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UTEP vs. Florida International NCAA Week 7: Miners may start fourth-string quarterback Wednesday

Something has to give Wednesday in Conference USA action when UTEP visits Florida International (7:30 ET) as the Miners have lost six straight road games (1-5 against the spread) and the Panthers have lost seven straight conference games (2-5 ATS). UTEP opened as a short favorite but is now a 2.5-point underdog because quarterback Gavin Hardison, his top two backups and star wideout Tyrin Smith are in question.

UTEP (1-5) got its lone win in Week 2 against FCS school Incarnate Word. During their four-game skid, the #PicksUp have lost each by at least 14 points, but they have played some fairly good competition in Northwestern, Arizona, UNLV and Louisiana Tech. UTEP was last in action on Sept. 29 in a 24-10 home loss to LT and with Hardison out, Kevin Hurley made his first career start. He finished with 37 yards rushing and 44 passing before leaving himself.

UTEP had little trouble beating FIU last year in El Paso.

Also playing against Louisiana Tech at QB was Jake McNamara, who led the first Miner touchdown drive on a series of handoffs and his own 2-yard touchdown run but was eventually removed for concussion protocol after a second-quarter scramble. Then Hurley (who did start) got concussed and gave way to Cade McConnell.

Hardison was day-to-day ahead of that game nearly two weeks ago with an elbow issue and that's the same heading into Wednesday. If Hardison, McNamara and Hurley are all out, be it would McConnell under center Wednesday in his first-ever start for an FBS team. The redshirt sophomore and fourth-string QB played previously for Cerritos College and this is his second season at UTEP after redshirting in 2022.

"I have a funny feeling about Cade he just really seems to be a gamer, he seems to really have that 'it' factor," Coach Dana Dimel said this week. "I'm really excited to see him start he's so cool calm and collected."

Smith, meanwhile, has missed UTEP's last two games with an undisclosed injury and is a game-time decision for Wednesday. He has 19 catches for 191 yards and a TD this year. The Miners are playing their first Wednesday regular-season game since Oct. 21, 2009 and third since 1931. Conference USA is scheduling a lot of midweek game the rest of the way for TV reasons. It’s the first of three Wednesday games the Miners will play on national television in October.

Florida International (3-3) was tied 17-17 entering the fourth quarter last Wednesday at New Mexico State but lost 34-17 to extend that conference skid. FIU freshman quarterback Keyone Jenkins finished 25-for-32 for 250 passing yards. He also rushed for 34 yards and added a score on the ground. Jenkins left late due to a possible concussion but is expected to play Wednesday.

The Panthers are looking for their fourth win of 2023 - which would match their win total from last season and mark the fastest in season to four wins since 2019. #PawsUp will unveil “Miami Vice” themed uniforms for the game; they were ranked as the top look in all of college football for the 2023 season by Sports Illustrated.

FIU leads the all-time series with UTEP 3-2 and is a perfect 2-0 in Miami with the last meeting in south Florida six years ago. Last year, UTEP prevailed 40-6 in El Paso; it was 38-0 at halftime. UTEP put up 525 yards of offense and held FIU to just 71. Smith had a TD catch.

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