So we took a brief hiatus, got a tan, a tattoo, upped our smoking habit by a half a pack, rescued a dog, released it back into the wild, went full vegan, went total carnivore, and decided to come back. And to what? Just over a month later and the SWC is still in shambles, UT and A&M refuse to play each other on the gridiron, Baylor might not be as rapey as we all assumed, Spavs is in San Marvelous, Dana’s in H-town, Matt’s in Lubbock and Koach Kliff turned a sub-500 tenure at Tech into an NFL gig. College football in this state goes hard and in any number of directions.
I missed you. Even you-you know who you are.
At least we’ve all got UTEP’s spring ball to keep us company.
The Miners are fresh off a one-win season, but that one win broke the longest losing streak in college football. Congrats to Rutgers for assuming its longheld mantle of hottest dumpster fire in the FBS.
For Miner coach Dana Dimel, 2018 was a default year zero. This is a longterm build, no shortcuts. But 2019 can be better if the Miners can figure a few things out this spring.
Let’s start at quarterback where Kai Locksley is back for year two, now with actual working ankles after a couple of offseason surgeries. Locksley has the raw talent to put fear in opponents, but the jury is out as to whether he can operate efficiently within the confines of the Miner offense. When he was healthy, Locksley’s usage rate was higher than even your service academy/option quarterback. Everything ran through Kai, and that was a problem.
JUCO transfer Brandon Jones threw for an improbable 340 yards at Western Kentucky last year, he’s back as well, and he’ll get the chance to unseat Locksley and start in 2019. The Miners also welcome true freshman T.J. Goodwin from Cy Falls to the mix. Goodwin played well last season and might need a year in the weight room before he plays a central role.
Of course, none of this matters if UTEP can’t improve on the offensive line where injuries derailed the Miners before the 2018 season even started. Derron Gatewood, who missed 2018 with a knee injury, will sit out this spring but should be loaded up and ready for the fall.
A bi-product of injury is opportunity, and a lot of young linemen had the chance to play big minutes last year, that should help next fall, especially if players like Zuri Henry, Bobby DeHaro, and Markos Lujan can develop in year two. The Miners also get Greg Long back after missing most of the past two seasons due to injury.
UTEP will start over at tight end after David Lucero graduated and Josh Weeks transferred. The Miners are converting fullback Trent Thompson to tight end and welcome transfers Luke Laufenberg (former Cowboy Quarterback Babe Laufenberg’s kid) and Rashad Beecham.
UTEP might be stacked at running back. When was the last time UTEP was stacked at any position? Quardraiz Wadley and Josh Fields are all back and this summer the Miners welcome local product Deion Hankins to the mix. When Wadley received touches, he was among the better back in CUSA. When Locksley’s usage relegated Wadley to an interested observer, the Miners’ suffered.
On defense, the Miners have to figure out their secondary where Kalon Beverly, Nik Needham, and Kahani Smith are all gone. Needham might be a steal in this year’s NFL draft.
Defensive coordinator Mike Cox will need to replace A.J. Hotchkins and Jamar Smith at linebacker. Hotchkins and Smith were among the best linebacking duos in the league. Treyvon Huges moves back to linebacker, and sophomore Sione Tupou returns as well after starting early in the 2018 schedule.
Up front, the Miners need to find someone who can bring edge pressure. Two-year starter Trace Mascorro transferred to Sam Houston State, and sneaky productive Mike Sota graduated. Kansas State grad transfer C.J. Reese didn’t squash many grapes in his only year the Sun City. The middle of the defense should be talented with Denzel Chukwukelu, Chris Richardson both back.
Dimel and his staff made inroads in recruiting, putting together their best class in recent memory, nine of their 32 additions came from the JUCO ranks, including seven who play on the defensive side, five in the secondary. Dimel will expect most if not all those transfers to see the field and that evaluation process starts now. Ideally, the Miners would redshirt most of their prep signees, but as was the case last year, necessity often throws those plans out the window.
UTEP opens spring ball tomorrow (March 5th) and wraps up with a spring game on April 13th at the glorious Sun Bowl. They open the 2019 season at home against Houston Baptist.