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SURVEYING THE LANDSCAPE
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Pirate Notebook No. 436
Monday, July 19, 2010

Denny O'Brien

Difficult docket poses dilemma for ECU

By Denny O'Brien
©2010 Bonesville.net
All Rights Reserved.

Itís easy to comprehend the necessity for East Carolinaís aggressive non-conference scheduling philosophy.

Historically Pirates fans have been more responsive at the ticket office when regional rivals and BCS Automatic Qualifier opponents line the schedule. So by striking agreements several years ago with schools with which fans are most intimately familiar, ECU AD Terry Holland essentially assured regular sellouts at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

The strategy also paved the way for multiple national television appearances in marquee time slots.

With the new 7,000 seat end zone expansion set to be unveiled on September 5, the need for high-profile non-conference games ó strictly from a revenue-producing perspective ó is emphasized even more. Because ECU isnít going to break any attendance records with North Texas or Western Kentucky included in the season ticket package.

But if ever a year existed when the Pirates could use a competitive downgrade with their non-conference docket, 2010 is it.

A new coaching staff, an entirely different philosophy, and the exodus of almost the entire starting defense from 2009 leaves the Pirates looking vulnerable.

Uncertainty at quarterback and unproven depth at most other positions only heightens the concerns ECU is facing heading into the season, especially consideringr the caliber of competition awaiting it outside of Conference USA.

That bunch includes a legitimate national championship contender; a defense that, providing it isnít gutted by an NCAA investigation, is flooded with NFL prospects; a coach who has beaten the Pirates twice in the past three years with inferior teams; and, arguably, the nationís most disciplined program, one with an offensive scheme that could expose what most consider ECUís overwhelming weakness heading into the season.

In a perfect world, East Carolinaís annual non-conference schedule would include a couple of gimmes, one in-state rival, and a game against an out-of-state opponent from the ACC, Big East, or Southeastern Conference. That would pave the way for the Pirates to, at worst, split their non-conference schedule and provide more wiggle room within the conference slate.

Given the overall improvement of almost every other team in C-USA, you get the feeling that ECU needs a non-conference split to feel secure about earning a fifth-consecutive bowl invitation this year. If you polled most within the media who are at least somewhat familiar with the Pirates, theyíd insist that 0-4 is a more likely outcome than 2-2.

It would be difficult to argue with their rationale.

To say that ECU faces a steeper climb this season is in no way an indictment against new Pirates Coach Ruffin McNeill, his staff, or the pool of personnel that was left behind when Skip Holtz departed for South Florida. Remember that the Pirates went 1-4 outside of C-USA under Holtz last season ó with that lone victory coming against an FCS opponent ó and they face a noticeable upgrade in competition this year.

Besides, the bright side about ECU possessing so many unknowns heading into the 2010 season is the possibility that many of them can be answered in a positive way.

There is certainly the possibility that quarterback transfer Dominique Davis quickly grasps the new Air Raid offense and, combined with ECUís deep, talented receiving corps, makes it difficult for the opposition to keep pace on the scoreboard.

Just like you canít rule out idea that defensive coordinator Brian Mitchellís emphasis on pressure and blitzing might produce more feasts than famine for the ECU D.

Until proven otherwise, both should be considered possibilities. If they become a reality, then there is definite potential for East Carolina to perform reasonably well outside of C-USA this season and thus set the stage for a run that concludes with another postseason bowl.

But most would agree that the odds are stacked against a perfect storm scenario.

If college football schedules werenít set years in advance, you have to wonder if Holland would have picked this lineup of non-conference opponents for a season marked by significant transition. Iím sure McNeill, along with any other coach, would welcome a competitive breather or two that would enable him to dip deep into the roster and build depth for the future.

ITEMS OF INTEREST

O'Brien: Difficult docket poses dilemma for ECU
BVL: Football Recruiting Thumbnail (Glen Hilliard)
Myatt: Transformed BC Eagle ready to compete
Bailey: Dodge grows into a Giant
O'Brien: Fans must answer the call
Myatt: Golden days of summer
Batten: Boone ties deliver primetime defender
Bradsher: New path to NCAA's for volleyball
Batten: QB protection comes in big package
Cherubini: Big talents must fill big shoes on defense
Cherubini:: Air Raid battle plan taking shape

Should East Carolina not perform well within its non-conference schedule this season, it might be time to reevaluate its ambitious philosophy. That essentially could lead to the question of whatís more important in the Piratesí mission: Will guaranteed wins or impressive attendance numbers get ECU closer to its long-range goals?

E-mail Denny O'Brien

Denny O'Brien Archives

08/06/2010 01:56 AM

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