The East Carolina Pirates finished up the 2015 season at just 5-7. Their first losing season in 4 years. That wasn’t a huge surprise. East Carolina lost a lot big time talent from the 2014 squad. They also had their projected starting quarterback suffer a season-ending injury in August.
Given the circumstances, most just chalked it up as a rebuilding year. Few thought it would cost head coach Ruffin McNeill his job. In a crazy turn of a events, the Pirates let McNeil go. They replaced him with Duke assistant Scottie Montgomery.
Getting ECU back in contention in the American won’t be easy in Montgomery’s first year. With a new head coach comes new systems on both sides of the ball. The Pirates are also one of the least experienced teams in the country.
Oddsmakers certainly aren’t expecting a big turnaround. The Pirates win total for 2016 has been set at just 5 games.
|Date||Opponent||Spread (Est.)||Win Chance|
|9/17||@ South Carolina|
|9/24||@ Virginia Tech|
|Estimated Wins: TBD|
East Carolina opens up with a favorable matchup at home against Western Carolina. The other three non-conference games are all against Power 5 schools. They host NC State before traveling to both South Carolina and Virginia Tech.
It’s going to be important that the Pirates take care of business at home in league play. They get UCF, Navy, UConn and SMU. All winnable games.
The road slate is much tougher. They have to go to USF, Cincinnati, Tulsa and Temple. All teams who played in a bowl game last year.
The starting quarterback last year was suppose to be Kurt Benkert, but that never came to be. Unfortunately for ECU, Benkert transferred to Virginia, where McNeil is now an assistant. He showed enough in his brief time there to win the starting job.
Last year’s starter, Blake Kemp also left the program. That makes Minnesota transfer Phillip Nelson the starter by default. Nelson isn’t the greatest passer, but can beat teams with his legs. How he adapts to the new offense being installed will go a long way in the teams success.
One of the big positives for Nelson, is he will have one of the best wide outs in the AAC to throw to. That being senior Isaiah Jones, who had 98 catches for 1,099 yards and 5 scores last year. Also back are senior Davon Grayoson and junior Trevon Brown. Moving to tight end, will be James Summers, who started 4 games last year at quarterback.
As for the running game, they have to replace leading rusher Chris Hairston. The frontrunner to win the job is junior Antony Scott. He was third on the team last year with just 207 yards (only 49 carries).
The big concern with all the changes on offense, is the lack of experience up front. East Carolina has to replace 3 starters on the offensive line. Last year was one of the Pirates best offensive lines in years and now it will be one of the weaker units. That’s going to make it tough to successfully transition into the system being installed.
Defensively the Pirates gave up about the same points/game as in 2014. They allowed 26.0 ppg compared to 25.8 the previous year. However, they went from allowing just 367 ypg to giving up 401 ypg.
The decline was a product of their run defense. After only giving up 112 ypg and just 3.3 yards/carry in 2014, they gave up 175 ypg and 4.0 yards/carry.
While the schemes will change, ECU will stay in the 3-4 attack. Up front they lose two key pieces in ends Terrell Stanley and Johnathan White. They do get back two senior starters in Fred Presley and Demetri McGill. Overall, I would call this unit on par with last year.
I’m not so high at linebacker. The Pirates get back two starters, but lose their main guy in Zeek Bigger. He not only led the team with 98 tackles, but was the heart and soul of the defense.
In the secondary, ECU gets back both starting safeties, but will need to find two new starters at corner. Senior corner DaShaun Amos should step in and play at a high level. The key will be the production they get out of the other starting spot.
Regular Season Win Total
AAC Championship Odds
National Championship Odds
Odds Courtesy of 5Dimes
You have to go all the way back to 2004 to find the last time ECU failed to win at least 5 games. Keeping that streak going won’t be easy and I believe the Pirates come up short.
I have East Carolina going just 1-3 in non-conference and 2-6 inside the ACC to finish up at 3-9 overall. I really think the Pirates made a big mistake getting rid of McNeil. I’m not saying Montgomery can’t get the job done, but it’s unlikely given what he has to work with.
Add in their brutal non-conference schedule and tough slate in the American, there’s only a handful of games they figure to even be competitive in. I think best case scenario is 5-7, so I’ll gladly take the UNDER on their win total of 5.
American Athletic (West)
American Athletic Record
Win Total Prediction