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College Sports in the Carolinas


View from the East
Monday, October 6, 2003

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Rugged September gives way to hope of October


I was sitting in the office of East Carolina senior associate athletics director Nick Floyd, who is serving as interim athletics director, about two weeks ago. We were discussing ECU’s conference affiliation situation and the conversation turned to the football team.

Floyd knew Pirates coach John Thompson when Floyd was in athletics administration at Southern Miss and Thompson was the highly-regarded defensive coordinator of the Golden Eagles. Floyd is confident that Thompson will get the Pirates turned around and headed in the right direction despite an 0-5 start.

“Do you know how our strength of schedule is rated?” Floyd asked.

I didn’t.

“Guess,” he said.

“Top thirty?” I responded.

My thinking was that West Virginia was 1-3 and, despite a solid showing at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, that would hurt their value in the index compiled by computer analyst Jeff Sagarin, whose data is published on Tuesdays in USA Today.

“Guess again,” Floyd said. “Higher.”

“Top twenty?” I said.

“Higher,” said Floyd.

“Top 12?” I asked, a little bit incredulously.

He opened the USA Today, folded it to the Sagarin ratings and let me look for myself.

ECU had the No. 2 rated schedule nationally at the time.

The Pirates’ schedule is currently rated No. 5 by Sagarin. Here’s a look at the top ten teams in terms of schedule strength, with their record against Division I-A opponents.

1. Notre Dame (1-3)
2. North Carolina (0-5)
3. Alabama (2-4)
4. Colorado (2-3)
5. East Carolina (0-5)
6. Georgia Tech (3-3)
7. West Virginia (1-4)
8. Fresno State (3-3)
9. Louisiana Tech (2-3)
10. Tennessee (4-1)

It’s an interesting top ten and only Tennessee has managed a winning record. Strength of schedule is a component of the Bowl Championship Series ratings but some of the traditional powers in the above list indicate that there are dire consequences to being over-scheduled.

Judicious scheduling is an integral factor in a program’s success and oftentimes games are contracted so far in advance there is no way of knowing how competitive the matchups will be. ECU has games scheduled with N.C. State and North Carolina so far in advance that the players who will represent those institutions are presently in middle school.

Coincidently, the two teams with winless records in the top ten toughest schedules meet at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. The rivalry will be intense and the winless status of each team makes them more desperate for victory. It may set a record for fan interest in the state for two teams whose combined record is 0-10. The mutual struggles of the Tar Heels and the Pirates has not prevented a sellout.

Not only have the Pirates played tough teams, there have been factors that have made the matchups even tougher.

In the season opener against Cincinnati, the Bearcats had not begun classes because they are on the quarter system. There isn’t a lot of difference between a college team and an NFL team in terms of the focus of preparation under those circumstances. It may be only coincidence that Cincinnati started 3-0 and has been 0-2 since classes started — or maybe not.

With a short week to prepare — no favors from the schedule there — the Pirates caught West Virginia coming off a disappointing loss to Wisconsin and the Mountaineers vented their frustrations in thoroughly pounding ECU at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. The Mountaineers hadn’t approached that level again until taking Miami to the wire in a 22-20 loss on Thursday night.

Then ECU got to face No. 2 Miami in the Orange Bowl. No commentary needed there.

Next up was Wake Forest in Winston-Salem for the second straight year. Again, no help from the schedule.

Then came Houston, revitalized under former Cougars player Art Briles and off to its best start in years.

In the last five years, ECU has been a solid favorite in a good portion of its first five games against teams such as Army (59-24 win in 2002), Division I-AA William & Mary (38-23 win in 2001), Duke (38-0 win in 2000), Tulane (37-17 win in 2000), Duke (27-9 win in 1999), Army (33-14 win in 1999) and I-AA Chattanooga (31-0 win in 1998). There have been no such breathers thus far for the Pirates.

The September schedule had no love for the Pirates but as the calendar has turned to October, perhaps things will be better. ECU has more time to get ready for UNC. Having last played on Tuesday, that perhaps will be of benefit against the Heels, who were 38-13 losers at home to Virginia on Saturday.

Maybe the schedule helps UNC, too. After nine straight losses at Kenan Stadium, perhaps the Heels will be thankful for a trip to Greenville.

The combined record of ECU’s September opponents is 16-9 and that includes Miami at 5-0 and ranked No. 2 nationally. The combined records of ECU’s October foes (UNC 0-5, Army 0-5, Louisville 4-1) is 4-11. The time is ripe for things to turn around for the Pirates.

Bosox connection

Former East Carolina baseball coach Keith LeClair, men’s basketball coach Bill Herrion and first-year Pirates football coach John Thompson all have a rooting interest in the Boston Red Sox, who have won two games in Fenway Park to force a deciding fifth game today in their American League division series with the Oakland A’s.

LeClair grew up in New Hampshire and Herrion was raised in Massachusetts. As red-blooded New Englanders, their love of the Red Sox is practically inbred.

Herrion was in California last week on a junior college recruiting swing. He didn’t get to see the Bosox play the first two games of the series with the A’s in Oakland in person but the 12-inning marathon on Wednesday — and Thursday morning on the East coast — wasn’t so late out West that he couldn’t watch it at his motel room.

Thompson actually grew up as a St. Louis Cardinals fan in Arkansas but purchased a trip last spring at a Pirate Club auction that had been put together by Boston bench coach Jerry Narron, the uncle of recent ECU pitcher Sam Narron. There are pictures in Thompson’s office of wife Charleen, and sons Cabe and Hays at Fenway Park from the trip. Thompson had clubhouse access and was on the field during batting practice.

“A lot of the guys came in to the clubhouse and they were kind of loud,” Thompson said. “They had something going on but Nomar [Garciaparra] came in and he kept to himself. He was getting focused.”

Thompson met Trot Nixon, the game three hero from Wilmington with his “Trot-off” homer, and Red Sox manager Grady Little, the former Durham Bulls manager who has a home in the Pinehurst area.

“Nice guys,” Thompson said.

Carolinas pecking order

The best way to move up or hold ground in the rankings this week was not to play. South Carolina, Wake Forest and Duke had open dates, which helped the Gamecocks and Demon Deacons move into the top spots as all of the teams that played had losses.


How the teams in the Carolinas stack up through games of Saturday, Oct. 4:

  1. South Carolina (3-2, 0-2 SEC) ... Gamecocks host Kentucky on national television on Thursday night.
  2. Wake Forest (3-2, 1-1 ACC) ... Deacons had an open date to prepare for Georgia Tech at home on Saturday.
  3. Clemson (3-2, 1-1 ACC) ... Tigers’ offense held in check in 21-7 loss at Maryland.
  4. N.C. State (3-3, 1-2 ACC) ... Wolfpack’s season went South with 29-21 loss at Georgia Tech.
  5. Duke (2-3, 0-2 ACC) ... Blue Devils getting ready for a trip to Maryland.
  6. North Carolina (0-5, 0-3 ACC) ... Tar Heels looking for first win of season on first trip to ECU.
  7. East Carolina (0-5, 0-2 C-USA) ... A win over UNC and a struggling start to the John Thompson era will be forgotten.

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02/23/2007 12:41:28 AM

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