UTEP comes into this season with what could be one of its best teams in the past few years. The Miners lost their three leading rushers from last year, but every other unit is at least as experienced as last year or better. Senior quarterback Nick Lamaison is a former offensive junior college player of the year and started most games last year after overcoming an injury in the second game and missing four starts. He has three of this top five receivers and nine of this top 10 offensive lineman back.
On defense, the Miners return five of their top eight tacklers, and there's experience and depth at the defensive line, secondary and at linebacker. Eighth-year head coach Mike Price has always emphasized great special teams, and this year will be no different. Punter Ian Campbell is on the Ray Guy Award watch list, and Price returns his starting kicker and punt returner.
The Sooners have solid experience across the board, with only the receiver position questionable. Junior Kenny Stills is the lone receiver on the depth chart to have caught a pass for the Sooners. As I wrote earlier this week, the success of this season largely depends on this crew coming through. The Sooners will also have to stay healthy, as the offensive line and linebacker position quality drops rapidly after you look past the starters.
This is a good initial test for the Sooners against a team playing at home with high hopes for the season. Winning is not a total assumption like most non-conference games, but it doesn't bode well for the Miners that their passing game will have to go against the strength of the OU defense – a secondary that is the most experienced in years.
Additionally, with its inexperience at running back, UTEP most likely won't be able to take advantage of a Sooner linebacker crew that lost team leader and leading tackler Travis Lewis to graduation.
The Sooner defensive line stalls the UTEP running game and puts enough pressure on Lamaison that the Miner offense can never get in a rhythm. UTEP is unable to keep the Sooner offense off the field. With plenty of chances to get in a rhythm, the Sooners are able to assert theirwill. The talent advantage comes through with a solid running game that opens up room for the receivers to get in the groove. Stills and Penn State transfer Justin Brown get plenty of catches. Trey Metoyer shows signs of brilliance. T
here's room for improvement, but the signs look promising that the Sooners can pull together an outstanding season for 2012. Sooners roll, 38-17.
The Miners are gamers and start their season off with solid effort. Their experience at the secondary and defensive line keep Landry Jones and the passing game off rhythm at the perfect times. Meanwhile, Miners' passing attack has some decent success against a Sooner secondary that has yet to totally come together.
However, the UTEP run game doesn't provide enough drives that take time off the clock. The Sooners have enough short-yardage opportunities with running back Dominique Whaley and backup quarterback Blake Bell to move the sticks when it's necessary. The Sooners pull it out, 34-23, with many questions to answer if they expect to win an eighth Big 12 title.