EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – To whom much is given – or in this case, to whom much is earned – much is expected.

After a 7-6 finish and a trip to the New Mexico Bowl in 2021, the UTEP Miners roll in to year five under head coach Dana Dimel with as high of expectations as they’ve had in over half-a-decade.

The Miners narrowly lost to a tough Fresno State team in the bowl game (31-24, and UTEP had the ball with a chance at the lead twice in the fourth quarter). UTEP made huge strides in Dimel’s fourth season at the helm, but now, expectations are even higher.

Dimel and UTEP are completely fine with that; the man who took over an 0-12 squad ahead of the 2018 season has rebuilt the program from scratch, earning himself a two-year contract extension in the offseason.

“We should always expect to win now, that’s the big thing. We just take it one game at a time right now,” Dimel said. “We start the season with a really tough seven-game stretch, so as we look back at a great season last year, we want to build, but it starts with week one.”

The Miners will open the 2022 season in Week 0 at home against Conference USA foe, North Texas. It’s the first time UTEP has welcomed UNT to the Sun Bowl since 2018 and over 32,000 tickets have already been sold for the Aug. 27 opener.

UTEP graduated only 11 players from 2021’s bunch and while they also lost top receiver Jacob Cowing to Arizona in the transfer portal, this is an experienced Miners team that many players quietly think is the most talented UTEP has had in years.

Leading the charge will be redshirt junior quarterback, Gavin Hardison, who is now entering his third year as UTEP’s starter. An All-Conference USA Honorable Mention choice a year ago, Hardison threw for 3,217 yards, 18 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2021.

But the last game of the season left a bad taste in his mouth; Hardison’s fumble late in the fourth quarter vs. Fresno State ended a promising Miners drive that could’ve tied the game. It’s motivated him all offseason.

“I’ve had a lot of goals that I’ve accomplished this offseason and taking care of the ball is one of them. It’s an extremely motivating scene, what happened the last time we played and we’re excited to get out here for week 0,” said Hardison.

UTEP’s best unit will likely be its defense once again. The Miners could return their entire front-six, if linebacker Breon Hayward is granted a waiver for a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA. In the secondary, UTEP will need to replace safety Dy’vonne Inyang and cornerback Walter Neil, but the depth UTEP has at that position should be enough to help them fill the holes.

Dimel and Hardison spoke about the upcoming season as part of a visit to KTSM’s studios on Wednesday afternoon for the upcoming Ultimate Football Guide Preseason Special on Aug. 19 at 6:30 p.m. on KTSM. It will be released in conjunction with the Ultimate Football Guide Magazine and will also feature in-depth interviews with New Mexico State’s Jerry Kill and Trevor Brohard, a Borderland high school football preview and the reveal of the KTSM 9 Sports ‘Fine 9,’ the top nine players in the region.

The first episode of 9 Overtime in 2022 will be Aug. 26, the first day of the high school football season in Texas. The season begins on Aug. 19 in New Mexico.