Bud Withers | UTEP's Mike Price still upbeat about UT game
After a humiliating 42-17 loss at Buffalo last weekend, Texas-El Paso now faces No. 10 Texas for just the third time in school history.
Seattle Times colleges reporter
After his Texas-El Paso team had its pants pulled down in its opener at Buffalo, 42-17, Mike Price did his best to keep his sense of humor intact. Looking to this week's opponent, he deadpanned:
"I hope they're not as good as Buffalo."
In reality, yes, the University of Texas might be as good as Buffalo. The Longhorns are indeed playing UTEP this week, and, more's the rage for UTEP, they're playing it in El Paso.
The phrase "ne'er the twain shall meet" must have been conceived with Texas and UTEP in mind.
"It's 580 miles from here," marveled Mack Brown, the Texas coach. "It's almost like it's not in our state."
And conceptually, UTEP hasn't been in Texas' football universe. The schools have met only twice, in 1933 and 1930, both in Austin, when UTEP was known as Texas College of Mines.
A lot of other Texas schools have occupied the Longhorns' time over the years, but not UTEP. Back in the Southwest Conference days, Texas would schedule North Texas, and today, outside the Big 12, the Longhorns take on Rice and Houston. But until now, not UTEP.
"We're having a lot of trouble with teams coming to play at Texas," Brown says. "Teams won't play us anymore."
The genesis of this two-year home-and-home series is actually more than three decades ago, when UTEP athletic director Bob Stull — the former Washington assistant coach and administrator — was an undergrad at Kansas State. DeLoss Dodds was the KSU track coach; now he's the Texas AD.
So they knew each other. Brown and Price also have a solid friendship.
Then there was the NCAA's approval of a 12th game a few years ago, thinning the possibilities among the biggest schools.
"It's mathematically impossible for everybody to have 12 Division I-A games," says Stull.
Voilà: a tidy two-year deal for the Miners, in which the host school provides $300,000 of the gate to the visitor, according to Stull.
So, any way the Miners can compete with Texas? Probably not. Price says his team is playing 16 freshmen.
"This is my fifth year, and we only had six high-school scholarship recruits in the first class," he says, calling UTEP one of the least-senior-populated teams in the nation.
"[But] I think our young kids are good. They're real good."
Stull notes that UTEP sent four players to the NFL from last year's team and says, "It's kind of like when Mike was at Washington State. We don't really reload here."
After a 16-8 start and bowl games his first two years, Price has seen some slippage. He's now 25-24 in El Paso and the Miners have tended to fade late in the year. Saturday's loss was UTEP's seventh straight.
Still, this is a forgiving place. It's that way at an outpost that went 15-110 from 1975-85. Price's first two seasons were UTEP's first back-to-back winning campaigns since Stull himself did it in 1987-88.
"They're wonderful; they're just great," Price said of the locals. "I'm getting a little criticism after this [last] game, but people [still] think of Buffalo like I did when I scheduled it three years ago. They were the worst team in America."
Says Stull: "Mike's still very popular here. One thing about Mike, he's really a warm person. They love him."
With a chuckle, Stull conceded: "They don't like him quite so much when you get beat by Buffalo."
Price's staff still has a heavy Washington-WSU tilt, but it's gotten a little lighter. After the Miners struggled mightily on defense in 2007, he fired Tim Hundley, Rick Neuheisel's defensive coordinator at the UW, and replaced him with Osia Lewis.
Hundley caught on with June Jones' new regime at SMU. Lewis came to implement Rocky Long's unusual 3-3-5 defense from New Mexico, but the opening-week result didn't do much to suggest the Miners have picked it up.
Just dropping in
What happens when a basketball school does some football-style marketing? Last week, North Carolina contracted with Aerial Adventures of Virginia to have two skydivers with a combined 17,000 jumps parachute into Kenan Stadium before the Tar Heels' opener.
But there was a new pilot at the controls, and the divers spent at least the final five minutes before their jumps rechecking each other's gear.
They saw a football stadium below, bailed — and came down in Duke's Wallace Wade Stadium, eight miles away from Chapel Hill, where the Blue Devils and James Madison were going through warmups.
That's a pretty good metaphor for the ACC's opening weekend, which included Virginia Tech's loss to East Carolina and Clemson's pratfall against Alabama.
And What's More ...
• Eastern Washington scored 24 points last week at Texas Tech, more than Washington (10), WSU (13) and Idaho (0) combined.
• When Joe Paterno began as head coach at Penn State in 1966, Mike Riley was in junior high. Now Riley is 55 and takes the Beavers to Happy Valley on Saturday to face the Nittany Lions. Between the guarantee and TV, it's worth about $1.2 million to OSU.
• Clemson coach Tommy Bowden had an unusual reaction to his team's 34-10 loss to Alabama. A day later, he called 'Bama coach Nick Saban and asked for advice, saying later, "I told him I don't have enough pride to think I have all the answers."
• One reason Arkansas struggled to beat Western Illinois: QB Casey Dick has had four offensive coordinators in four years.
• The scourge of Pac-10 coaches is receivers trying to lunge the ball over the goal line. It cost Oregon a probable tie and overtime against California last year, denied Oregon State a possible overtime at Stanford last week and also stripped Arizona State of a score on opening week. "You don't want to stop 'em from competing," says ASU coach Dennis Erickson, "but you have to be smart with the football."
• Speaking of ASU, it will be practicing outdoors the rest of the season after a heavy storm did $1 million in damage to its new $8.4 million practice bubble.
• Georgia's national-title hopes might not be able to take too many more injury hits. It lost OT Trinton Sturdivant in camp,and now another knee injury has ended the season of DT Jeff Owens.
• After a blowout loss to Wake Forest, Baylor — WSU's opponent next week in Waco — just named true freshman Robert Griffin starting QB (Griffin did have spring practice with the Bears). First-year coach Art Briles thus forsook incumbent Blake Szymanski, who threw for 22 TDs last year, and Miami transfer Kirby Freeman.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or email@example.com
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