All posts by rhudson

Don't Need NO *!$# Committee

shane-carden
In reference to the current playoff system; it’s not right, it’s not right, it’s not right. The outcome of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish-Florida State Seminoles’ game and current speculation that Notre Dame is out of serious consideration for a slot in the play-offs is enough to scrap the system in year one. The Fighting Irish played the Seminoles in Tallahassee with an ACC crew calling the game and lost by four points.
In the current AP Poll, FSU is ranked #2; Notre Dame is #7. In the Coaches’ Poll, FSU is #2 and Notre Dame is #8. If the game is played at Notre Dame with neutral officials, a different result would probably have occurred.
This raises two points; first, champions in football should not be determined by voters, nor should the primary method for gaining admission to the play-offs be determined by a committee’s vote. If you like voting for the champions, watch ice skating. Second, one game in the regular season should not determine who is in and who is out when both teams have a successful season and do not play a similar schedule.
The solution is easy. Give every conference champion a seat at the table. Currently there are ten conferences that compete in the FBS. Every conference champion should be in the play-offs. To make the math work, six teams could be given at large berths. A sixteen team field works out so that no team gets a bye. Moreover, a sixteen team field allows teams that are not in a conference fair consideration.
Also, the venue of where the games would be played and how the teams would be paired should be determined by geographic proximity instead of having a panel rank and seed the teams. This serves two functions; first, the less established bowls can be used to host the early rounds of the playoffs. For example, if Florida State Seminoles win the ACC and the Alabama Crimson Tide win the SEC; then the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl could host the playoff game between FSU and Alabama. Similarly, if the East Carolina Pirates win the AAC and the Virginia Tech Hokies wins the ACC; the Belk Bowl could host a play-off game. By having the games hosted in local venues, more fans can attend the games. This benefits the fans and the bowls that currently do not have great attendance. Everybody wins.
Also, think of the classroom time that is wasted when the basketball seeding committee sends a North Carolina team to California to play in the western regionals. Some twelve year old boy that pays more attention to basketball than his studies argues with his teacher that North Carolina must be located in the western United States because the NC State Wolfpack are playing in the western regionals. I wonder, is that why US students do so poorly on geography tests?
The opponents of a true play-off system will point out that contracts are currently in place. Granted, the current system cannot be changed by next year. However, it can be changed. Contracts are not an immutable law of nature.
At this point in the season we pretty much know the selection committee will place Florida State, Alabama, Mississippi State and or Mississippi in the play-off bowls. I agree; these are probably the strongest teams. Just like the Baltimore Colts were strong than the NY Jets in Super Bowl III: just like the University of Houston Cougars were stronger than the North Carolina State Wolfpack in the 1983 NCAA basketball championship, just like the Appalachian State Mountaineer football team did not stand a chance against Michigan Wolverines in 2007. Of course, when the aforementioned contests were actually played, the Jets beat the Colts, NC State beat Houston and Appalachian beat Michigan.
Picking the champion, or even the contenders, by a selection committee refutes the fundamental values of the game. Sports are about competition. it’s about the little guy believing he can beat the bigger guy, and frequently he does. Sports are also about settling the argument about who is best on the field or the court, not by the vote of a selection committee.
This year the East Carolina Pirates, even if they win the balance of their games and the AAC Championship, the Marshall Thundering Herd, even if they are undefeated at the end of the season and other deserving teams will not be given a chance to compete for the national championship. The “championship” field will be winnowed down to four teams by a selection committee. The teams that receive enough of VOTES to get into the play-off will then have a leg-up on recruiting for the next year. Pretty soon we assume that certain teams are just better, and they do not have to prove anything.
Frankly, most objective sports minded people do not think East Carolina or Marshall can beat Alabama or Florida State this year. However, most objective football minded scouts did not think that Shane Carden, East Carolina’s quarterback, could play football on the FBS level. Shane just did not know any better and now he owns most passing records at ECU, the same records that were once held by David Garrard and Jeff Blake. Justin Hardy, the Pirates’ leading receiver, did not receive a single scholarship offer from an FBS school. His only offer was from the Fayetteville State Broncos. He walked-on at East Carolina because the objective minded scouts did not think he was good enough for college football and did not offer him a scholarship. Justin did not know any better; he now owns all of the major receiving records at East Carolina.
Before you say it is only East Carolina records, Shane Carden, Justin Hardy and their teammates showed the UNC Tarheels, the Virginia Tech Hokies and many other teams a trick or two.
Now, the experts say ECU cannot run with the Seminoles, Ole Miss Rebles, Mississippi State Bulldogs or Crimson Tide, etc. However, I bet that Shane Carden, Justin Hardy, Coach McNeill, and the rest of the Pirates do not know any better. Open up the play-offs on neutral fields and have a true champion.

Proposal For a New Conference

traditionConference realignment, you thought that discussion was over for a while. Well, rumors are circulating that the Big 12 is looking to expand. More specifically, they are looking eastward and that East Carolina is in the mix. I have no insight or information that the rumors are true, only that they are out there.
However, the rumors give me an open door for why there should be conference realignment, but not one where ECU goes to the Big 12. Conferences should be geographically compact, on an equal footing in the strength of their teams and have similar athletic goals and traditions. As far as East Carolina, the conference would consist of East Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Marshall, West Virginia, Georgia Tech and Pitt.
This is an improvement for all of the schools in terms of travel. The AAC spans from Texas, Louisiana and Florida to Connecticut. The ACC has Miami and Boston in its fold. West Virginia is a Big 12 member and travels to Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa for its conference games. Those are long road trips for Mountaineer fans.
East Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Marshall, West Virginia, Georgia Tech and Pitt are football schools. Basketball, for the most part, is something you do because it is too cold to play football. All of the schools have a passionate fan base. Admittedly, West Virginia might have a bigger stadium than Marshall, but their little brother is growing up and deserves a chance to compete on an even level. Arguably, East Carolina could not have beaten Clemson, West Virginia, or Georgia Tech on a regular basis in the past, but a new day has arrived in Greenville. The Pirates’ success this year is only part of a continued pattern of growth that has been occurring since the 1970’s. Pat Dye, Ed Emory, Bill Lewis, Steve Logan, Skip Holtz and now Ruffin McNeill have all lead ECU to a new level in football.
A fair question is why would North Carolina State, Clemson, West Virginia and Georgia Tech leave established conferences with lucrative television deals to start a new conference. There are three reasons. First, the conference would be more geographically compact. Second, other than the SEC, the new conference would be best college football played in the east, other than the Southeastern Conference. Third, the schools in the new conference are without major scandals. It is my contention, that college football must bring order to its house and the aforementioned schools are not front page violators.
There is a basis for a North Carolina centric conference since there are six FBS schools within the borders of North Carolina, yet only ECU and NC State are a fit for the new conference with the other schools that I would place in the conference.
Appalachian is only in its first year of competition in the FBS, but does have a strong tradition in football. They are not ready competitively, but the question can be revisited in the coming years.
Wake Forest and Duke are basketball schools and do not have a history of continued success in football. David Cutcliffe, Duke’s head coach, is an outstanding coach and got Duke to the ACC Championship game in 2013. However, Cutcliffe is the exception at Duke, and even he has not been able to build strong fan support based on attendance at Duke’s home games. This year the average attendance at Duke’s home games is only 25,537. When Cutcliffe leaves, so will Duke’s football success.
Wake Forest has similar issues. They had an excellent coach in Jim Grobe and some success. However, Grobe could only use chicken wire and duct-tape for so long before the Wake Forest program descended in the number of wins they produced. I do not mean to disparage Duke or Wake; but they simply have not produced a winning tradition in football.
Then there is UNC. I remember as a child in the 1960’s coming to understand that football at UNC was mediocre. However, that was okay because UNC, and the ACC, were about academics and integrity. If maintaining standards meant a so-so football team, then it meant a so-so football team.
Unfortunately, UNC is now about no show classes, drug dealers providing cars for a UNC athlete and inappropriate contact with sports agents and much more. However, the football is still mediocre.
On a side note, as a proud North Carolinian, I wish leadership that was provided by people like William Friday in the 1950’s and 60’s was still present at UNC. Friday was the President of UNC when a cheating scandal arose at the popular Dixie Classic Basketball Tournament; he cancelled the tournament. William Friday’s name was synonymous with integrity and education.
I am an ECU fan and to borrow the cliché, “I bleed purple and gold”. However, as a North Carolinian, I am pulling for UNC to make the in-depth reforms that are needed so that the university can return to its once honored position in college athletics and as a worthy opponent. I think we all know what William Friday would do; the question remains, does the current leadership at UNC have the courage to do what is needed. The death penalty was imposed on SMU athletics by the NCAA. Perhaps, UNC should examine the record and do what William Friday had the courage to do and not wait for the NCAA.
I am ready for a conference that plays quality football and still understands college football is not a business. It has to be responsible and pay its bills, but consistently shipping kids across the country to play a game is of questionable financial value, and it is not good for the academic success of the athletes. Also, college football has to stand for something more than money and the win-loss record.

