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College Sports in the Carolinas

View from the East
Thursday, July 10, 2003

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Bearcats overshadow realignment


Realignment not the focus of ECU football
East Carolina fits ACC profile
Can we change the subject, please?
How-to guide: Realigning with class
Friendly merger of leagues adds up
Survival in question for hybrid conferences
Miami Makes the Leap — Now What?
Hurricanes rage over nervous landscape
ACC, Big East on edge about Miami
Leagues caught in eye of the Hurricanes
Media rises to task in ACC-Big East feud

VPI in; Miami ponders; ECU sees opening
ECU chancellor keen on developments
Miami calls timeout to huddle with Big East
BE plans "up front" and "proper" expansion
ACC door cracked open for ECU...?
Mountain West preparing to pounce
Chalk one up for the non-BCS schools
Big East-ACC peace plan in the works?
ECU poised to ride out ACC-Big East storm
ACC deliberations at crossroads
Big Top needed for this circus
Where are you, Governor Easley..?

It’s less than a month until East Carolina starts football practice and then it’s less than a month to the season opener. Practice starts Aug. 7 and the John Thompson coaching era opens three weeks and two days later at Cincinnati with a noon kickoff on ESPN.

It’s easy to look at the Pirates’ 2003 schedule and possibly underestimate the date with the Bearcats. After all, ECU has a commanding 12-2 lead in the series.

The games that seem to jump off the page on this year’s schedule are the trip to meet national power Miami in the Orange Bowl on Sept. 13 and the first ever appearance in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium by North Carolina on Oct. 11.

Despite the glitz of matching up with Miami in a Saturday night game on ESPN2 and the depth of feeling involved in hosting the Tar Heels, the Bearcats represent a huge opportunity for ECU to make some important statements.

For example:

— National television on a national holiday (Labor Day) means significant exposure, which has potential rewards in recognition and recruiting.

— It’s a Conference USA game so the winner moves atop the league standings.

— Cincinnati beat the Pirates 42-26 to end the 2002 season, which was followed shortly by Steve Logan’s dismissal as football coach. A win at Cincinnati immediately validates a turnaround in the program under Thompson.

— Winning breeds confidence and ECU would gain some needed momentum for its first home game with West Virginia just five days later.

— In some expansion models for the Big East, Cincinnati and East Carolina are on a rung below Louisville in terms of perceived desirability. A win would have value in the big and fluid picture of potential conference affiliation.

“I mean that’s a big game for so many reasons,” Thompson said. “With everybody coming in here, everything that we’re doing — that’s in the back of our mind. It’s a big game. It’s not going to make or break our season but it’s an important game. It’s real important.”

The furor over conference affiliation has concealed the approach of the upcoming season. That’s not the case on the second floor of the Ward Sports Medicine Building where the football offices are located or the nearby facilities where players have been going through summer workouts while the temperature and humidity readings look like the score of an NBA game.

Cincinnati returns quarterback Gino Guidugli, who threw for 3,543 yards and 22 touchdowns during a 7-7 season in 2002. The Bearcats went 6-2 in C-USA.

“Probably the best quarterback in the league,” Thompson said. “Their offense revolves around him. That’s where you start when you begin to attack an offense. You start with what the quarterback can or can’t do. He’s got a good arm and he knows how to win.”

The Pirates may need a quick refresher course on how to win but Thompson said he has been impressed by the capacity for work by the program’s personnel this summer.

“I’ve never been around a better summer,” Thompson said. “Our guys have organized their workouts. They’ve been out there. Jim Whitten (strength and conditioning coach) has done a great job. It happens all across the country but they were telling me our guys — one day last week — there was a storm coming and they were supposed to work out at 5 o’clock.

"... A couple of the guys said we got to cancel our passing drill. We still had 40 guys that said we’re going out there. They moved it up an hour and went out there and did it.

“Those guys are getting better. There’s some leadership that’s evolving. They’re out there getting better every day. They’re out there playing the game. They’re competing. They’re doing it 100 percent on their own. I know people will raise their eyebrows at that and say, ‘Yeah, yeah sure.’ It’s 100 percent on their own.”

Thompson also feels he has two good quarterbacks at ECU. Paul Troth and Desmond Robinson will enter preseason practice with the issue of who will start at quarterback still unresolved.

“We didn’t come out of there with a clearcut winner in the spring,” Thompson said. “Both of those guys separated themselves from the rest of the pack. Sakeen Wright — we’re going to move him to wide receiver. He may really help us there. We’ve got 29 practices before we play Cincinnati and we’ll just see what happens.

“We’re not necessarily saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to be a two quarterback team,’ but right now it wouldn’t be fair to our team or either one of them to say, ‘All right, you’re the guy.’ Neither one of them have done anything to fall behind. They just haven’t separated themselves. So we just keep on going. We’re going to need both of ’em throughout the course of the year, no doubt.

“Both of them are going to play. ... At this point I’d say both of ’em would play against Cincinnati. How much, who’ll start — will all work itself out in August.”

And then, Sept. 1, the Pirates hit the springboard into the 2003 season at Cincinnati.

“If we play well and we execute, good things happen, then obviously the confidence level goes up,” Thompson said. “If we don’t (win), that doesn’t mean we’re not going to be a good team. It just means we’ve got a whole lot more work to keep doing. That’s just where we are. I understand that.”

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02/23/2007 12:40:30 AM

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