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August 16, 2012Editor's Note: Beginning with today's article, Miner Illustrated will begin a 12-day opponent preview. Unlike previews in years past, MI staff writers will be asking five questions of each matchup that take into account the opponent and their challenges as they face the Miners but also what could potentially be happening with the UTEP football team at that point.
The previews will begin in reverse order, beginning with the Rice matchup and concluding with Oklahoma the Friday before the big game. We hope you enjoy the new twist on the opponent preview.
EL PASO, Texas - The Rice Owls are the last game of the season for the UTEP football team, and that could this game could make or break the year for head coach Mike Price and the Miners.
Aside from the obvious questions regarding the season at this time, let us start off with someone that has intrigued me from the day he left Michigan.
No. 1: Is Sam McGuffie a no-show by seasons end or is does he finally act like the player he was supposed to be?
It is no surprise that McGuffie may have the weight of the team and the university on his shoulders. He transferred form Michigan to Rice after the 2008-09 season and has yet to produce as a top prospect. He's a senior this season and the videos of him front flipping over a player will not buy him a ticket in the NFL. Look for McGuffie to have 1,500 total yards this season. Although the Rice offense has showed promise over the last four years under head coach David Bailiff, I doubt McGuffie has the confidence to put up more than 100 yards UTEP.
No. 2: Will senior quarterback Nick Lamaison have 3,000 yards passing by the last game of the season?
One answer: Yes, and if he is anywhere close to that mark by the time the Rice game comes around, he will easily surpass it.
No. 3 Who will have emerged as the best defender on the UTEP defense?
By the last game of the season the sack, interception and tackle totals will be tallied up. If I had to put my money on it, I would say senior safety DeShawn Grayson comes out with this one in more than one category. Grayson has been starting in some form of the other for the past four years. He is a seasoned veteran who knows the defense better than anyone on the team.
Last season he tallied 67 total tackles, second on the team and snagged two interceptions. Easily the best prospect of all the defensive backers (linebackers included), if Grayson stays healthy and plays exactly like he has over the last three seasons, he will play on Sundays.
No. 4: Which will emerge as the best tight end by the end of the season, Eric Tomlinson or Craig Wenrick?
While total yards mean the world to the average Joe, the most important offensive position this season is the tight ends.
Although Kevin Perry is all the hype on the Internet, he has yet to prove his worth and stay healthy. Tomlinson and Wenrick are the two tight ends that will truly matter at the end of the season. Wenrick is my pick for the best of the two on the team, but Tomlinson may emerge as the best given his blocking skills. Tomlinson has proven he's the better blocker of the three and that means more playing time. It is a toss when choosing the best player of the two, let alone out of the three. I would be surprised if Wenrick and Tomlinson did not have over 400 receiving yards each by the time the Miners play Rice.
No. 5 Could the Miners be on the cusp of a six win season?
Trying to predict where UTEP will be four months from now is tough on its own, but looking at the Miners as a five-win team heading into the Rice game does not seem like a stretch given its home schedule this year. To say the least, the Owls tend to be an easy win each year for UTEP.
The Miner home schedule is winnable this season. What I mean, not counting the Oklahoma home opener, there is not a game that UTEP plays in the Sun Bowl they cannot win. This last game for the Miners will be a make or break-type game and could send them bowling for the second time in three seasons.
Sal Guerrero may be reached at reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him via Twitter at @SalDGuerrero for all things UTEP sports. Make sure to follow Miner Illustrated on Twitter at @minermaniac for more up-to-date news and information about UTEP.