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              === Sooners and Miners meet in 2012 season opener ===
 
 El Paso, TX (Sports Network) - The fourth-ranked Oklahoma Sooners kick off the
 2012 season on Saturday night, as they head to the Lone Star State to battle
 the Miners of Texas-El Paso in non-conference action.
 
 Oklahoma is clearly the class of the new-look Big 12 Conference this year, as
 coach Bob Stoops has assembled a top-notch squad on both sides of the ball. The
 Sooners went 10-3 last year, which included a 31-14 win over Iowa in the
 Insight Bowl, and while some schools may have viewed that as a positive, in
 Norman there was only disappointment as the squad once again failed to live up
 to lofty expectations.
 
 The Sooners, who are playing their first season opener outside the state of
 Oklahoma in nearly 20 years, haven't lost a season opener on the road since
 1968, going 13-0 in such bouts since. OU is 11-2 in openers under Stoops, and
 this is only the second time in his tenure that the team has opened away from
 home.
 
 UTEP is probably a middle-of-the-pack team at best in Conference USA this
 season, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing after the team posted a 5-7
 record (2-6 in conference) in 2011. The Miners, under the direction of head
 coach Mike Price, wound up losing four of their final five games of 2011, and
 with Oklahoma and Ole Miss as their first two games of this campaign, they
 could start the year in much the same way they finished the last.
 
 The Miners are 41-48-5 all-time in season openers, but are 5-3 in such contests
 under Price. They are seeking their third straight season-opening win, and this
 is their first opener against a FBS school since 2009.
 
 This matchup marks only the third meeting between these two teams, with
 Oklahoma laying claim to victory in each of the first two (2000, 2002). In
 those games, the Sooners outscored the Miners by a combined margin of 123-14.
 
 Despite the loss of some key components from last year's offense, most notably
 WR Ryan Broyles, that generated more than 500 yards and nearly 40 points per
 game, the Sooners come into this new season banking senior QB Landry Jones even
 more than they have in the past. Jones completed better than 63 percent of his
 passes for 4,463 yards, 29 TDs and 15 INTs in '11, and he will look for junior
 WR Kenny Stills (61 receptions, 849 yards, 8 TDs) more often than not this year
 as he is clearly the team's go-to guy down the field. Others to keep an eye on
 include junior Courtney Gardner and highly-touted freshman Trey Metoyer.
 
 Stoops spoke recently about the work Jones has put in to assure himself of a
 solid senior season.
 
 "I think all quarterbacks at this age are making improvements if they're
 working hard. And Landry is like that, improving his footwork, always building
 your body, training to be stronger, a little quicker, get the ball out a little
 better. And Landry works as hard as anybody we've had."
 
 The OU run game boasts the return of senior Dominique Whaley and junior Roy
 Finch, the two combining for 1,232 yards and 12 TDs a year ago. Whaley is
 recovering from a broken ankle suffered last year so it may take him a while to
 find his groove.
 
 After an eight-year stint as the head coach at Arizona, Mike Stoops is back to
 run the defense for his brother's team. Mike ran the Oklahoma defense
 previously from 1999-2003, and his units gave up an average of 15.5 ppg during
 that span. In the years since, the Sooners have allowed 20.1 ppg, and they are
 coming off a year in which they permitted 22.1 ppg.
 
 Bob Stoops is obviously happy to have his brother back in the fold. "I'm
 excited to have Mike back for a number of reasons, not only personally, but
 professionally. When we've worked together, it's been pretty positive."
 
 Pressure up front will be paramount to any success the OU defense has this
 season, and finding a way to come close to the 40 sacks the unit logged a year
 ago won't be easy. The loss of some all-conference talent at the point of
 attack means guys like senior DTs Casey Walker and Jamarkus McFarland will need
 to establish themselves early on, and the line as a whole, while rich in
 experience, appears on the surface to lack that one guy capable of wreaking
 havoc on nearly every snap.
 
 Junior LB Tom Wort (71 tackles, 2 INTs) is the key in the middle, but the
 linebacking corps in general lacks identifiable star power, at least at the
 outset.
 
 Despite their issues last season (241.5 ypg, 18 TDs allowed), the OU secondary
 should be an area of strength as back for another go are seniors Deontre Hurst
 and Javon Harris, and juniors Aaron Colvin and Tony Jefferson. Colvin tied for
 the team lead in tackles last year with 84, and Jefferson picked off 4 passes
 to go with his 74 total stops.
 
 UTEP, which is just 4-47 all-time against ranked foes and has never beaten a
 team from the Big 12 (0-11), comes into this season hoping to up the production
 it generated last year when it averaged 26.6 points and 380.5 total yards per
 game. Senior QB Nick Lamaison threw for 1,718 yards and 12 TDs, but he
 completed just 58 percent of his passes and was intercepted 10 times. The
 Miners' top two receivers are back for another go-around, as senior Michael
 Edwards and sophomore Jordan Leslie combined for 80 receptions, 1,087 yards and
 5 TDs in 2011.
 
 Questions surround the Miners' rushing attack, as they lost most of their key
 personnel in the backfield, leaving sophomore Nathan Jeffery (26 carries, 166
 yards, 1 TD) as the top returning rusher.
 
 Senior safety DeShawn Grayson and senior LB Josh Fely highlight the UTEP
 defense after tallying 67 and 61 tackles, respectively, last season. Junior DE
 Horace Miller, who led the team with 5 sacks, also returns to what should be a
 strong defensive line along with junior DT Germard Reed and senior DE Greg
 Watkins.
 
 The Miners permitted more than 30 ppg last season, and they were particularly
 lax in defending the run (190 ypg). Marked improvement must be seen across the
 board if UTEP is to climb up from the dismal national ranking (104th) it posted
 in total defense a year ago.
 
 
 
 08/29 11:55:25 ET