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Pirate Notebook No. 327
Monday, November 19, 2007

By Denny O'Brien

Season defying all labels

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.


For the second 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. O'Brien was nominated to the panel by Conference USA.

The Harris Poll is a component of the BCS Standings, which also take into account the USA Today Coaches Poll and an average of six computer service rankings. The updated BCS Standings, as released weekly by the National Football Foundation, are posted on each Monday morning.

Here is this week's ballot as submitted by O'Brien on Sunday to Harris Interactive:

 1. LSU
 2. Kansas
 3. Missouri
 4. West Virginia
 5. Ohio State
 6. Arizona State
 7. Georgia
 8. Texas
 9. Southern Cal
10. Oklahoma
11. Oregon
12. Florida
13. Tennessee
14. Boise State
15. Virginia Tech
16. Virginia
17. Illinois
18. Boston College
19. Wisconsin
20. Clemson
21. Connecticut
22. Hawaii
23. Brigham Young
24. Texas Tech
25. Central Florida

Complete BCS Standings

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Denny O'Brien's BCS Harris Poll Ballot
O'Brien: Season defying all labels
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Bradsher: McCarthy's influence taking hold
Myatt: Eyes of Pirate Nation turn to Texas
Bailey: That’s why they play the game

It’s not easy finding a label that succinctly defines a team whose 6-5 record is marked by an even mix of improbable victories and perplexing losses.

But if such a term exists, it has indelibly associated itself with East Carolina’s 2007 football season.

Enigmatic immediately comes to mind, but its overuse makes it a mundane choice, both unimaginative and much too commonplace for this 12-week emotional medley. And though the Pirates’ record is dangerously close to the football Mendoza line, there have been enough thrills to rescue ECU’s year from a mediocre classification.

Like Ben Hartman’s game-winning field goal over North Carolina that sent Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium into a frenzy and Butch Davis back to Chapel Hill with a perfect 0-3 mark against ECU. It was the proper punctuation to quarterback Patrick Pinkney’s performance, which statistically finds itself among the best in ECU history.

And don’t forget those Texas tummy twisters. Surviving two missed field goals in the final minutes at Houston was one thing. But to drive 71 yards in 34 seconds to tie the game and then eventually win it in overtime in El Paso?

Not that there hasn’t been turbulence this season. Quite the contrary.

Just days before the Pirates’ opening kick, 2007 made a screeching U-turn when quarterback Rob Kass was cited for driving under the influence. It threw a titanium monkey wrench into Coach Skip Holtz’s plans, which already included the unveiling of an inexperienced quarterback against the nation’s most celebrated defense.

What ensued was a portrait of perhaps the best-prepared team we’ve witnessed at ECU in more than a decade.

In one week, Holtz and his staff crafted a three-headed quarterback, with each appendage offering its own change of pace. The result was a gameplan that emphasized clock consumption and a challenge that was answered by a determined Pirates defense that kept the Virginia Tech faithful nervous and the score dangerously close.

It’s just too bad the 'D' hasn’t answered that call on more occasions this fall, perhaps the most vexing detail about this season.

After the strides ECU made defensively last fall and the return of the front seven in its entirety, much was expected from the Pirates defensively. The dominance and purpose with which that group played in Blacksburg only raised that expectation, and most felt that the shaky young secondary would quickly grasp the concepts of ECU’s zone coverage schemes.

Considering the knowledge and experience possessed by the Pirates veteran defensive staff, why wouldn’t it? Because generally speaking, don’t players — especially young ones — improve dramatically throughout the course of a season?

Those are good questions, ones for which concise explanations don’t exist. But to laymen eyes, the Pirates have hardly displayed noticeable defensive improvement on a weekly basis.

The names Trevor Vittatoe, Daniel Evans, Martin Hankins, and Bernard Morris attest to that. All are quarterbacks who scorched the Pirates over the past month, each of whom easily accounted for more than 300 yards of offense.

Thankfully, the Pirates had enough offense to counter two of those Heisman performances. On the other two, ECU’s quarterback shuffle appeared mostly disheveled, with the supporting cast responding with rhythmic imbalance.

That’s a puzzle for which a solution won’t be defined until at least the spring. Ditto for the Pirates’ defensive deficiencies, which at this stage are far too many for any quick-fix to completely suture.

Even so, it’s not like East Carolina remotely resembles the program that Holtz inherited in 2004. Far from it. Though the performance against Marshall resurrected painful reminders, the current state of the program is light years ahead of John Thompson’s miserable tenure.

But if East Carolina loses to Tulane on Saturday — and that’s entirely possible — it will be tempting for some to emphatically proclaim 2007 as a failure. Such taxonomy would be completely short-sighted.

However, when you consider the Pirates’ position two weeks ago, it would be both fair and accurate to label a 6-6 finish a disappointment. That’s what East Carolina must avoid on Saturday.

Send an e-mail message to Denny O'Brien.

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11/19/2007 02:16:15 AM

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