EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – After a 5-7 2022 season, national, expectations for UTEP aren’t what they were at this time last year

UTEP was picked to finish sixth in the nine-team Conference USA entering 2023. Internally, though, a bevy of experience gives the Miners a ton of confidence.

On paper, this season is what sixth-year head coach Dana Dimel has spent half-a-dozen years building towards. UTEP’s talent and athleticism is at an all-time high under him and with over 300 total starts across its two-deep, the Miners are ready to prove the rest of the league wrong.

“We’ve changed how UTEP football is looked upon. When we got here, it was an 0-12 program that was really struggling and now it’s a program that in the football world is very well-respected,” Dimel said. “They understand what kind of program and talent we’ve been able to recruit. For me, I’m very excited about where the program stands now. Now, it’s about going out and doing those things I talked about each and every Saturday to help us get wins.”

Experience across the offense (nine starters return), including with fourth-year starting quarterback Gavin Hardison and five returners on the offensive line is huge for UTEP, as is the return of 1,000-yard receiver Tyrin Smith and running back Deion Hankins.

UTEP’s defense has its three best players back from 2022 in defensive end Praise Amaewhule, linebacker Tyrin Smith and safety Kobe Hylton and it appears the Miners filled in the holes around them.

A bowl game is now the expectation at UTEP, but much more than that is on the table. The Miners have the pieces to compete for a conference title if things break right and they play up to their potential.

“Everyone is driven coming off the season we had last year. Everyone is locked in and focused and it’s showing out here on the field,” said Smith.

UTEP has been flying under the radar entering the 2023 season; that could change very quickly if the Miners do what they’re capable of early in the season.

The Miners have a golden opportunity to show the nation what they can do in a week zero clash at Jacksonville State. UTEP and Jax State will kickoff at 3:30 p.m. MT on Saturday on national television on CBS Sports Network.