The big 2014 UTEP football preview: A second first year

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Head coach Sean Kugler's first year at UTEP was doomed by poor depth, experience, size, and health. But hey, other than that, it went pretty well!

SB Nation 2014 College Football Countdown

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. There are worse things than being stuck in a rut

It's a concept I bring up a few times each year in my preview series: Glen Mason Territory. A coach experiences greater-than-usual success at a school and hits a bit of a plateau. The program cruises along at a higher level than normal but doesn't raise its level again, and impatience builds.

Mike Price began his UTEP career in 2004 and immediately ripped off back-to-back eight-win seasons. The Miners spent parts of both 2004 and 2005 ranked in the AP top 25 and reached as many bowls in that span (two) as they had from 1968 to 2003. Over the next six seasons, UTEP sank, but Price continued to win at a higher level than his predecessors. UTEP reached another bowl in 2010, but from 2010-12 the Miners basically put the same mediocre product on the field, and Price retired after a 3-9 campaign in 2012.

The namesake of Glen Mason Territory was fired from Minnesota after seasons of 7-5, 7-5, and 6-7. The year after Mason left, the Gophers went 1-11. Either because a new coach inherits a program with crumbling infrastructure, or because it takes a hell of a coaching job just to achieve at a mediocre level at a certain program, a team can experience a significant drop-off when it finally gets rid of its Glen Mason.

This is a long way of saying that in its first year without Mike Price, UTEP won the same numbers of games as it had the year before Price arrived in El Paso: two. Sean Kugler was able to patch together a decent offense until his quarterback got hurt, but a paper-thin defense became a non-existent one over time, and UTEP played like perhaps the worst team in the country over the final month or so of the season.

Because of injuries, however, Kugler gets a mulligan. In 2014, he has a chance to prove that it doesn't take a superhuman coaching effort simply to reach 5-7 on Glory Road.

2013 Schedule & Results

Record: 2-10 | Adj. Record: 0-12 | Final F/+ Rk: 119
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L 5-gm Adj. Avg.
7-Sep New Mexico 110 35-42 L 25.1 - 41.2 L
14-Sep at New Mexico State 122 42-21 W 19.8 - 45.3 L
21-Sep UTSA 67 13-32 L 14.3 - 32.9 L
28-Sep at Colorado State 66 42-59 L 32.0 - 49.2 L
5-Oct Louisiana Tech 112 35-38 L 31.3 - 40.4 L -17.3
12-Oct Tulsa 94 20-34 L 24.5 - 44.8 L -18.2
26-Oct at Rice 69 7-45 L 28.6 - 44.2 L -16.2
2-Nov at Texas A&M 23 7-57 L 5.1 - 37.7 L -19.0
9-Nov at North Texas 51 7-41 L 8.8 - 33.4 L -20.4
16-Nov Florida International 125 33-10 W 28.1 - 28.9 L -18.8
23-Nov at Tulane 70 3-45 L 15.9 - 51.7 L -21.9
30-Nov at Middle Tennessee 85 17-48 L 21.7 - 47.8 L -24.0
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk Spec. Tms. Rk
F/+ -8.6% 97 -24.5% 124 +0.3% 58
Points Per Game 21.8 102 39.3 118
Adj. Points Per Game 21.3 111 41.5 122

2. A new level of bad

Texas A&M transfer Jameill Showers didn't light the world on fire at UTEP, but he was certainly a competent quarterback. He averaged almost six yards per pass attempt with sketchy protection, and he averaged 6.1 yards per carry not including sacks. With Showers behind center, UTEP averaged at least 5.4 yards per play in five of its first seven games and scored at least 20 points five times. That's not amazing, but it's not atrocious.

But then Showers was lost to a shoulder injury, and bad things happened. Replacement Blaire Sullivan threw some interceptions and was demoted. A pair of freshmen took their turns at the wheel with middling results. An awful defense improved a hair down the stretch, but it wasn't enough to offset drastic offensive regression.

Adj. Points Per Game (first 7 games): Opponent 42.6, UTEP 25.1 (minus-17.5)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 5 games): Opponent 39.9, UTEP 15.9 (minus-24.0)

Adjusted Score looks at how a team would have performed against a perfectly average opponent in a given week. Over the final five games of the season, UTEP would have lost to this average opponent by an average of 24 points. Average (actual) score of the last five road games of the season: Home Team 47, UTEP 8.

