INSIDE SLANTS ON THE PROGRAM
Been There, Done
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
By Kevin Monroe
Two teams on the way up meet
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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
A 7-5 regular season is in the books and the
attention has shifted fully to the inaugural
PapaJohns.com Bowl in Birmingham on
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 PapaJohns.com 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
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
Fast-forward two seasons and the Pirates have
won 12 games during that span and are playing better than .500 football.
The PapaJohns.com 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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