This is the First installment of 'know your foe' a series of post with things you may or may not know about the teams the the Buffalo Bulls will be running over this season.
UTEP has been through several name changes in its near one hundred year history. The Texas State School of Mines and Metallurgy (1914-1919), U.T. Department of Mines and Metallurgy (1919-1920), Texas College of Mines and Metallurgy (1920-1949), Texas Western (1949-1967), The University of Texas at El Paso (1967-2009). That's a new name every nineteen years, clearly the school is overdue for another change before kickoff.
Perhaps UTEP is best known for their 1966 NCAA basketball championship (a team starting five African American basketball players defeated an all white Kentucky team). The men's basketball team dominated the WAC through the seventies, eighties, and early nineties but have only made it to the NCAA tournaments twice since 1992.
Their athletic legacy is more tied up in low profile sports like Track and Cross Country. During the seventies and early eighties the Miners won seven cross country championships (eight if you count the vacated 1983 championship) and thirteen track championships (7 indoor and 6 outdoor).
A coach paying out more than sixty thousand dollars to athletes led the NCAA strip the Cross Country team of their 1983 championship and keep the Miners out of National Championships in Track (outdoor and indoor) and Cross Country for three seasons. Due to this 'death penalty', many talented athletes like, for example, Cliff Felkinsleft UTEP so they could compete for titles with other schools. The 1983 scandal is something from which the program has never fully recovered.
The School fielded a football team in its first year of existence, despite having a student body of only 27 strong UTEP football finished 2-2. All time the miners rank 114th among active FBS football programs (354-512-29). While things initially seemed to be improving under Mike Price with two 8-4 seasons and bowl appearances UTEP has struggled as of late going 9-16 over its last two season.
Series History and Last Meeting:
These two teams met for the first time last season when the Miners made the trip up to Western New York. In that game the Bulls pulled away in the second half outscoring UTEP 21-3. It was the game UB needed to start their run at a winning record, outright division title, conference title, and bowl game in their best seaons since rejoing Division one Football.
On offense Drew Willy finished the game with four touchdowns, James Starks Rolled off 179 yards (his backup Brandon Thermilus gained 102 yards), and Naamman Roosevelt had 154 yards and two touchdowns. Defensively UB picked off Trevor Vittatoe three times and sacked him twice.
Whats Changed for them:
There will be a change in the backfield for UTEP, out is Terrell Jackson and in comes the rest of last years committee including slash (remember him) style WR/QB James Thomas II. Running Backs Coach Jeff Banks would really like to have a solid number one back this year :
"You always hope to have someone emerge as a go-to-guy," Banks said. "And by that I mean someone who can get you 25-30 carries a game, get into a rhythm and feed off the fact that he has more reps than the other guys."
The main three candidates vying for the number one slot are Donald Buckram, Juco Transfer Leilyon Myers, or Jason Williams. Buckram is a bit smaller than Williams and Myers but he has good speed, should it go to Williams or Myers expect a power running game.
Aside from the running game there is not going to be a whole lot of change to UTEP's offense. on Defense the Miners are going to be really green at the linebacker. Two of the three linebackers this year will be first time starters. Inexperienced linebackers could prove to be a soft spot James Starks can exploit, if Starks does have a big game it will take allot of pressure off of Maynard in his first start.
Why to be optimistic:
Last years match up provides allot of reason to be optimistic. This is pretty much the same UTEP defense the Buffalo had its way with last season. There have been no substantial upgrades to this team whatsoever especially on the defensive side of the ball where the Miners were pushed around all night.
On the flip side UB returns a defensive secondary that kept Vittatoe under two hundred yards and picked him off three times. The new faces on the front seven are bigger and faster than last years squad which kept UTEP to 67 yards on the ground and kept UTEP at seven of sixteen on third downs.
Why to be pessimistic:
For UTEP, particularly Vittatoe, last years offensive showing at Buffalo was an outlier. It was the only full game in which he was under 250 yards, and one of only two times where he put up more pics than touchdowns. He seemed to get better as the year went on and is coming back with almost his entire offense.
Also on offense there is Leilyon Myers, he was highly recruited and signed with Washington before failing to qualify. UTEP picking him up after one year of JUCO is an absolute steal, he can be the back that Jeff Banks and Mike Price have been waiting for.
Finally there is the fact this is a road game, along way from home in what will be a very loud stadium. The sunbowl is usually packed with more than 40 thousand people halfway into a mediocre season. Its pretty likely they will break fifty thousand this year.
Game Category: (Very Important Game)
This is one of two road games against conference USA teams, UB needs to at the very least split these games. If UB can win this game it will relieve allot of pressure on the team going into the game against UCF an maybe even for Pittsburgh the following week. If UB loses its not really too much of a set back but will be a lost opportunity.
Buffalo 38 - UTEP 24
Who Will Win?