ECU, A MAJOR BOWL?

winIf bowl invitations were made today, East Carolina would be in line for a major bowl such as the Peach, Orange, Fiesta or Cotton Bowl, because East Carolina is the highest ranked team from the group of five conferences that gets one seat at the table between them.
The problem, at least from East Carolina’s perspective, is the bids do not go out today and there is a lot of football to play. This week’s games revealed that Memphis is a competitor for the prized post season playoff slot that will be awarded to the top team in the “Group of Five.” (The Group of Five consists of the AAC, Conference USA, Mid-American Conference and the Sun Belt Conference.)
Memphis dismantled Cincinnati in Cincinnati. The final score was Memphis 41, Cincinnati 14. However, a member of the Cincinnati football team, Chamoda Kennedy-Palmore, was killed in a motorcycle accident on September 25. Obviously, the death of teammate can affect a team’s performance. Memphis still played a solid game on both sides of the ball, and the score indicates total domination by Memphis.
Memphis has two losses on the season. One was to UCLA, but the Tigers lost by only one touchdown and the game was played at UCLA. The final score was 42 to 35. The Tigers also have lost to undefeated Mississippi 24 to 3. Again, no disgrace, Alabama lost to Mississippi.
Marshall is also a contender. The Thundering Herd is undefeated and could reasonably be undefeated at the end of the season. If East Carolina slips, Marshall can by-pass the Pirates. On a side note, most Pirate fans have mixed emotions about Marshall. Marshall has the handicap of being in Conference-USA, and therefore, the Thundering Herd might not get the recognition they deserve. On the flip-side, most Pirate fans would agree it’s better Marshall get the shaft because they are in Conference-USA than East Carolina get the shaft. Obviously, the only fair way to determine the national champion is by a true play-off system with all conference champions getting a spot in the play-off. That is another story for another day.
Two unranked teams in the AAC also pose a danger to grab the coveted slot to one of the major bowls,Temple and Central Florida. Temple, like Memphis, was not expected to have a stellar season, but they have performed reasonably well so far. The Owls opened the season with a big win over Vanderbilt 37 to 7. Some would diminish the win because, well—it’s Vanderbilt. However, a win over a Southeastern Conference team is a win over a Southeastern Conference team.
Temple’s record is 3 and 1; the loss was to a mediocre Navy team. The Owls had a blowout win over Delaware State, 59 to 0 and a sold win over Connecticut 36 to 10. Temple still has a big hill to climb to win the play-off slot, but they do have the strength to upset the Pirates. What makes the Temple game scary for the Pirates is that the game will be played in Philadelphia on November 1. The Pirates traditionally have not played well in empty stadiums; Temple does not come close to selling out Lincoln Field where their home games are played. Also, November weather in Philly could be cold and wet, not good for the Pirates that rely on speed and a passing attack.
That leaves Central Florida. The Knights will be dangerous for two reasons. First, at the end of the season they could be fighting ECU for the conference championship. Central Florida has beaten Houston and lost to Penn State and Missouri; both are good football teams. This week Central Florida plays BYU. If Central Florida beats BYU, then they are still in the hunt for a return trip to a major bowl. If they lose, it is difficult to see how Central Florida returns to the Fiesta or any other major bowl. However, the Knights still pose a danger to ECU. A talented team fighting for pride can lay a hurting on anyone.
The take away; the Pirates control their own destiny. However, they better not look past anyone. The Pirates just need to focus on winning and let the rest take care of itself.

ECU ON A STREAK

shane-carden-ncaa-football-east-carolina-virginia-tech1-850x560A lot of football is yet to be played this year, but is appears that East Carolina is set up for a banner year. Running the table for the balance of the regular season is a realistic goal. The toughest opponents left on the Pirate schedule are Cincinnati and Central Florida.
The jury is still out on the strength of Central Florida. Their record is one win and two losses, but the losses were to Penn State and Missouri, both good teams. The Knights’ lone victory is over Bethune-Cookman. ECU will play Central Florida at Dowdy-Ficklen. Home field advantage will be enough to give ECU the victory.
Cincinnati’s record is 2 wins and 1 loss. Their victories were over Toledo and Miami (Ohio). Despite a winning record, the Bearcats are vulnerable. They gave up 34 points to Toledo, 24 to Miami and 50 in a loss to Ohio State.
Ohio State does not have a juggernaut offense. Against Navy, the Buckeyes scored 34 points; against Virginia Tech Ohio only scored 21 points. The Pirates scored 28 points against the Hokies, but had to fight the zebras and Bud Foster’s defense. Ohio State did ring the bell big time against Kent State where they scored 66 points. However, scoring 66 points against winless Kent State does not mean a lot. Given that, the 50 points the Bearcats surrendered against Ohio looks big. The conclusion, Cincinnati has problems on defense.
Both East Carolina and Cincinnati can light up the scoreboard on offense. However, ECU’s defense is at least credible, and maybe even good. Therefore, ECU should take Cincinnati when the Pirates and Bearcats meet the 13th of November in Cincinnati.
The really big news is not that East Carolina has a realistic chance of going 11 -1 in the regular season; the big news is that this is, to a large extent, a building year. Next year, if Kurt Benkert can step-up as the quarterback, the Pirates will reload instead of rebuild.
The Pirate offense only has four seniors that are starters. Losing Justin Hardy and Shane Carden will hurt. However, the Pirates have a stable of good receivers and running backs. The ECU offense should have the talent to score big points next season.
Similarly, the Pirate defense should be good in 2015. They lose Terry Williams, but have a horde of young linebackers, linemen, and defensive backs that will return.
The only fly in the ointment is that East Carolina needs to keep the current coaching staff in place. Lincoln Riley is the prime suspect to leave for greener pastures, but Rick Smith and the entire coaching staff will be sought after by other schools. Most fans take Ruffin McNeill at his word that he will not leave, but you have to think other schools will come hunting for him.
Most coaches who leave ECU of their own volition are never heard from again. Pat Dye is the exception. Sonny Randle, Bill Lewis, and Skip Holtz left ECU, but never enjoyed the success at other schools they had at East Carolina.
Yes, I say it unabashedly, ECU is special. I do not know if it’s in the water or the air, but ECU brings out the best in football players and coaches.
As previously stated, ECU is good for the coaches, but the current staff is good for ECU. The surest way to lose the momentum East Carolina enjoys is to have an exodus in the off-season of coordinators and assistant coaches. I am sure the coaches are loyal, care about the players and are proud of the Pirates’ success. However, coaches also know fans, alumni and administrators are fickle; therefore, you cannot blame a coach for looking out for his family’s financial welfare when the chance presents itself.
Virginia Tech needs to be the model for ECU in retention of coaches. Bud Foster, a talented and sought after defensive coordinator, started at Virginia Tech in 1987. East Carolina’s goal should be to keep McNeill, Riley, Smith, Doll, and all of the assistant coaches. Folks, the solution is simple; ECU will have to come up with some serious scratch. In terms of winning football games, the investment in coaches will pay dividends. With a stable staff, development of talent in the program is stronger. Also, a coaching staff that is in place year after year can develop relationships with high school coaches and has more credibility with high-school recruits. That, of course, leads to more success in the recruiting game.
So, in the off-season Jeff Compher, East Carolina’s Director of Athletics, needs to break out the checkbook. I will leave the small detail of where the money is to come from to him.

