UTEP, New Mexico State begin important seasons with Battle of I-10 showdown

UTEP

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – For the first time since 2019, UTEP and New Mexico State will meet on the football field in the Battle of I-10.

COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the 2020 edition of the rivalry and two years after their last clash, the Miners enter Saturday’s showdown as nine-point favorites over their rivals to the north.

It’s an important and potentially program-altering season for both teams. In year four under Dana Dimel, UTEP finally feels as though it can compete for a spot in a bowl game. With the majority of its offensive skill players – including quarterback Gavin Hardison – and defensive standouts returning, talent is no longer lacking at UTEP.

It’s a big season for Dimel, though. No contract extension has been granted to Dimel as of yet, but if the Miners make a run at a bowl, it could be enough to earn him another few years in El Paso.

It’s also an interesting season for New Mexico State. After having its entire 2020 fall season canceled due to COVID-19, the Aggies played just two games in the spring. Without a doubt, no team has dealt with more adversity leading into this season than NMSU and rust could play a big role early in the season as they get their sea legs underneath them.

Head coach Doug Martin is also entering the final year of a contract extension handed to him in 2018 after the Aggies won the 2017 Arizona Bowl. It is unclear if NMSU would want him back after this season if things go awry, but if the Aggies win six or more games, he automatically earns another year on his contract.

The big question mark on the field for the Aggies is at quarterback, where Jonah Johnson and Weston Eget continue to battle it out for the starting job. Martin has not yet named a starter for Saturday’s Battle of I-10; he could very well do so at his weekly press conference on Tuesday.

Getting an early season test with a rivalry clash is big for both sides and something both coaches can appreciate.

“I like having that game early. I think it does create a lot of excitement for our players, especially. That’s a rival, they’re 30 miles down the road and we’ve been very successful in that rivalry the past couple years,” said Martin.

UTEP and New Mexico State will both play challenging early-season schedules and the rivalry clash will do nothing but prepare them for the rest of the year.

“I think the early part of our schedule, every game is going to be a big test for our football team. There’s no doubt about it. That’s not just coach speak, that’s truthful,” said Dimel.

New Mexico State has won the last three meetings over UTEP, in 2017, 2018 and 2019. The Miners last knocked off the Aggies in 2016, while also winning a 50-47 shootout at NMSU in 2015.

It may be cliché to say it, but the outcome of the season opener will likely dictate the rest of the season for both the Aggies and Miners. Kickoff for the 2021 edition of the Battle of I-10 is set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Aggie Memorial Stadium in Las Cruces.

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