EL PASO, Texas - After a long offseason the moment has finally arrived as UTEP kicks off their season against the fourth-ranked Oklahoma Sooners in highly anticipated home opener in the Sun Bowl tomorrow night. Not exactly the most favorable matchup to start the 2012 season, but Coach Mike Price and the Miners are ready to put their best foot forward against the BCS powerhouse.
No. 1: After a disappointing last half of the season in 2011, what are the expectations in Norman this season? Like every year, Sooner fans expect their football program to compete in the Big 12 championship. After a 6-0 start last season Oklahoma seemed to be headed back to a BCS game, but after a surprising loss to Texas Tech that ended their quest for an undefeated season the Sooners stumbled to a 9-3 finish culminating with an invite to the Insight Bowl.
Although Oklahoma finished with 10 wins after a bowl win versus Iowa, fans were left with a bad taste in their mouths and are expecting at least a return to the Big 12 title game along with a BCS bowl invite. The Sooners have a tough schedule with five ranked teams on their schedule, but they should be favored in every game this season and have a good chance to be one of the two teams vying for a national championship come January.
No. 2: Any chance the Miner defense can slow down Heisman hopeful Landry Jones? Not likely. Jones will be the best quarterback the Miners will face all season and unfortunately there are no tune up games for the secondary to prepare for the aerial attack the Sooners will unleash this Saturday.
Jones has so many weapons at the skilled positions that this game could turn into a track meet. The only chance the Miners have of slowing down the Oklahoma offense needs to come from the defensive line and linebackers. Those two units must put enough pressure on Jones to make him uncomfortable and force him into mistakes.
No. 3: Will the Sun Bowl have any empty seats come Saturday? As of last Thursday, UTEP reported there are 14,000 seats remaining for the Oklahoma game and with an extra surge by the local fans that elusive sellout could be within grasp prior to kickoff. A packed house would be great, but anything over 48,000 would be a success and make for an exciting atmosphere for the nationally televised event under the Sun Bowl lights.
No. 4: Who could be the X-factor for the Miner offense? Most would say quarterback Nick Lamaison and no one would argue, but more importantly UTEP must find a way to run the football and limit the time the Oklahoma offense is on the field.
Starting tailback Nathan Jeffrey has the ability to cause some problems for the stout Oklahoma run defense and must find away to break through that first level and get into the secondary to take the pressure off the passing game.
No. 5: Can the Miners turn back the clock to 1985 and pull off the greatest upset in school history? As much as UTEP fans would love to see the Miners knock off another top ten-ranked team similar to the monumental upset over BYU 27 years ago the odds are stacked against them. 4-47 against ranked teams, 30-plus point underdogs and I could go on and on.
Sure they are playing at home and that is an advantage, but the Sooners are on a different level. If the UTEP offense can put some points on the board coupled with some major mistakes from the Oklahoma offense then just maybe the Miners can stay close for a half, unfortunately in the end it won't be enough as the Sooners will come away with a dominating win in El Paso.
Josh Puga can be reached at [email protected] or you can follow him on Twitter at @jpuga1966 . Make sure to follow Miner Illustrated on Twitter at @minermaniac for more up-to-date news and information about UTEP.