ECU Doing It The Right Way

shane-carden-ncaa-football-east-carolina-virginia-tech1-850x560
In reference to East Carolina’s 70 to 41 victory over UNC, a couple of song lyrics are useful in describing the situation. First, Carrie Underwood’s hit, “I Told You So” comes to mind. At the risk of sounding immodest, in an article entitled “Pirates Shoot Down the Hokies” I predicted a ten  point or better victory for the Pirates. Okay, I missed the margin of victory, but technically I was right, I said ten points or better.
Obviously, the Pirate victory was due to athletic skill, a good defensive scheme, and an explosive offense. However, I submit that the behavior standards and values to which the team is held are also reasons for the Pirates’ success. For example, Cam Worthy apparently had issues resulting from a verbal altercation that occurred during the summer and was suspended for two games. Big Terry Williams was suspended for several games last year and did what was necessary to earn his spot back on the team. Moreover, Williams made huge contributions in the wins over Virginia Tech and UNC. Anyone familiar with the Pirate program knows behaviors that occur at other schools often bring relatively minor sanctions, but are dealt with more severely at East Carolina.
The record indicates Coach McNeill will suspend a player regardless of the game situation. Before the game began, the loss of Cam Worthy looked big. Worthy was the leading receiver last week against Virginia Tech with over 200 receiving yards. The record also indicates Coach McNeill will give a young man the opportunity to correct his behavior and rejoin the team as Terry Williams did.
Football is about discipline and execution. A coach cannot expect a player to follow the game plan on Saturday if the coach covers up  a player’s behavior issues that occur off the field. The same discipline and more importantly, the same self-discipline, that is required to do what is necessary off the field is the same self-discipline that is needed on the field. The simple decision to get up, go to class and study when you are dog tired and everyone is telling you how great you played on Saturday takes self-discipline.  The decision to walk away from a negative situation and not being drawn into it takes self-discipline. This is the same self-discipline that is needed on Saturday when you are exhausted and you need to draw on the last reserve of energy and execute your assignment that was practiced during the week.
College football is about more than winning a game; at the end of the day, it has to be about education and preparing young men for life. However, winning football games and fulfilling the higher missions of a college are not incompatible; they are one and the same. The Pirates did not win in spite of an important player being suspended just before a big game; the Pirates won because at East Carolina  football players are expected to do the right thing by the coaches and school administration. Sometimes the right thing means suspending a young man for a football game. The goal is not to punish the offending player and cast him as a bad person, but rather that he learn and correct his behavior. Moreover, it tells the other players that behavior standards are important.  Those standards include pushing yourself to do better and to respect the rights of other people.  It also means taking responsibility for your mistakes and learning from them.  Those lessons apply to the football field, the classroom, or whatever endeavor one takes in life.
The second set of lyrics with relevance for the Pirates is, “The Future is So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades.” The Pirates are on the verge of an outstanding season. The reward could be a major New Years bowl bid. However, the Pirates must guard against complacency and not let the season become a “what could have been” season. To some extent that has already occurred with the loss to South Carolina.
Now Cincinnati and Central Florida are seen as the threats remaining on the schedule, but ECU has a big target on its back. Regardless of win-loss records and press clippings, the Pirates need to give their undivided attention to each team they play. The Pirates have the talent to run the table from here on out, but they had the talent to beat Tulane in 2013 and lost.
If the Pirates take care of business, great things are in the future. They have a bye week coming up and play SMU in Greenville on October 4. Bye weeks can be dangerous; bye weeks with a lot of positive press coverage are even more dangerous. The Pirates need to jump on the Mustangs out of the gate. The first quarter of ECU versus SMU could very well set the tone for that game and rest of the season.
Underwood’s hit, “I Told You So” comes to mind. At the risk of sounding immodest, in an article entitled “Pirates Shoot Down the Hokies” I predicted a ten points or better victory for the Pirates. Okay, I missed the margin of victory, but technically I was right, I said ten points or better.
Obviously, the Pirate victory was due to athletic skill, a good defensive scheme, and an explosive offense. However, I submit that the behavior standards and values to which the team is held are also reasons for the Pirates’ success. For example, Cam Worthy apparently had issues resulting from a verbal altercation that occurred during the summer and was suspended for two games. Big Terry Williams was suspended for several games last year and did what was necessary to earn his spot back onto the team. Moreover, Williams made huge contributions in the wins over Virginia Tech and UNC. Anyone familiar with the Pirate program knows behaviors that occur at other schools often bring relatively minor sanctions, but are dealt with more severely at East Carolina.
The record indicates Coach McNeill will suspend a player regardless of the game situation. Before the game began, the loss of Cam Worthy looked big. Worthy was the big dog receiver last week against Virginia Tech with over 200 receiving yards. The record also indicates Coach McNeill will give a young man the opportunity to correct his behavior and rejoin the team as Terry Williams did.
Football is about discipline and execution. A coach cannot expect a player to follow the game plan on Saturday and cover up behavior issues that occur off the field. The same discipline and more importantly, the same self-discipline, that is required to do what is necessary off the field is the same self-discipline that is needed on the field. The simple decision to get up, go to class and study when you are dog tired and everyone is telling you how great you played on Saturday takes self-discipline. The decision to walk away from a negative situation and not being drawn into it takes self-discipline. This is the same self-discipline that is needed on Saturday when you are exhausted and you need to draw on the last reserve of energy and execute your assignment that was practiced during the week.
College football is about more than winning a game; at the end of the day, it has to be about education and preparing young men for life. However, winning football games and fulfilling the higher missions of a college are not incompatible; they are one and the same. The Pirates did not win in spite of an important player being suspended just before a big game; the Pirates won because at East Carolina the football players are expected to do the right thing by the coaches and school administration. Sometimes the right thing means suspending a young man for a football game. The goal is not to punish the offending player and cast him as a bad person, but rather that he learn and correct his behavior. Moreover, it tells the other players that behavior standards are important.
The second set of lyrics with relevance for the Pirates is, “The Future is So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades.” The Pirates are on the verge of an outstanding season. The reward could be a major New Years bowl bid. However, the Pirates must guard against complacency and not let the season become a “what could have been” season. To some extent that has already occurred with the loss to South Carolina.
Now Cincinnati and Central Florida are seen as the threats remaining on the schedule, but ECU has a big target on its back. Regardless of win-loss records and press clippings, the Pirates need to give their undivided attention to each team they play. The Pirates have the talent to run the table from here on out, but they had the talent to beat Tulane in 2013 and lost.
If the Pirates take care of business, great things are in the future. They have a bye week coming up and play SMU in Greenville on October 4. Bye weeks can be dangerous; bye weeks with a lot of positive press coverage are even more dangerous. The Pirates need to jump on the Mustangs out of the gate. The first quarter of ECU versus SMU could very well set the tone for that game and rest of the season.

