East Carolina Pirates
Head Coach: Scottie Montgomery
2015 Record: 5-7
2015 Bowl: N/A
2016 Returning Starters: 5 Offense, 6 Defense
Odds to win 2017 Championship Game: +999999
Odds to win 2016 AAC Championship: +6000
Regular Season over/under: 5
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After finishing 5-7 last season the East Carolina Pirates decided to head a different direction, firing head coach Ruffin McNeill and hiring former Duke OC Scottie Montgomery. Montgomery will have his impact quickly in remaking the offense into a more varied attack.
There will be numerous position battles for the Pirates. Among those spots up for grabs is RB and three spots on the OL. That could be a matter of instability for East Carolina, but this year will be something of a transition for them at any rate.
The Pirates’ issues last season started with QB Kurt Benkert transferring after spring ball (to Virginia). ECU then turned to senior Philip Nelson. Nelson is a former starter at Minnesota, and he also played for Rutgers.
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At WR, the Pirates have plenty of depth with Isaiah “Zay” Jones, who made 98 catches last year for 1,099 yards. He will be a contender for All-Conference honors, and Davon Grayson should step it up further this year after finishing last year with 33 receptions. The biggest question marks may be in the backfield where Montgomery will attempt to get some rushing offense drummed up in turning to Anthony Scott. Devin Anderson also will get a lot of touches.
One has to step up as a go-to back, a staple of Montgomery offenses.
The OL also only has two returning players in G J.T. Boyd and T Brandon Smith. The holes do not necessarily have to be weaknesses, but ECU does have some work to do in putting together an offensive unit under a first-year head coach. It will be a challenge.
The defense will be a 3-4 scheme with multiple options. ECU returns its second-leading tackler Jordan Williams, who had 81 tackles last year, including six for losses. The biggest issue for ECU defensively is stopping the run. Last year the Pirates gave up 174.5 yards per game. Forcing turnovers was also an issue, where the Pirates found themselves with only eight fumble recoveries and 12 INTs.
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The secondary is athletic and strong, and Travon Simmons will start at S with CBs DaShaun Amos and Corey Seargent. Both Amos and Seargent had superb spring sessions and will be staples in what should be an improved secondary.
Last year ECU gave up 26 points per game, ranking tied for No. 54 in the nation. Given that the offense managed 27.4 points, it was a formula for mediocrity, but things will not likely be drastically different this season.
Punter Worth Gregory averaged 43 yards per punt and put 32 of 60 inside the 20 yard line. Place Kicker Davis Plowman was good for 83.3 percent of his FGA (10 of 12). The returns are a strength with Quay Johnson having handled duties last year and returning again to do so the year.
ECU opens the season with Western Carolina on Sept. 3 and faces a tough challenge in Week 2 with NC State. South Carolina and Virginia Tech will prove to be challenges in Weeks 3 and 4, before conference play opens with UCF on Oct. 1. Three weeks in a row facing South Florida (road), Navy and Cincinnati (road) could spell the season for the Pirates. It will be difficult to win any of those games and reeling off three straight losses will only frame a losing season.
Despite McNeill finishing 42-34 in his six seasons at ECU, it was not enough to retain his job. That sets the bar pretty high for Montgomery, but many feel it is an upgrade in coaching even so. Montgomery is a great mind as an OC and he was instrumental in Duke turning its program around. ECU is hoping for the same kind of magic and mojo with its program, and expectations are high. Maybe this season is a bit premature to expect the Pirates to win double-digits, though.
Prediction: 4 wins
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