NCAA Football

2010 NCAA Football Preview: East Carolina Pirates

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Between now and the September 2nd season kick-off, Danny Hobrock will be previewing all the major college football teams with new teams being released daily.

2009 Season Breakdown

2009 final record (overall, conference): 9-5, 7-1
Bowl Game: Liberty Bowl (L 20-17 vs. Arkansas)
Final Ranking (AP, Coaches'): NR, NR
Conference finish: Conference USA Champions
Offensive rank: 67
Defensive rank: 71

2009 Individual Statistical Leaders

Rushing: Dominique Lindsay, 1,180 yards, 6 TD
Passing: Patrick Pinkey, 2,947 yards, 15 TD, 12 INT
Receiving: Dwayne Harris, 978 yards, 7 TD
Tackles: Van Eskridge, 102 total tackles; Nick Johnson, 98 total tackles
Sacks: C.J. Wilson, 5.5 sacks (5 solo, 1 assisted)
Interceptions: Van Eskridge, 6 interceptions

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2010 Season Outlook

Schedule
(* denotes conference game)

Key Matchups

October 9 @ Southern Miss: Finishing third in the East Division last season with a 5-3 conference record, the Golden Eagles could look to take advantage of an expected down year from the Pirates. UCF finished ahead of them in the division, but with their erratic record from one year to the next, this could be a big opportunity for Southern Miss. If ECU hopes to again reign supreme in the division, this is one of the games they may have to win.

October 16 vs. NC State: Granted NC State is no powerhouse football team coming into this season, if ECU can grab this one they'll be in pretty good shape. They lose tons of starters this season so things are a little uncertain as the season gets closer. A win over Virginia Tech, North Carolina or Navy would be nice too, but a solid home win over the in-state rival Wolfpack would be a great start for Ruffin McNeill and his coaching staff.

October 30 @ UCF: While they won't compete with ECU for the East Division (they're in the West), this is a team ECU may actually play two weeks in a row if the two can manage to win their respective divisions in C-USA. SMU is on the rise with questions abound regarding ECU after losing so many starters.

November 26 vs. Southern Methodist: Like the matchup the week before, this Friday night matchup will be nationally televised and represents a potential trap for a Broncos team who by this point could be looking ahead to the BCS bowl season with title aspirations. Coach Chris Petersen should, and all indicates are that he would, have his team focused on defeating the Wolf Pack to avoid what would be a crushing late-season upset.

Preseason Rankings (will not officially be released until August)

AP: N/A

Coaches': N/A

Key Losses

Patrick Pinkney, QB; Dominique Lindsay, RB; Sean Allen, OL; Terrance Campbell, OL; C.J. Wilson, DL; Linval Joseph, DL; Scotty Robinson, DL; Jay Ross, DL; Nick Johnson, LB; Jeremy Chambliss, LB; Levin Neal, S; Van Eskridge, S; Matt Dodge, P

Key Returning Players

Dwayne Harris, WR; Willie Smith, OT; Cory Dowless, G; D.J. Scott, G; Emanuel Davis, CB

Offensive Overview

Gone is the conservative passing game in favor of the Air Raid spread offense of new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley. A former wide receivers coach at Texas Tech, Riley brings the Red Raiders' style of offense to Greenville. It will be interesting to watch how the ECU players adapt to the new offense, as they were not brought to Greenville to play in this type of system. Multiple wide receivers will see the field at once in the new system with Dwayne Harris leading the way. Harris is a versatile player who hauled in 83 passes for 978 yards and seven touchdowns last year. Those numbers could grow in 2010. Andrew Bodenheimer, Michael Bowman and Dayon Arrington are expected to join Harris as the starters. Darryl Freeney has run into academic troubles, but could take one of the starting spots if he is eligible to play this season.

Who exactly will be getting them the ball remains up in the air, so to speak. Brad Wornick finished the spring in the lead for the starting quarterback job, but the arrival of Boston College transfer Dominque Davis could shake things up. Wornick's experience at the collegiate level stops at the scout team, while Davis has seen action on the field, most notably in BC's final four games of the 2008 season. That said, Wornick proved to be no slouch in the spring and the two should make for an interesting competition this fall.

