EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Make no mistake: no one at UTEP felt good about how the Miners’ 2022 football season played out.

After a winning season in 2021 and a trip to the New Mexico Bowl, expectations were high for UTEP in 2022. Instead, they fell flat, going 5-7 and missing out on a bowl game.

UTEP is now flying under the radar going into Dana Dimel’s sixth year in El Paso, just the way the Miners like it in a new-look Conference USA.

“We feel comfortable as an underdog, but we also feel like we have a really good team coming back, a really athletic team. We’ve got a tough schedule, but we’re looking forward to that,” Dimel said.


In order to succeed, UTEP needs a bounce-back year from quarterback Gavin Hardison in his final season. After a stellar year in 2021, Hardison regressed in 2022, throwing for 2,044 yards, with a ho-hum 52.1 completion percentage.

Dimel has taken on a bigger role within the quarterbacks room this year, participating in meetings with Hardison and first-year offensive coordinator Scotty Ohara.

“I’m looking for Gavin to have an outstanding season for us,” Dimel said. “I think being in the room more as a play-caller is important.”

With nine offensive starters back, Hardison will have plenty of weapons. The running back room is stacked with veteran Deion Hankins (701 yards, three touchdowns), junior college transfer Mike Franklin and multiple unproven talents, like Torrance Burgess. Former Americas High School star Aaron Dumas also transferred to UTEP from Washington, but will need an NCAA waiver to play in 2023.

The Miners brought in some talent at the wide receiver position, including UTSA transfer Dre Spriggs to pair with returners Kelly Akharaiyi and Jeremiah Ballard. But UTEP’s biggest acquisition of the offseason was getting leading receiver Tyrin Smith back.

Smith left for Texas A&M in January, but had second thoughts and returned to UTEP. The Miners will gladly take his 71 catches for 1,039 yards and seven touchdowns from 2022.

“I truly wanted to be back with a team I bonded with from the beginning,” Smith said. “The ceiling is high for this team to go out there and win it all. Everyone is bought in.”

UTEP’s offensive line might be its best unit, as it returns four starters. Dimel said the line grades out as one of the best in college football. The Miners hope that veterans Steven Hubbard, Justin Mayers, Andrew Meyer and Elijah Klein can protect Hardison so he can return to his 2021 form, plus open up holes for Hankins to have a true breakout season.


Defensively, seven starters return, led by edge rusher Praise Amaewhule, leading tackler Tyrice Knight at linebacker (95 tackles) and safety Kobe Hylton.

There’s more depth on UTEP’s defense than what the Miners have had in years past, particularly up front as Amaewhule is joined by Keenan Stewart and others.

“I love the way we play together as a team. (Defensive coordinator) Bradley Dale Peveto brings an energy to the team that makes it good to play for him,” said Amaewhule. “You always love being the underdog, we like being doubted.”

Knight could’ve transferred to any school in the nation for his final season, but chose to stay in El Paso for one final run at UTEP. He’ll be joined by James Neal and Jerome Wilson in the linebacking corps.

Hylton is back to lead the secondary and could be an all-conference player. Cornerback Torey Richardson returns after missing all of 2022 with a knee injury. New Mexico transfer AJ Odums and Latrez Shelton will man the other cornerback spot, which McKel Broussard and Josiah Allen round out the unit.

Special Teams

Buzz Flabiano and Mark Ramos will compete for the kicking role in fall camp to replace Gavin Baechle, who graduated. Josh Sloan returns as the Miners’ punter and Marcus Bellon will return kicks and punts, after housing a punt vs. Boise State last year.


“It would be a heck of an accomplishment to go to a bowl game two out of three years. It would be only the second time in the history of the program, so there’s a lot to play for,” Dimel said.

If UTEP can navigate a tough first six games and get more consistent play from Hardison, a bowl game is surely in the cards. It’s possible the Miners could make a run late in the season at a CUSA title.

Expert prediction: 7-5