UTEP Hasn’t Won a Bowl Game Since 1967; Here Are the 6 Losses
As the UTEP football program awaits their bowl destination following the 7-5 finish to their regular season, let's look back at the program's bowl games over the last 50 years.
The Miners are vying for their first bowl win in 54 years, which is the longest drought among active FBS teams. There are programs that haven't held FBS status for over a decade who also haven't won a bowl game, such as UTSA, Texas State and Louisiana-Monroe. But the closest winless bowl drought to UTEP is Eastern Michigan, which won their last bowl in 1987.
We still don't know where the Miners will be playing for their bowl game, but most prognosticators have guessed the New Mexico Bowl for the Miners. The game, which is played on Saturday, Dec. 18, pins a member from C-USA against a Mountain West team. If the Miners were to play at the New Mexico Bowl, they could end up facing an opponent like Wyoming (6-6), Boise State (7-5), Nevada (8-4) or Hawai'i (6-7). If UTEP doesn't go to the New Mexico Bowl, they could be invited by the Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl, the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl or the Cure Bowl (Orlando).
As rumors start to come in this week about where UTEP will play, let's revisit the past 54 years for UTEP bowl appearances.
Coach: Bobby Dobbs
Record in 1967: (7-2-1)
Ole Miss finished sixth in the SEC and came to El Paso looking to slow down the flyin' Miners. Quarterback Billy Stevens was named MVP from this game, which was his second Sun Bowl MVP honor in his college career (1965 Sun Bowl MVP).
The Rebels had a commanding 7-0 lead all the way into the fourth quarter against the Miners after Bruce Newell scored on a rushing touchdown, which was set up by a Mac McClure interception. Stevens orchestrated a game-tying 76-yard touchdown drive that ended in a touchdown pass to David Kerns. Then, UTEP defensive standout and Packers great Fred Carr forced a fumble to set up a game-winning drive by the Miners. Larry McHenry scored just four plays later to give UTEP the 14-7 edge. Stevens ended the game with 155 passing yards.
Interesting nugget: This was the first season that UTEP played after being renamed from Texas Western College. The Miners also joined the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) after this season. Up to this point, they had played 8 bowl games at the Sun Bowl.
Coach: Bob Stull
Record in 1988: (10-3)
In 1988, UTEP finished with their best overall record in program history that still stands today at 10-3 overall. They finished second in the WAC to only No. 10 Wyoming. UTEP had a tough task in beating a Brett Farve-led Southern Miss team on their own turf. It was also UTEP's first bowl appearance in 21 years.
During the Independence Bowl, UTEP led 7-0 after Reggie Barrett zipped a 30-yard touchdown pass to Pat Hegarty. Following a missed field goal by the Miners, Farve marched his team 80 yards and threw a touchdown pass to Reginald Warnsley to take a 10-7 lead at the half. Special teams were an issue for the Miners, as they allowed a punt return for a touchdown out of the half. Southern Miss went on to score a total of 31 unanswered points as they proved to be too much for the Miners, winning 38-18.
Interesting nugget: Following the season, Stull left for Missouri. He returned later to become the university's athletic director (1998-2017). It took UTEP 12 years to return to another bowl game.
Coach: Gary Nord
This matchup pinned two conference champions in a highly anticipated bowl game. Boise State was conference title winners out of the Big West (5-0 record). The Miners shared the WAC title after a loss to No. 15 TCU, which was UTEP's first conference championship since 1956. They did it all in Gary Nord's first season as head coach.
During the game, Boise State got off to a 10-0 early lead. Miner quarterback Rocky Perez hit Joey Knapp for a 9-yard touchdown pass to cut the Broncos lead, 10-7. UTEP allowed a late touchdown before the end of the half, as Boise State led 17-10 at the break. Broncos running back Bart Hendricks scored on a 77-yard run, building Boise State's lead to 24-13 at the end of the third quarter. UTEP allowed another 43 yard rushing score by Brock Forsey, which put them out of reach at 31-13. The Miners fought back to score 10 points in the fourth quarter, but it wasn't enough to get the win.
