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Saturday, January 22, 2022
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UTEP 2021 Football Outlook

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Ruben R. Ramirez/UTEP Athletics

History.  Established in 1913 as the State School of Mines and Metallurgy, this second long-standing college in the Texas system has undergone several name and site locations, in 1967 settling onto a 366 acre urban campus in El Paso, a vibrant 680,000 population center roughly 915 miles West of Dallas along the New Mexico border.

It is the nation’s second largest college to enroll a majority — now close to 80% — Mexican-American student body.  Dating to the early 1950s, UTEP was the first major college to racially integrate its athletic programs.

Further noteworthy is campus architecture, patterned after the Dzong style common to Tibetan Buddhist Monasteries.  Rarely seen in the U.S., it features sloping sides, widely overhanging roofs, and streaking bands of color. UTEP’s 25,000-odd student body seems well acclimated, and designers extended the art even to the 1963 opening of the Sun Bowl, a 51,000 seat capacity gem serving as home field to Miners’ gridiron play, a Division 1 participant.

Competing as it now does in the Western Division of Conference USA — among the likes of Louisiana Tech, U of Alabama Birmingham, and closer to home Rice and Univ of Texas San Antonio — UTEP’s gridiron efforts over the immediately prior 20-25 campaigns have failed to attain any consistent success.  Stumbling to winless Conference play in 2020 and an accompanying 3-5 overall mark are typical of the history.  Not since 2005 has there been a National Top 25 Ranking (24), and the most recent Bowl appearance was The New Mexico following the Miners 7-6 mark in 2014.  All-American designations have been rare, and a Heisman Award has yet to emerge. Those faithful to an Institution doing so many things so well at so many different levels are entitled to hope for a “pigskin pickup.” Reasons exist for a measure of gratification to be near at hand.

Ahead.  Head coach Dana Dimel’s 2018 return was unmistakably aimed at a fortune reversal. The past season was marred by, in addition to its record, unusually tough Covid-19 related disruptions. Now entering the Fourth of a Five Year Contract, Dimel’s 2020 squad was in fact competitive in many of its games, two of the losses coming by fewer than four points.  From that group all eleven starters on offense are slated to return.

This includes red shirt Sophomore Gavin Hardison under center, who last Fall tossed for a 54.3% completion rate, good for over 1,400 yards and five TD strikes; locally grown Deion Hankins, whose 4.9 yards per carry average earned him nine trips to the end zone; and Arizona native wide receiver Jacob Crowing with big play instincts, hauling in 49 throws at 17 yards per reception. On the other side of the ball, red shirt Sophomore Defensive Linemen Praise Amaewhule (7 sacks) and Keenan Stewart (34 tackles) will each be good to have on board.

Several are still pending but likely transfers should impart further strength.  As the Aug. 28 Season opener in Las Cruces, NM now looms fewer than two weeks downstream, they may be needed.  Yet an additional challenge facing Dimel is the fusion of a revised coaching staff, as coordinators on both sides of the ball were replaced, along with the retirement of Special Teams coach Joe Robinson.

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