The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 50 East Carolina.
Previewing East Carolina’s Offense for 2014:
It’s full speed ahead for the Pirates as they sail into the American Athletic Conference with what should be another offensive juggernaut. East Carolina was ranked second in Conference USA in total offense (468.2 ypg) and was eighth in the land with 40.2 points scored per game.
The 2013 Conference USA MVP (and long-shot 2014 Heisman hopeful), quarterback Shane Carden is back for his senior year, and he has already piled up a treasure chest of big numbers — 318.4 yards passing per game, a 70.5 completion percentage and 33 touchdowns, and that was just last year. His favorite target, talented Justin Hardy, is back after setting ECU records with 114 catches and 1,284 yards, and he is the first Pirate ever with back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons.
Diminutive 5'8" senior Breon Allen was second on the team with 311 yards rushing, averaging 5.0 yards per carry. The little back will shoulder a bigger load this fall, with a lot of help from junior Chris Hairston.
The biggest concern is the offensive line. Big junior Tre Robertson, all 6'5", 310 pounds of him, is back at right tackle, and the Pirates hope to have promising Ike Harris on the left side after his shoulder completely heals from a February car accident. Redshirt freshman guard Larry Williams can also help.
Previewing East Carolina’s Defense for 2014:
The Pirates had a defensive renaissance under first-year coordinator Rick Smith, who presided over C-USA’s top run defense. Now Smith must replace eight starters in his 3-4 defense while he faces a more daunting schedule.
Chrishon Rose returns up front, although Rose is moving from nose tackle to end. Terrell Stanley, a potential all-conference end, missed spring as a result of the same car crash that sidelined Harris and will miss the 2014 season. Quick-footed nose tackle Terry Williams can be a force.
Keep an eye on athletic outside linebacker Montese Overton.The key, though, is inside linebacker Zeek Bigger, who was forced into the lineup by injuries and responded well. Already the signal-caller, Bigger will have a bigger role as a team leader alongside Brandon Williams in the middle.
Only boundary corner Detric Allen is back in the secondary, but there are some good pieces to rebuild around, including former walk-on Josh Hawkins, who had a spectacular offseason. Senior Lamar Ivey seems to have found a home at free safety, too.
Previewing East Carolina’s Specialists for 2014:
Hardy and his 11.2-yard punt return average are back to anchor some experienced specialty units. Warren Harvey slumped by his high standards, hitting just 15-of-25 field-goal attempts, but he was money inside of 30 yards (10-of-11) and hit 61 of his whopping 63 PAT attempts. Weight-room wonder Worth Gregory, a transfer from Alabama, looks like the heir apparent at punter.
Coach Ruffin McNeill has a good thing going at his alma mater, where the Pirates have had the wind at their backs since he arrived, sailing to three bowl appearances in four years. They capped a meaty 10-win season with a 37–20 victory over Ohio in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl, and now they’re off to the American Athletic Conference — home to many of the Pirates’ old C-USA rivals.
East Carolina already got a big offseason win, hanging on to offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, who was pursued for the same job at some bigger programs. With the swashbuckling Carden at quarterback and the NFL-ready Hardy on the other end of his passes, the Pirates are primed for another big season. That is, if the defense rebounds from heavy losses and a rebuilding offensive line can come together to give Carden time.