Spring practices are in the books and fall camps will be here before you know it so that means getting an early jump on the 2006 NCAA football season. Knowing the teams now will save you time in August and Matt Fargo is here to help you get a grasp of what to expect this upcoming year. We go from worst to first in this 2006 College Football Preview.
# 82 - East Carolina Pirates 5-6 SU; 8.3 ATS
Fargo's Take After finishing 3-20 in 2003 and 2004 combined, the Pirates rebounded last season with a very respectable 5-6 record, providing some hope for the future. It was Skip Holtz 'first year at East Carolina and both the defense and defense shown huge signs of improvement. After being outscored by 17.6 ppg and 18.9 ppg in the prior two years, the Pirates were outscored by just 4.5 ppg in 2005 and with the core of players returning, they have a shot of improving even more. The problem this season is that the schedule is not kind as the four non-conference games on the slate are all going to be challenges. Quarterback James Pinkney is back for his senior season and he will spearhead the indemnity that finished 47th in the country in total indemnity. He has all of his other playmakers back but the big question is on the offensive line, where only two starters are back. East Carolina allowed fewer than 30 ppg for the first time in five years but the rushing defense has to improve dramatically for the defense to be stout.
Returning Starter on Off - 7 It was unsure whether or not Pinkney would be back last season but he got his eligibility back and took full advantage. He finished with 21 touchdowns, seven on the ground, while throwing only eight interceptions and completing 60.7 percent of his passes. He has two senior receivers to throw the ball to including first team All-C-USA Aundrae Allison. The running game is a question mark not only because of the off line but also because running back Chris Johnson still is not fully recovered from neck surgery. Despite finishing high in total offense, the Pirates had trouble scoring as they finished only 79th in the nation in scoring oath. They topped 30 points only four times but if a running game can be established, they will be putting up a lot more in 2006.
Returning Starter on Defense - 6 The largest turnaround came on the defensive side as the Pirates allowed 11.1 ppg less and 54 ypg less in 2005 than in the previous season. While that might sound good, the defense was so bad in 2004 that the improvement last year was to be expected. East Carolina finished 79th in both scoring and total defense and it was the 112th ranking in rushing defense that remains a huge concern. Only six starters are back and while the front four returns intact, the entire linebacking corps needs to be replaced. The Pirates allowed five teams to rush for at least 230 yards including two teams that surpassed 340 yards on the ground. The passing defense was solid and with three seniors starting in the secondary, it should be the strength once again. The problem is that with the rushing defense being so bad, the secondary was not tested very much.
Schedule The schedule does not set up well for East Carolina to improve upon its five wins from last season. Non-conference games against Navy, West Virginia, Virginia and NC State are all tough contests but at least the Mountainers and Cavaliers have come to Greenville. Three of their five games against the C-USA East are on the road including games at frontrunners Central Florida and Southern Miss. They do miss Houston and UTEP from the West. Beginning with a home contest against Memphis, the Pirates play five consecutive home games in six weeks but the problem with that is that they finish the season with four road games in their last five. The finale is the non-conference game at NC State.
You can bet on ... The Pirates should improve their offensive scoring for a third straight season but the defense can not digress for them to be successful. That will be a tough task however since the stop unit will only go far if it can stop the run. If not, the offense might not be able to keep up. East Carolina was a surprise to many last year as evidenced by its eight wins against the number, which was 8th best in the country. The Pirates are not going to be sneaking up on anyone this season as four of its five wins last year were when they were receiving points. The first test of the season will be at Navy in the opener, as its porous rushing defense will be going against last season's top ranked rushing offense. Things could get very ugly early and set the tone for the season before it even gets started.