Pirates Shoot Down the Hokies

Wait, your school doesn't have one of these? You're doing it wrong. Photo: Wikipedia
 
I am not surprised that East Carolina beat Virginia Tech; I predicted a Pirate victory.  The surprising is how East Carolina won. The amazing thing about this victory is the Pirate’s leading receiver, Justin Hardy, was held to four receptions for forty-seven yards; East Carolina was inside the Virginia Tech 20 three times with 0 points to show for the effort and Virginia Tech scored 21 points and despite all that, the Pirates won.
The Pirates have matured and won because they are a solid balanced team. The offense is comprised of more than a Shane Carden pass to Justin Hardy. Virginia Tech limited Hardy to forty-seven yards, but Cam Worthy stepped up with six receptions for 224 yards. Jimmy Williams also had a solid performance with four catches four catches for seventy-seven yards. Trevon Brown, Bryce Williams and Isaiah Jones all caught a touchdown pass. Breon Allen rushed for 54 yards on 8 carries. That is 6.75 yards per carry. Despite giving up four sacks, the offensive line is due accolades. They gave Carden the time to hook up with Worthy on the longer passes. Scoring 28 points on a Virginia Tech defense is a big deal and only happens if everybody steps up and does their job.
The defense did their job. Terry Williams return  to  the defensive line was big. That gave the Pirates the heft to stop the run and collapse the Virginia Tech offensive line in on the quarterback when he tried to pass on key downs. The defensive secondary held Tech in check for most of the game. Josh Hawkins’ three interceptions were a big factor in ECU’s success against Virginia Tech.
This game was a solid win and a team effort. The Pirates did not play a flawless game, but they had the athleticism and determination to overcome their mistakes. Against South Carolina, the Pirates played toe to toe with a national power and came up a little short. This week, they played a nationally ranked team and used their toes to kick Virginia Tech’s butt.
Next week UNC comes to Dowdy-Ficklen. No doubt UNC has circled September 20 in their calendar for revenge due to the lopsided victory that ECU had over the Tar Heels last year. Moreover, UNC had an open date on September 13 and should be well rested and well prepared for the Pirates on September 20. However, East Carolina will lay another solid whipping on UNC for three reasons. One, East Carolina is simply a better team. The second reason, the game will be played in Dowdy-Ficklen; the ECU fans will be loud and proud. Third; the Pirates are a better disciplined football team. UNC will score to two or three touchdowns; I expect UNC will get an easy touchdown over the top of the Pirate defense.
However, UNC fell behind to Liberty and San Diego State in their first two games due to turnovers and sloppy play. This is a result of a lack of discipline and focus. Just as the off-field problems faced by the UNC football team are due to an institutional lack of discipline and commitment to doing things the right way, that attitude appears to have filtered down to the football team. However, ACC refs will be calling the game, and UNC will get some questionable calls and non-calls to go their way, but Saturday in Blacksburg the Pirates demonstrated they can survive bad calls, self-inflicted wounds and still do what is necessary to win.
The UNC game is a must win for the Pirates. The Pirates are now competing for a national ranking and exposure. The Tar Heels have some talented individuals, and the Pirates cannot take them for granted. However, all East Carolina has to do is play Pirate football to come away with a win. The Pirates take this game by ten points are better and then get a well deserved rest the next week before starting AAC play in Greenville on October 4 against the SMU.

ECU Missed Opportunities

 
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Poor execution on key plays by the Pirates, poor officiating and a strong South Carolina offensive line was the undoing for East Carolina against the Gamecock. With all of that, East Carolina went toe to toe with the Gamecocks in William Brice Stadium.
Sunday morning after the game, many Pirate fans will be blaming the officiating crew for East Carolina’s 23 to 33 loss against South Carolina. Although the officiating crew was a Southeastern Conference crew and made very questionable calls against ECU in critical junctures of the game, The Pirates still failed to execute in the red zone. Foremost was settling for field goals when touchdowns were needed. Carden is a magnificent quarterback, but the reality is his pass missed Justin Hardy in the end zone early in the game. The result was the Pirates had to settle for three points. That was on the Pirates, not the officials. Second, Carden threw a weak pass when he was trying to throw the ball away and it was intercepted by South Carolina. Third, someone upfront allowed too much penetration by a South Carolina defensive lineman and a field goal attempt by Warren Harvey was blocked. Those were the self-inflicted wounds.
The officiating was questionable. ECU linebacker Maurice Falls was called for unsportsman-like conduct when he came out of a pile with the football from an apparent fumble. The fifteen yard penalty gifted the Gamecocks with a first down after being stopped on a third down play. The second critical gift given to the Gamecocks by the officials occurred after the officials put the ball in play and then ECU was penalized five yards for snapping the ball too soon. That is a real head scratcher. The penalty came when ECU was near the South Carolina end zone and poised for a touchdown. Instead of a touchdown, the Pirate’s drive stalled and they settled for a field goal.
Sometimes bad officiating is part of the game. When the Pirates play the UNC in Greenville, ACC officials will be calling the game. If you believe that game will be called on the level, I have some bad news for you; neither the Easter Bunny nor the tooth fairy is for real. However, to be a winner teams must power through bad calls and do what is necessary to win.
The Gamecocks offensive line delivered the coup de grace on South Carolina’s final drive. With a little more than twelve minutes left on the clock, Carden threw a touchdown pass to Cam Worthy and cut South Carolina’s lead to seven points. The Gamecocks received the ensuing kick-off and methodically marched down the field taking over ten minutes off of the clock. A South Carolina field goal with approximately 1:30 left on the clock gave them a ten point lead and put the game out of reach for the Pirates. This was old fashion smash mouth football and the Pirates just could not stop them.
Despite the loss, the Pirates come away with a lot of promise. This is probably the best offensive line the Pirates will play in 2014. The Gamecock offensive line has two projected NFL picks; specifically, tackle Corey Robinson and guard A.J. Cann. ESPN.COM rated the South Carolina offensive line as the best in the S.E.C. Although the defensive line gave ground; they made U.S.C. earn it. Also, Terry Williams, ECU’s big man at the nose tackle position, should be healed and ready to play soon. William’s return will have a tremendous impact on the defense. A couple of more tackles for losses would have made a huge difference against the Gamecocks. In future games, Terry Williams has the talent to make those couple of big tackles. Also with the return of Williams, Chrishon Rose will move from the nose tackle position to defensive end. This adds more size and depth to the defensive front.
The defensive secondary is sound. In two games they have not given up a big play over the top. USC did score a T.D. on a blown pass coverage, but South Carolina was down near the goal line and had to earn the yardage to get near the goal line. South Carolina did exploit the secondary with several short underneath passes. However, the South Carolina offensive line provided Dylan Thompson, the USC quarterback, ample time to go to his secondary receivers. When Thompson tried to go long, the ECU secondary by and large matched the Gamecocks’ receivers step for step. Terry Williams’ return and Chrison Rose’s return to defensive end should help the Pirates to generate more pressure on opposing quarterbacks in the future games.
The Pirates face Virgina Tech and UNC before ECU opens conference play against SMU. Virgina Tech’s upset of Ohio State raises a lot of questions. However, at this point it is safe to say Virginia Tech looks tough. The Hokie defense is the cornerstone of the team. To win this game, the Pirate’s pass protection must hit another gear and keep the Hokie blitzers off of the Pirate quarterback. As a matter of routine, Carden must hit short quick passes and the receivers must get big numbers on yards after the catch. In 2013, the Hokies packed the short and intermediate zones with defenders, so one with expect the Hokies do the same this year. To win, the Pirates must give Carden sufficient time on occasion to go deep and make the Hokies pay for packing the short and intermediate passing lanes.
At this point, it hard to say if Virginia Tech’s defeat of Ohio was an anomaly or if Virginia Tech is a national power. Regardless, after the USC game, it appears the Pirates can hang with anyone and if the Hokies make the mistakes, the Pirates can win this game.
UNC gets a bye on September 13 and then travels to Dowdy-Ficklen September 20. So far, UNC has not been very impressive. They came back and beat Liberty, an FCS school. The Tar Heels intercepted a pass in the closing seconds of the San Diego game to seal a win there. The Pirates will lay the wood on the Tar Heels again.