Interesting nugget: The UTEP 2000 team was inducted to the 2020 UTEP Athletics Hall of Fame, along with standout receiver Lee Mays. As an FBS leader for touchdown catches, Mays later played for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL.
Coach: Mike Price
This one feels like the gut punch for UTEP. The Miners came into the game rated as the No. 8 scoring offense in the country, led by quarterback Jordan Palmer, wide receiver Johnnie Lee Higgins and linebacker Robert Rodriguez.
Palmer completed his first eight passes for 120 yards, leading the Miners to an early 14-3 lead over the Big 12 foe. Colorado started to pick up steam from quarterback Joel Klatt (24-of-33 passing for 333 yards and two touchdowns) and running back Bobby Purify (80 yards on 22 carries). The Buffaloes closed within 21-19 before Palmer hit Jason Boyd for a 55-yard strike to set up a Higgins touchdown to give UTEP a 28-19
lead. Klatt would go onto have back-to-back touchdown passes, including an eventual game-winning 39-yard pass to Evan Judge to seal the victory at 33-28. Palmer ended 22-of-42 for 328 passing yards, with two touchdowns and two costly interceptions.
Interesting nugget: Both head coaches had dealt with some sort of controversy heading into the season. Colorado head coach Gary Barnett and the program were the target of an investigation that discovered sex, alcohol and drugs were used as recruiting tools. Price, who was a successful coach prior to UTEP and had taken Washington State to the Rose Bowl, lost an opportunity to coach at Alabama after a scandal of his own was uncovered and reports said he was partying at a strip club in Tuscaloosa. Price took a year off coaching in 2003 and then led the Miners to an 8-4 record in his first year at the helm.
Coach: Mike Price
Following a promising 2004 season, Mike Price and the Miners were back and bowl eligible following the 2005 regular season. This season featured the first season in which the Miners were ranked in the AP Top 25 Poll before the season started at No. 24. They finished the 2004 season ranked No. 23 in the nation.
However, this game ended up being a letdown for the Miners.
UTEP found themselves in a 14-3 rut by the second quarter. Toledo quarterback Bruce Gradkowski hit David Washington Jr. for a 33-yard touchdown to lead by 11. Palmer was able to hit Higgins for an 18-yard touchdown pass in efforts to attempt a comeback, down 14-13 late in the second quarter. Toledo went on to score 29 unanswered points and shut out the Miners defensively to hang on and win 45-13.
Interesting nugget: In 2007, it was uncovered that Toledo players participated in a point shaving scandal. In fact, the 2005 GMAC Bowl was mentioned in the investigation. Running back Quinton Broussard pled guilty to receiving $500 for intentionally losing a fumble to the Miners in the first half.
Coach: Mike Price
This was another letdown of a bowl game. It resembled the Miners' letdown finish. They started off the season red-hot at 5-1 and then lost six of their last seven games.
BYU won this game in dominant fashion. Freshman quarterback Jake Heaps threw four touchdowns passes and led the Cougars to a 31-3 second quarter advantage over UTEP. They ran away with it after that, winning 52-24.
Interesting nugget: UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe postponed surgery on his left ankle to play in the bowl game. He ended with three touchdown passes, which were all thrown to Kris Adams (67, 37 and 49 yards out). The Miners simply couldn't run against BYU, finishing with -12 rushing yards and 245 passing yards.
Coach: Sean Kugler
Sean Kugler managed to lead UTEP to a bowl berth in his first season as head coach. But the Miners appeared outmatched and unprepared for Utah State in their second New Mexico Bowl.
Linebacker Zach Vigil and his brother, running back Nick Vigil, led the way for the Aggies in the dominant victory. Zach earned MVP awards with 11 tackles in the game while Nick scored a rushing touchdown in the win. Utah State's defense was among the best in the country and they held UTEP to just 149 rushing yards and no touchdowns. Current Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones totaled 88 yards on 25 carries in the game for the Miners.
Interesting nugget: Sean Kugler went 5-7 (2015), 4-8 (2016) and 0-5 (2017) before resigning as the head coach at UTEP. The 7-6 record in 2014 was considered his best season, while most years under Kugler were plagued by injuries.