The standard for UTEP football has switched from hopes to expectations as the 2022 season draws closer. Fifth-year head coach Dana Dimel doesn't want his squad to take 2021's seven-win season for granted. With a favorable schedule, nine returning starters on offense and seven on defense, there's a path to success this fall. However, UTEP hasn't had back-to-back winning seasons since Mike Price led the Miners to eight wins in both 2004 and 2005.

There was also something that Price never accomplished—win a bowl game at UTEP. The program is searching for its first bowl win since 1967, the longest FBS stretch without a bowl victory from teams that have been around that long.

"There's been so many people that have come through here and it's been hard, and it's hard to believe that you're going to win because it hasn't been done consistently," said Dimel, who received a two-year contract extension and pay raise this offseason. "We're still the underdog fighting for notoriety and respect. That's how we're approaching this season."

Over the next few weeks ahead of the season's kickoff against North Texas (Aug. 27), 600 ESPN El Paso will have UTEP football fall camp coverage. Camp gets started this Thursday officially at UTEP. This week I will be taking a closer look at:

  • Offense
  • Defense
  • Special teams
  • Newcomers

2021 Look Back & Offseason Rundown 

UTEP raised a lot of eyebrows and turned many heads when they started the 2021 season by winning six of their first seven games, including a passionate 19-3 win at home against LA Tech that clinched their first bowl eligibility since 2014. Then, the Miners dropped four of their next five games to close out the regular season. Most disappointingly, the Miners let the Mean Green beat them in the final seconds (20-17) of a November road game. Still, UTEP was able to solidify their trip to a bowl game following a 38-28 win against Rice on senior day. Though they lost to Fresno State in the PUBG New Mexico Bowl, 31-24, the team fought hard against a talented Mountain West squad.

Over the offseason, UTEP's most notable loss to the transfer portal was All-Conference wide receiver Jacob Cowing, who transferred to Arizona to be closer to his son. To supplement the loss of Cowing and other graduated players, the Miners brought in 14 mid-year transfers on their signing day in January. They continued to add a handful of transfers over the spring.

This spring, Dimel was recognized with a two-year contract extension. His initial five-year contract that he signed in 2017 was set to expire after the 2022 season. Now, his annual base salary will jump from $700,000 to $800,000 for the calendar year, and increase by $25,000 each successive year until 2024.

2022 Football Schedule

2022 Projected Starters 

Offense: 

  • QB Gavin Hardison (RS So.)
  • RB Deion Hankins (RS So.) / RB Ronald Awatt (RS Sr.)
  • FB James Tupou (Sr.)
  • WR Rey Flores (RS Jr.)
  • WR Tyrin Smith (So.)
  • WR Kelly Akharaiyi (RS So.)
  • TE Trent Thompson (Jr.)
  • LT Zuri Henry (Sr.)
  • LG Justin Mayers (RS So.)
  • C Andrew Meyer (RS Jr.)
  • RG Elijah Klein (RS Jr.)
  • RT Jeremiah Byers (RS So.)

Defense:

  • DE Praise Amaewhule (RS Jr.)
  • DT Keenan Stewart (Sr.)
  • DT Kelton Moss (Sr.)
  • DE Jadrian Taylor (Sr.)
  • LB Tyrice Knight (Sr.)
  • LB Breon Hayward (RS Sr.)* or James Neal (Jr.)
  • CB Torey Richardson (Jr.)
  • CB Josiah Allen (So.)
  • S Justin Prince (Sr.)
  • S Kobe Hylton (So.)

Special Teams:

  • K Gavin Baechle (Sr.)
  • P Josh Sloan (So.)
  • KR Walter Dawn Jr. (Sr.)
  • PR Marcus Bellon (So.)

*Breon Hayward is still waiting for his NCAA waiver to grant him an extra year of eligibility 

Two questions for fall camp: 

  1. How deep is UTEP's offensive line? - The Miners have been fortunate to keep nine starters on offense. One can get excited about the balanced attack that they can feature with quarterback Gavin Hardison airing the ball and Hankins/Awatt pacing the ground attack. The one area that can't take any hits is the offensive line. While UTEP has talent in their two-deep, they are inexperienced. Betting on health is sometimes tough and in order for the offense to have success, that offensive line has to stay healthy.
  2. Can we trust the secondary? - As it was in 2021, I expect the defense to be the strength of the team in 2022. The Miners were tasked with replacing three graduating members of their secondary from last year, which is no easy task. The front seven has a chance to be elite. The secondary is my biggest question. Dennis Barnes and Justin Prince are the two veterans that will lead the position group. Beyond them, they will rely on newcomers and younger guys to step up in 2022.

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