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Pirate Notebook No. 496
Monday, October 22, 2012

Denny O'Brien

Denny O'Brien

Big East needs ECU football

Harris Poll

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.

The 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

Ballot filed 10.21.12

(ECU opponents and current and incoming Conference USA teams highlighted in yellow.)

  1. Alabama
  2. Kansas State
  3. Florida
  4. Oregon
  5. Notre Dame
  6. Louisiana State
  7. Oklahoma
  8. Southern Cal
  9. Oregon State
10. Georgia
11. Florida State
12. Mississippi State
13. Texas Tech
14. Clemson
15. Louisville
16. Rutgers
17. Texas A&M
18. South Carolina
19. Louisiana Tech
20. Stanford
21. Boise State
22. Ohio
23. Texas Christian
24. Toledo
25. Cincinnati

This Week's Bowl Championship Series Standings

This Week's Harris, AP & Coaches Polls


Big East needs ECU football
Denny O'Brien's Harris Poll Ballot
Conference USA Standings & Schedule
This Week's BCS Rankings
This Week's Harris, AP & USA Today Polls
Spied from the Crow's Nest
Web Headlines Roundup
Game Center: ECU 42, UAB 35
Pirates master Momentum 101
Game Day Photo Gallery
Audio: Coach Ruff Post-game
Conference USA at a Glance
Greg's Game Day Breakdown
This Week in College Football History
Audio: WTIB (Steve Logan)
Kevin's Keys to the Game
Pirates venture to historic venue
Fifteen Questions for Vintavious Cooper
Pirates unleash the magic of the Justins
Audio: Coach Ruff Monday Presser
ECU Football Schedule
Year-by-Year Recruiting

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

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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 footprint.

The additions of Boise State, Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, San Diego State, and Southern Methodist far from delivered that important combination. East Carolina does.

The 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 sports.

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 anticipated.

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 table.

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.

Talented trio

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 philosophy.

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.

E-mail Denny O'Brien

Denny O'Brien Archives

10/22/2012 01:16 AM

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