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(All information as of July 1, 2006)
COACH AND PROGRAM
For all of the newfound success UTEP has experienced the last two seasons under coach Mike Price, with 16 wins and two bowl appearances and two brief trips into the national polls, the Miners know they could and should have been better.
In 2004, Price's first season at UTEP, the Miners jumped out to an 8-2 record and entered both national polls before losing at Tulsa, falling out of the polls and closing the season with a loss to Colorado in the Houston Bowl.
In 2005, UTEP's first season in Conference USA, the Miners were 8-1 and back in The Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since 1984 when they took another turn for the worse. Instead of holding on to their lead in the Western Division and hosting the first-ever C-USA championship game, the Miners closed out the regular season with losses to UAB and SMU and a one-sided GMAC Bowl loss to Toledo.
When a team loaded with 19 returning starters, 48 returning letter-winners and 29 seniors gathered together in March for spring practice, the emphasis was obvious.
"I want to get back to basics," Price said at the beginning of spring practice. "That's a little unusual when you have this many seniors. But I didn't like the way we finished [last] season. We need to learn how to finish strong.
"I think there was a little complacency. As hard as you guard against that, it's still something that happens to people."
By the end of a demanding month of spring practice that focused on hitting, toughness, tackling, blocking and plenty of fundamental football, Price was confident his players understood what they needed to do to become champions.
"We're learning how to finish," Price said. "Obviously that's a major concern for our team, our coaches, our entire program -- everybody. The team really bought into that concern and said, 'we didn't finish strong and we have to learn how to finish strong. We have to learn how to finish practices before we learn to finish games.'
"The players really emphasized that in the spring and they were saying, 'we've got to finish, we've got to finish.' They were working on finishing every rep, every drill, every workout, every practice."