By UTEP Zay 

After their disappointing season-opening loss to Jacksonville State, the Miners must now flip their focus to a good FCS Incarnate Word squad.

The Cardinals fell to North Dakota State in the FCS playoff semifinals last year (35-32) and lost their head coach GJ Kinnie to Texas State.

The Cardinals also lost 14 players to FBS teams in the transfer portal this offseason and another three transfers to fellow FCS squads. They graduated star running back Marcus Cooper, who ran for well over 1400 yards, a pair of 1000-yard receivers, four all-conference linemen, and 10 of their 13 top tacklers. Oh, they also lost their Walter Payton Award-winning quarterback Lindsey Scott Jr, who threw for over 4500 yards and 60 passing touchdowns. So how does a team that loses this much talent rank in the top 10 of almost every FCS poll?

One answer: the transfer portal.

Clint Killough, the Cardinals' new head coach, got 20 transfers from FBS schools, including nine transfers from power five schools. One of those transfers is former Texas A&M QB Zach Calzada, who infamously led the Aggies over then No. 1 Alabama in 2021. He’ll be the starter for the Cardinals against the Miners. Despite all of the movement on their roster last year, they still return three of their five leading receivers from last season. Brandon Porter is one of the best receivers across FCS. Before transferring to UIW last season, Porter starred for Northern Arizona. Porter was even part of the team that beat UTEP in 2018, where he caught 5 passes for 29 yards as a freshman. Porter developed into one of the top receiving threats to go through NAU and even became the school's single-season record holder for catches in a season. He transferred to UIW in 2022, but he battled injuries throughout the season. He’ll be a nice test for the UTEP secondary.

SMU transfer running back Tre Siggers is a name the Miners are very familiar with, as he played for North Texas from 2017-2020. While at SMU, Siggers battled injuries. He was named to the preseason All-AAC third team last year and was having a solid season before a tough injury ended his 2022 campaign. He’ll be a name to watch out for on Saturday.

The biggest question for UIW on the offensive side of the ball is easily their offensive line. They lost 7 total offensive linemen this offseason. Outside of returnee Stanley Mark and Texas A&M-Kingsville transfer Brandon Jackson, the line looks bleak for the Cardinals. If the Miners defensive line can capitalize on this and make Calzada uncomfortable, it could be a long day for the Cardinal offense.

Defensively, the Cardinals look strong. Despite losing a lot of their production from a defense that allowed only 24 PPG last year, they still have high-caliber guys. Former 4-star DE Steven Parker transferred in from Kansas last season and made an immediate impact. He had 11 TFL’s and 7 sacks off the edge last season and was an All-Conference selection. DB Brandon Richard may be one of the most physical DB’s in the country. He recorded 79 tackles last season. He plays a box-safety role. He also added 8.5 TFL’s and 5.5 sacks last season as well. They added a pair of high-caliber FCS transfers in DE Marcus Brown, who starred at Howard last season, and Sac State DL Ayodele Adeoye. Those are just 2 of the 12 transfers they are welcoming on the defensive side of the ball.


The Cardinals are banking on the transfer portal. When you bring 20 guys from different schools and backgrounds, no matter how committed they are to the program, there will be issues. Whether it’s getting assimilated into the program, the play style, or the guys themselves, players from the transfer portal don’t always work out. And even if they do, it could take a while for them to get comfortable.

Despite that, UIW is still a very good football team and one that UTEP cannot overlook. They need to come out strong, stick to their weapons, and execute. The Miners did not execute in their loss to Jax. State, especially down the stretch. The defense will get another test, as UIW has FBS talent on their roster. There is a reason UIW is a top 10 FCS team. They have a winning culture and will look for the upset against the Miners. However, UTEP plays their best following disappointing losses (Boise State win after UNM, FIU win after Rice), and I think they come out on top in this one.


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