Will the UTEP Miners go to a Bowl Game with Coach Kugler? [OPINION]
With so many question marks surrounding this UTEP football team in Sean Kugler’s first go round as a college head coach; the number one question on everyone’s mind is how this season will unfold.
The last time UTEP changed coaches in 2004, recently retired head coach Mike Price led the Miners to an 8-4 record and a berth in the Houston Bowl just one season after Gary Nord was dismissed following a dreadful 2-11 season.
Déjà vu anyone?
Kugler just like Price is starting his first season at UTEP with mostly players from the preceding coaching staff and everyone in El Paso is hoping for similar results from this 2013 version.
With a successful Camp Alpine in the rear view mirror, the Miners are just over a week away from the September 7th home opener with the New Mexico Lobos.
So how far can this team go?
Most college football previews have UTEP winning anywhere from three to six games this season with a slim chance for a bowl invite.
Offensively, this unit will have to carry the load led by Nathan Jeffery, Jordan Leslie and Jamiell Showers and based on the performances in camp and practices this could be one of the most underrated offenses in Conference USA.
When all is said in done, the defense will be the difference if this team is to have a .500 season or better. New defensive coordinator Scott Stoker is slowing making strides to get his unit caught up to speed on his new system, but it could be a long season if the defense struggles to improve as the season progresses.
Fortunately for Stoker the first four games against UNM (home), NMSU, UTSA (home) and Colorado State should allow the defense some leeway before having to deal with more prolific offenses (Louisiana Tech, Tulsa and Texas A&M) over the next four games before finishing the season with only one home game (Florida International) in their last four.
If UTEP can start the season 3-1 or even an improbable 4-0, the Miners would only have to win two or three of their last eight to become bowl eligible.
Sure, UTEP could stumble out of the gate and none would be the wiser, but I say that will not be the case. One saying that has been said time and time again by the players and coaches since Kugler’s arrival is “mental toughness”. Critical mistakes plagued some talented squads under Price and I just don’t see this team folding under pressure or on the road as we have seen time and time again over the years.
Seven road games will be tough to overcome; however, this schedule is much softer than in recent years especially over the first four games.
Look for the offense to carry the load early on as UTEP starts the season 3-1 and hopefully the defense bends more than it breaks as the season rolls along to stay right around the .500 mark before finishing the season at 6-6. A fast start is imperative if the Miners have any hope of finishing with six or more wins and a subsequent bowl berth.
Take a look at a few other predictions from the 600 ESPN El Paso staff:
Steve Kaplowitz: 7-5
Mando “The Monster” Medina: 5-7
Chad Middleton: 8-4
Duke Keith: 5-7
Sergio Robali: 5-7
Peter Carrillo: 6-6