Sep. 10—How much did the rare taste of success and a trip to the New Mexico Bowl last season change things for the UTEP Miners?
Dana Dimel, the fifth-year coach who last year led UTEP to just its second winning season since 2005, was asked this week if his 0-2 team is already facing a must-win situation on Saturday night when they host rival New Mexico State in the Sun Bowl in the 99th playing of the Battle of I-10.
"You don't want to go 0-3 — just dig a deeper hole," Dimel said.
The Aggies, meanwhile are off to a matching 0-2 start and, like the Miners, dropped a Week Zero game at home (NMSU lost to Nevada on Aug. 27, UTEP to North Texas) before getting thumped on the road at a Power 5 opponent last week (NMSU at Minnesota, UTEP at Oklahoma).
While the records and early season schedule appear similar, however, Las Vegas oddsmakers think the comparisons stop there. UTEP is a 17.5-point favorite over an Aggies team still very much in rebuild mode under new coach Jerry Kill, especially on offense.
NMSU ranks 127th out of 131 FBS programs in total offense (197.0 yards per game) and 129th in scoring offense (6.0 points per game).
And Kill isn't saying who he will start at quarterback between true freshman Gavin Frakes and junior Diego Pavia, the Volcano Vista High graduate and junior college transfer who started the first two games.
Kill told reporters in Las Cruces on Tuesday it doesn't matter who starts if they don't get any protection.
"Our offensive line's got to play better. We're not playing very good up front," Kill dsaid . "... You're under pressure all the time and throwing it quicker than you want to and all that, it doesn't matter. Our offensive line has got to play better. I challenged our offensive line. They need to play better."
If the starting nod goes to Frakes — whose numbers have been better, but also only in situations where the opponent was already ahead — it will be the first time NMSU has started a true freshman QB since 2014.
If the nod goes to Pavia, it will set up two extremely rare occurrences for an FBS game: Two starting quarterbacks who graduated from New Mexico high schools (UTEP starter Gavin Hardison went to Hobbs High) and two former New Mexico Military Institute starting quarterbacks (Pavia led the Broncos to last year's NJCAA National Championship and Hardison played quarterback at NMMI in 2018).
New Mexico State at UTEP, 7 p.m., espn+ (streaming), 99.5 FM (Las Cruces)