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Can UTEP Football Keep The City From Saying "El Pass-o"? [OPINION]

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It's August, but why does it seem that getting ready for UTEP football is already a grind?

From rumors that season ticket sales were under 5,000 when the university (finally) kicked off its marketing campaign to the unrest among fans about Mike Price getting an eighth season to lead the Miners, El Paso is slow to come around to the fact of another UTEP football season.

It's like the city had something it didn't want to do later, then napped way too long. Now it's laconic, irritable and has a slight headache.

All this after a bowl season.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. It was the New Mexico Bowl, UTEP got pole-axed by now-and-forever arch-rival BYU and the Miners finished with a losing record, becoming Exhibit A for those who think the NCAA allows too many bowl games.

No one ever said supporting UTEP Football was easy. But Mike Price and crew are really going to have to pull off something special to get people's attention again.

And that's not going to happen.

Don't get me wrong — I think the Miners will do better than last year, finish above .500 and go to another bowl game, a game that's a step up from (and a few steps further away than) the New Mexico Bowl.

But let apathy develop a crust and it's hard to scrub away.

It set in last season, as witnessed by sluggish ticket sales despite UTEP's 5-1 start. A 1-6 finish didn't help then and it won't help now.

Hey, there are reasons this city is called "The Pass" that have nothing to do with its geography. Give us an excuse to desert Sun Bowl Saturdays for a Cowboys game a day later and we'll pick up a six-pack and be on your couch after church, cracking jokes about Jordan Palmer playing for another sucky team in orange.

As for UTEP Football 2011, it's not helping that the first game is supposed to be a built-in win against Stony Brook (not to be confused with Stoney Case, UTEP QB Tate Smith's famous quarterbacking cousin). It helps pave the road to bowl eligibility, but will gate receipts pay the light bill?

Part of the problem might end up being a toned-down offense that doesn't appear dominant, even in victory. But this is really only an issue to fans who expect bucket-loads of points from a Mike Price team, and could actually be a real positive.

As former QB Trevor Vittatoe stumbled through his last two seasons, UTEP found a balance between running and passing that should continue this year. With a crew of talented running backs led by Joe Banyard and a new signal caller — most likely juco transfer Nick Lamaison — expect that balance to help ease the new guy into the quarterback's role.

Better rushing totals don't make for huge scores but do help a team possess the ball longer. If that's coupled with a second season of defensive improvement under coordinator Andre Patterson, the Miners will win more games.

That's a big "if", and there are plenty more of them, some bad.

If Lamaison isn't the starting quarterback against Stony Brook, UTEP has a problem. The top spot on the depth chart is why he's here.

It's also why he was able to help key a very rare three-man deal to bring two Mt. San Antonio College teammates with him in lineman James Martin and receiver Mike Edwards. Not that they're mere hangers-on — both had other offers — but backups don't get to bring buddies.

Unless the other QB contenders — Smith, Carson Meger or Javia Hall — have suddenly turned into the second coming of Peyton Manning, seeing any one of them start behind center will be a bad omen.

There is also one "if" that could stop the indifference cold: A win over a sure-to-be nationally-ranked Houston September 29.

It's not likely. The Cougars won't soon forget losing their No. 12 national ranking in UH's last trip to the Sun Bowl, a 58-41 defeat in 2009.

UTEP's athletic department was very happy to keep its goalposts that night. They would have been expensive to replace.

But ask your broker and he'll tell you — value is relative.

A pair of goalposts for "El Pass-o's" attention these days? That's a bargain.

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