East Carolina’s football schedule for 2024 looks to be friendlier in some respects than the challenges the Pirates faced during a 2-10 season last year.
ECU opened the 2023 schedule at Michigan. It was a revenue game with $1.8 million in compensation for the Pirates.
Budgetary help was generated with a 30-3 loss to the eventual national champions, but the matchup was costly in terms of developing an inexperienced offensive unit.
ECU quarterback Mason Garcia, a highly-regarded recruit who had been in the program for three years with one emergency start as a true freshman, was not ready for the speed and talent of the Wolverines.
There simply wasn’t a tougher adversary as Michigan led the nation in scoring defense at 10.4 points per game in 2023. Not only was Garcia inexperienced, the offensive line had a new coach and many new faces. There was not a breakaway threat such as running back Keaton Mitchell in the lineup. Garcia and Alex Flinn managed to produce 235 yards of total offense before an opposing crowd of 109,482, the largest ever to see the Pirates play.
ECU avoided a shutout with a 33-yard, game-ending field goal by Andrew Conrad.
The Pirates will open at home in 2024 against Norfolk State, a contest that shapes up as a favorable first step toward improvement. The Spartans yielded almost 30 points per game during a 3-8 season in 2023 and were not facing the caliber of competition that confronted Michigan in the Big Ten.
Playing at home as opposed to the largest capacity venue in the country is also a huge plus.
New quarterbacks Katin Houser (Michigan State) and Jake Garcia (Miami, Missouri) have some Power Five starts between them and also will have some new receivers via the portal among their potential targets.
Hopefully, the offensive front will be upgraded under new position coach Matt Mattox. New offensive coordinator John David Baker has been in the process of assembling talent for a new attack since arriving from Ole Miss on Dec. 1.
Week Two will be a road game with Old Dominion, which is coming off a 6-7 season that included a 38-35 bowl loss to Western Kentucky. The second week in 2023, the Pirates lost at home to Marshall, 31-13, in foul weather as the visitors scored 21 points in the fourth quarter. The Thundering Herd also went on to finish 6-7 with a bowl loss.
The Pirates take on Appalachian State again in their third game. The Mountaineers took a 43-28 win in Boone last year, finishing with a flurry after ECU led 28-22 in the third quarter. Nate Noel, who ran for 193 yards and a touchdown last year before a record crowd, has transferred to Missouri. The Mountaineers come to Greenville in 2024.
The pendulum will swing back to a more difficult foe in Week Four next season. The Pirates put a 44-0 whipping on Gardner-Webb, a Football Championship Subdivision program, in the fourth game of 2023. ECU travels to emerging power Liberty in its final nonconference contest of the regular season on Sept. 21. The Flames were 13-0 going into a 45-6 loss to Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl.
The American Athletic Conference had not announced dates for the league schedule as of Thursday morning, but ECU is scheduled to play Florida Atlantic, Navy, Temple and Texas-San Antonio at home. The lone league victory last year was at Florida Atlantic, 22-7, as Conrad kicked a school record five field goals.
The Pirates sustained road losses to the Midshipmen and UTSA last year. Navy stopped ECU’s scoring streak at 322 games with a 10-0 win. Roadrunners quarterback Frank Harris played his seventh and final season of college football last season, passing for 395 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-27 win over the Pirates in the Alamodome.
ECU is scheduled to travel to new member Army, Charlotte, North Texas and Tulsa in AAC games in 2024.
ECU did not play North Texas in the Mean Green’s first year in the league in 2023, when North Texas was 5-7 overall and 3-5 in the AAC.
Working on football scheduling is a routine task for ECU athletic director Jon Gilbert.
“There is not a day that passes without working on our future football nonconference schedule,” Gilbert stated this week via ECUPirates.com. “I know it is a hot topic among our fan base. It is a puzzle that has become more complicated with conference realignment and how the new 12-team playoff system is changing, beginning this year. I am pleased with how our schedule is shaping up and we are having daily conversations about adding future nonconference games.”
The Pirates will open the 2025 season on Aug. 30, in Raleigh.
“Over the next seven years, we have games scheduled against N.C. State (home and away), Coastal Carolina (home and away), Brigham Young (home), Appalachian State (twice at home), West Virginia (home), South Carolina (away), Wake Forest (home and away) and Liberty (away),” Gilbert noted.
BYU was scheduled to be on this year’s home schedule.
“Contractually, the game was moved back a year when they accepted the invitation to join the Big 12,” Gilbert said.
The ECU AD addressed his philosophy in nonconference football scheduling.
“Ideally, we would play four nonconference games that include an opponent from a Power Five conference, a home and away game against a group of five program and one FCS home game. You want to allow your program to have success and build momentum heading into conference play. It does not always work out in this manner, but that is the goal.”
Gilbert said he is seeking dates with teams in North Carolina.
“We are interested in ECU playing in-state teams,” he said. “That interest must be mutual for a contract to come to fruition and the game a reality. We want to have challenging opponents such as us traveling to play the 2023 eventual national champions in Michigan for the season-opener this year.
“More and more of the power conferences are going away from the traditional home and home series. Schedules are constantly changing as leagues are evaluating how many conference games they are going to play each season.
“We will continue to evaluate and seek out these types of opportunities for the future.”
Hopefully. matchups on the road with ranked teams in the future will coincide with more confident and experienced talent in the Pirate program.
ECU would have been better suited to face Michigan with its 2022 roster. That edition of the Pirates came within a missed 41-yard field goal of knocking off the Wolfpack, which was ranked No. 13 at the time of its 21-20 win at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.