Expect Plenty of Fireworks at the Sun Bowl Saturday Night
The UTEP football team is entering their first home game in nearly a year with plenty of confidence. The Miners drilled their I-10 rivals 30-3 last Saturday night and they host FCS opponent Bethune-Cookman. Like the Aggies, the Wildcats did not play a single game last fall. Unlike NMSU, BCU has been a successful college football program over the last five years under head coach Terry Sims.
Since arriving at Bethune-Cookman in 2015, Sims has compiled a record of 34-21, including winning seasons in four of his five years with the Wildcats. His program moved from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) to the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) and they have no plans to slow down in their new league.
I spoke with Sims this week and he told me that the majority of his team is still intact from their last game in 2019. He even had a few players graduate but chose to return to the field and play this season. As for what to expect when his team takes the field at the Sun Bowl, it will be fast and furious on both sides of the ball. "I don't think you can play any other way and it's an advantage if you play fast," Sims explained. He likes to employ an offense that will utilize a two quarterback system, led by redshirt senior Shannon Patrick and Marcus Riley. Their favorite target could be Taron Mallard, who started nine games for them in 2019. When BCU runs the football, expect Que'Shaun Byrd and former Maryland running back LaDerrien Wilson to get the bulk of the carries behind a massive offensive line for a FCS team. 6-7, 330-pound senior Nicholas Roos was named to the preseason all SWAC Second team.
Joining Roos on the second team All-SWAC is senior linebacker Untareo Johnson, the leader of the defense. As a junior in 2019, he had 52 tackles, which led the team among returning players.
Coach Sims also puts a big emphasis on his special teams. "I'm going to do whatever I need to do to win a football game," Sims explained. "We are bigger than we have been in the past and we are athletic."
When I asked him the difference between Bethune-Cookman and UTEP (or every FBS school), Sims said that the name of the school is the only thing that separates his program from FBS schools like the Miners. What adds even more intrigue to this matchup is that the university recently hired Reggie Theus as both men's basketball head coach and athletic director. Theus told me this week that he would love to point to the Sun Bowl scoreboard tomorrow night like he did at the Don Haskins Center when he coached NMSU almost 15 years ago.
Despite their confidence heading into this game, the Wildcats have not fared well over the last five years against FBS opponents. In 2019, they lost to Miami 63-0 and the previous season, Nebraska beat them 45-9. They also played Florida Atlantic that season, and the Owls won the game 49-28. That is the kind of score I would expect tomorrow night. Coach Sims has never beaten an FBS team since he has been in Daytona Beach, and he would love to change that tomorrow night.
UTEP and BCU might not combine for 77 points, but I think both teams will be able to score and entertain the Sun Bowl crowd. As long as the Miners do not come into the game overconfident (hard for any UTEP football team to take their opponent lightly), they should be 2-0 for the first time since 2005.