This wasn't a fun season. Between injuries and the attrition often associated with a head coach's first season (and an attempted culture change), UTEP was too thin, too inexperienced, and too small. We'll see how much can change in a single offseason.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.14 67 IsoPPP+ 92.5 101
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 38.7% 99 Succ. Rt. + 85.9 111
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 30.4 82 Def. FP+ 97.4 84
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.9 94 Redzone S&P+ 86.3 108
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 18.5 ACTUAL 18 -0.5
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 105 106 112 117
RUSHING 46 98 96 85
PASSING 112 112 117 117
Standard Downs 102 104 104
Passing Downs 111 111 97
Q1 Rk 119 1st Down Rk 115
Q2 Rk 123 2nd Down Rk 116
Q3 Rk 56 3rd Down Rk 109
Q4 Rk 114

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Jameill Showers 6'2, 230 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 107 188 1263 11 4 56.9% 14 6.9% 5.8
Mack Leftwich 5'10, 190 So. 2 stars (5.2) 44 75 458 2 2 58.7% 10 11.8% 4.6
Blaire Sullivan


15 26 183 1 4 57.7% 2 7.1% 6.2
Garrett Simpson 6'7, 250 So. 2 stars (5.4) 3 3 55 0 0 100.0% 0 0.0% 18.3

3. A potentially solid attack with Showers

Again, Showers wasn't exactly performing at an all-conference level when he went down. At 11.8 yards per completion, you should be completing about 65 percent of your passes, not 57. And you definitely shouldn't be taking sacks on seven percent of your pass attempts. So Showers certainly still has some improvement he can make.

Still, it says something that UTEP's performance regressed by more than five adjusted points after his injury, and it doesn't only say that his backups weren't ready. With a year of experience within Kugler's and offensive coordinator Patrick Higgins' system, and with a wealth of weapons next to him in the backfield, he should be able to post pretty good numbers this fall.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
Opp.
Rate
Aaron Jones RB 5'10, 185 So. 2 stars (5.4) 155 811 4 5.2 4.5 41.9%
Nathan Jeffery RB 6'0, 210 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 133 532 5 4.0 5.3 21.8%
Jameill Showers QB 6'2, 230 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 47 286 4 6.1 3.3 53.2%
Autrey Golden RB 5'11, 180 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 43 150 1 3.5 4.0 27.9%
Jeremiah Laufasa
(Washington State)
RB 6'0, 215 Jr. NR 35 157 7 4.5 2.3 42.9%
Blaire Sullivan QB


33 181 0 5.5 10.8 33.3%
Darrin Laufasa RB 6'1, 235 So. 2 stars (5.3) 26 137 2 5.3 6.5 34.6%
Josh Bell RB 6'0, 220 Sr. NR 25 85 0 3.4 1.6 32.0%
Mack Leftwich QB 5'10, 190 So. 2 stars (5.2) 21 65 0 3.1 2.7 19.0%
LaQuintus Dowell DB 5'10, 205 Jr. NR 19 135 1 7.1 8.7 36.8%
David Hamm RB 6'0, 220 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)
Treyvon Hughes RB 5'11, 220 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)

4. Plenty of options at RB

UTEP wanted to run as much as possible in 2013, and it's not hard to see why. Patrick Higgins has experience in pass-happy offenses, but Showers is a relatively mobile quarterback (he averaged about seven non-sack carries per game), and after Showers went down, there was perhaps an understandable urge to protect young, error-prone quarterbacks with a heavy dose of rushing.

Beyond that, however, there's another reason to want to run the ball: the Miners have pretty decent running backs.

The backfield is crowded. Granted, the backs couldn't stay healthy in 2013 (who could on this team?), but Nathan Jeffery has shown solid explosiveness in the open field (when he can get there), and Aaron Jones was quite efficient for a freshman. Autrey Golden is a former star recruit and a great return man, and Darrin Laufasa showed strong potential in minimal opportunities. They could be joined by Laufasa's brother Jeremiah, a Washington State transfer, if his immediate-play waiver is granted. Plus, two of 2014's more highly touted recruits (David Hamm and Treyvon Hughes) are running backs. This is easily the deepest position on the team.

One should expect a heavy dose of running again this fall, not only because of the depth of the running back position, but because of the lack thereof at wide receiver. Star receiver Jordan Leslie used a graduate transfer and will be playing for BYU this year; his per-target averages weren't amazing and could honestly be matched by big senior Ian Hamilton, but it's a bit of a mystery figuring out who might be capable of then matching both Hamilton's and Devin Patterson's production. After Hamilton, the leading returning wideout, Malcolm Trail, had three catches last year. Tight end Eric Tomlinson's efficiency will help, but this is a shaky unit.

