine Bluff, New Mexico State, New Mexico, and Rice on the docket, UTEP is capable of building some early confidence and winning enough games to become eligible. Anything less will be just another indictment of the job being done by Mike Price.

Key game: Oct. 2 at New Mexico. Few things build momentum like a road win over a nearby rival, especially for a team that's 6-18 outside El Paso since 2006. With a tough final kick that includes SMU, Arkansas, and Tulsa, UTEP needs to capitalize on all of its winnable games in the early going. This will be one of those opportunities versus a Lobo program still doing a lot of heavy rebuilding in Mike Locksley's second season.

2009 Fun Stats:
- Average yards per reception: UTEP 14.5 – Opponents 12.0
- Third down percentage: UTEP 41% – Opponents 47%
- Red-zone touchdowns: UTEP 57% - Opponents 70%

- 2010 UTEP Preview | 2010 UTEP Offense
- 2010 UTEP Defense | 2010 UTEP Depth Chart
- UTEP Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006