The Miners are coming off a very lackluster season at 3-9 and saw the retirement of their Head Coach. So, this year they will be breaking in rookie head coach Sean Kugler who was a guard at UTEP back in the 80’s but has not spent any time coaching in the College ranks. Kugler will be taking over a team who is returning 12 starters from last year. There is some hope that the Miners can find a way to get more than three wins, but it will take some work. At least they have a favorable schedule early.
This season they will be breaking in a new quarterback as well as a new coach. There are some questions as to who will win the starting job this season, but odds are the starter will end up being Texas A&M transfer Jameil Showers, who nearly beat out Johnny Manziel last year and played in seven games for the Aggies. Obviously that could be a huge gain for the Miners if he is able to acclimate himself into the offense and win the starting job, but he will have sophomore Blair Sullivan and senior Carson Meger snapping at his heels. They say Sullivan was the favorite coming out of spring ball, but Meger has some experience and started 3 games last year. No matter who wins the starting job, don’t be surprised if all three see some playing time early until a clear cut favorite is selected throughout the season.
Last year the Miners were very inexperienced at running back, but Nathan Jeffery proved to be a pivotal piece to the offense but ended up suffering some injury problems throughout the season that hampered his production. While he looks to remain healthy and the premiere running back this season, there are always guys behind him ready to step up in a moment’s notice and one of those guys is sophomore Autrey golden who had one start last year and looks for some quality playing time this season as well. Both of these guys could see some time on the field and could be a good one-two punch for the Miners offense, throw in Laquintus Dowell and this could be one of the best running back units in Conference USA.
After losing their top receiver from last year, one of the big questions is who will fill in the lower half of the depth chart and be able to compliment Junior Jordan Leslie this season. It looks like Devin Patterson will step up and be able to compliment Leslie this year and with Kevin Perry at tight end, then should be a decent unit and give Showers, or whoever is the starting quarterback the opportunity to get the ball downfield. Hopefully the offensive line, which has three returning starters from last year will be able to keep pressure off of the quarterback and give the receivers a chance to get in position to make a catch. Hopefully the youthful offense can get it going early and be in stride when UTEP gets into the last half of the season.
Luckily for the Miners the defense looks to be a little more experienced and won’t see as big of a drop off from last year. There are 5 returning starters on the defense and there are a couple of guys on the line who could be important to giving the Miners a chance to win. Seniors Marcus Bagley and Germard Reed will anchor the defensive line and should keep the d-line in similar shape as it was at the end of last season. One of the biggest changes to the defense will be senior Horace Miller will be moving from his defensive end position last year to linebacker this year. This move should help to fill in some void and sure up the linebackers into one of the more experienced units on the Miners.
Unfortunately for the Miners the least experienced unit on the defense could prove to be the most costly for them. They lost five of their top eight guys from last season, but hope by bringing in JUCO players like Nick Gathrite could help add a little bit of experience to the secondary. If these guys can gel in fall camp and prepare themselves for some tough passing attacks, then maybe there will be hope for the defensive unit. Hopefully the defense line and linebackers will be able to get enough push to keep the secondary from being exposed by some of the better passing teams the Miners will face.
Either way you slice it, youthful or experienced, you still have to play the schedule you are given, and teams won’t take it easy on you because of a rookie head coach or a youthful team. The Miners should be good enough to surpass their win total from last year, but getting to bowl eligibility will prove to be a tough task since they have five of their last six games on the road to end season. A new coach can breathe a lot of excitement into a program and hopefully that excitement and scheme change could be the difference of winning two games or winning six games.