After a 5-7 Finish, What’s Next for UTEP Football?
Onto 2023 for the UTEP football team.
Despite leading 24-0 against C-USA's top team in UTSA on Saturday, the Roadrunners raced back to beat the Miners off a game-winning field goal in the final minute of regulation (34-31), thus ending UTEP's football season at 5-7 overall. Undoubtedly, the Miners were in control of the game from the get-go. But they relinquished the lead at the end and effectively cost themselves a chance at a bowl berth in consecutive seasons for the first time in 17 years.
The Miners failed to reach a bowl game this season following a 7-6 record and appearance in the New Mexico Bowl in 2021. UTEP football regressed in 2022, a year in that many had high hopes for this squad. They returned a solid group of experienced, talented players from last year. They had continuity among the coaching staff. Sure, they lost a few key players to injuries. The team fell short of expectations regarding winnable games this year, reflected in losses to programs with losing records such as New Mexico, LA Tech and Rice.
After the program took a significant step forward in 2021, it took a step back in 2022.
Where do they go from here?
The preseason hype for the UTEP football team—which expected to return most of its starters on offense and seven on defense from 2021—was through the roof. Prognosticators felt like the Miners could be a dark horse team out of C-USA to compete for a championship. Miner fans felt let down after their 31-13 home opener against North Texas.
The lightning storm delayed the kick-off of the season on Aug. 31, which featured a sold out crowd. In hindsight, the storm foreshadowed a dark cloud that stood over this team most of the year.
Following a loss to Oklahoma and a 20-13 win against rivals NM State, the Miners found themselves in a 1-3 rut when they were dominated by a far less talented New Mexico team on Sept. 17 (27-10).
UTEP proved they can beat quality opponents when they defeated Mountain West-power Boise State (27-10). Yet, they kept falling into their inconsistent ways with losses to squads like LA Tech (41-31). After their 24-21 win over Florida Atlantic off a walk-off game-winning field goal, the Miners were 4-4 overall with four games left on their schedule, needing only two wins to become bowl eligible.
However, the Miners lost three of their next four games and finished 5-7 overall. The Miners out-scored opponents 114-101 in the final four games. They lost a brutal homecoming game to Middle Tennessee (24-13), where they only scored 13 points at home. They fell to in-state C-USA foes like Rice (37-30) and UTSA (34-31), both being one-score losses.
The Miners will head into the offseason with 24 seniors graduating and the transfer portal looming. Head coach Dana Dimel is confident about the Miners' early signing class, which will be revealed late December.
Read more about the transfer portal from Steve.
One of the biggest storylines of the offseason starts at the quarterback position. Redshirt junior Calvin Brownholtz technically has another year of eligibility, but he told 600 ESPN El Paso that he is forgoing his final year of eligibility to work with his father upon graduation this fall. Starter Gavin Hardison, who didn’t play the last two games due to an ankle injury, has a final season of eligibility as well. Will Dimel stick with Hardison as his No. 1 option for 2023 or will the program recruit another quarterback to challenge for a starting job?
Another storyline to monitor will be the continuity among the coaching staff. UTEP has some really strong coaches in place and retaining them will be key. Overall, the program under Dimel hasn't had drastic changes to the staff since both offensive/defensive coordinators Mike Canales and Mike Cox were relieved of their duties after the 2020 season.
UTEP will face both Northwestern (Sept. 9) and Arizona (Sept. 16) on the road in 2023 as part of their non-conference schedule. Incarnate Word (Sept. 2) will be their season opener at the Sun Bowl and the Miners will finish their non-conference play against UNLV (Sept. 23).
Dimel signed a contract extension during the offseason that added two years to his contract. Dimel now has four losing seasons in five years at UTEP. His overall record with the Miners is 17-40 and 8-28 in C-USA.