The UTEP Miners and Arkansas Razorbacks occupy different places in college football. Can UTEP keep this game close, or is that not a realistic expectation on Saturday?
The UTEP Miners were absolutely miserable in the 2013 season, falling to a 2-10 record. New coach Sean Kugler, who had NFL experience with the Pittsburgh Steelers, took on this job, and it was not a glamorous assignment, being tucked in one of the more obscure corners of the country as far as college football is concerned. Yet, in 2014, UTEP made definite and noticeable improvements, building its record to 7-6 and making a bowl game. The Miners covered a lot of ground. How did they do it? They played defense. In 2013, the team allowed just over 39 points per game, as the bottom fell out. Last year, UTEP shaved over 12 points off that average, allowing under 27 points per game. The offense improved from just under 22 points to over 26 points per game, adding over four points to its weekly average, but it was the defense’s dramatic growth which really powered the resurgence. The Miners now feel they can be a more balanced team and don’t have to play catch-up all the time.
Arkansas also finished 7-6 last year, and while the Razorbacks did do a lot of things right, what’s still true is that they finished 2-6 in the Southeastern Conference. That has to get a lot better in 2015, obviously. The Razorbacks played solid defense for much of the year and then played lights-out defense later in the season, as they smothered both LSU and Ole Miss in a pair of dominant performances. Those are the kinds of efforts which have made Arkansas a lot more of a hot commodity according to many college football experts. The Hogs can bully opponents with their powerful running game and their aggressive defense, especially in the front seven. They’re not going to get pushed around.
The line here is -33.5 in some places, but in most outlets, the college football odds are at -33 points for Arkansas. The concerns about UTEP at quarterback, along with more larger and more general worries about UTEP to possibly stand up to Arkansas on a purely physical level, have this line so high, even though Arkansas is missing its best running back, as you’ll see below in the injury report. UTEP did grow up last year, but bettors are wondering if the Miners can possibly sustain that success, or if last season is as good as it will get in El Paso for the foreseeable future.
UTEP has quarterback Garrett Simpson listed as probable for this game, but safety Devin Cockrell and safety Ishmael Harrison are not going to be able to play in this one.
Arkansas lost its best running back, Jonathan Wiliams, to an injury earlier in the summer. More recently, wide receiver Jojo Robinson will miss the first half of this game due to suspension. He will play in the second half. Three players are questionable: defensive back Luke Proulx, linebacker Shawn Lemoto, and defensive lineman T.J. Atimalala. Two players – defensive lineman Andrew McLean and offensive lineman Drew Hennessy – are now listed as doubtful for this game.
Handicapping The Game
The Arkansas passing game is a weakness, and this is where the Jojo Robinson suspension could come into play. Combine that with the Williams injury, and the Hogs might not have quite enough offense to cover the number. Expect Arkansas to win by 28 to 31 points, so take UTEP with your college football picks.
College Football Pick: UTEP +33 at Pinnacle