The Sports Daily > College Football Zealots
2013 Pre-Season Preview: UTEP Miners

2012 Record: 3-9 (2-6 in C-USA)

Head Coach: Sean Kugler (first time head coach)

Last Bowl Game: 2010 New Mexico Bowl: lost to BYU 52-24

Stadium: Sun Bowl Stadium in El Paso, TX (capacity = 51,500)

Home Field Advantage: ranked 36th out of 55 mid-major teams


Schedule Glimpse:

2013 Schedule Link

Out of Conference: 9/7 vs New Mexico, 9/14 at New Mexico St, 9/28 at Colorado State, 11/2 at Texas A&M

Easiest Conference Home Games: 9/21 vs UTSA, 11/16 vs FIU

Easiest Conference Road Games: 11/9 at North Texas, 11/23 at Tulane


Statistical Snapshot:

2012 Statistics Link

Stat to Fear: scored on just 70% of red zone trips (last in C-USA)

Stat to Cheer: held opponents to 54.55% TD rate in red zone (second in C-USA)

Advanced Stats (Football Outsiders 2012 FEI Ranking): 88th out of 124 teams



Phil Steele's Returning Starters: Offense: 7, Defense: 5, Special Teams: 0

Key Defensive Returnees: DE Horace Miller (6 sacks,31 tackles), LB A.J. Roptai (58 tackles)

Key Offensive Returnees: RB Nathan Jeffrey (897 yds rush, 4.8 ypc, 7 TD), WR Jordan Leslie (51 rec, 6 TD) 

After nine years at UTEP, Mike Price has stepped aside and the Miners have hired Sean Kugler. Kugler has spent the last six years as an OL coach in the NFL. He's never been an OC at the college or pro level and it's always interesting when a head coach is hired that's never had coordinator experience. It doesn't mean he can't be successful but he has to surround himself with the right people. Patrick Higgins, former WR coach and interim HC at Purdue last season (he was also UTEP OC from 2000 to 2003), takes over the offense and Scott Stoker of Sam Houston State takes over the defense (after Jeff Choate took off for a job with the Gators). 
On offense the Miners could live and die with former Texas A&M QB Jameill Showers. Last year behind Johnny Manziel, Showers was 27 of 44 for 319 yards and 2 TD. Coming out of HS, Showers was ranked 27th at his position by Scout.com and was rated as a 3-star prospect with arm strength, field vision and running ability/mobility listed as strengths. Showers is definitely talented and could be a significant upgrade at QB for UTEP. Of course, Showers doesn't get his shot until fall practice so he will have a lot to learn in little time. The Miners return their leading rusher, rising junior Nathan Jeffery, and he will be a significant part of the Miners offense. Jordan Leslie is the leading receiver as he caught 51 passes last year but the Miners must replace his tag-team partner, Michael Edwards, who also caught 51 balls in 2012. The OL has some talent back with three players who have started ten or more games but will be inexperienced at two out of the five OL positions and don't have a lot of experienced depth. 
The DL returns four of it's top five players and seven overall with experience from last season. Experience is good but the Miners gave up 4.8 ypc last year so they have a lot of work to do on the DL. The top two tacklers at the LB position are gone and the secondary loses it's top four players. How the back seven reloads will go a long way towards how good the Miners might be this season. 
With a new QB and a new coaching staff the Miners are one of those teams that is just about impossible to figure out heading into 2013. They have some pieces that make me think they could be a sleeper in Conference USA but that all depends on what Jameill Showers adds to the team. One thing in favor of the Miners is their schedule. You can really look at this schedule in thirds with the first and last thirds of the schedule being quite workable and the middle third being a bear. All of their first four games are extremely winnable (vs New Mexico, at NMSU, vs UTSA, at Colorado State). Then they run into their tough stretch of the year with La Tech, Tulsa, Rice and Texas A&M. After that it's North Texas, FIU, Tulane and Middle Tennessee. It would not shock me to see this team come out of the season with seven wins just based on the schedule. I think this will be an improved team and with a favorable schedule I see them going 6-6 with the possibility of going two wins or losses in either direction.