UTEP Adds Two Opponents to Fall Football Schedule from the Southland Conference
Just a little more than two weeks away until the Miners promptly kick off the 2020 fall football season, as the program announced on Friday two new additions to their home schedule from the Southland Conference (FCS)—Stephen F. Austin (Sept. 5) and Abilene Christian (Sept. 19).
Director of Athletics Jim Senter alluded to filling the schedule as much as possible after the Texas Tech (Sept. 5), Nevada (Sept. 12) and NM State (Sept. 26) games were all canceled. Their road game against Texas (Sept. 12) was still intact amid tons of cancellations across college football and looked to be the possible season opener before the Miners finalized their game against the pair of FCS teams.
“With the loss of three opponents on our 2020 schedule, we worked furiously to rebuild a complete, 12-game slate,” UTEP Director of Athletics Jim Senter said in a release. “I would like to thank my counterparts at Stephen F. Austin and Abilene Christian, Ryan Ivey and Allen Ward, for working with us on such short notice. We’re looking forward to the matchups against the Lumberjacks and the Wildcats, and we can’t wait to welcome back our fans to the newly renovated Sun Bowl.”
Sources tell 600 ESPN that UTEP's final non-conference game will be on the road against Louisiana-Monroe (Sun Belt), although nothing has been official yet. The Warhawks have an open week on Saturday, Sept. 26. They ended last year with a 5-7 overall record. However, UL Monroe did suspend football activities on Friday after nine positive COVID-19 cases this week, per Brett McMurphy.
UTEP President Heather Wilson announced on Thursday in a press conference that Miner athletics will allow 18 percent capacity for fan attendance at the Sun Bowl this year, along with mandatory face coverings for all fans, no tailgating and enhanced safety restrictions in the concourse areas.
Other Group of 5 conferences saw their fall season postponed, most notably the Mountain West Conference and Mid-American Conference. At the FCS level, the entire division canceled fall championships and left the door open for a spring football schedule. The Southland Conference opted for a spring football season, yet still allowed its members to play fall nonconference games if they wish. However, Stephen F. Austin informed the conference that it would not participate in spring football in preparation for the fall 2021 season.
Stephen F. Austin is coming off a 3-9 campaign last year and will continue their rebuilding process under second-year head coach Colby Carthel. They return quarterback Trae Self (2,550 yards, 12 touchdowns) from last year, as well as his top target in wideout Xavier Gipson (934 yards, seven touchdowns). Defensively, they are young but will improve from last year with the help of some big FCS recruits coming into the program. The 'Jacks will also play SMU (Sept. 26) this fall as part of their non-conference slate.
The Miners, who began fall practice this past Sunday, will have less than three weeks to prepare for the home game against the Lumberjacks. They still have starting positions to fill and according to head coach Dana Dimel, reps will be scarce at practice. The team has been hit on a smaller scale by COVID-19, as there are currently four players out that tested positive, along with several roommates of those with the virus who are also out.
“We’re excited about opening our season in a couple of short weeks against SFA,” UTEP head coach Dana Dimel said. “Our team is working hard to prepare and we’re glad to have six home games once again. After five months without any college sports, our guys are excited to return to the field and I’m sure our fans share their enthusiasm. UTEP Football is back!”
Under head coach Adam Dorrel, Abilene Christian hopes to have some improvement from their 5-7 campaign last year. They will use a two-quarterback system between Sema'J Davis (621 rushing yards, four touchdowns) and Peyton Mansell (Iowa transfer). Defensively, they will be led by linebacker Jack Gibbens (104 tackles, pair of interceptions) and sophomore corner Ryan Stapp (three interceptions).
Both games will start at 7 p.m. MT. UTEP will face SFA for the first time in program history and will play ACU for the first time since 1959.