(Photo: ECU SID)
The unique challenges provided by the
Appalachian State team that will venture into Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on
Sept. 5 are certainly a departure from the typical season opener for
The matchup is consistent with ECU's
quest to play a demanding and attractive schedule.
ECU has typically gone on the road to
take on favored opponents. Since 1990, the Pirates have been cast in the
role of whipping boys in some challenging venues such as Illinois,
Tennessee, West Virginia and Virginia Tech. ECU has played WVU and the
Hokies three times apiece in first games. None of those matchups have
taken place in Greenville.
Strong programs often begin their
seasons at home against opposition that is perceived to be beatable.
That, of course, was the case when App State went to Michigan to open
the 2007 season.
The Mountaineers went toe to toe with
the Wolverines and came away with one of the most stunning upsets in
college football history with a 34-32 win in the Big House.
ASU couldn't repeat the feat at LSU
last season, losing 41-13 in opening the 2008 season on the road against
the Tigers. The Mountaineers also missed on winning a fourth straight
championship subdivision title as a 10-game winning streak was halted
with a 33-13 loss to eventual playoff champion Richmond.
ECU's 2009 schedule features
non-conference challenges at West Virginia, at North Carolina and at
home against Virginia Tech on a Thursday night. Those matchups are in
addition to the demands of trying to defend the Conference USA
championship the Pirates claimed last season.
"Part of me loves the schedule," said
ECU coach Skip Holtz. "Part of me hates the schedule. We have talked
about wanting to be one of the better programs on the East coast. The
only way to build it is from the inside out.
"You can schedule 12 wins, beat your
chest and say, 'Look at us.' From the outside standpoint, you may be a
really good program but yet once you walk into the house, it's not ready
to turn and play at that level.
"I don't think you can understand what
that level is until you step on the field and play it. It's been an
eye-opening experience for our players to go to Virginia Tech, to go to
West Virginia, to have the opportunity to play North Carolina and N.C.
State and Virginia.
"The people that we've turned and
played out of conference have been great measuring sticks for our
program and it's given our players the goal to say, 'We just don't want
to be the best in Conference USA.' We want to be able to line up and
compete with everybody on our schedule, which is some of the better
teams on the East Coast."
The challenges that the typical ECU
schedule provides have permeated every aspect of the program from
recruiting to practice preparations to summer workouts.
"It's been a great motivating factor,"
Holtz said. "One of the reasons that these players make the commitment
that they make — I can remember at Notre Dame when we used to open the
season at Michigan and it was unbelievable, the attention, the work
habits — the way that everybody approached every single day, knowing you
had to come right out of the chutes with a game like Michigan.
"It's the same thing for us, playing a
team like App State that's won three out of four national championships
(2005, 2006, 2007), who has a senior quarterback (Armanti Edwards).
Coach (Jerry) Moore has done a phenomenal job with that program. I love
the fact that we're playing them."
The Pirates are in the position of
playing a highly-motivated in-state opponent which may have the same
sort of mindset that ECU has taken into games with in-state ACC teams.
"It would be very hypocritical for us
to sit here and ask N.C. State, North Carolina, Wake and Duke to play us
if we said we weren't going to play Appalachian State. I think it's a
great game for the state. I think it's great for both fan bases, for
both App State's and East Carolina. This is a series that has a lot of
history to it. This is not our first meeting between these two
Sure enough, ECU is 10-19 against the
Mountaineers in the games of the series played between 1932 and 1979.
"I'm excited about the schedule we
play," Holtz said. "It's a hard schedule. It's a tough schedule, but at
the same time I think it's one that kind of gets you excited. If you're
a competitor, this is what you want. You want an opportunity to line up
and play against the best."
Bryant still has work to do
When Holtz summarized changes in the
status of his personnel at media day last Saturday, he was asked about
Jamar Bryant, who was suspended in 2008 after playing in five games.
Bryant had 19 catches for 216 yards and three touchdowns in his
abbreviated junior season after making 48 catches for 704 yards with six
scores as a sophomore in 2007.
"At this point Jamar is not (on the
active roster)," Holtz said. "There are still some things he needs to do
in order to be able to do that (rejoin the program). At this point, he
is not. ... There are some stipulations that he's got to turn and he's
got to get done. At this point, he's done everything that he's supposed
to do to this point but he still has some things that he has to get
finished up before that suspension will be lifted or fulfilled."
Holtz said there was a possibility that
Bryant would play in 2009.
"If he continues to do what he's
supposed to do," said the Pirates coach.
The athletic Bryant, 6-foot-2 and 218
pounds, originally signed with Georgia after playing for former ECU
coach Ed Emory at Richmond County.
Parking changes for football
ECU officials are concerned about
making football fans aware that there will be no public parking in the
area around Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium this season. Those without reserved
parking passes should plan on using remote parking on the Brody School
of Medicine campus. Parking is free but the fare on the
climate-controlled buses will be $5 per person round trip.
The shuttle service will start 2 1/2
hours before kickoff and continue for 1 1/2 hours after the game. Gates
at the stadium are scheduled to open two hours prior to kickoff.
The parking situation is another sign
that the ECU program is growing.