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Pirate Notebook No. 406
Monday, November 23, 2009

Denny O'Brien

Fans must answer the call

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

Harris Poll

For the fourth 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 season.

The Harris Poll is a component of the BCS Standings. The BCS Standings also take into account the USA Today Coaches Poll and an average of several computer service rankings.

A senior columnist for, Bonesville The Magazine and The Pirates' Chest, O'Brien was nominated to the Harris Poll panel by Conference USA. View the entire 114-member panel.

Denny O'Brien's Harris Poll Ballot

(Ballot cast 11.22.09)

  1. Texas
  2. Alabama
  3. Florida
  4. Texas Christian
  5. Cincinnati
  6. Georgia Tech
  7. Boise State
  8. Pittsburgh
  9. Ohio State
10. Oregon
11. Oklahoma State
12. Iowa
13. Penn State
14. Virginia Tech
15. Ole Miss
16. Oregon State
17. Louisiana State
18. Stanford
19. Clemson
20. Southern Cal
21. California
22. Brigham Young
23. Utah
24. North Carolina
25. Nebraska

View this Week's Complete Harris, AP & Coaches Polls

View this Week's BCS Standings


O'Brien: Fans must answer the call
BVL: BCS Standings
BVL: This Week's Polls
Game Center: East Carolina 37, UAB 21
O'Brien: Cool under fire, Pinkney prevails
Box Score / Statistics
BVL Audio: Replay Skip Holtz post-game
Talk FM: Replay Post-game Call-in Show
Talk FM: Replay Game Day Countdown
C-USA Standings, Scores, Schedule, TV
Monroe: Kevin's Keys to the Game
Myatt: Much to fix before Paradise Jam
Bradsher: New stars step up for Lady Bucs
O'Brien: Plenty to ponder after Tulsa test
BVL: Pirates hijacked in Buies Creek

East Carolina athletics director Terry Holland often touts the fan base as being the Pirates’ most valuable asset. And he is mostly right.

When you rank the football constituencies in Conference USA, ECU clearly tops the chart with no other program in sight. Travel to any other random C-USA haunt and you’ll discover just how wide the attendance margin is between East Carolina and its league rivals.

An afternoon in every other conference stadium makes Dowdy-Ficklen seem like the largest, most deafening Southeastern Conference venue.

That hasn’t gone unnoticed by Holtz, who has spent most of his career on the sidelines of many of the nation’s most revered football cathedrals.

“I’m grateful and thankful to the Pirate Nation and the faithful fan base that we had, for the way that they came out and supported it,” Holtz said following the Pirates’ 37-21 victory over UAB Saturday. “So many people stayed until the end.

“After having the opportunity to play on the road, you really learn to appreciate our fan base. You really learn to appreciate how loyal they are, how they support this program, the atmosphere they create. They do just a phenomenal job.”

When Southern Miss comes out of the locker room on Saturday, it will be the the most intimidating stage on which the Golden Eagles have stood in any C-USA game this year. But that truthfully could be accomplished if ECU drew just a shade over half capacity for a showdown against its historical Kryptonite.

Just as East Carolina fans have developed an expectation that their team should routinely defeat schools from BCS automatic qualifier conferences, they also should commit to attending games to the degree that fans at Virginia Tech and West Virginia do.

If we’re going to consider this a comparison of apples to apples, it should go beyond the product on the field and into the representation in the stands.

Shouldn’t it?

That includes games that land on dates that can introduce a logistical inconvenience, as well as against opponents that don’t necessarily resonate with the more casual fan. Especially when so much is riding on the outcome against Southern Miss.

“There are a lot of smiles and there is a lot of excitement in that locker room right now, with everything that we’ve been playing for and with everything on the table,” Holtz said. “As we said, each game gets bigger as we turn and go through this.”

Saturday will mark the most important game at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium this season. Heck, maybe ever. And if the Pirates find a way to beat their longtime nemesis, it will set the stage for an even bigger game a week later.

Both would be arguably bigger than N.C. State’s first trip to Greenville in 1999, a convincing 23-6 victory for ECU. Ditto for when the Pirates defeated North Carolina in 2007, West Virginia last season, and the list of other signature games ECU has played in front of its home crowd.

The question is whether or not the 12th man on Saturday will look closer to 43,000 than 35,000.

Historically, home games on Thanksgiving weekend have been a difficult draw for ECU. Most of the student body doesn’t return to campus until late Sunday, while many alums and other fans are still visiting family or getting a jump start on Christmas shopping.

Last season the Pirates drew 38,098 for a post-Thanksgiving game against Texas-El Paso, easily a record for a holiday game in Greenville. But that’s over 4,000 short of the stadium capacity and would be an unacceptable turnout with so much on the line for ECU this Saturday.

Fans often refer to games against AQ opponents as measuring stick opportunities for the ECU program. They usually respond by filling the stadium beyond the listed capacity in hopes of witnessing another historical win by their Pirates.

But for the fan base, games against in-state or regional opponents hardly rank as tape measure events.

A true testimony that ECU’s fan base has reached BCS quality would be a capacity crowd against a C-USA opponent when the students are away. That seriously shouldn’t be an issue when that opponent is the program that many fans verbalize as ECU’s true rival, and when there is a tangible reward for winning the game.

Two seasons ago East Carolina easily sold out its midseason game against a one-win N.C. State bunch. The game was ultimately meaningless outside of pride and water cooler fodder.

This Saturday’s game against Southern Miss for the C-USA East Division crown and a chance to host the title game is much bigger. And that’s stating it lightly. We’ll find out soon whether or not ECU fans truly embrace the opportunity in front of them.

E-mail Denny O'Brien

Denny O'Brien Archives

11/23/2009 03:09 AM

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