The Miners rank No. 130 in Athlon's Top 130 for 2018
UTEP's disastrous 2017 was all about its offense. The coordinator was fired three weeks in, head coach Sean Kugler was out the door two weeks after that, and the Miners went on to finish dead last nationally in points scored and yards gained. That led to a coaching search, and there was never any doubt that the hire -- in this case Kansas State offensive coordinator Dana Dimel -- was going to have a mind for offense.
Previewing UTEP Football's Offense for 2018
Upon arrival, Dimel didn't mince any words about the task at hand. "We're taking over an offense that was [last in the nation]. The concerns are on offense," Dimel says. "We want to develop the offensive line and wide receiver positions and quarterback. Those are the three biggest things."
Quarterback is obviously the first priority, and to that end, one of Dimel's first coups was getting NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year Kai Locksley to transfer in from Iowa Western. Locksley, however, did not secure the job in the spring, as Ryan Metz, the closest thing to an incumbent, actually seemed to have a slight edge. Metz has been good when put into reasonable situations, which did not happen at any point last season.
Elsewhere on the offense, there's a lot returning. The stable of running backs includes Quardraiz Wadley, Joshua Fields and running-back-turned-linebacker-turned-running-back-again Treyvon Hughes, as UTEP will take another stab at replacing all-time rushing leader Aaron Jones, now two years gone.
There are a lot of receivers back, none of whom were particularly productive in 2017, but a new offense that actually uses them could only help. Warren Redix, Kavika Johnson and Eddie Sinegal have seen the field a lot in their careers, if not the ball. If UTEP is to make a jump, it has to start in the passing attack.
The line will build around center Derron Gatewood and tackles Jerrod Brooks and Greg Long. UTEP will looks for new guards, including one to replace the school's best-ever lineman, Will Hernandez.
Previewing UTEP Football's Defense for 2018
Until last year, the defense was the scapegoat for all the Miners' struggles, but it was actually decent last year, especially considering how much it had to be on the field.
Much is back, but as seems to happen every other year, the system is changing, this time to a 4-2-5.
Having five defensive backs on the field fits UTEP's personnel. The secondary will be anchored by a cornerback trio of Nik Needham, Kalon Beverly and Justin Rogers that is as good as any in Conference USA. The safety position also starts strong with Michael Lewis and Kahani Smith.
The questions, as always, are on the defensive line, which has rarely been productive for a stretch that dates back before the current candidates were born. Denzel Chukwukelu, Trace Mascorro and Chris Richardson had good springs on the line, while a large cast of linebackers who saw time in last year's 3-4 compete for those two spots.
Previewing UTEP Football's Specialists for 2018
All is wide open, except at punt returner, where Terry Juniel could be one of the better ones in C-USA. Jason Filley rates as an incumbent at placekicker. UTEP struggled there last season until he settled down a bit late, though true freshman Gavin Baechle will be expected to compete.
Things can only get better, both for a new-look offense that will put a premium on creativity, and for the final record, where any wins would represent infinite progress. Wins figure to be hard to come by, but a step forward shouldn't be, as UTEP begins a massive rebuild.