Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks (0-0, FCS Southland) Texas El-Paso Miners (0-0, Conference USA)
Date/Time: Saturday, September 5th, 7:00 PM MST
TV: ESPN 3 (Play-By-Play: Erik Elken & Analyst: Trevor Vittatoe)
Radio: KROD ESPN 600 El Paso (Play-By-Play: Jon Teicher/Analyst: Mike Perez)
Location: Sun Bowl Stadium, El Paso, TX
Betting Line: N/A
Attendance Policy: 18 percent capacity — social distancing guidelines strictly enforced and face coverings are required — tailgating is prohibited.
Entering year three of Dana Dimel’s tenure at UTEP, it’s been a tough task trying to rebuild the Miner football program. Coming off back-to-back one-win seasons, expectations are tepid, but the clock is ticking on when UTEP will show some sort of growth.
If the program is going to take a step forward, it’s going to start with quarterback Gavin Hardison. The redshirt sophomore beat out highly-touted, dual-threat quarterback TJ Goodwin to win the starting job. With Hardison being a pocket-passer, the Miners’ passing output should improve from last season. UTEP has finished in the bottom third in passing yards per game in 2018 and 2019, but both seasons were guided by a run-pass threat in Kai Locksley.
A major help will be the return of running back Quardraiz Wadley, who missed all last season due to injury. On the defensive side of the ball, UTEP has employed a 3-3-5 scheme. Duron Lowe and Josh Caldwell are returning starters in the secondary, but the defensive end Praise Amaewhule has a chance to be the team’s top defensive player. As a redshirt freshman in 2019, Amaewhule led the Miners in sacks (3) and tackles for loss (5.5).
Stephen F. Austin Preview
College football junkies in the state of Texas knew that it was only a matter of time until Colby Carthel was managing a Division I program. The defensive-minded coach has spent his entire playing and coaching career in the state of Texas. Carthel was an all-conference linebacker at Angelo State University and quickly jumped into the coaching world following his graduation. Carthel made a name for himself once he was named the head coach at Texas A&M Commerce, taking the Lions from the laughing stock of the Lone Star Conference to Division II national champions in just five years.
After taking over the SFA program in 2019, Carthel found himself facing an even tougher challenge than in his previous stop at A&M Commerce. While SFA is a historically successful FCS program, previous Head Coach Clint Conque left the program in bad shape. Not only did SFA win just two games in 2018, Carthel was handed a nasty surprise when the NCAA announced scholarship reductions and a post-season ban for the Lumberjacks due to the previous staff keeping academically ineligible players on the field. That means that all 35 freshmen players that SFA recruited last season saw the field in 2019.
Obviously this SFA is really young, but they gained valuable experience last season. Wide receiver Xavier Gipson is the brightest spot on the offense, as he totaled 934 receiving yards and seven touchdowns last season. Senior quarterback Trae Self returns after throwing for 2,550 yards last season. Running back Josh McGowen brings game-breaking ability, but the offensive line will need to be improved in 2020 for McGowen to reach his potential.
Defensively, cornerback Willie Roberts earned third team all-conference honors as a freshman, and defensive lineman Carl Williams is an FBS-level talent. Carthel has turned to the transfer portal to boost his defense, adding three FBS transfers in safety Kris McCune (Oklahoma State), defensive lineman Dennis Osagiede (UMass), and linebacker Day Coleman (Arizona).
While there’s no denying that UTEP is sitting at the bottom floor of Conference USA, you can see the Miners’ talent level increasing, albeit rather slowly. Hardison as the quarterback should give the offense an identity, following two seasons of a revolving door at the position.
Final Score: UTEP 36, SFA 21