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Been There, Done That
Tuesday, December 12, 2006

By Kevin Monroe

Two teams on the way up meet again

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With each day that goes by, the East Carolina Pirates and their fans are ratcheting up their focus on their postseason reward.

A 7-5 regular season is in the books and the attention has shifted fully to the inaugural Bowl in Birmingham on Dec. 23.

The opponent is South Florida, a team with which East Carolina has a history in the not-so-distant past. USF was formerly in Conference USA and defeated the Pirate in each of their three matchups from 2002-04.

This season, the Bulls went 8-4 (4-3 Big East Conference) and finished the regular season with the biggest win in their school’s history, a headline-grabbing upset of West Virginia in Morgantown.

South Florida has experienced a meteoric rise in the ranks of college football since starting out in Division I-AA in 1997, then moving up to Division I-A in 2001. After only four seasons in Division I-A, the Bulls were asked to join the Big East, ending their short stint in Conference USA.

Since joining the Big East, USF has performed even better than anticipated. The Bulls had a program-changing victory over 9th-ranked Louisville in 2005, and then there was the shocking but dominating win last month over No. 7 West Virginia.

South Florida plays its home games at Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and they recently opened a top of the line multimillion-dollar, on-campus training facility.

The berth in the Bowl will be the Bulls' second straight postseason appearance. In its first-ever bowl outing, USF lost to N.C. State 14-0 in last season's Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte.

East Carolina has also been surging over the last two years. The Pirates are trying to return the program to the top 25, where it ventured on several occasions in the 1990's.

After back to back one-win and two-win seasons under Coach John Thompson, East Carolina hired Coach Skip Holtz.

Holtz has approached rebuilding job from a different angle. When new head coaches inherit troubled programs, they generally try to fix things through new schemes and new players. Coaches tend to get judged on their performance after they have had a few of their own recruiting classes.

Holtz decided that the talent he needed to win was already on campus; it was their attitude that needed changing. After getting his coaching staff in place, Holtz met with the players and told them they could and would win if they bought into what he and the staff were teaching.

Fast-forward two seasons and the Pirates have won 12 games during that span and are playing better than .500 football.

The Bowl is the next step in this rebuilding process. Just getting to a bowl means everything to a program, and winning one is icing on the cake.

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02/23/2007 10:32:39 AM


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