The East Carolina Pirates may want to win titles, but any improvement would be a good sign this year.
The East Carolina Pirates will be turning a new page this fall. Out is Ruffin McNeill. In is new coach Scottie Montgomery. Montgomery comes over from Duke where David Cutcliffe has returned Duke football to a level of respectability it has not enjoyed since the days of Steve Spurrier. Montgomery is supposed to build on that in his new post with the Pirates.
He will be trying to do that with some good experienced pieces on offense and some experimentation on defense. The defense just lost starting lineman Darius Commissiong for an animal cruelty charge.
The departure of quarterback Kurt Benkert has opened the way for a move that was somewhat predicted last season. Transfer quarterback Philip Nelson moves into the starting job, giving Montgomery some experience back in the pocket.
Nelson will be able to throw the ball to the likes of Isaiah Jones and James Summers. It will be interesting to see how Montgomery adjusts his scheme to fit these weapons. Whatever changes he makes would be foolish to ignore the speed on the outside.
Then there is the schedule. The Pirates went 5-7 last year, but several of those losses were close and the Pirates couldn’t consistently figure out what they wanted to do.
9/3 – Western Carolina
-Bringing the Catamounts to Greenville should allow the team to find its legs before its first big test of the season. Western should have trouble keeping up with the score. Pirates 40-17. (1-0)
9/10 – NC State
-The problem is that Western will not test the Pirate defense. State will come into Greenville behind their running game, and Matt Dayes will likely grind down an inexperienced Pirate defense. You can’t score if you don’t have the ball. Wolfpack 24-21. (1-1)
9/17 – AT South Carolina
-The Gamecocks are in the first year of a new head coach just as the Pirates are. Unlike the Pirates, they have more defensive personnel. This will be a low scoring game, but there is a chance of an upset if the Pirates can consistently convert when they have the ball. Gamecocks 17-10 (1-2)
9/24 – AT Virginia Tech
-No Frank Beamer sighting here as new coach Justin Fuente takes over. He still has the patented Hokie defense behind him and that will likely give him an edge in another close contest. Hokies 17-14 (1-3)
10/1 – UCF
After a rigorous out of conference slate, the Pirates will be glad to see the Knights and their new head coach come to town. The benefit of tough games will show here for the Pirates. Pirates 31-14. (2-3)
10/8 – AT USF
The Bulls are a little further along in their rebuilding process than the Pirates are into theirs. Willie Taggart is also not a first year head coach. Bulls 24-20 (2-4).
10/13 – Navy
It is hard for me to believe that the Pirates are ready for the Navy attack with their defense. Their hope is to score on the unknown Navy defense. It just is not soon enough. Navy 35-28 (2-5).
10/22 – AT Cincinnati
The Bearcats get one more year of Gunnar Kiel if they want it. Right now they are still trying to figure out if they want it. If Kiel plays, then Cincy will probably win. If not then this is upset material for a team looking to get back in the win column. Pirates 28-24. (3-5)
10/29 – Uconn
In theory the schedule gets easier around Halloween, and the Pirates should be well primed for revenge against a UConn squad that took them by surprise in Storrs last year. Pirates 28-20 (4-5).
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11/5 – AT Tulsa
The Golden Hurricane should offer another opportunity for a victory in the late season. Pirates 27-17 (5-5)
11/12 – SMU
Say good-bye to defense in this one. The win does secure bowl options. Pirates 45-31 (6-5).
11/26 – AT Temple
The current beast of the East is the season finale. The Pirates will need every bit for this one and it likely won’t be enough. Owls 31-14. (6-6)
So the Pirates are predicted to do one win better this season from last year, but there is space in the schedule to do better or worse than that. 6-6 was plenty good to go bowling last year and now there are even more bowls out there. Should be a wintertime haven in there somewhere.