College Sports in the Carolinas
from the East
Monday, October 6, 2003
By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News &
Rugged September gives way to
hope of October
I was sitting in the office of East Carolina senior
associate athletics director Nick Floyd, who is serving as interim athletics
director, about two weeks ago. We were discussing ECU’s
conference affiliation situation and
the conversation turned to the football team.
Floyd knew Pirates coach John Thompson when Floyd was in
athletics administration at Southern Miss and Thompson was the
highly-regarded defensive coordinator of the Golden Eagles. Floyd is
confident that Thompson will get the Pirates turned around and headed in the
right direction despite an 0-5 start.
“Do you know how our strength of schedule is rated?” Floyd
“Guess,” he said.
“Top thirty?” I responded.
My thinking was that West Virginia was 1-3 and, despite a
solid showing at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, that would hurt their value in the
index compiled by computer analyst Jeff Sagarin, whose data is published on
Tuesdays in USA Today.
“Guess again,” Floyd said. “Higher.”
“Top twenty?” I said.
“Higher,” said Floyd.
“Top 12?” I asked, a little bit incredulously.
He opened the USA Today, folded it to the Sagarin ratings
and let me look for myself.
ECU had the No. 2 rated schedule nationally at the time.
The Pirates’ schedule is currently rated No. 5 by Sagarin.
Here’s a look at the top ten teams in terms of schedule strength, with their
record against Division I-A opponents.
1. Notre Dame (1-3)
2. North Carolina (0-5)
3. Alabama (2-4)
4. Colorado (2-3)
5. East Carolina (0-5)
6. Georgia Tech (3-3)
7. West Virginia (1-4)
8. Fresno State (3-3)
9. Louisiana Tech (2-3)
10. Tennessee (4-1)
It’s an interesting top ten and only Tennessee has managed
a winning record. Strength of schedule is a component of the Bowl
Championship Series ratings but some of the traditional powers in the above
list indicate that there are dire consequences to being over-scheduled.
Judicious scheduling is an integral factor in a program’s
success and oftentimes games are contracted so far in advance there is no
way of knowing how competitive the matchups will be. ECU has games scheduled
with N.C. State and North Carolina so far in advance that the players who
will represent those institutions are presently in middle school.
Coincidently, the two teams with winless records in the
top ten toughest schedules meet at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at Dowdy-Ficklen
Stadium. The rivalry will be intense and the winless status of each team
makes them more desperate for victory. It may set a record for fan interest
in the state for two teams whose combined record is 0-10. The mutual
struggles of the Tar Heels and the Pirates has not prevented a sellout.
Not only have the Pirates played tough teams, there have
been factors that have made the matchups even tougher.
In the season opener against Cincinnati, the Bearcats had
not begun classes because they are on the quarter system. There isn’t a lot
of difference between a college team and an NFL team in terms of the focus
of preparation under those circumstances. It may be only coincidence that
Cincinnati started 3-0 and has been 0-2 since classes started — or maybe
With a short week to prepare — no favors from the schedule
there — the Pirates caught West Virginia coming off a disappointing loss to
Wisconsin and the Mountaineers vented their frustrations in thoroughly
pounding ECU at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. The Mountaineers hadn’t approached
that level again until taking Miami to the wire in a 22-20 loss on Thursday
Then ECU got to face No. 2 Miami in the Orange Bowl. No
commentary needed there.
Next up was Wake Forest in Winston-Salem for the second
straight year. Again, no help from the schedule.
Then came Houston, revitalized under former Cougars player
Art Briles and off to its best start in years.
In the last five years, ECU has been a solid favorite in a
good portion of its first five games against teams such as Army (59-24 win
in 2002), Division I-AA William & Mary (38-23 win in 2001), Duke (38-0 win
in 2000), Tulane (37-17 win in 2000), Duke (27-9 win in 1999), Army (33-14
win in 1999) and I-AA Chattanooga (31-0 win in 1998). There have been no
such breathers thus far for the Pirates.
The September schedule had no love for the Pirates but as
the calendar has turned to October, perhaps things will be better. ECU has
more time to get ready for UNC. Having last played on Tuesday, that perhaps
will be of benefit against the Heels, who were 38-13 losers at home to
Virginia on Saturday.
Maybe the schedule helps UNC, too. After nine straight
losses at Kenan Stadium, perhaps the Heels will be thankful for a trip to
The combined record of ECU’s September opponents is 16-9
and that includes Miami at 5-0 and ranked No. 2 nationally. The combined
records of ECU’s October foes (UNC 0-5, Army 0-5, Louisville 4-1) is 4-11.
The time is ripe for things to turn around for the Pirates.
Former East Carolina baseball coach Keith LeClair, men’s
basketball coach Bill Herrion and first-year Pirates football coach John
Thompson all have a rooting interest in the Boston Red Sox, who have won two
games in Fenway Park to force a deciding fifth game today in their American
League division series with the Oakland A’s.
LeClair grew up in New Hampshire and Herrion was raised in
Massachusetts. As red-blooded New Englanders, their love of the Red Sox is
Herrion was in California last week on a junior college
recruiting swing. He didn’t get to see the Bosox play the first two games of
the series with the A’s in Oakland in person but the 12-inning marathon on
Wednesday — and Thursday morning on the East coast — wasn’t so late out West
that he couldn’t watch it at his motel room.
Thompson actually grew up as a St. Louis Cardinals fan in
Arkansas but purchased a trip last spring at a Pirate Club auction that had
been put together by Boston bench coach Jerry Narron, the uncle of recent
ECU pitcher Sam Narron. There are pictures in Thompson’s office of wife
Charleen, and sons Cabe and Hays at Fenway Park from the trip. Thompson had
clubhouse access and was on the field during batting practice.
“A lot of the guys came in to the clubhouse and they were
kind of loud,” Thompson said. “They had something going on but Nomar [Garciaparra]
came in and he kept to himself. He was getting focused.”
Thompson met Trot Nixon, the game three hero from
Wilmington with his “Trot-off” homer, and Red Sox manager Grady Little, the
former Durham Bulls manager who has a home in the Pinehurst area.
“Nice guys,” Thompson said.
Carolinas pecking order
The best way to move up or hold ground in the rankings
this week was not to play. South Carolina, Wake Forest and Duke had open
dates, which helped the Gamecocks and Demon Deacons move into the top spots
as all of the teams that played had losses.
STATELINE POWER RANKINGS©
How the teams in the Carolinas
stack up through games of Saturday, Oct. 4:
- South Carolina (3-2, 0-2 SEC) ... Gamecocks
host Kentucky on national television on Thursday night.
- Wake Forest (3-2, 1-1 ACC) ... Deacons had an
open date to prepare for Georgia Tech at home on Saturday.
- Clemson (3-2, 1-1 ACC) ... Tigers’ offense held
in check in 21-7 loss at Maryland.
- N.C. State (3-3, 1-2 ACC) ... Wolfpack’s season
went South with 29-21 loss at Georgia Tech.
- Duke (2-3, 0-2 ACC) ... Blue Devils getting
ready for a trip to Maryland.
- North Carolina (0-5, 0-3 ACC) ... Tar Heels
looking for first win of season on first trip to ECU.
- East Carolina (0-5, 0-2 C-USA) ... A win over
UNC and a struggling start to the John Thompson era will be
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02/23/2007 12:41:28 AM