While the Air Raid style of offense focuses less on the running game, the loss of last year's two leading rushers (Dominique Lindsay to the NFL and Brandon Jackson kicked off team following an arrest) and the indefinite suspension of Giavanni Ruffin following his arrest put a strain on the backfield. Jonathan Williams has run into his fair share of off-field problems, but enters the season as the team's premier back. The offensive line actually returns three starters this season in tackle Willie Smith and guards D.J. Scott and Cory Dowless. The three will be counted on to anchor this unit to give whoever lines up at quarterback the time he needs to adjust to the new offense.

Defensive Overview

Emanuel Davis is the defense's top returner for 2010 following a season in which he recorded 69 tackles, 12 passes defended and a couple of picks. The other cornerback spot could go to Travis Simmons. Simmons has 22 starts under his belt, while the Pirates are closely monitoring the progress of Dekota Marshall, who started five of his nine games last season before an injury cut short his season. His status for the season remains uncertain, however. Leonard Paulk will also compete for playing time opposite Davis. Derek Blacknall will start at free safety with Bradley Jacobs expected to start at strong safety. While Blacknall saw the field a good bit last season, including two starts, Jacobs is a first year JUCO transfer who will see his first FBS action in the fall.

The defensive line will see four new starters in 2010. Josh Smith and Antonio Allen will get the nod in the middle with Smith expected to anchor the unit. Smith played in all but one game last season, finishing third on the team with four sacks. Allison experienced a foot injury in 2009 that kept him out of most of 2009. At defensive end, a couple of undersized guys in sophomore Marke Powell (6'3, 198 pounds) and freshman Matt Milner (6'4, 235 pounds) will take over. Neither Powell nor Milner will be much of a factor against the run, but offer pass rushing skills that the Pirates are hoping will disrupt the timing of opposing offenses.

All three linebackers are gone as well. Steve Spence will see action in the middle with Dustin Lineback and Wes Pittman expected to assume the outside linebacker positions. Cliff Perryman and Lamar McLendon will add depth to this unit, although the depth chart is likely to change or to be reshuffled at some point this fall.

Special Teams Overview

Ben Ryan is expected to take over kicking duties for the now departed Ben Hartman. Ryan missed the only two field goal attempts he took last season and questions about his accuracy persist. Matt Millisor could see time at kicker if Ryan struggles. Matt Dodge, an all-star of a punter, is also gone, leaving a vacancy at both kicking specialist positions. Millisor and Nathan Przestrzelski are competing to replace Dodge, whose 45.8 yard per punt average was good for second in the nation behind Georgia's Drew Butler.

Dwayne Harris will again handle kick return duties after averaging 27.0 yards per return last season and taking three kicks back for touchdowns. The punt returner will again be Travis Simmons, who averaged an impressive 12.6 yards per return in 2009.

Head Coach: Ruffin McNeill

New head coach Ruffin McNeill begins his tenure at East Carolina with the cupboards essentially bare in terms of experience. Moreover, most of the offensive talent that is there was brought in to play in a completely different system than what new coordinator Lincoln Riley is installing in his first year as OC. This marks McNeill's first gig as a full-time head coach following a one-game stint as interim head coach for the Red Raiders' win over Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl. He served as a member of the Tech defensive coaching staff since 2000 until he was fired by new head coach Tommy Tuberville.

Top 2011 Draft Prospects

Dwayne Harris, WR

Season Prediction

3rd Conference USA East

New head coach Ruffin McNeill should be granted a little leeway in his first season on campus with so much experience moving on, but for a fan base that has quickly grown accustomed to sitting atop the conference, the heat will nonetheless be on to finish with at the very least a respectable record and a bowl berth.

UCF and Southern Miss will prove ECU's primary challengers this season in the East. Both teams are hoping to take advantage of ECU while they rebuild and it's likely that one of the two will end up taking the East and eventually playing either Houston or SMU for the conference title. (Marshall could also make a run for the division.) At this early point, I like Southern Miss.

As far as the Pirates go, it's important to remember they are essentially starting over as a football program. Just about every starter from a year ago is gone. There's very little experience at most positions. A new coaching staff is in town. And to top it all off, with the new coaching staff comes a new style of play. Not to sound pessimistic, but if the Pirates make the bowl season, consider this year a success. That said, there are still those who expect the Pirates to compete with Southern Miss and UCF for the division title… - Danny Hobrock

Danny is a sports journalist primarily covering college football and professional baseball. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. Danny is the former editor of a political and current events website and the editor of our college football content.

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