One fun tidbit: receiver Brandon Moss appears to be turning some heads this spring. He caught zero passes as a freshman ... but did punt five times.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Jordan Leslie WR-Z


77 44 612 57.1% 27.6% 48.5% 7.9 45 8.7 67.5
Eric Tomlinson TE 6'7, 265 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 44 30 304 68.2% 15.8% 61.8% 6.9 -49 6.0 33.5
Ian Hamilton WR-X 6'5, 225 Sr. NR 39 25 354 64.1% 14.0% 55.2% 9.1 51 10.9 39.0
Devin Patterson WR-X


27 18 211 66.7% 9.7% 58.8% 7.8 -3 8.5 23.3
Craig Wenrick TE 20 10 180 50.0% 7.2% 58.3% 9.0 41 6.5 19.8
Josh Bell RB 6'0, 220 Sr. NR 19 13 91 68.4% 6.8% 41.7% 4.8 -62 5.3 10.0
Darrin Laufasa RB 6'1, 235 So. 2 stars (5.3) 11 8 29 72.7% 3.9% 44.4% 2.6 -62 3.1 3.2
Kevin Perry TE 11 5 34 45.5% 3.9% 55.6% 3.1 -39 2.8 3.7
Malcolm Trail WR-Z 6'1, 200 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 8 3 31 37.5% 2.9% 66.7% 3.9 -18 5.4 3.4
Aaron Jones RB 5'10, 185 So. 2 stars (5.4) 7 4 14 57.1% 2.5% 60.0% 2.0 -38 2.3 1.5
Katrae Ford TE 6'5, 250 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 4 3 24 75.0% 1.4% 0.0% 6.0 -10 0.9 2.6
Nathan Jeffery RB 6'0, 210 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 4 2 23 50.0% 1.4% 50.0% 5.8 -5 5.7 2.5
Autrey Golden RB 5'11, 180 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 3 2 38 66.7% 1.1% N/A 12.7 14 0.0 4.2
Jim Jones WR


3 1 9 33.3% 1.1% 0.0% 3.0 -9 2.0 1.0
Peter Carreon WR 2 1 5 50.0% 0.7% N/A 2.5 -9 0.0 0.6
Brandon Moss WR 6'3, 190 So. 2 stars (5.2)
Nick Jones TE 6'7, 260 Jr. 2 stars








Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 98.7 3.11 3.3 33.7% 73.7% 14.0% 62.5 7.3% 10.7%
Rank 80 42 58 114 36 9 117 110 106
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Career Starts Honors/Notes
Brander Craighead LT 35
Jerel Watkins LT 6'3, 295 Sr. 2 stars (5) 29
Kyle Brown RT 6'2, 285 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 24
Paulo Melendez C 6'3, 305 Sr. NR 12
Mike Amdall RT 12
Christian Harper RT 6'4, 285 So. 2 stars (5.3) 3
Jerome Daniels LG 6'3, 295 So. 2 stars (5.4) 1
Chris Thomas LT 6'4, 325 Jr. NR 0
Eric Lee C 6'1, 295 Jr. NR 0
James Robinson RG 0
Derek Elmendorff OL 6'3, 295 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3)
Will Hernandez OL 6'3, 305 RSFr. NR

5. A line as good as its backs

Obviously line stats are only partially reflective of the line itself; if your running back dances too much in the backfield, or if he doesn't properly follow blocks downfield, it's going to reflect poorly in the line stats above. But the fact that UTEP's Stuff Rate (stops in the backfield) was great and its Opportunity Rate (percentage of runs that gain at least five yards) was awful suggests that UTEP's line was competent but couldn't get much of a push. If you look back at the rushing stats above, you see that Nathan Jeffery's Opportunity Rate was half of Aaron Jones', suggesting he perhaps dances a bit too much, but UTEP's focus on weight gain in the offseason certainly gives merit to the "not much of a push" theory.

Most of the offensive linemen above have put on 10 pounds or more in the offseason. Starting guards Jerel Watkins and Kyle Brown, neither of whom are 300-pounders, have moved outside to replace last year's starting tackles and make way for perhaps bigger guards like redshirt freshmen Derek Elmendorff or Will Hernandez in the starting lineup. Aaron Jones appears to be a nice follower of blocks (with minimal explosiveness), but giving his blockers a little bit more heft can't hurt.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.39 122 IsoPPP+ 77.7 125
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 48.5% 114 Succ. Rt. + 82.9 116
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 27.8 104 Off. FP+ 97.5 88
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 5.4 122 Redzone S&P+ 80.8 117
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 16.0 ACTUAL 12.0 -4.0
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 109 123 116 120
RUSHING 119 119 109 114
PASSING 49 124 113 116
Standard Downs 122 115 123
Passing Downs 124 114 126
Q1 Rk 126 1st Down Rk 124
Q2 Rk 121 2nd Down Rk 119
Q3 Rk 120 3rd Down Rk 124
Q4 Rk 104

6. When the 4-2-5 is bad, the 4-2-5 is the worst

Really, the UTEP defense was doomed from the start. Kugler's first choice for defensive coordinator, Jeff Choate, installed a 3-4 defense last spring, then left for a special teams job with Florida. Kugler hired Scott Stoker over the summer, and Stoker installed a 4-2-5.

