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Pirate Notebook No. 407
Monday, November 30, 2009

Denny O'Brien

C-USA's crown jewel is in Greenville

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 11.29.09)

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

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

View this Week's BCS Standings


O'Brien: C-USA's crown jewel is in Greenville
BVL: BCS Standings
BVL: Harris, Associated Press & Coaches Polls
BVL: Pirates overpower Spartans
Myatt: Pirates put a lid on emotions

These are good times for East Carolina football. Maybe the best.

Given the constant climate changes in college football that are underscored by shifts in classification and conference affiliation, It is difficult — and perhaps even unfair — to compare squads from different eras. But it’s clear that this period of ECU football is unrivaled by any before it when you consider the accomplishments that are chronicled in the trophy case.

For the first time in school history, a senior class will reach four-consecutive bowls. The past three years have been marked by at least eight victories, two Conference USA East Division titles, and at least one conference championship and bowl win.

Along the way these Pirates have beaten ranked teams in three consecutive games, navigated as treacherous a non-conference schedule as any group in ECU history, and knocked off their share of programs from BCS automatic qualifier conferences.

This has occurred during a period when the financial gap between the “haves” and “have nots” has never been wider.

To put the program’s positioning in proper perspective, consider that East Carolina won three games during the two years that John Thompson oversaw the program. The Pirates have won that many over the past three weeks under Skip Holtz’s direction.

In a span of five years, what Holtz has done is almost unprecedented in major college football. He took a program that was arguably the worst in its conference and molded into what is now clearly the best.

As East Carolina prepares for its C-USA title showdown with No. 18 Houston, that is a distinction that the Cougars can’t steal from the Pirates this Saturday. Regardless of who hoists the championship trophy, ECU will remain the undisputed mold for what other league athletics directors would give their right arm to duplicate at their schools.

When you factor all the measurables that define a program’s success — facilities, results on the field and in the classroom, fan attendance, and television and media interest — the rest of C-USA is playing catch-up to East Carolina. There are no signs to suggest that the Pirates will be caught anytime soon.

Even more perspective can found by conducting a thorough analysis of the Pirates’ in-state neighbors. There isn’t a program in that bunch that will end this season with a fourth straight bowl game or a third consecutive 8-plus win season.

You certainly won’t find any among them that has hosted a conference title game on their own field.

Back when East Carolina was 3-3 and reeling from a loss against Southern Methodist, this isn’t the perspective that many of us took. It was just too easy to fire critical bullets at the program for its undeniable imperfections.

If this season has taught fans anything, it should be a lesson in patience. Instead of jumping the gun with harsh mid-term evaluations, it just seems more healthy to wait and place judgment on the full body of work.

That full body is a pretty nice one for ECU. And when you evaluate each year of Holtz’s five-year term, there is tangible improvement to which you can point.

There is no denying that this season could have been better, but some things were just outside of ECU’s control. Facing Top 25-caliber opponents earlier this season without two starters in the secondary and without a healthy Dominique Lindsay running the ball was a recipe for disaster.

So was a phantom late hit penalty at crunch time in Chapel Hill and a flu bug that waged war on several ECU starters in Dallas.

While Holtz wasn’t shy about addressing those issues if asked, he never volunteered any as excuses that contributed to any loss. Instead he focused on the areas that he could control, bunkering down to chart a path that would return his team to the league title game.

Perhaps that explains why Holtz has been so successful at ECU. He’s never been one to dwell on the past, instead channeling his energy on the task ahead. When you look back at the road the Pirates have traveled during his tenure, it’s clear their head coach is a visionary, not just a dreamer.

It’s easy to sit back and dream of winning a conference championship. It’s much more difficult to have the vision to execute it.

Clearly part of Holtz’s vision was to take a program historically defined by offense, one that is entrenched in a league built with programs defined by offense, and slightly alter the culture by winning with defense. He even sometimes jokingly states that his career goal is for his team to win a game 2-0.

While he might have to switch to baseball to secure that goal, East Carolina fans can take pride in what has been accomplished since Holtz took his post. They also can be optimistic about what else can be achieved in both the weeks and years to come.

The ground on which East Carolina football currently sits has never been more solid. And thanks to the efforts of the ECU administration, Holtz, his staff, and players, there is plenty of room to grow.

E-mail Denny O'Brien

Denny O'Brien Archives

11/30/2009 03:42 AM

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