For the seventh year in a row, columnist Denny O'Brien is a member
of the voting panel
for the Harris Interactive College Football Poll
commissioned by the Bowl Championship Series. O'Brien was nominated to the panel by Conference USA.
His weekly ballot will
be published in this space each Monday throughout the
rest of the season.
Harris Poll is a component of the BCS Standings. O'Brien's
ballot below was filed in conjunction with this week's Harris Poll.
Denny O'Brien's Harris Poll Ballot
opponents and current and incoming Conference USA teams highlighted in yellow.)
2. Kansas State
5. Notre Dame
6. Louisiana State
8. Southern Cal
9. Oregon State
11. Florida State
12. Mississippi State
13. Texas Tech
17. Texas A&M
21. Boise State
23. Texas Christian
This Week's Bowl Championship Series Standings
This Week's Harris, AP & Coaches Polls
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As the Big East ponders the addition of a 14th football member, it
should strongly consider characteristics it mysteriously neglected
during the previous round of league expansion — namely, the addition of
a ready-made football culture that fits within the league’s historical
The additions of Boise State, Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, San
Diego State, and Southern Methodist far from delivered that important
combination. East Carolina does.
Big East simply shouldn’t overlook the upside that can be delivered with
the Pirates’ inclusion.
If the league brass needs a history lesson to help guide future
decisions, it need only look at Virginia Tech as a prime example.
In the early 90s, when the Big East added football to its athletics
menu, the Hokies made the cut while the Pirates didn’t. At the time, the
two programs were on relatively equal footing, with East Carolina
arguably the more successful program, having registered a national Top
10 finish in 1991.
The aftermath of those decisions thrust Virginia Tech up the competitive
food chain and eventually into the national elite. ECU evolved into a
program that consistently made bowl appearances, but was unable to raise
its competitive ceiling.
While a Big East invitation won’t prove the corner-turning event that it
would have in the early 90s, it would still be a significant upgrade
over the Pirates’ current conference setting. From that perspective, the
response to any overtures from the Big East, including football-only,
should be a resounding “yes” — even if football-only membership forces a
reshuffling of ECU's conference affiliation arrangements for other
That much is a no-brainer decision as much as it should be for the Big
East, considering the other schools getting mentioned for Big East
inclusion: Air Force, Army, and Brigham Young.
Even if the Big East is interested in that trio, you have to wonder if
the attraction would be reciprocal. It’s hard to envision BYU being
seriously interested, given its attractive deal as a football
independent, while Air Force and Army aren’t exactly competitive fits.
Of the criteria generally considered during expansion discussions, East
Carolina lacks only the television mega-market that many conferences
have given an elevated status. But in the Big East’s case, the addition
of large markets has not delivered the television dollars that it
Perhaps that’s because TV executives are beginning to realize that
market size isn’t the only path to financial returns.
A league’s competitive makeup and the presence of healthy, geographic
rivalries clearly matter when negotiating television deals. So does a
historical football-first culture, fully-invested fan base, and
significant media following.
Unlike the programs the Big East added last year, and the others it is
rumored to be considering, East Carolina delivers all of that. If the
Big East takes those factors into strong consideration, perhaps a fourth
time will be the charm for ECU.
Defense makes schedule look tougher
Three weeks ago, it looked as if East Carolina’s stretch run could set
up as a cakewalk. But outside of Tulane, there aren’t many gimmes on the
This becomes apparent when the most recent performances of the Pirates’
defense are taken into account — including
a 35-point outburst by a one-win UAB bunch.
Of the remaining opponents, only Tulane has less offensive talent than
the Blazers. Navy might be an exception, but the presence of the triple
option negates any talent deficiencies the Midshipmen might present.
ECU’s inability to pressure the quarterback and cover receivers with
consistency makes most of the Pirates’ remaining games a toss up.
It’s been a long time since East Carolina boasted a Big Three on
offense. But as the offense has evolved under third-year offensive
coordinator Lincoln Riley, so has a trio of playmakers that has become
the cornerstone of the Pirates’ recent success.
Slowly but surely, Shane Carden, Vintavious Cooper, and Justin Hardy
have grown into their playmaker roles, contributing much needed balance
to an offense that arrived in Greenville with an unbalanced, pass-heavy
All three are likely to contend for all-league honors by season’s end,
with Hardy a strong contender for the league’s best offensive player.
What’s more, all three will be in an ECU uniform next season, offering
an increasingly dangerous proposition for defenses next season.
If East Carolina can stabilize the offensive front and continue to
develop a supporting cast, this could have the look of a record-breaking
operation next fall.
The trio of Carden, Cooper, and Hardy is largely the reasons why.