Pre-Season Outlook: UTEP 2009 Record: 4-8 (3-5 Conference USA, tied for 3rd in Western Division) Looking back: The Miners may have been the most erratic Conference USA team in 2009, rising up to topple Top 25 foe Houston but also dropping games to struggling Tulane and Rice. The UTEP offense showed promise with junior running back Donald Buckram turning in a breakout season, but junior quarterback Trevor Vittatoe often was baited into costly turnovers. The Minersâ€™ defense improved, but it still struggled to contain the pass heavy attacks in Conference USAâ€™s Western Division. The New Head coach ultimately dismissed the defensive coordinator and reorganized the defensive staff with the hope of helping UTEP earn a bowl bid in 2010. Offensive starters lost/returning: 4/7 Defensive starters lost/returning: 7/4 Key losses: WR Jeff Moturi, LT Mike Aguayo, LG Cameron Raschke, LB Daâ€™mon Cromartie-Smith. Top returnees: RB Donald Buckram, QB Trevor Vittatoe, LS Braxton Army, WR Kris Adams. Strengths: An injury was the biggest turning point of Buckramâ€™s career. Buckram lost weight and muscle mass during track season, but an injury forced him to skip track competition during his sophomore year. As a result, a beefier and brawnier Buckram rushed for 1,594 yards and 18 touchdowns on 259 carries as a junior last season. Buckram will work with Vittatoe and an experienced offensive lineup. Weaknesses: The Miners only return four defensive starters and have to learn new defensive system. UTEP ranked No. 110 out of 120 teams last year in total defense, allowing 446.9 yards per game. The Miners also have had some discipline issues with team leaders. Vittatoe was among the a group of veterans who sat out spring practice because of an undisclosed violation of team rules. Outlook: UTEP will have to make the most of its opportunities early because the second half of its schedule is brutal. The Miners end the regular season with four tough games, including three road contests. UTEP plays Oct. 30 at Marshall, entering a hostile environment after a long road trip. The Miners host SMU Nov. 6, with the Mustangs expected to be a contender for the Conference USA title. UTEP plays Nov. 13 at Arkansas, visiting a challenging SEC atmosphere. And the Miners end the regular-season Nov. 20 at Tulsa, where the crowd will be fired up if the Golden Hurricane is playing for a bowl bid.