EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – UTEP will be back home this Saturday to face Rice in its final game of 2021 inside the Sun Bowl.
It’s a game that comes at an important time for the Miners; they’ve lost three straight games and Dana Dimel’s crew is in dire need of a win after a heartbreaking 20-17 defeat at North Texas last Saturday that dropped them to 6-4, 3-3 in Conference USA.
The Miners are currently 10-point favorites over Rice (3-7, 2-4 C-USA), but Dimel was adamant at his press conference on Monday that the Owls are better than their record would indicate. Certainly though, this is an extremely winnable game for a UTEP team that was on top of the world less than a month ago when the Miners were 6-1.
Now 6-4, UTEP of course is still bowl eligible despite the three-game losing streak. However, being bowl eligible does not necessarily guarantee a bowl game, though Dimel was clear that he still thinks a 6-6 UTEP team would make a bowl.
But, in addition to snapping the losing skid, a victory over the Owls would be huge for ensuring a bowl berth for the Miners. Seven wins on a resume, no doubt, looks much better than six. Dimel made sure to keep things in perspective on Monday, though. After just five wins in three seasons, the Miners are in a great place with two games left in 2021.
“The difference between 6-5 and 7-4 is gigantic. We’ve had our losing streak but we still have a chance if we get a victory this weekend to be 7-4 after 11 games,” Dimel said. “We would’ve said, ‘wow what a remarkable season that is for this football team,’ when we started the season. We were picked to win 2.5 games by the experts. If we can get to seven wins on Saturday, we’re in a great spot.”
College football experts are still expecting UTEP to go to a bowl game despite the three-game slide. ESPN has projected the Miners to be attendees at either the New Mexico Bowl vs. Boise State on Dec. 18 at 12:15 p.m. MT in Albuquerque, or the Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl vs. Utah State on Dec. 21 at 5:30 p.m. MT at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.
Elsewhere, the Action Network’s Brett McMurphy has UTEP squaring off with the Wyoming Cowboys in the New Mexico Bowl. The point is, Dimel is likely right; the Miners are still in a good spot to get a bowl bid.
On the injury front, Dimel said cornerback Josh Caldwell will play vs. Rice after missing the North Texas game with a minor injury. Safety Dy’Vonne Inyang is apparently closing in on a return, telling Dimel that he was feeling ready at Monday’s practice. Dimel said he would undergo an MRI this week to see if he’ll be able to play vs. the Owls.
Some good news for UTEP defensive coordinator Bradley Dale Peveto also came down on Monday, as he was named to the 59-man Broyles Award watch list, given to the nation’s best assistant coach. In his first year in El Paso, Peveto has turned the Miners into a top-30 defense in the nation and one of the best in Conference USA.
After Saturday’s Senior Day game vs. Rice, the Miners will hit the road on Friday, Nov. 26 to close the regular season at UAB. Kickoff for the game vs. the Owls is set for 2 p.m. at the Sun Bowl. The Miners will honor their 11 seniors prior to kickoff.