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Notes, Quotes and Slants

Pirate Notebook No. 95
Wednesday, November 27, 2002

By Denny O'Brien
Staff Writer and Columnist

Parity hurting league's image in important circles



Catch Bonesville's exclusive weekly Internet radio program, BONESVILLE HUDDLE, featuring insightful give-and-take between columnists Al Myatt, Brian Bailey and Denny O'Brien. (The next program will be available for listening on Thursday, 11/27/02.) Al







East Carolina did Conference USA no favors with its 31-28 victory over Texas Christian. That much is evident by the national polls.

True, by beating the Frogs, the Pirates tightened the title race, giving themselves, Louisville and Cincinnati a shot at sharing the crown, with the strong possibility that the league hardware will be divided by three.

The side effect was the dismissal of TCU, now 8-2, from the rankings, leaving the adolescent conference with zero representation in the opinion polls.

That far outweighs any media hype a down-to-the-wire finish will create.

Such has become the trend for C-USA, which since the 1999 season has seen its profile in steady decline.

That year, in retrospect, was the crown jewel in C-USA's brief history, providing fans with a three-team race among the league's most high-profile programs — Southern Miss, East Carolina, and Louisville — during a season in which the Golden Eagles and Pirates were mainstays in the Top 25. When USM and ECU squared off, it was billed as one of the weekend's top matchups, attracting attention from several national media outlets.

Oh, how times have changed.

"You look and just about everybody is 6-6," Pirates coach Steve Logan said. "We beat each other to death.

"This conference is unique more than any other one, save for the Southeastern Conference. There are only about one or two teams that, when you tee it up, you think, 'Well, if we don't turn it over, we'll win.' There is just no difference."

The SEC is one of few leagues that can get away with parity. The ACC, which was often ridiculed for having one dominant program — Florida State — and a handful of decent offerings, has seen firsthand that parity does little for conference prestige.

With their loss to N.C. State Saturday, the conference champion Seminoles dropped to 8-4 overall and are now ranked 23rd. Few expect FSU to beat rival Florida this weekend, meaning the once mighty 'Noles have a realistic shot of finishing a mediocre 8-6.

In fact, if State, Maryland and FSU each lose their respective bowl games, the ACC will likely be shut out of the final rankings. Judging by the low number of quality non-conference opponents each school has beaten, that scenario isn't a stretch.

For C-USA to place a member among the national elite, it must pin its hopes on TCU, which must beat Memphis Saturday and follow that with a victory over Colorado State in the Liberty Bowl. If not, consider 2002 another step back for the respect-hungry league.

When you factor in the Frogs' seven-turnover performance against East Carolina, beating the struggling Tigers this weekend is anything but a lock.

"That's what you're going to get every week," Logan said. "It's hard on the constituencies, and it's hard on the administrations, but baby, get used to it. I just don't see anybody dominating this thing."

A couple of dominant programs which outside observers can identify with is exactly what this league needs, especially if it is to make a push for respect and a direct tie with the BCS. Otherwise, C-USA will remain on the outside looking in.

Unfortunately, the current landscape lends itself to perpetuating the latter, considering the uphill climb each league member faces.

East Carolina competes with North Carolina and North Carolina State for the majority of its recruits. Southern Miss battles Ole Miss and Mississippi State.

TCU goes head-to-head with Texas, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech. Louisville must face off against Kentucky, Tennessee, and, on occasion, Ohio State.

South Florida, which begins C-USA play next season, has access to the nation's finest talent pool, the Sunshine State. But, at best, the Bulls are fourth in the pecking order behind Miami, Florida, and Florida State.

Simply put, C-USA isn't hauling in the elite talent necessary to compete at a national level and has just one notable non-league win this year — Louisville's rain-soaked victory over Florida State.

"Everybody's got the same caliber player," Logan said. "They're pretty good players. (There are) very few elite players are out there."

There are certainly no elite teams. And that's doing quite a number on C-USA's image.

Game ball

Defensive coordinator Tim Rose hasn't placed many pigskins on the mantle over the past two seasons.

But with his defense forcing seven turnovers against TCU, Rose more than earned a game ball Saturday.

"I'll send him about a dozen of them," Logan said. "That's what that effort was worth.

"The thing that we had to do (Saturday) that we had preached all week long is that we had to slow down the explosion plays. They got one early in the game on the option."

Rose made two adjustments that shouldn't be overlooked.

One, Kelly Hardy, who spent the first nine games this season at safety, was moved back to his more familiar role on the corner. Two, the Pirates blitzed often, which forced the immobile Sean Stilley into making quick, hasty decisions.

The result? Stilley finished the day 16-35 for 177 yards, with four interceptions and a fumble.

Make that a baker's dozen pigskins for Rose, Coach Logan.

Brown over 1,000

East Carolina has built a stout reputation off producing glamour-boy QBs, including current Baltimore Ravens starter Jeff Blake and Jacksonville Jaguars understudy David Garrard.

Slowly but surely, the Pirates are beginning to churn out high-profile running backs, too.

With his 60 yards against TCU, Art Brown joined the 1,000-yard club, marking the second-straight season the Pirates running back has eclipsed that benchmark number. Last year, Leonard Henry, who is a member of the Miami Dolphins practice squad, rushed for 1,432.

Brown's effort marks the fifth time in Logan's tenure that an East Carolina rusher has eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark. Current Army assistant Junior Smith did it three times.

Pirates RBs have also evolved into scoring machines. Henry holds the single-season record for TDs with 18 last year. Brown, who is among the national leaders in scoring, is one touchdown away from tying his former mentor and has two games to surpass him.

Move over Leonard, this is "Touchdown" Art Brown's town, now.

Crowd control

Columbus, Ohio, and Raleigh take note: East Carolina demonstrated Saturday that it doesn't take tear gas and nightsticks to fend off a raucous crowd. Apparently, fuzzy math will do.

When the official attendance was announced at 23,189 for the Pirates-Horned Frogs matchup, it not only produced funny looks in the press box, it raised a few eyebrows among some East Carolina officials as well.

Judging by previous crowds this season, that figure seemed low. To the naked eye, Saturday's attendance appeared to at least approach the number of fans in the seats for the home opener against Tulane, which was listed at 35,300, despite wet, windy conditions — an estimate which seemed too high at the time.

Thumbing through the Media Guide also suggests Saturday's announced attendance to be inconsistent when comparing it to past crowd estimations. Folks may remember the monsoon-like conditions in which the Pirates trounced Syracuse in 2000 before one of the lighter crowds in the Logan era.

The announced attendance? 33,026.

Has something suddenly changed about the formula ECU uses for estimating attendance at football games? Or does the old calculator need a tune-up?

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02/23/2007 01:46:41 AM

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