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Pirate Notebook No. 447
Monday, October 11, 2010

Denny O'Brien

Ruff making an imprint on program

Ruffin McNeill
(ECU SID image)

Harris Poll

For the fifth year in a row, Denny O'Brien is a member of the voting panel for the Harris Interactive College Football Poll commissioned by the Bowl Championship Series. As a service to readers of this site, O'Brien's ballot will be published in this space each Monday throughout the rest of the season.

A senior columnist for, Bonesville The Magazine and The Pirates' Chest Magazine, O'Brien was nominated to the Harris Poll panel by Conference USA. View the panel of 114 voters in the 2010 Harris Interactive College Football Poll.

The Harris Poll is a component of the BCS Standings. The initial 2010 BCS Standings will be released on Oct. 17, 2010. O'Brien's ballot below was filed in conjunction with this season's inaugural Harris Interactive College Football Poll, which was released Oct. 10, 2010.

Denny O'Brien's Harris Poll Ballot

(Ballot cast 10.10.10)

  1. Oregon
  2. Ohio State
  3. Boise State
  4. Nebraska
  5. Auburn
  6. Texas Christian
  7. Oklahoma
  8. South Carolina
  9. Alabama
10. Utah
11. Michigan State
12. Arkansas
13. Stanford
14. Louisiana State
15. Arizona
16. Iowa
17. Wisconsin
18. Florida State
19. Oklahoma State
20. Nevada
21. Michigan
22. Air Force
23. Oregon State
24. Virginia Tech
25. Miami

This Week's Harris, AP and Coaches Polls



Ruff making an imprint on program
Harris, Associated Press & Coaches Polls
C-USA Standings, Scores, Schedule, TV
ECU-Southern Miss Game Center Coverage
Melee in Mississippi charges up series
Audio: Coach Ruff Post- Game Press Conference
Trip to Hattiesburg no Holliday
Kevin's Keys to the Game
'Big boys' tripping up Pirates
Season of transition tests Pirates
Audio: Coach Ruff Game Week Presser

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

If it's true that a team is born out of the image of its head coach, then Saturday's 44-43 victory over Southern Miss revealed a lot about both East Carolina and Ruffin McNeill.

In a game in which the Pirates trailed 20-0 and were exhibiting little offensive or defensive punch, there was an early opportunity to mail this one in. Had 20-0 snowballed into a 40- or 50-point skunking, not many would have been terribly surprised given the opponent and setting.

For a while, it looked as if that was the path towards which this game would mercilessly steer.

East Carolina's first four offensive possessions had the pep of a Pinto on blocks. Fumble, punt, punt, interception marked those series during a first quarter in which the Pirates managed a grand total of 15 yards.

It had many of the observing sportswriters, including me, flirting with the idea of filing their bylines early. That seriously didn't seem a misguided gamble given the Pirates' lifeless start.

But if this team demonstrated one thing in its comeback against Southern Miss, it's that it is better at in-game revisions than many of us ever thought. The team and coaching staff that so many of us charged with the inability to adjust made the tweaks and calls to shove East Carolina out of that 20-point crater.

That includes attitude.

When Southern Miss decided to play beyond the boundary of the officials' whistles, it was extending an all-out invitation for East Carolina to join. The Golden Eagles pushed, shoved, and threw a punch. At times it seemed as if members of the Southern Miss defense were designated headhunters with Pirates receiver Dwayne Harris the primary bounty.

It was the perfect bait for an inexperienced team in a 20-point hole.

“I wasn't surprised,” senior defensive tackle Josh Smith said about Southern Miss' dirty play. “Because we watched it on film.

“They insulted us. They scheduled us for Homecoming. Who does that? Who schedules the two-time conference champ on Homecoming?

"We took that as motivation, and we knew they were going to be dirty.”

That the Pirates didn't full-on engage is a testament to how well-prepared they were for renegade activity, even if the first 15 minutes weren't exemplary of proper X's and O's preparation. That ECU didn't negatively give in to the emotion was the portrait of a head coach who has injected a healthy balance of poise and aggression into the roster.

You can't overstate that considering East Carolina is guided by a first-year head coach and a pair of young, first-time coordinators. Nor can you given the fact that so many of the veteran pieces responsible for consecutive Conference USA titles are no longer on the roster.

On Saturday we witnessed a young team with a young staff climb out a 20-point hole on the road against a league favorite. Those things don't routinely happen on any level of college football.

But when many of us considered the first quarter the equivalent of a TKO, the Pirates got off the mat. They did so without losing their cool, with no presence of panic, and a strange sense of calm while in the midst of a scenario that seemed to invite self-implosion.

At some point — and now is as good a time as any — we need to consider this part of East Carolina's identity. And if we do, then we also have to consider it a direct reflection of their cool and collected head coach.

None of this is to say that the ECU football product doesn't needs polishing. It obviously does. The Pirates still have significant struggles with penalties, turnovers, missed defensive assignments, poor tackling, and more.

Yet despite the unquestionable flaws, all the shortcomings that have brought head-scratching moments, this team embodies the resilient quality to never surrender. And that has to be an extension of the head coach.

E-mail Denny O'Brien

Denny O'Brien Archives

10/11/2010 04:57 AM

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