The ECU Secondary

Since the Pirate defensive secondary has only one returning starter, a big question for the upcoming season will be the strength of the ECU defensive secondary. However, after reviewing the stats on the Pirate depth chart, two things become apparent.First, the secondary is inexperienced. Second, the defensive backs ECU have are smart, tough, and fast.

The one returning starter ECU has in the defensive backfield is Detric Allen. His story is what college football should be about. He completed his bachelor’s degree in business management and is now working on a graduate degree. He earned a place on the dean’s list multiple times and of course has been on the honor roll also.

In terms of his football contributions, Allen started nine games in 2013 and had 40 tackles. His time in the 40 yard dash, as reported by Rivals.Com, was 4.5 in high school. Allen’s height should be helpful in defending against the pass; he is 6’1. Allen will bring brains and athletic ability as a starting cornerback.

Josh Hawkins is also listed as a starter at cornerback on the depth chart. Defensive backs need to be fast. Hawkins is fast; his time in the 40 yard dash is 4.38. Defensive backs need to be strong. Hawkins is strong. In 2013, he was one of only twelve Pirates to receive an excellent rating for his work in the strength and conditioning program. He has bench pressed 335 pounds. Although he is only 5’10; his vertical jump is 39.5, so he can hang with the tall guys going up for the pass. He also has experience. In 2013 he played in all thirteen games and averaged 5.5 tackles per game.

Rocco Scarfone will add depth at the cornerback position. Scarfone is a junior that apparently knows his way around the library as well as the weight room. Like Detric Allen, Scarfone has made the dean’s list and the honor roll on multiple occasions. According to his Pirate bio, he also has the position record for the top power clean lift at 323 pounds. His time in the 40 is 4.5.

More impressive is the versatility and toughness he displayed in high school. He started as a quarterback and defensive back. He broke his hand his senior year; therefore, could not play quarterback, so he switched to receiver. Playing with a broken hand gives evidence to his commitment and toughness, as does his record in the classroom and the weight room. The conclusion; the cornerback position is solid.

Lamar Ivey is slated as the starter at the strong safety position. He has good size at 6’1 and 196 pounds. That gives him the height to contest passes and the weight to punish any receiver or runner. According to his Pirate bio, his time in the 40 yard dash is 4.5. Ivey’s experience is limited; he has not started a game. In 2013 he made ten tackles, but seven of them were on the kick-off team. Toughness is a requirement of special teams. Not everyone can run fifty yards, fend off blockers and tackle the kick-off return man. Ivey did it seven times in 2013.

Coming out of high school, Rivals. Com rated Ivey as one of the top five sleeper recruits in the country. The 2014 season will give him the opportunity to shed the sleeper image and be one of the big dogs in the Pirate secondary. Ivey’s record indicates he has the speed, size and toughness to do the job.

Dominique Lennon is listed as the starter at the free safety position. Three of his vital statistics tell the story. He is 6’2, 205 pounds and runs the 40 in 4.42. That is a big package moving quickly to break up passes and put receivers on the turf. According to his Pirate bio, he has benched pressed 355 pounds and has clean lifted 308 pounds. Moreover, his vertical jump is listed at 37 inches. Not many receivers should be able to go over the top of him with Lennon’s 6’2 height and leaping ability. His experience is limited. Lennon played in eleven games in 2013 and made eight tackles.

The Pirate secondary has the talent to develop into a sound unit. The question is how quickly. Although South Carolina was thumped by Texas A&M, the Gamecocks showed they can go deep. An inexperienced secondary is going to get burned a few times n the early going and South Carolina will probably burn the ECU defense just at the Gamecocks burned Texas A&M on the deep ball.

However, the job of the defense is to keep the opponents from scoring more points than the Pirate offense. The Pirate offense should be putting up a lot of points from the get-go in 2014. The early games will be a learning experience for the Pirate secondary and the defense might give up 35 points. However, with the Pirate firepower on offense; an opponent scoring only 35 points may well be in deep trouble. By the time conference play begins, the new will be worn off the secondary and the potential is there for the defensive backs to be a force. Until the secondary gets a little experience, the Pirate offense is capable of giving the defense the breathing room that will be needed.

2014 East Carolina Predictions – November and December

This is the third installment of my predictions for the 2014 East Carolina Pirates. The previous installments covered the first eight games. I predicted an upset of South Carolina and victories over NCCU, UNC and Virginia Tech in the first four games of the season. The Pirates begin league play in game five against SMU at Dowdy-Ficklen. I predicted a Pirate win, but be careful. I also predicted a win over USF on the road and a blow-out win against U. Conn in Greenville. The Pirates play Temple at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia for the eighth game. I predicted a Pirate win, but I see shades of Tulane and UAB where the Pirates do not play up to their potential in a big empty stadium and the home team has enough of talent to and upset the Pirates. So, Temple should be a Pirate win, but the team does not need to take the week off; they will have to play to win.
The final third of the season is the real challenge. Provided the Pirates take care of business against SMU, USF, U. Conn and Temple; ECU will be playing for the championship the final four games of the season. On November 13, a Thursday night game, the Pirates travel to Cincinnati. Tulane comes to Greenville on November 22. Next, the Pirates travel to Tulsa. The final game of the regular season is CENTRAL FLORIDA AT DOWDY-FICKLEN.
The following are predictions for East Carolina against Cincinnati, Tulane, Tulsa, and Central Florida.

