Game-By-Game Predictions for East Carolina's 2014 Season
Last season, ECU was drastically improved, but so was conference competition. It won 10 games, but failed to reach the C-USA Conference Championship Game after a losing to Tulane by three on the road and then performing poorly at Marshall in the regular season finale.
But 2014 presents a new opportunity for a team that should be even better.
East Carolina returns stars all over the place – quarterback Shane Carden is back after throwing for 4,139 yards and 33 touchdowns last season, and returns his favorite target in productive receiver Justin Hardy (114 receptions, 1,284 yards, 8 TDs). The Pirates will also field an even stronger defensive front that should help compensate for a lacking secondary.
So how does this translate over to the American Athletic Conference? Quite well, considering half of the league was a recent member of the C-USA, and the other half just isn’t very good.
UCF won the AAC in its first year as a member. ECU will have a very good chance to do the same. Let’s take a look at the Pirates’ 2014 schedule and make some early predictions:
8/30 – vs. North Carolina Central: WIN
East Carolina scored 40.2 points per game (No. 9 in the country) last season, including 50 or more in five different contests. NC Central got beat by Duke 45-0. The backups will be in by the start of the third quarter.
9/6 – at South Carolina: LOSS
I’m very tempted to go with ECU here, but I think Steve Spurrier will make second-half adjustments as he did against North Carolina and Central Florida and that Gamecocks QB Dylan Thompson will get enough time to make some timely throws against a questionable Pirates secondary.
9/13 – at Virginia Tech: WIN
In last season’s matchup, Virginia Tech scratched and clawed its way to a 15-10 win in which the defense was dominant and Logan Thomas was not as erratic as usual. Carden threw three interceptions and had a difficult time reading defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s different looks. However, the Hokies could be even more stagnant on offense and lose a ton of talent on defense. I like the Pirates to seek revenge in Blacksburg.
9/20 – vs. North Carolina: LOSS
UNC has a few questions on offense and plenty of room for improvement in Year 3 of its 4-2-5 defensive scheme, but won its final six of seven games of the 2013 season and should build from that with lots of promising talent. Its up-tempo spread offense should continue make strides with dual-threat Marquise Williams running the show, and as long as he gets time from his shuffling offensive line, he and the Tar Heels could end up giving back the favor to ECU after last year’s 55-31 drubbing.
10/4 – vs. SMU: WIN
SMU will field a solid front seven, but Carden and company will torch its secondary. If Garrett Gibert were still eligible, this would be much more interesting matchup, but that’s not the case. ECU wins with ease.
10/11 – at South Florida: WIN
Willie Taggert had to play a lot of underclassmen during his first season with USF, which resulted in a 2-10 record and incompetence for most of the 12 games. Those freshmen and sophomores will grow from valuable experience, but it won’t help them in this one.
10/23 – vs. Connecticut: WIN
Twelve days to prepare for an offense that scored a 108th-ranked 20.6 points per game last season, and could possibly have even more difficulty scoring in 2014? This has blowout written all over it.
11/1 – at Temple: WIN
This one should be closer than expected due to Temple’s rising stars on offense, but ECU just has more talent and depth and will pull away by the third quarter.
11/13 – at Cincinnati: WIN
Like I said in the Cincinnati game-by-game preview, this AAC clash should determine the conference champion. There are a lot of similarities between these two rosters; both teams are projected to have great quarterbacks, explosive wide receivers, a solid running game, a strong pass rush, and questions at both offensive line and secondary. I give East Carolina the edge for now because we know what we’ll get with Carden and the passing game – Gunner Kiel and the potential of a deadly Bearcat offense is still unknown to this point. But either way, expect this game to be a fun to watch shootout on Thursday night.
11/22 – vs. Tulane: WIN
To avoid a major letdown, the ECU offensive line must be healthy and have stability on the edges to prevent Carden from taking too many hits. Tulane sacrificed big plays in order to disrupt the backfield and make the opposing quarterback beat an aggressive secondary, and with some athletic ends back, that will be the case again. Carden will have to work on getting the ball out quickly and hitting his locations leading up to this one.
11/28 – at Tulsa: WIN
It’ll be a short week for ECU, but that doesn’t matter – Tulsa just doesn’t have the offensive efficiency to compete with the Pirates.
12/4 – vs. Central Florida: WIN
I’m sure there’s still some bitterness here from the C-USA days. If ECU can push 24-plus points on a strong defense that returns a ton of experience and put consistent pressure on Blake Bortles’ replacement, Justin Holman, then I like its chances to take this one at home and outright win the American Athletic Conference title.
2014 East Carolina Projected Record: 10-2 (8-0)
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