UTEP's 2010 season can easily be split into two seasons. The first half the Miners went 5-1 and appeared to be on the way to challenging for the C-USA title but then came the second half. The bottom dropped out quickly as the Miners dropped 6 out of their last 7 games. When we look back at the first half of the season it's pretty clear to tell why the Miners got off to such a good start- all of their wins came against teams that finished with losing records. In fact, with SMU finishing 7-7 they didn't beat a team with a winning record all year long. But let's not be too harsh on the Miners, remember that they finished 4-8 last year so they did make a two game improvement. It's clear that UTEP has to find a way to win on the road (they are 2-10 in the last two years with their wins coming against New Mexico and New Mexico State) and they have to finish the drill (in addition to finishing 1-6 in their last seven in 2010 they finished 2-5 in 2009). One thing UTEP should be proud of is that they made it to their first bowl game since 2005. The next step is to win a bowl game as they haven't won one since 1967 and are 0-5 in their last 5. We talked to Adrian from the SB Nation blog Miner Rush to find out what he thought about the 2010 UTEP Miners and get a quick glimpse into 2011.
In our Pre-Season Preview you said that making a bowl game would make this a successful season for UTEP. After UTEP's slide of losing 6 of their last 7 and finishing 6-7 do you still feel this was a successful season for the Miners?
Probably not. Because I think it was evident that UTEP had the talent to have a stronger year than they did. The Marshall and Tulane losses were hard to stomach. I think the 5-1 start to the season, and improved defensive play under Andre Patterson, gave Miner fans the impression that the team could challenge for the C-USA West Title. UTEP's offense looked the part of an elite C-USA squad.
Then, the wheels fell off. The loss at home to Tulane and especially the "comedy of errors" that was the Marshall loss, really bothered me. The team struggled with injuries, but so did other C-USA squads. So, going into the bowl game, I think a strong effort might have been enough to help us forget the 1-5 record down the stretch. BYU clearly had more talent, but I was stunned at the total lack of a coherent gameplan on offense in the game. UTEP had nothing to lose, seniors across the board, and they didn't show up until the final minutes of the second quarter. The coaches had no new wrinkles to catch BYU off guard. The Miners were crushed in every aspect of the game. It was as poor an effort as I've ever seen from a UTEP squad. So, with the year ending on a note like that, I can't call it a successful season.
What was your favorite moment of the 2010 season?
Probably beating up on the New Mexico schools. Few things are better than watching UTEP pummel the Lobos in Albuquergue and Las Cruces. And, the Miners crushed both of them. Which reminds me to print 2010 New Mexico State Champions T-Shirts.
Which players were the biggest surprises of the season?
Several players had breakout seasons. Miner fans heard good things about cornerback Trevaun Nixon (a Juco transfer); but he exceeded all expectations. He was fiercely aggressive against the run, above average in coverage, and had a nose for the ball. He was an All Conference selection. Also, of all things, punter Ian Campbell didn't join the team until after fall practice started. Yet, he ended up being a national top 20 punter and one of the best in C-USA.
What players are you most looking forward to watching next year?
Nick Lamaison is the first player that comes to mind. He was the junior college player of the year last year and signed with UTEP last week. He previously signed with Tennessee in 2009, but left Knoxville after Lane Kiffin departed to USC. He has all the tools to be a good quarterback and is expected to be the starter heading into spring ball.
Also, return man/receiver Marlon McClure is UTEP's best weapon. He's a threat to take it to the house everytime he touches the ball. I can't wait to see him next year.
What areas does your team need to improve on the most this off-season?
UTEP simply didn't have a pass rush in 2010. The Miners were ranked last in the C-USA for most of the year in tackles for loss and sacks. UTEP showed a lot of improvement on defense as they switched to the 4-3, but the Miners desperately need defensive ends Bernard Obi, Greg Watkins, and the young defensive tackles to improve this offseason. Also, UTEP loses all 5 starting offensive lineman and some key reserves. The Miners signed 2 JUCO lineman, both of whom may start next year. The new line will have to gel and protect UTEP's first new quarterback in 5 seasons.