East Carolina at Cincinnati  Thursday November 13

This will be a tough, tough, tough game. If East Carolina wins here, the Pirates are in the catbird’s seat to win the conference.
Cincinnati will have a good football team in 2014; they were picked by a media poll at AAC media day to win the conference championship. The Bearcats went 9-3 last year in the regular season, but lost to the South Florida Bulls. The Bulls were 2-10 in the 2013 season. To put this in perspective, Ben Flick, a freshman member of the Bearcat football team was killed in an automobile accident the week preceding the South Florida game. However, the Bearcats laid an unexplainable egg when they were pounded by UNC in the Belk Bowl.
For 2014, the offense will lead the way for the Bearcats. In the spring game the first team offense scored 24 points against the first team defense in one half of football. Coach Tuberville has two choices for the starting quarterback position to lead the offense. One is senior Munchie Legaux; the second one is Gunner Kiel, a sophomore transfer from Notre Dame. Legaux started the first two games for the Bearcats in 2013. In the first game of the 2013 season, Legaux completed 13 of 20 passes for 145 yards against Perdue. He also had one touchdown and two interceptions. He suffered a severe leg injury in the second game of the season when Cincinnati played Illinois. He completed 17 of 31 passes for 237 yards before he suffered his season ending injury. The other quarterback option, Gunner Kiel, threw for 300 yards in the first half against the first team defense at the spring scrimmage.
Gunner Kiel has an in interesting history. In 2011 Gunner Kiel was a top quarterback recruit coming out of high school. USA Today named him to their second team All USA Team. Rivals.Com rated him the number one quarterback prospect in the country and the top player from Indiana. This is a short list of the impressive high school accolades received by Kiel. The problem is he has not thrown a pass in a formal football game since his senior year in high school, which was 2011. Another issue, coming out of high school he committed to the Indiana Hoosiers; he backed off of that and made a commitment to LSU; Kiel changed his mind again and enrolled at Notre Dame. After one year at Notre Dame, he transferred to Cincinnati. I do not know what all the changes mean, if anything, but it is a head scratcher. Now, speculation is that Kiel will get the starting nod at Cincinnati
The key to an offense is the interior line. Cincinnati appears to be solid from tackle to tackle. They are led by senior Eric Lefeld at the left tackle position. Lefeld was named to the Outland Trophy Watch List in the 2013 and is on the  2014 Watch List. The youngest player on the starting five is center Deyshawn Bond. Bond is on the Rimington Watch List. The Rimington Trophy is for the outstanding center in college football. Parker Ehinger is the right tackle. He was 3 star recruit by Rivals and was First Team Michigan All-State in high school. The left guard position is expected to be filed by Kevin Schloemer. He has good size at 6’7 and 312 pounds.
Behind that offensive line, the Bearcats have two quality running backs that can be rotated. First is a senior Hossey Williams. Last season he carried the ball 115 times and gained 655 yards for an average of 5.69 yards per carry. Next up is Tion Green, a junior. Green had 91 carries and gained 412 yards in 2013. His average gain per carry is a solid 4.52 yards.
Cincinnati also has quality receivers. Their leading receiver is Shaq Washington. Last season he had 78 receptions for 783 yards. Chris Moore, a junior, had 45 receptions and averaged 14.3 yards per catch. A third wide receiver, Mekale McKay only had 16 receptions, but gained 485 yards. That is a whooping 30 yards per catch.
Cincinnati’s weakness appears to be the interior defensive line. Cameron Beard will be only person with significant playing time available to play tackle. The defensive ends and the secondary appear solid. The Bearcat offense blistered the defense in the spring game. The question is whether the offense is that strong or is the defense that weak. We will know that answer as the season progresses. The key for the Pirates will be to establish a running game to compliment the passing game.
The Bearcats have the edge in this game. However, East Carolina will put up a lot of points and the game will not be decided until the fourth quarter. The Pirates have a proven  leader at the q.b. position with Shane Carden. The Bearcats have a senior trying to return from a devastating knee injury in Munchie Legaux. The probable starter though is Gunner Kiel. He has not completed a pass in college competition and his propensity to change his mind has to worry Coach Tuberville. This will be a close game with a lot of touchdowns. The Bearcats’ offensive line and home field advantage could be the difference.

Tulane at East Carolina (Greenville) Saturday Nov.  22

East Carolina wins this game. Payback is a uh—–. Well, anyway there is a score to settle in this game since the Green Waves upset the Pirates last season in the Superdome. The Green Waves hit the road and face the Pirates in Dowdy-Ficklen in 2014. The Pirates are stronger on both sides of the ball than Tulane. To come away with a victory, East Carolina has to play its game and not commit turnovers and foolish penalties.
Tulane is going through a youth movement, starting with the quarterback position. Nick Montana, the son of Joe, has been replaced as the number one quarterback with Tanner Lee, a red-shirt freshman. In the spring scrimmage Lee completed 12 of 20 passes for 139 yards. Curtis Johnson, Tulane’s head coach pointed out several of the front line defensive players did not participate in the scrimmage. So, the question remains as to how Tanner Lee will handle pressure generated by large, angry, first team defensive linemen who play for Tulane’s opponents.
Tulane’s offensive line is young, but experienced. Three sophomores, one junior and only one senior are projected to be starters on the interior offensive line. However, with the exception of Colton Hanson, all have experience as a starter. The center, Nathan Shienle, is a red-shirt sophomore and started at the left guard spot for twelve games in the 2013 season. Time will tell if he can make the transition to center. Based on experience, the line should be okay.
The numbers for the wide receiver position are unimpressive. Tulane’s leading receiver is Justyn Shackleford. Last season he caught 36 passes for 419 yards. The two other projected receivers, Xavier Rush and Kedrick Banks, had a combined 36 receptions for 314 yards in 2013. With a red-shirt freshman quarterback and no big time receivers, it is hard to see Tulane lighting up the scoreboard.
The running game does not seem to be in any better shape. The projected starter is red-shirt freshman, Sherman Badie. Badie has good speed and size. He is 6’1 and weighs 195 pounds. Badie is also on the Tulane track team. He has the tenth fastest time in school history for the 100 meter dash at 10.72 seconds. Senior Rob Kelley has only 253 carries and 1038 yards for his career at Tulane. In the 2013 season, he had 98 carries and 420 yards. His average per carry in 2013 was 4.2 yards.
On the defensive side of the ball, the big man is Royce LaFrance. He is a junior and made Honorable Mention All Conference USA in 2013. LaFrance also was sixth in Conference USA in sacks. However, he will be suspended the first half of the first game for a violation of team rules. No indication has been given that anymore is involved than that. The rest of the front line is young. The front seven has one senior and one junior. The defensive backfield is the strength of the defense. Lorenzo Doss is the leader in the defensive secondary. He is a ball hawk that had seven interceptions in 2013. He was an All Conference USA selection and made Sports Illustrated First Team All American list. Doss has good company in the secondary. Darion Monroe and Sam Scofield were starters in 2013 and will be back for the Green Waves. The least experienced member of the secondary will be the only senior, Taurean Nixon. However, Nixon is a transfer from Memphis where he did have playing experience, but was not a starter. He also played in nine games for the Green Waves in 2013.
East Carolina will win this game, but the Pirates have to take care of the ball. Also, Tulane’s defensive strength is in the secondary, so the Pirates need to get the running game going. The big weakness for Tulane is offense. They are very young and might  be good in the future, but the team’s colors include green, which also describes the experience level of key member of the Tulane offense.
This is a home game for the Pirates. No excuses for anything, but a win. Pirates take this one by a couple of touchdowns.

