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Texas locks in UTEP as the season opener

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It’s not Baton Rouge against the Bayou Bengals, but it will be football.

NCAA Football: Texas El Paso at Texas Tech Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Over 2,100 days ago, Texas Longhorns fans and LSU Tigers fans circled the date on their calendar — Sept. 12, 2020, the date the Longhorns were set to travel to Baton Rouge to face the Tigers in the second game of the home-and-home series the two schools locked in that day with the official announcement.

Instead, Texas will host the UTEP Miners at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium as the lone non-conference game in the midst of a global pandemic, the school confirmed on Wednesday, hours after releasing the revised conference schedule.

Sigh.

But at least it’s football.

After close to two weeks of speculation, Texas officially announced the addition of UTEP to the schedule on Sept. 12 after the SEC canceled all non-conference games at the end of July. Days later, the Big 12 moved to a 9+1 schedule that kept one non-conference game.

The Longhorns were originally scheduled to host the Miners on Sept. 19 before taking a bye week to start conference play. Now the Big 12 schedule will start a week earlier, but Texas will still receive a bye week between the season opener and the newly-scheduled trip to Lubbock to face Texas Tech on Sept. 26.

UTEP went 1-11 last season in head coach Dana Dimel’s second season with the program, matching the 1-11 record from Dimel’s first year in El Paso. Since the Miners only return nine starters and 36 lettermen overall, including the need to replace Kai Locksley, the former Texas quarterback who landed at UTEP after a year at Iowa Western, the expectations aren’t high — ESPN’s preseason SP+ projections slot the Miners as the No. 130 team nationally thanks to the No. 126 offense and the No. 129 defense.

So Texas should have a chance to ease its way into the season as head coach Tom Herman debuts a new offense led by Mike Yurcich and a new defense led by Chris Ash.