Just over a week ago we began to give you a look inside the Badgers 2012 opponents coming off of Spring. We featured a look at Northern Iowa last time out, and now it's time to visit with our friends from the University of Texas - El Paso (UTEP) to see what the Miners bring to the table since spring practice is behind them.
Thanks to our friends at MINER RUSH for checking in with us and answering the questions we had for them. Enjoy getting to know a very unfamiliar opponent a bit better with Anthony and be sure to check out their site for all the news on UTEP ahead of the game this season.
Opposition Q&A: UTEP
MTB: Mike Price was seen as a hire that could bring back UTEP football, but he hasn't exactly set the world on fire, going just 45-52 in his time at the helm of the Miners. It's also been 9 years with just 2 bowl game appearances, is their a sense of him being on the hot seat this year?
Miner Rush: Coach Mike Price is on the hot seat, and really has been for quite some time now. Last year was nearly the final straw, but with only one year left on his contract he was given the opportunity to finish things out. That said, people should realize that Mike Price has done a lot for UTEP football. While his 45-52 record, and 3 bowl appearances don't exactly scream success, its a vast improvement from the three consecutive 2-10 years before he was here, and the 3 bowl appearances in the previous three decades. So, he is definitely on the hot seat, but at the same time, credit should be given where it is due.
MTB: A lot of the talk around the college football world has centered on conference realignment and the Miners home is Conference USA, is this a place the fans want to be in or would they want to see a move to say the Mountain West?
MR: Since the MWC was formed, UTEP fans have felt that we belonged in that conference. After all, we competed with the founding members of it for decades. But time and time again, we've felt like an invite should be coming, and time and again we've been snubbed. I think we definitely are a better fit for the MWC than C-USA, but at this point, the fan base as a whole is kind of indifferent towards a move. If it happens, it happens, and if it doesn't...oh well. I actually did a write up on that for anyone who cares to read.
MTB: On the field, what are the biggest question marks coming out of spring football on each side of the ball?
MR: I think as a whole, its a matter of being able to stay healthy. Last year we suffered a ton of injuries, and that ultimately, was the main reason for our lack of success on the season. This year, in the spring, our O-Line has been banged up. Mostly knicks and dings more than anything, but still not comforting to see key guys miss time. Offensively, our success will rely on whether on not they can stay healthy. Defensively, I'd say the biggest question mark is how well we can transition, after losing so much production from out LBs and secondary. We replace those losses with some solid players, but it takes time to put it all together. How long it takes is the key.
MTB: Looking at the UTEP schedule makes me cringe just a bit with games against Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Ole Miss on top of the annual rivalry game with New Mexico State, how do you manage bowl eligibility with that kind of non-conference slate?
MR: There's no doubt its going to be tough to make a bowl, but I think it's completely possible. Again, and I've been preaching it all spring, it's a matter of whether or not we can stay healthy. I don't think many expect more than 1, possibly 2 wins in non-conference, but coming out of it in relatively good shape will be the real victory. I think that brutal non-conference slate can actually prepare us for a solid conference run. Tulsa did it last year. They played Oklahoma, Oklahoma St., and Boise St. in the non-conference, lost all three, but wound up winning 8 games on the season. So, why can't we?
MTB: Defensively you only return 4 starters from last season, but is that necessarily a bad thing?
MR: It's always a bad thing to have to replace nearly two-thirds of your team. But, while the Miners lost a ton of starters, they do return a lot of key reserves. The defensive line shouldn't skip a beat, and will probably be better than it was a year ago. The LBs lose all three starters, but return Jamie Irving from injury, who was the leading tackler in 2010. And, we've got plenty of other extremely capable LBs. The secondary definitely loses a couple of guys in Blake and Nixon who should be on NFL rosters next year. But, we return two starters, and also return some key reserves back there as well. Again, its tough to lose 7 of your 11 starters, but I wouldn't exactly say we're in bad shape. I think these guys are going to surprise some people.
MTB: Looking at some of the highlights and video I've seen on the Miners it appears you have a QB that can be very productive, at least mechanically he looks that way. What needs to happen for him to improve on his 1,700 yard 12TD/10INT season from a year ago?
MR: I've said it a couple of times, and I'll say it again. It's all about being able to stay healthy. Nick's numbers last year weren't great, but honestly, he just didn't have time to throw. Injuries plagued our team, and Nick was even knocked out with a shoulder injury in week 2. The O-Line will have to be healthy, and will have to give him some protection. The guy certainly has the tools to make all the throws, it's just a matter of giving him the opportunity to make those throws. I'd expect that to happen.
Continue to check back throughout the rest of the week as we complete our looks at the opposition on our 2012 schedule.