East Carolina at Tulsa (Tulsa) Friday November 28

This is another take care of business game for the Pirates. East Carolina can beat Tulsa nine times out ten in 2014. However, this game has some earmarks that could spell trouble for the Pirates. If the Pirates are not careful, this could be the one game out of ten for three reasons. First, the game is on the road. Second, the game is played on a Friday. That means East Carolina has a short week of practice and then a long trip. Third, the next game is Central Florida. The Pirates should have a successful season in 2014; ditto, Central Florida should have a successful season in 2014. It is very reasonable to expect that East Carolina and Central Florida will play for the conference championship on December 4 in Dowdy-Ficklen. Despite Coach McNeil’s insistence that the team focuses on the business at hand; let’s face it, Tulsa is not expected to win a lot of games this season and the Pirates might have a tendency to look past the Golden Hurricanes.
Tulsa won 3 games and lost 9 last year. They had two conference victories. The Pirates pounded Tulsa 58 to 24 at Dowdy-Ficklen. However, Tulsa was competitive against Rice and Tulane. Tulsa lost to Rice in overtime. Rice won the Conference USA Championship and beat Marshall in the conference championship game. Tulsa played Tulane close, losing 14 to 7. Tulane had a winning record in 2013 and went to the New Orleans’ Bowl. So, the 2013 Golden Hurricanes did have their moments, and the 2014 Golden Hurricanes will also have their moments. To repeat, the Pirates will be well served to take Tulsa serious or it might be bad news.
However, Tulsa will have trouble scoring points. An offense starts with two elements, the offensive line and the quarterback and Tulsa appears to have serious problems at the quarterback spot. The expected starter is Dane Evans. He is a sophomore and in 2013 completed 84 passes on 195 attempts. He threw four touchdown passes and ten interceptions; not good. Backing up Evans is a true freshman, Jabe Burgess. Burgess did arrive on campus early and participated in spring drills. He completed five of eight passes for sixty-four yards in the spring scrimmage.
The offensive line should be solid. Walton Davis is the lone senior expected to start on the offensive line at the right tackle spot. He started eight games in 2013. Dylan Foxworth will start at the center position. He is a sophomore and was named to the Conference USA All Freshman Team in 2013. He is also on the Rimington Trophy Watch List. The Rimington is for the nation’s outstanding center in college football. Stafford Gifford is a junior and is expected to start at the left tackle spot. He had twelve starts in 2013. Chris Wallace, a sophomore, played in all twelve games in 2013 and is expected to start at the left guard position. Both Gifford and Wallace should be solid on the line.
The running backs are going to have to step up big for Tulsa to have a credible offense and a winning season. Coming out of spring practice, James Flanders was listed as the starting running back. Last season Flanders had two carries and five yards. According to the Tulsa Athletics homepage, he ran for 119 yards in 14 carries at the spring scrimmage.
The number two person at running back is a junior college transfer, Taverreon Dickerson. He only participated in one week of spring practice at Tulsa due to an injury. Dickerson played one year at Trinity Valley Community College before transferring to Tulsa. At Trinity he had 65 carries for 555 yards. That is 8.5 yards per run, better than respectable. The question for both running backs is experience and if they can take the hits for an entire season. With the issues at quarterback, the running backs are going to have to produce.
For receivers, Keyarris Garrett will return after missing most of the 2013 season with a broken leg. In 2012 he had 65 catches for 845 yards. No one else on the squad has those numbers.
The good news for the Tulsa defense is that ten returning starters will be back. The eleventh starter will be Petera Wilson, a highly recruited freshman from Tennessee. The bad news, Tulsa gave up an average of 32 points against conference opponents in 2013. East Carolina scorched Tulsa for 58 points at Dowdy-Ficklen. A marginal change will not get the job done for Tulsa. That said, Tulsa does have standouts on the defense. Michael Mudoh, a linebacker, led Conference USA in tackles last year with 133. That was the fourth best in the nation. Demarco Nelson did not play in 2013, but in 2012 was on the Bronko Nagurski Watch List. He is projected to be at the safety position in 2014. Will Barrow had an outstanding personal game against ECU in 2013. The statistics for his game are a double edged sword though; he was playing a defensive back position and made eleven tackles. Given that it was a d.b. that made 11 tackles, that means the Pirates gained some decent yardage before the stop was made. Barrow also returned a Pirate fumble for 37 yard touchdown.
The Pirates will win this game, but better not take it for granted. In 2012 Tulsa was the big dog in Conference-USA. They won the conference championship and then beat Iowa State in the Liberty Bowl. Winning is a culture and Tulsa has a winning culture. They might need a year or two to get things back on track, but they will.

Central Florida at East Carolina Thursday Dec 4

Central Florida at Dowdy-Ficklen, this has the makings of a made for television game. Oh, it is; a Thursday night game carried by ESPN. Despite the Thursday night setting, this game will be fun. The conference championship could well be on the line. If not, Central Florida is one of those teams that the Pirate faithful love to hate, so Dowdy-Ficklen should be filled with loud energetic Pirate fans.
The game will be decided in the weeks preceding the December 4th game night. This game will be about which team took care of business getting to this point, and then, who wants it. Central Florida will have a tough defense and a solid offensive line. The question is if a new quarterback can replace Blake Bortles. The Knights outstanding receiver, Jeffery Godfrey is gone, but like ECU they are deep at the receiver position.
If the Pirates stay on task and beat the teams they should beat; they will win. This will be the last home game for Shane Carden, Justin Hardy and the other seniors; they will take the field with fight and swagger. Someone on the Pirate defense spurred on by the Pirate fans will make a big play.
pirates get readyBoth teams have a short week. The Knights play at SFU on Friday November 28; then travel to Greenville on December 4. The Pirates have the long trip to Tulsa on November 28, but having the Central Florida game at Dowdy-Ficklen will be a big advantage. Conversely, the ECU game will be Central Florida’s second consecutive road trip.
The Pirates will win by the slimmest of margins. Home field advantage will be the difference.

