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Posts Tagged ‘East Carolina’

No. 75: East Carolina

Just when you think East Carolina has solved its biggest problem, another one comes up and holds the program in its current holding pattern of mediocrity. Heading into last season, the Pirates’ biggest concern was an historically bad defense; Ruffin McNeill and his staff partially solved that conundrum, making heady scheme and personnel moves that resulted in a significant increase across the board. The end result was – in a perfect world, or the world most thought would come to pass in 2011 – a defense more than good enough to life E.C.U. into Conference USA title contention. But a funny thing happened on the feel-good path to nine wins: E.C.U. started turning the ball over. And not just in one game, or two, or three, but in every game, eventually tying Iowa State for the most turnovers in the F.B.S. with 35. Want to sabotage a miraculous turnaround on defense? Then shoot yourself in the foot on offense again and again and again.

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    Ranking the Countdown, 1-120, For 2011

    The season is over, so it’s time for the ugliness to begin. How bad was it, anyway? Oh, not terrible – but not great either. I nailed No. 1: Alabama in August, Alabama in January. I wasn’t too far off on No. 2, missing Boise State by a few spots. But what about No. 64, for example? Or No. 115, as another example? Here comes the painful task of ranking the rankings, measuring this past summer’s Countdown, 1-120, with today’s final re-ranking. After hitting jackpot on the top spot, it can only be downhill from there.

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      As if Picking the Teams Isn’t Hard Enough

      I’ve never tried my hand at projecting the entire F.B.S. bowl slate; I have enough trouble with the five B.C.S. games, in my mind. But it’s worth a shot for one week, even if I mess up the various tie-ins, conference affiliations and so forth. Not to mention choose teams that end up staying home during bowl play. Well, here goes. Remember: those numbers signifying which team slots where in its conference are very arbitrary — to a point. The No. 7 team isn’t vaulting the No. 3 team, but No. 6 could be No. 4, No. 5 could be No. 7 and so on. And not every conference can meet its allotted bowl tie-ins; in that case, a substitute team is selected.

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        A Must-Have Weekend for 10

        Oh, B.Y.U. needs this one. The Cougars need it bad, are craving a win in the worst way, after back-to-back losses to Texas and Utah. And that one-point win at Mississippi? That one looks worse and worse by the day. Does any team in the F.B.S. need a win worse than the Cougars? Maybe… but I doubt it. Here are another nine teams that rival B.Y.U. with their own must-have weekend:

        10. Michigan Sort of. Brady Hoke wants a win against his former team, though you could make the case that San Diego State wants it more. Michigan needs this one because it can’t really afford to go into Big Ten play at less than 4-0, even with winnable games against Minnesota and Northwestern breaking in the conference season. In my mind, Michigan is a good team but not a great one — a team that will hover around the Top 25 but, by bowl play, should be around 8-4. That’s 8-4 if they win today: the Big Ten slate isn’t easy, and it’s important that the Wolverines do themselves a favor and enter the Minnesota game blemish-free.

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          Evaluating the Big East’s Option

          Here’s what makes sense for the Big East: expand now, adding three teams to get to an 11-team league, in advance of the conference’s two, three or four departures. Syracuse and Pittsburgh are already gone, though perhaps not until 2014, and all signs point towards Connecticut opting to join that pair in the A.C.C. in the near future. Take that three out — and even Rutgers, let’s say — and you’re left with:

          South Florida
          West Virginia

          And maybe T.C.U., if the Big East can convince the Horned Frogs not to remove themselves from the conversation. That’s the most important thing the league can achieve over the next few weeks, more important than trying to convince teams that want out — Syracuse and Pittsburgh — to remain in the fold. Adding T.C.U. is a start, but the Big East would need to add at least three teams to the five listed above to maintain its B.C.S. draw.

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            Forecasting Conference USA in 2011

            It’s not Grand Canyon-like, but it’s wide. What’s another natural chasm, one slightly smaller than the Grand Canyon, to use as a metaphor for the split between the haves and the have-nots in Conference USA? Here are the haves: Houston, U.C.F., Tulsa, S.M.U., Southern Mississippi and maybe, if I’m being kind, East Carolina. The have-nots: Marshall, U.A.B., UTEP, Rice, Tulane and Memphis. It’s a very distinct gap, one that highlights the strong upper half of the conference but also one that diminishes the resume a Conference USA power might bring into bowl play.

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              No. 82: East Carolina

              Ruffin McNeill has tightened his belt: the second-year East Carolina coach dropped about 80 pounds between the end of the 2010 season and this spring, increasing his mobility and adding a “sharper” focus to his day-to-day duties, according to McNeill. He badly wants his defense to follow suit after an ugly, error-filled season, one that found the E.C.U.’s Swiss cheese defense end the year alongside powerhouses like New Mexico and Memphis in the national rankings. Perhaps his own increased agility served as the impetus behind his decision to move from a 4-3 base defensive set to a 3-4, which should allow E.C.U. to put athletes on the field in a position to make plays in space. At least there’s this offense, which is potent, and it’s not as if the defense needs to become Alabama overnight – all this offense needs is for its defensive counterparts to be is below average, but not hide-the-children terrible.

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                Conference USA’s Weaker Half

                Every conference has its haves and have-nots. It just seems more pronounced on the non-B.C.S. level, if only because their worst spends September losing to the B.C.S. conference’s worst — in other words, Indiana might have been terrible in 2010, but the Hoosiers still managed to have their way with Akron, a last-place doppelganger from the MAC. The distance in the standings, therefore, is even more pronounced on the non-B.C.S. conference level: an Akron goes 3-5 in the MAC and finishes 4-8; an Indiana goes 3-5 in the Big Ten and goes bowling. But is the actual distance between the best and the worst from a non-B.C.S. conference greater than the same distance in a B.C.S. league?

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                  The Countdown

                  A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.