EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Monday marked the beginning of game week for UTEP football. In five days, the Miners will take the field at Sun Bowl Stadium and face Conference USA rival North Texas to open the 2022 regular season.
Expectations for this year’s squad are higher than ever before for the Miners in the Dana Dimel era. In 2021, UTEP set the bar high after they finished the season with a 7-6 record and made a bowl game appearance for the first time since 2014.
In 2022, the Miners aim to not only reach that bar but raise it even higher. The first step towards doing that is going into the first game of the season against the Mean Green and making a statement.
“[North Texas] is going to be one our toughest tests all year,” said Dimel. “As a coach that is coming right out of the gate for the opening game, so we got to be ready and we got to play really good football from snap one.”
“I can’t remember the last time we beat them [North Texas],” said senior wide receiver Rey Flores. “I really want to get these guys to come and get that victory because we need it. We need to start the season on the right foot.”
Not only is there the expectation for the Miners to get a win in the season opener, but there is also the expectation to build off the stellar 2021 campaign the program had.
UTEP heads into 2022 looking for another winning season. The last time the program had two consecutive winning campaigns was back in the 2004 (8-4) and 2005 (8-4) seasons.
The Miners’ seven wins last year was the most the program had in a single season since 2014 (7-6). With last year’s team getting a sweet taste of victory, they want more of it in 2022.
That’s why learning how to play with high expectations has been a vital point of emphasis for UTEP this off-season.
“I feel like we used to come into games not really sure what was going to happen,” said Flores. “Now that we’ve seen how to win, learn how to win, that is what we want and that is what we’re going to try to get.”
“I feel like we are more locked in,” said sophomore running back Deion Hankins. “We learned how to win last year. We are just trying to pick up where we left off and continue that into this year. The preparation has been really great this year.”
“The only way we are going to be successful is in the way we prepare,” said Dimel. “That is the message I’ve been sending to our guys. What those guys have done in the past, really right now, our expectations are to win every football game but we are also going to go win them one at a time.”
The Miners are gunning for win number one on the season against North Texas and they’ll hope to do it in front of more than 40,000 fans who are expected to be in attendance. UTEP Director of Athletics Jim Senter said that there is still “about 5,000” tickets left to sell. The capacity for the Sun Bowl is listed at 45,971.
Now a win over North Texas is a big goal the Miners have their eyes set on for now, but they also have their eyes set on the long run.
“I think we already set the standard so right now I think for us it is a conference championship or bust,” said Flores. “I think that is what the whole team wants. I think that is what we are locked in on so that is all we’ve been thinking about.”
We’ve been focused on one goal and one goal only and that is to become conference champs,” said senor safety Ty’Reke James. “Last year, we came in with one goal of making a bowl game, something to get the year rolling, so now it is kind of like there is one standard we want to follow now and the standard is conference championships year after year type.”
One hot topic this off-season has been the availability of senior linebacker Breon Hayward. Hayward was listed as a starter on the depth chart that UTEP released on Monday. The Miners are still awaiting word from the NCAA on a waiver from the governing body of collegiate sports that would allow Hayward a sixth year of eligibility.
If he is granted an extra year of eligibility, Hayward would obviously be a huge boost to the Miners. He led the team with 108 tackles in 2021, as he teamed with Tyrice Knight (102 tackles) in the middle of UTEP’s 4-2-5 defense.
The Miners are scheduled to have four more practices before gameday. Saturday’s season opener will be the earliest start date in program history. Maybe that will help the Miners finally grab that long awaited win over North Texas. The last victory UTEP had over UNT was on Nov. 26, 2016 when the Miners dominated the Mean Green in a 52-24 win.
Ever since 2016, the Mean Green have beat the Miners in their last five meetings. UTEP hopes to snap the streak and win the season opener. A win on Saturday would lead to their fourth straight season opener victory, which would be a program first.
UTEP and North Texas will go head to head on Saturday, Aug. 27 at 7:00 p.m. MT at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.