Predictions for East Carolina Against SMU, USF, U.Conn, and Temple

This is the second in three installments on preseason predictions for the East Carolina Pirates. In the first installment, North Carolina Central, South Carolina, Virginia Tech and North Carolina were reviewed. I went out on a limb and predicted an upset win over South Carolina along with wins over the other three teams. This week Southern Methodist, South Florida, Connecticut and Temple will be reviewed.
Just as the Pirates traditionally can rise to the occasion and beat teams ranked much higher than East Carolina, they also can lay an egg and lose to a team they should easily beat. But, that is why we play the games. You have to win on the field. East Carolina should win all four in this middle stretch of their schedule. But, the 2013 Pirates indicated a propensity to play to the level of their competition. East Carolina beat Old Dominion 52 to 38, but ODU stayed in the game until the fourth quarter. And of course, East Carolina lost to Tulane. In all fairness, Tulane was respectable in 2013; their record was 7 and 6. More telling, Tulane was 6 and 0 in the regular season at home. Tulane’s only loss at home was to Louisiana Lafayette in the New Orleans Bowl. Even a casual observer of Conference-USA football knows the Superdome is a large cavernous stadium that is largely empty at Tulane’s home games. Apparently the Green Waves turned a lack of fan support into a home field advantage. Regardless, the Pirates were favored to win the game and lost.
Enough about 2013, the Pirates need to go 4-0 in this mid-season set of games against Southern Methodist, South Florida, Connecticut and Temple. All of these games, except for Temple are played in October, the middle part of the season. The Pirates play Temple November 1. Also, this is the easiest leg of the season. The Pirates should sweep all of their October games and the opening day of November. The conference championship will be determined in the final four games when East Carolina plays Cincinnati, Tulane, Tulsa and close out with Central Florida at Dowdy-Ficklen.
Southern Methodist at East Carolina Saturday October 4
The Pirates open play in the AAC at home against Southern Methodist. This is a team that East Carolina should beat. SMU’s first question of the season is going to be the quarterback position. Coming out of spring practice, Neal Burchrum had the starting spot. Burchram had extensive playing time in four games in the 2013 season. His best game was against Central Florida; he completed 24 of 34 passes for 222 yards against the Knights. However, Matt Davis, a former Texas A&M quarterback is now on the SMU squad. Davis left A&M and went the juco route in 2013. He played for Tyler Junior College. At Tyler, Davis was named the offensive player of the week by the National Junior College Athletic Association after a come from behind victory over Blinn College. Davis and Burchrum will need additional game experience, but both should be competent at the quarterback position. Also, the offense will be aided by the return of two experienced quality receivers, Darius Joseph and Stephen Nelson.
The SMU defense was porous last year. Opponents averaged 33.33 points per game. The Mustang defense has an issue similar to the Pirates; SMU has lost three starters from the defensive backfield. If the ECU-SMU games comes down to which team can exploit an inexperienced secondary, East Carolina has a big edge. Shane Carden and the Pirate’s corps of proven receivers should be able to pick up big yards and a lot of points on SMU. SMU does not have the experience at the quarterback position to inflict similar damage on the Pirate’s defense.
That said, SMU is scary. Although they had a losing season in 2013, going 5 and 7, the Mustangs carried Rutgers to triple overtime before losing 55 to 52. They also lost a heartbreaker to Central Florida; the score17 to 13. Rutgers had a decent season in 2013, winning six games and going to the Pinstripe bowl where they lost to Notre Dame 29-16. UCF went 12 and 1 in 2013. Their reward was a trip to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and a 52 to 42 victory over the Baylor Bears.
The Pirates will win this game, but do not take it for granted. The Pirates home-field advantage could be big.
East Carolina at South Florida  Saturday October, 11
This is another game East Carolina should win, and must win considering the strength of the Pirates conference schedule is in the final four games of the season. The Bulls only won two games in 2013. However, one of those victories came at the expense of Cincinnati. The Bearcats had a good team in 2013, going 9 and 3 in the regular season and a loss to the UNC in the Belk Bowl.
The raw numbers do not look good for USF. Last year they only averaged 13.75 points per game. Their defense gave up an average of 28.58 points per game. Granted, 2013 is 2013 and 2014 is 2014, but you must have a base on which to build. The Bulls have yet to show they have established the solid base needed to move forward. Mike White, the projected starter at quarterback, is a sophomore and started the last six games of the 2013 season. He is a big boy, 6’4 and weighs 211. His completion percentage is respectable at 53%. However, White’s touchdown to interception ratio is not good; in 2013 he had three TD passes and nine interceptions. However, he was a true freshman without a lot of weapons around him.
The Bulls’ offensive line appears solid. Left tackle Darrell Williams, center Austin Reiter, and right tackle Bryanjar Gudmundson are returning starters. Thor Jozweak is slated to be the starting left guard. He played in nine games in 2012, his freshman year. He missed the 2013 season due to medical issues. The right guard position will be filled by Quinterrius Eatmon. Eatmon, a senior, started eleven games in 2013. He missed the final game due to an injury.
The offense will be okay, but nothing great. USF’s receiving corps is experienced, but the numbers are mundane. Their leading receiver is Andre Davis. In 2013 he caught forty-nine passes for 735 yards. He is a threat for the deep pass. His average reception is for fifteen yards. Darius Tice, a sophomore, will be the running back. His size is good, 6’0 and 205 pounds. However, he is green. For the 2013 season Tice only had 35 carries for a total of 141 yards. With a young quarterback and an experienced offensive line, it is logical that the running back will be called on to produce this year. Tice will have to be the man if USF is to have a successful year in 2014.
USF’s vulnerability is the defensive secondary. The four starting defensive backs have a combined twelve starts between them at USF. Jamie Byrd, a transfer from Iowa Western Community College, should be a big help to the defensive secondary. At the junior college level Byrd earned Second Team All-American honors. The addition of Byrd will be insufficient to stop ECU’s passing attack. The Pirates’ receiver corps is too deep and too good for an inexperienced secondary to handle. Carden and company should put up a lot of points.
Unless ECU takes the week off to enjoy the beach, they win by two touchdowns or better.
Connecticut at East Carolina  Thursday October 23.
This game sets up nicely on East Carolina’s schedule. The Pirates play the Huskies on a Thursday night, but have a full week of practice because the preceding Saturday, October 18, is an open date. Connecticut also gets the preceding Saturday off, but travel fatigue may still be an issue for the Huskies. East Carolina is the second game on a two game southern tour for the Huskies. They play Tulane in New Orleans on October 11 and then faces the Pirates on the October 23 at Dowdy-Ficklen in Greenville.
U. Conn has an incredibly strong team, great rebounding, good perimeter shooting, oops wrong sport. Football, not so much. In 2013 the Huskies posted a 3 and 9 record. Unfortunately, the Huskies cannot claim a tough schedule was the reason for their dismal record. They lost to SFU and North Carolina State. SFU and NCSU had a combined record of 5 wins and 21 losses.
The 2014 season will not be any better. First, they are going through a coaching transition. This is not to disparage the new coach, Bob Diaco, but a change in coaches often causes short term problems. Determining the starting quarterback will be an early issue for Coach Diaco. He has three options to choose from; Casey Cochran, Chandler Whitmer, and Tim Boyle. During the 2013 season, Whitmer started the first four games, Boyle the middle four games and Cochran started the last four games. The edge has to go to Casey Cochran. He threw 175 passes and completed 111, a 63 percent completion rate in the 2013 season. The total passing yards for Cochran was 1,293 yards and 7.3 yards per attempt. The most important statistic is that the Huskies won three of the four games that Cochran started.
The offensive line is inexperienced. The center, Alex Mateas, is the only returning offensive lineman to start all twelve games in 2013. Dalton Gifford, a right tackle, started in six games during the 2013. After that, there is a huge drop-off in the amount of experience the Huskies can put on the offensive line. An offense cannot be successful without a solid offense line.
Coach Diaco is changing the defensive scheme for a 4-3 to a 3-4. In 2013 opponents averaged over 30 points a game against the Huskies. Most team cannot give up that many points and win, so the Huskies move to a 3-4 defense makes sense. What do they have to lose? Regardless, the Pirates strength will be the offense and the Pirates should light up the score board against the Huskies.
The Pirates win this one, could be a blow out. The Pirates play at home and it will be the second consecutive long trip for the Huskies. The Pirates have an offensive and a defensive plan in place that the players know. The game will be telecast on ESPNU; this could be a showcase for the Pirates.
East Carolina at Temple
This game should be a win for the Pirates, but it is not a lock; East Carolina could lay an egg here. Temple’s record was 2 and 10 last year. The only conference win was over Memphis. However, the Owls have a young, but solid quarterback in P.J. Walker. In the 2013 season, Walker’s freshman year, he completed 152 passes out of 250 attempts and for a 60 percent completion rate. For the negatives, he threw eight interceptions and was sacked twenty-three times.
The interior offensive line might be an issue for the Owls. The anticipated offensive line consists of two juniors, two sophomores and a redshirt freshman. The center, Kyle Friend, started every game in 2013. Starting a freshman and two sophomores has to cause concern. This will be a particular thorny issue when the Owls play ECU because the Pirates have a strong defensive front seven.
The Temple defense also has problems. In 2013 the Owls gave up an average of 29 points a game. They held only four teams to less than twenty-five points. Consequently, Carden and friends should have a good outing against the Owls.
The problem for East Carolina is they could be playing this game in a big virtually empty stadium. The Owls play their home games at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles. The Pirates tendency to play to the level of their competition could cost them. Also, the Pirates tendency to fail to play up to their potential in an empty stadium is a concern. Any long time ECU fan can attest to the surprising losses and close games that have occurred at Tulane and UAB. Both have big arenas with notoriously low attendance at the respective schools’ home games. Apparently the Pirates believe it is better to be hated than ignored. Lincoln Field’s capacity is 68,532. The average attendance for Temple’s home conference games in 2013 was a little better than 22,300. The low fan interest might hurt the Pirates.
The Pirates will win. Depending on how the P.J. Walker and the Temple offensive line progresses; this could be a real game. The Pirates also have to keep their energy and enthusiasm up. Philadelphia fans have reportedly booed Santa Claus at the Eagles’ games. If Temple is in the middle of a losing streak when ECU comes to town, hopefully some of the Santa Claus hating fans will show up and boo the Pirates. That should be good for couple of Pirate touchdowns and the difference in the game.
Summary
The Pirates will go 4 and 0 in this middle stretch of games. Moreover, if they want to be a factor in the championship race, the Pirates have to win all four of these games. The Pirates travel to Cincinnati and Tulsa, the last quarter of the season. Tulane will be the only home game they have in November. The Pirates have to take care of business with SMU, South Florida, U. Conn, and Temple. The championship will be determined the last four games of the season when East Carolina plays Cincinnati, Tulane, Tulsa and closes the regular season at Dowdy-Ficklen against Central Flor