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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.


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.

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.
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

The Best of Times; Remembering the Big East's Run With the "Big Boys"

With all this talk of committees and selection process, it’s hard to imagine college football ever used computers to pick its national championship games. Times have sure changed. The much maligned BCS era produced its share of controversy over the years, but for the old Big East (preceding the American), it wasn’t so bad.
The conference racked up a 9–7 record overall during that time in BCS games, with some huge wins along the way. While the conference was never considered the upper crust of college football, it sure had its time in the sun.
Below are the top five moments for the Big East/American between 1998 and 2013.
1) UCF wins the Fiesta Bowl. As far as wins go, it might not have been the biggest. After all, they beat Baylor, and on most years Baylor hardly passes as a division one program. But the Golden Knights winning a BCS game against a top-ten team in 2014 marks the high point for the American. Why? Because in no other year did the conference receive so much criticism, and have so much to prove, than in its inaugural year.
2) West Virginia embarrasses No. 3 Oklahoma in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl. No one saw that one coming. Not even WVU coach Rich Rodriguez, who bolted for Michigan before the game was even played. Interim coach Bill Stewart rallied his team to not just a win, but a good old fashioned beat down of the Sooners, 48-28.

3) Big East finishes 2006 season with a 5—0 bowl record. The only conference that year with a perfect bowl record was highlighted with Louisville’s Orange Bowl win over Wake Forrest. The Cardinals, Rutgers and West Virginia would all finish in the top AP top 12 that year.
4) Cincinnati goes 12—0 in the 2009 regular season. Any other year that doesn’t feature an undefeated Alabama and an undefeated Texas, and you might have lived to see the Cincinnati Bearcats in a national title game. When Nebraska blew the Big 12 title game in the final seconds versus Texas, their fate was sealed. Brian Kelly left the team a matter of days later and the Bearcats were outclassed by Florida in the Sugar Bowl.

5) Miami wins the 2002 National Title. The one and only a time a Big East team won a national title. It seems like a distant memory now that the Hurricanes were ever in the Big East, but they left a heck of an impression.
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