As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the only nonconference contest for No. 14 Texas is its opener against UTEP. It’s not the flashy matchup like the Longhorns’ game vs. LSU would have been, but it’s college football.
Mismatched games like these don’t usually tell us a lot about the favorite, but it will be interesting to see how Texas looks given the disrupted offseason. The Longhorns, after all, have hopes of getting back to the Big 12 Championship Game — and beyond — so stumbling out of the gate in any way against the Miners would be more revealing than anything.
That’s not expected to happen, though. Texas is a massive favorite and quarterback Sam Ehlinger is back to claim his spot as not just one of the best players in the Big 12, but all of college football. There are also some newer names looking to make an instant impact as well. We’ll get to those later. What should you expect from Saturday night’s game in Austin? We break down everything below, including our picks against the spread.
Texas: Everyone knows about Ehlinger at this juncture, but who’s around him is every bit as important. Making his debut in the wide receiver corps is Michigan transfer Tarik Black. He’s a player to watch at the “X” position, getting the start over Brennan Eagles. Black, a former blue-chip recruit, was marred by injuries during his time with the Wolverines, though he finally put together a halfway decent season in 2019 with 25 catches for 323 yards, though only one touchdown. At 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, Black fits the mold of the big-bodied wideouts that Texas loves in this offense. He can be the true outside threat to balance the Longhorns ground attack. There’s been a lot of buzz around Black since he joined the Horns, so now it’s time to see whether that hype is realized against a manageable opponent.
UTEP: Look, the Miners aren’t winning this game. If they do, it would be among the biggest upsets ever, both in terms of spread and perception. The more pertinent question is whether coach Dana Dimel, entering Year 3, can show any signs of life with a downtrodden program. There are some bright spots: receiver Jacob Cowing is a stud and running back Deion Hankins is off to a good start after notching 113 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Week 1. Both are second-year guys the Miners will lean on this year. Can they do any damage against the Longhorns defense? That might tell us whether they can help UTEP turn even a small corner in 2020.
Date: Saturday, Sept. 12 | Time: 8 p.m. ET
Location: DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium — Austin, Texas
TV: Longhorn Network | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Game prediction, picks
Bookmakers predict this will be a blowout, and I’m not inclined to disagree. Personally, huge early-season lines like this aren’t fun because it’s clear who the better team is — it’s just whether they keep their foot on the gas pedal long enough to cover. The Miners have been bad for a while, having won just two games in the past three years. A 24-14 win over Stephen F. Austin of the FCS ranks in Week 1 didn’t exactly inspire a ton of confidence for a cover this week. Lay the points, I guess. Pick: Texas -43.5