EL PASO, Texas - UTEP will begin a critical October month with big matchup against Southern Methodist in the Sun Bowl. Should the Miners hope to have a chance at a successful season, the wins will have to start against Conference USA's premier running back Zach Line.
No. 1: Who will be the under center next season?
Last season starting quarterback J.J. McDermott, is gone after he graduated while his potential successor Kyle Padron decided to transfer to Eastern Washington. SMU had redshirt freshman Conner Preston in top of their depth chart coming out of spring with freshman Garret Krstich as his backup. However, SMU found a possible answer to their quarterback position after Garrett Gilbert decided to transfer from Texas last summer.
Since Gilbert finished was able to graduate last summer, he will be eligible to play football for SMU right away. Gilbert started as a freshman for the Texas Longhorn in 2010 (5-7 record) and finished with 2,744 yards, 10 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. He missed most of the 2011 season with a shoulder injury that required surgery last September.
Gilbert has the skills and talent to be SMU's starting quarterback by the beginning of the season. If he can prove that his shoulder has healed and learns the playbook fast enough, Coach Jones will have the most talented quarterback of his five year tenure at SMU. If not, the Mustang will pay the consequences of having to start an untested underclassman at center.
No. 2: Can the Mustang move the ball efficiently with a new offensive line?
SMU is going to have a hard time to replace last season success if the offensive line does do their job. They must replace each one of last year offensive line which included two NFL draft picks (Josh LeRibeus & Kelvin Beachum). Seniors Blake McJunkin and Bryan Collins are the only two starters with experience at this level. The Mustang lack of experience and depth and might have some problems with the exchange between the center and the quarterback as they go with a redshirt freshman as their new center.
If the line can not hold the preassure on Gilbert, look for senior running back Zach Line (6-1, 230 pounds) who led C-USA and was ranked 7th in the nation in rushing yards per game (122.4) to be the main offensive treath on screen pass and running to ball through the ride side of the line.
No. 3: Can the defense carry the team into another postseason?
SMU's 3-4 defensive scheme has been the strength of the team for the last few years. They finished second in C-USA in total defense with 340.0 yards per game last season.
DE Margus Hunt (6-8, 295 pounds) if the only returing starting in the from three while linebackers Ja'Gared Davies, Stephon Sanders and Taylor Reed are back. The trio had an outstanding 2011 season in where they finished with a combine of 32.5 TFLs, 14.5 sacks, 4 fumbles and 3 interceptions. SMU's secondary is young and experienced.
Coach Jones has done a good job recruiting great defensive players. The Mustang's defense will be good enough hold most of C-USA offenses and should carry the team into another postseason.
No. 4: What will be the future of Coach Jones if SMU wins C-USA title?
Coach Jones has done a terrific job while at SMU with a 17-7 record in league action over the past three seasons. This season's team has a pretty good chance to finish on top of the West side and win the C-USA title before they move to the Big East in 2013. Last season, Coach Jones was pursed by others BCS schools after guiding the Mustang to the postseason for a third year in a row.
The Mustang will face a major out of the conference opposition in Baylor, Texas A&M, and TCU before they start playing C-USA against UTEP. Don't be surprize if Coach Jones is out if SMU wins their first league title since its 1984 Southwest Conference co-championship.
No. 5: How important will be this game to UTEP postseason hopes?
The Miners will have their first conference home game against SMU on October 6, 2012.
UTEP records should be between 2-3 or 1-4 after playing Oklahoma, @Ole Mississippi, NMSU @Wisconsin and @East Carolina. The Miners must win the rest of their home games in order to have a chance to go to the postseason.
UTEP's quarterback Nick Lamaison has a second chance to play against SMU after last year lost (28-17) at Gerald J. Ford Stadium. He was having a good game before he left the game with a dislocated shoulder.
SMU is going to try to implement their run and shoot attack with a new offensive line and quarterback at the helm. In order to win this game, the Miners needs to win the battler at the trenches and put some pressure on SMU's quarterback in order to create turnovers while avoiding big plays against from running back Zach Line. SMU has the potential to keep a low score game with a steady defense and could win the game if UTEP offenses stalls through the game.