The Oklahoma-UTEP season opener is interesting on several fronts, though good competition is not necessarily one of them.
Texas-El Paso is not the doormat it was in the 1970s and 1990s, but it’s not like UTEP poses any kind of real threat to the Sooners. This is a game that strikes me as similar to OSU’s series with Louisiana-Lafayette; the Cowboys played in Lafayette for two return games in Stillwater.
UTEP has suffered through six straight losing seasons, with records of (going backwards) 5-7, 6-7, 4-8, 5-7, 4-8, 5-7. In 2010, the Miners were 6-6 before losing to Brigham Young in the New Mexico Bowl. In Mike Price’s first two season at UTEP, 2004 and 2005, he went 8-4 each year.
UTEP in 2011 beat Stony Brook, New Mexico State, Tulane, Colorado State and East Carolina. The Miners lost 57-28 at home to Tulsa.
In 2010, UTEP was much more competitive. The Miners lost 31-28 at Tulsa and its victims were Arkansas-Pine Bluff, New Mexico State, Memphis, New Mexico, Rice and SMU.
The closest thing to the Sooners that UTEP has played in recent years was a series with Texas. The Longhorns won 64-7 at Austin in 2009 and 42-13 at El Paso in 2008.
So this isn’t like OU going to Air Force or even OSU going to Troy or either one of them going to Tulsa. But it is interesting on several fronts:
* Landry Jones. El Paso is 200 miles from Artesia, N.M., Landry’s hometown. That’s not many miles in that part of the country. Landry signed with the Sooners with no promise of ever being the OU quarterback and no real hope of ever playing close to home. But Sam Bradford was hurt in 2009, Jones took over, the Sooners ended up in the Sun Bowl against Stanford and now Landry gets to return to El Paso for a second quasi-homecoming.
* Finally, another Bob Stoops/Mike Price showdown. Their teams met in the Rose Bowl to conclude the 2002 season. Price was on the way out the door from Washington State to Alabama, where Price’s second game would have come against OU, in Tuscaloosa. But Price never coached a Bama game, losing his job in a drinking scandal.
Price is 45-52 in eight seasons at UTEP.
* UTEP actually has an interesting coaching history, much of it Oklahoma-related.
Price replaced Gary Nord, who went 14-34 in four seasons at UTEP. Nord was Howard Schnellenberger’s offensive coordinator at OU in 1995. Nord coached UTEP in the only two series meetings with the Sooners. OU won 55-14 in 2000 and 68-0 in 2002, both in Norman.
David Lee coached UTEP from 1989-93, going 11-41-1 (it hasn’t been a great job). Lee is the former Arkansas and Miami Dolphins assistant who employed the Wildcat offense at Arkansas, using Felix Jones and Darren McFadden, and then unleashed it on the NFL.
Bob Stull now is UTEP’s athletic director and was its most successful coach of the last 40 years, going 21-15 from 1986-88. That got him the Missouri job, where he went 15-38-1 in five years, including 0-5 vs. OU and 2-3 vs. OSU.
Bill Michael coached UTEP from 1977-81, going 5-43. Michael was on Chuck Fairbanks’ OU staff and took the fall for the NCAA violations that resulted in probation in 1973. Michael later coached on Pat Jones’ OSU staff in the 1990s.
Bobby Dobbs coached UTEP from 1965 through 1972 and went 41-35-2. Those were good days in El Paso; Texas Western, as it was then known, won the NCAA basketball title in 1966. Dobbs grew up in Frederick, went on to play on Henry Frnka’s excellent Tulsa U. teams in the early 1940s and returned as TU’s head coach from 1955 through 1960, going 30-28-2. Dobbs then coached the Calgary Stampeders to four straight Canadian Football League playoff berths from 1961-64. His brother, Glenn, was one of the all-time great TU players and succeeded Bobby as TU’s coach.
Warren Harper was UTEP’s coach in 1963 and 1964, going 3-15-2. Harper coached at Amarillo High School for three years, then was hired by OU and spent 14 seasons as linebacker coach for Fairbanks and Barry Switzer.
UTEP’s coach in 1962 was Bum Phillips, who went 4-5, later coached on Jim Stanley’s staff at OSU and eventually became a Texas icon as head coach of the Houston Oilers.
* UTEP agreed to this game not just because of money. The Miners need an attendance boost. They averaged 26,498 fans per game last season in the 51,000-seat Sun Bowl Stadium. UTEP wants to generate interest in its season-ticket package.
UTEP definitely generated interest in its players. From the El Paso Times:
Linebacker Jamie Irvin: “Everyone’s dream is playing the big schools. OU is a big school and they decided to play us. This is a great opportunity for all the players.”
Quarterback Nick Lamaison: “I couldn’t be happier for myself or my teammates. I like the strength of schedule. It sure gives me the best opportunity to continue playing football against premiere teams.”
Price: “Playing a great opponent is something you visualize and dream about as players and coaches. To bring in a team with the prestige of Oklahoma is exciting for me, the school, the community and especially exciting for our players.”