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Insights and Observations

Henry's Highlights
Wednesday, November 29, 2006

By Henry Hinton

Winning not the only priority in Birmingham

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7:00-9:00 a.m.

Tune in on the radio or catch the live Internet feed of today's Talk of the Town with Henry Hinton, with guest Jim Bass and tape from Skip Holtz' press conference after ECU was selected for the Bowl in Birmingham:

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Catch the replay of Tuesday's Talk of the Town, featuring guests Denny O'Brien and Ran Coble:

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Knock knock.

Who’s there?

The ultimate opportunity. That’s who.

Tuesday’s announcement that East Carolina will play in the inaugural Papa Bowl on December 23 in Birmingham is the best case scenario for the Pirate program.

For the third time in recent years, East Carolina will help launch a new bowl game. The game, which will be played in historic Legion Field, will feature the Pirates and a Big East team. That alone makes this the best choice for the postseason for ECU.

Word filtered around the program on Tuesday that South Florida will most likely be the opponent, but that remains to be seen. As late as Tuesday, night there was jockeying for position among Big East teams with regard to which team will play in the various bowls provided by agreements with that conference and other postseason venues.

If the opponent is South Florida, it would appear that ECU has an opportunity to send a message to the very league that overlooked it in the latest round of Big East expansion. The Bulls program was chosen over East Carolina’s to join Louisville and Cincinnati in an exodus from Conference USA.

The irony has not been lost on Athletics Director Terry Holland and Coach Skip Holtz.

“We’re excited about the opportunity to play in Birmingham,” said Holland on Tuesday. “We welcome the chance to measure our program against teams like those in the Big East.”

Holland and others at ECU have to be looking at this game as a chance to show the decision-makers in the Big East that the Pirate program can, indeed, measure on the field and in the stands.

That is why the department has launched an all-out effort to make sure the initial ECU allotment of 13,000 tickets from the bowl game are totally sold. Expect to hear more about that in the coming days.

Coming off the win over N.C. State and a regular season 7-5 record, Holtz has his team poised to believe they can beat anyone. Beating a Big East team on national television could do wonders for his program.

“We have great respect for the Big East and to have the opportunity to play another game against a BCS Conference is what we want to do,” said Holtz. “Coach Holland has made it loud and clear with the schedule, that playing BCS bowls is where we want to be and what we are striving for.”

South Florida is coming off perhaps the biggest win in its program’s history, a 24-19 victory last Saturday at West Virginia. Whether it’s the Bulls, Cincinnati or Pittsburgh, Holtz is looking forward to the chance to show that his team can compete with BCS conference schools.

“I know that the opponent is going to be worthy and there are some good teams in the conference and it will be a challenge," said Holtz. “I also think that it will grab some of these players' attention. It is huge from a program standpoint. It shows the growth in this program and how far we have come in two years. We are definitely not where we want to be, but we are moving in the right direction.

"This is a very positive reward for a team that has worked extremely hard."

Of course the plan could backfire if Pirate fans do not buy the tickets and show up in force in Birmingham on December 23. This is the call to action Holland has been hoping for. It is an opportunity to prove that the Pirates belong in a BCS conference and have the backing to prove it.

Knock knock.

Holland and Holtz are hoping Pirate fans will open the door.

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This page updated 04/21/08 07:08 PM.

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