Friday, May 26, 2017

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: East Carolina Pirates

East Carolina Pirates
The Pirate administration fired Ruffin McNeill after the 2015 season. I very much thought this to be a major mistake, and am still not convinced that the firing, followed by the hiring of former Duke OC Scottie Montgomery, was not a major error in judgement. The Pirates finished 3-9 in the first season under Montgomery, and were not nearly competitive most of the time. All but one of those losses came by double digits, and the final four losses were all by 20 points or more. Getting the Pirates back to legitimate will be a huge task.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Although I am cautiously optimistic about the QB position, Gardner Minshew could be a solid starter for the Pirates in 2017. He played in seven games last season, and passed for 1347 yards and eight TDs to just four picks, as the coaching staff kept a tight leash on him at times. He averaged just 192 yards passing per game, and I am certain that this number will increase a good deal this fall.
Quay Johnson should be his first target, as he caught 58 passes last fall for 563 yards. He is the most senior and most productive starting receiver coming back, but there were huge losses at the position. Johnson should be in line for a breakout season.
The offensive line has got to be better just based on experience from last season alone. Four starters return in LT Messiah Price, LG Garrett McGhin, RG Christian Matau, and RT Brandon Smith. Four listed reserves from the end of last fall all return to provide depth.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
With Minshew the most likely to start at QB, there is no depth behind him at all, and that could be a problem if the injury bug continues to bite at the position as it did last season with Phillip Nelson. If Minshew cannot stand up and win this job in fall camp, the position is a total enigma.
The Pirates had to conver WR James Summers to RB to start there last fall, and he is now gone. Anthony Scott returns as a senior, and may get first crack at being the starter, but finished with just 384 yards last fall. Shawn Furlow, the prime backup candidate, carried the ball just five times last season.
The los of Zay Jones, the all-time NCAA leading receiver, is a massive loss. It could take multiple receivers to make up for his production, but who will they be? Jimmy Williams and Brandon Bishop are both gone as well. Terrell Green, the top option and backup to Jones last season caught just seven passes. and Deondre Farrier is the only other reserve returning.
The kicking game needs to be rebuilt as well at PK. Davis Plowman hit 17/23 FG attempts last season, but is gone. Jake Verity, a sophomore, hit 1/2 attempts last season, and is in line to start, bvut has very limited experience.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
This was a defensive unit in crisis in 2016. The Pirates gave up 36 points per game on the year, and answers need to be found.
The good news up front is that both DEs return in Demage Bailey and Justin Brown. Brown was not a full time starter, but has enough experience, and that is what the Pirates need. That said, both of these guys really need to step up production levels in a major way.
Some good news comes at LB, where three starters are back in the 3-4 set. Kiante Anderson is back at SAM, while Yiannis Bowden returns at the RUSH spot. Bowden has experience at both spots. Jordan Williams will return inside at the WILL spot. Williams led the team with 77 tackles last fall, while Bowden finished with 42.
Three returning starters are to be found in the secondary as well. Both CBs return in the form of Colby Gore, who started as a freshman, and Bobby Fulp, who will be a senior. Fulp shared his position with Chris Love, who is also back as a senior. Travon Simmons will be back to start at FS. In all, four key reserves all will return to add depth.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The answer here is almost everything, while so many players return, not may provided any kind of real punch on the defensive side of the football in 2017, and it may be hard pressed to believe that a major shift could happen inside of one off-season.
Demetri McGill and Fred Presley are both gone at NG, which provides a major hole in the middle of a defense that allowed an average of 5.42 yards per carry last fall. Cam White and Dayon Pratt contributed a combined 123 tackles, and both are gone from the LB corps. Deshaun Amos, who had 51 tackles at SS, is also gone. That is a ton of productivity missing as we head into fall camp.
The punting game is in reset mode as well, after Worth Gregory moved on. He is another huge blow, as he averaged well over 42 yards per punt as a senior. Jake Verity, who may be the starting PK, may have to pull double duty unless someone is found in fall camp.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 James Madison, 9/9 at West Virginia, 9/16 at Virginia Tech, 9/30 USF, 10/7 Temple, 10/14 at UCF, 10/21 at BYU, 10/28 at Houston, 11/4 at U Conn, 11/11 Tulane, 11/18 Cincinnati, 11/25 at Memphis
Final Overview
I cannot find one single game where I would call the Pirates an out and out favorite in 2017, and that includes the home opener against FCS member James Madison, where I have called the Dukes an early 1.5 point favorite. Any win will be hard fought, and will be a bonus based on the talent that the Pirates have on hand. This team was a mess in 2016, and it seemed that with the firing of McNeill, everything fell apart. I am not saying that the Pirates were a conference contender with him, but the firing seemed strangely political to me. That said, I would be greatly shocked to see East Carolina finish anywhere above the AAC East cellar in 2017.

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