EL PASO, Texas - When the Miners get to the final game of their non-conference season, there is no question they will have their toughest matchup against a powerful Wisconsin Badger team. UTEP fans are hoping the team will be healthy and ready to go for this matchup, but there's no question the Badgers could run all over the Miners, literally.
No. 1: With last year's break out star Russell Wilson gone, who do the badgers replace at the quarterback position? From the looks of things, Wisconsin's starting quarterback should be redshirt junior Danny O'Brien barring any issues he might have in the starting role over the first three games of their season. Not until recently was he named to the starting position after being engaged in a 3-way battle with Curt Phillips and Joel Stave. However, just because O'Brien was named the starter doesn't mean there isn't a chance the Miners might face someone else.
The Maryland transfer has yet to take a snap with his new team and while some may say he will create magic like Wilson last year, there is still much to be seen.
No 2.: What should UTEP expect from Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball? Quite simply, Ball will run till there's no tomorrow and that's pretty much how he wrapped up the nod for the Heisman last year.
This season is already a little different. At the beginning of August Ball was assaulted by five males (according to police reports) and as a result, he was held out of the first week of practice before returning and wearing a no-hit jersey. According to reports, he has said he is ready for their first game against Northern Iowa, but you have to believe there is a bit of worry as to how quickly he will get into game shape.
During his absence, James White, Melvin Gordon, Vonte Jackson and Jeff Lewis were given many of the reps during practice and it would make sense there would be some kind of rotation of backs until Ball is back at 100%.
No. 3: How will the Miners fair against the Badger defense? Of all the questions I have in front of me to answer, this one is probably the hardest to predict mainly because no one knows what UTEP is going to look like at this point in the season, especially after playing Oklahoma, Ole Miss and NMSU. The concern at this point will be the status of players and their injuries.
Sadly, much of this is predicated on an offensive line that already has it's center, Eloy Atkinson dealing with knee soreness and swelling. Everyone saw what a problem that was or UTEP last season and one can only hope it doesn't happen again. Brander Craighead and Jerel Watkins seem to be back at full strength. The three of them will have to anchor the offensive line and more importantly, give time for Nick Lamaison to find a wide receiver or tight end.
There's potential for the Miners to hang with the Badger defense, especially if we see a late-game collapse from their secondary like there was last season and cost Wisconsin an undefeated season.
No. 4: Who should the Miners be concerned about then on Wisconsin defense? There's no question what makes the Badger defense click are their linebackers. They return Mike Taylor and Chris Borland to the line up this season and they are a force to be reckoned with. Between the two, they had 293 tackles and assists with 4.5 sacks last season. UTEP will have to key in on the duo early and often if they want to nullify them to make big plays.
No. 5: Can UTEP get the win? Without spoiling this week's predictions from the staff, I think it's safe to say from my ealier comments on KROD and in other discussions that I have felt this was the game everyone should really be worried about as Miner fans because Wisconsin is simply a bigger, stronger and very physical team. They can, and probably will, beat the snot out of the Miners. I really don't see a win coming.
As one person put it to me about the three big non-conference opponents, Oklahoma is a team that will throw the ball and find ways around you to get the win. Ole Miss will be a team the Miners can match up with. Wisconsin is neither and they will go THROUGH you. Let's just hope UTEP can fly home with little to no injuries because it could be a very long day with Montee Ball running the ball.