The 4-2-5 puts a lot of demands on its personnel. First, you need a big line that can hold up to run blocking without help. Second, you need a wealth of interesting safeties. UTEP had neither of these things. And if you don't have the right personnel for the 4-2-5, you end up with a defense that doesn't have enough meat to avoid getting pushed around and doesn't have enough speed to make up the difference.

Yes, any scheme has its natural assets and liabilities, but it seems that a lot of defenses struggle mightily when switching to this permanent nickel look. UTEP was no different. Safety Richard Spencer was injured, then suspended. Wesley Miller was healthy for only four games. None -- none! -- of the top 12 tacklers played in all 12 games. UTEP didn't have the personnel to properly pull off a 6-3-2 defense, much less a 4-2-5.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 84.7 3.44 4.09 48.6% 71.4% 15.7% 86.6 2.4% 7.9%
Rank 120 119 122 123 90 105 89 113 40
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
James Davidson DE 12 33.5 5.6% 6.0 3.0 0 0 1 0
Marcus Bagley NT 12 33.0 5.5% 4.5 2.0 0 1 0 0
Roy Robertson-Harris DE 6'7, 255 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 12 23.0 3.8% 6.0 3.5 0 2 0 0
Silas Firstley DE 6'1, 265 So. 2 stars (5.2) 10 17.5 2.9% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Germard Reed DT 8 16.5 2.8% 2.0 1.0 0 0 1 0
Gino Bresolin DT 6'2, 285 So. 2 stars (5.2) 7 11.0 1.8% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Nick Usher DE 6'3, 235 So. 2 stars (5.3) 12 11.0 1.8% 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Adam Ayala DE 9 9.0 1.5% 2.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Maurice Chavis DT 6'1, 275 Sr. NR 6 4.0 0.7% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Devante Richardson NT 6'2, 290 So. 3 stars (5.5)
Brian Madunezim DE 6'3, 260 So. 2 stars (5.2)
Dewan Edmonson DT 6'1, 285 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)
Alex Villarreal DT 6'4, 300 Jr. 3 stars (5.5)
Jason Fao NG 6'0, 300 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)






7. Bulking up

When UTEP was able to leverage opponents into passing downs, the Miners put together a decent pass rush, ranking 40th in Passing Downs Sack Rate. Of course, they still allowed too many big plays for that to matter (126th, dead last, in Passing Downs PPP+), and they couldn't really force any passing downs anyway.

UTEP was bereft of talent, experience, or heft in 2013; in 2014, the Miners are at least doing something about the heft. As with the offensive line, most of the above returnees have put on 10 pounds, and some have put on 20. This isn't guaranteed to help, and the four returning defensive tackles still average a listed weight of just 284 pounds, but it's a start. And if 300-pound JUCO transfer Alex Villareal is ready to play at an FBS level out of the gates, that's even better.

This isn't going to become a good line overnight, but Robertson-Harris certainly looks the part, and despite the loss of three of the top five tacklers, this unit isn't going to be any worse.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Anthony Puente MIKE 5'11, 225 Sr. NR 12 45.0 7.5% 2.0 0.5 0 1 0 0
Horace Miller WILL 12 34.5 5.8% 1.5 1.0 0 1 0 0
A.J. Ropati MIKE 12 18.0 3.0% 2.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
DeAndre Little (2012) LB 6'2, 240 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 11 16.5 2.4% 2.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Trey Brown WILL 6'0, 215 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 12 11.0 1.8% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
David Logston LB 7 3.0 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Michael Kelley LB 10 3.0 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Cooper Foster LB 6'1, 210 So. 2 stars (5.4) 11 1.5 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jimmy Musgrave LB 6'0, 235 Jr. 2 stars (5.3)
Alvin Jones LB 5'10, 210 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3)
Lawrence Montegut LB 6'1, 220 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)
Justen Tatum LB 6'1, 240 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)






Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Devin Cockrell FS 5'11, 185 So. 2 stars (5.2) 11 60.5 10.1% 1.5 0 1 2 0 0
Dashone Smith WS 6'0, 200 So. 3 stars (5.5) 11 53.5 8.9% 1.5 0 2 1 1 0
Ishmael Harrison CB 6'0, 195 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 11 28.0 4.7% 1.5 0 0 3 0 0
Jameel Erving SS 6'1, 205 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 10 23.0 3.8% 4 0 0 3 0 0
Demarcus Kizzie FS


9 23.0 3.8% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Richard Spencer S 3 19.0 3.2% 2.5 1 0 0 2 1
Traun Roberson WS 6'0, 195 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 11 17.5 2.9% 1 0 0 0 1 0
Wesley Miller FS 5'10, 195 Sr. NR 4 16.5 2.8% 1.5 0 0 5 0 0
Quinton Tezeno CB 5'11, 170 So. 2 stars (5.4) 10 15.0 2.5% 0 0 0 4 0 0
Nick Gathrite CB 5'9, 175 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 11 14.0 2.3% 0 0 0 3 0 0
Adrian James CB 6'0, 195 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 9 12.5 2.1% 2 0 0 3 0 0
Da'Carlos Renfro DB 5'10, 175 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 5 8.0 1.3% 0 0 0 0 1 0
Leon Hayes SS 5'10, 200 So. 2 stars (5.3) 12 7.5 1.3% 0 0 0 0 1 0
LaQuintus Dowell S 5'10, 205 Jr. NR







8. So. Many. Big plays.

UTEP allowed 81 gains of at least 20 yards in 2013, 124th in the country. The Miners allowed 40 gains of at least 30 yards (118th), 22 of at least 40 yards (117th), 12 of at least 50 yards (112th), eight of at least 60 yards (116th), and five of at least 70 yards (118th). They played a safety-heavy defense with almost no healthy safeties; freshmen ended up No. 1 and No. 2 on the team in tackles.

This was just a disaster in every possible way. But with experience comes a little bit of hope. Devin Cockrell and Dashone Smith, the aforementioned freshman leaders, are sophomores now, and senior safety Jameel Erving has shown some play-making potential (four tackles for loss, three pass break-ups) amid the breakdowns. Plus, this personnel has now played in this system. It's not new anymore. There's no reason to think this defense will improve dramatically, but it should certainly take at least one step forward in 2014.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Mike Ruggles 6'6, 210 So. 57 40.2 2 17 16 57.9%
Brandon Moss 6'3, 190 So. 5 38.6 0 0 0 0.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Jay Mattox 6'0, 185 So. 53 61.2 22 0 41.5%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Jay Mattox 6'0, 185 So. 32-32 5-10 50.0% 2-5 40.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Autrey Golden KR 5'11, 180 Jr. 28 27.9 2
Josh Bell KR 6'0, 220 Sr. 10 22.1 0
Jim Jones PR

16 5.4 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 59
Field Goal Efficiency 119
Punt Return Efficiency 78
Kick Return Efficiency 11
Punt Efficiency 40
Kickoff Efficiency 25
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 58

9. Field position weapons

UTEP's defense was awful early, and the offense was awful late, and both units squandered a ready-made field position advantage in the form of quality kicking and returns. Punter Mike Ruggles kicked high, kicker Jay Mattox kicked long, and Autrey Golden was one of the best kick returners in the country; they all return, as well. Granted, this unit as a whole was dragged down by Mattox's scatter-shot place-kicking (5-for-10 under 40 yards isn't going to cut it), but he was a freshman.

2014 Schedule & Projection Factors

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
30-Aug at New Mexico 116
6-Sep Texas Tech 47
13-Sep New Mexico State 124
27-Sep at Kansas State 42
4-Oct at Louisiana Tech 98
11-Oct Old Dominion NR
25-Oct at UTSA 75
1-Nov Southern Miss 110
8-Nov at Western Kentucky 91
15-Nov North Texas 94
21-Nov at Rice 88
29-Nov Middle Tennessee 99
Five-Year F/+ Rk -17.7% (110)
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 124
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* -6 / -2.5
TO Luck/Game -1.5
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 14 (8, 6)

10. It probably won't get worse

Freshmen become sophomores, and injuries usually heal. That's just about the best news one can deliver for UTEP in 2014. There's no massive talent infusion, but after fighting through experience, depth, and health issues in 2013, the Miners will be more experienced, deeper, and (probably) healthier this fall. They are bigger in the trenches, even deeper at running back, and more experienced in the secondary, and last year's new offensive and defensive systems are no longer new.

Granted, the schedule isn't particularly forgiving, featuring just four teams projected worse than 98th, but improvement on the field should be reflected at least a little bit in the win-loss record.

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