Favorable UTEP Football Schedule Offers Bowl Opportunity in 2021
In case you missed it, UTEP released their 2021 football schedule last Wednesday. After looking at the opponents the Miners will face this fall, there is no question that the team will have every chance to win a minimum of six games and go bowling for the first time since 2014.
The toughest non-conference game that UTEP will face is a road contest at Boise State on September 11th. Other than the Broncos, the Miners host New Mexico and Bethune-Cookman, while traveling to Las Cruces to face NMSU. Both the Wildcats and Aggies opted not to play college football in the fall of 2020, while the Lobos went 2-5 in their abbreviated season. This is setting up perfectly for UTEP to be 3-1 after their first four games in August and September.
When you look closely at their C-USA schedule, the Miners do not play any consecutive road games. Instead, they alternate home and road contests each week through the season. All of their home games are winnable, with Old Dominion (opted out in 2020), La Tech (5-5), UTSA (7-5), and Rice (2-3). As for their road games, the Miners will play Southern Miss (3-7), Florida Atlantic (5-4), North Texas (4-6), and UAB (6-3). The FAU Owls and Blazers will be the toughest tests on their C-USA schedule. If the Miners go .500 in conference play, that is a 7-win season assuming their win three con-conference games.
Head coach Dana Dimel will be entering his fourth season as UTEP head coach in 2021 and he has all of his big weapons on both sides of the ball returning to his team. The only downside is that the Miners will incorporate a new offensive coordinator (Dave Warner) and defensive coordinator (Bradley Dale Peveto) into Coach Dimel's system. Time is of the essence, so both veteran new coaches will need to assimilate themselves quickly to the Miners schemes.
As long as the team stays healthy, UTEP quarterback Gavin Hardison should take the next step in his development. Calvin Bownholtz and Kevin Hurley will both compete for the backup job. Hardison will once again have Jacob Cowing and Justin Garrett as his main targets (if Garrett uses his extra year of eligibility to come back and play in 2021). Deion Hankins will lead the Miners rushing attack, which showed flashes of big play ability before the COVID cancelations struck the team last season in C-USA play. UTEP has one of the deepest backfields in C-USA, with Ronald Awatt, Quardraiz Wadley, Willie Eldridge, and Rey Flores all capable of big contributions.
Like the offense, UTEP's defense also had their moments during the 2020 season. Keenan Stewart and Praise Amaewhule emerged as big play defensive lineman and the return of Dy'Vonne Inyang and Dennis Barnes to the defensive backfield will help the Miners in a big way next season along with Justin Prince and Josh Caldwell. They will also add former Kansas State cornerback Walter Neil Jr. to the mix. WILL Linebacker Tyrice Knight was second on the team in tackles last season, and he will lead the group in 2021. Breon Hayward started the final game of the season against North Texas, and the grad Marshall will be the projected starter at MIKE.
When you add everything up, there is no reason why the Miners should settle for anything less than a bowl game for the first time since 2014. With only two years remaining on his contract, Dana Dimel knows that the 2021 season will be all about performance. The UTEP fanbase is getting restless, and they are tired of subpar seasons in both football and men's basketball and they have been holding the programs accountable for their lack of wins. COVID kicked UTEP's ass in 2020 but this is a new year and it's time for the Miners to kick back.