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East Carolina Football: 2022 Pirates Season Preview and Prediction

Holton Ahlers, East Carolina Pirates Football

Holton Ahlers and the Pirates are ranked No. 71 in Athlon Sports' Top 131 for the 2022 college football season

East Carolina took a big step forward in coach Mike Houston's third year at the helm in 2021. After going 7-14 in Houston's first two seasons, the Pirates finished 7-5 last fall. Thanks to 14 returning starters, East Carolina is poised for another winning season and will be a tough out in the American Athletic Conference. Quarterback Holton Ahlers returns to anchor an offense that also features a standout one-two punch at running back in Keaton Mitchell and Rahjai Harris. The Pirates showed improvement on defense last year and should continue that progression with a solid core of veterans in place. 

Related: Athlon Sports' College Football Top 25 for 2022

Previewing East Carolina's Offense for 2022

Pirates head coach Mike Houston returns all the rushing attack that amassed one of the program's highest totals since 2000. Not coincidentally, ECU posted a winning season for the first time since 2014. Houston reshaped the line, introduced two-tight-end sets and has Holton Ahlers, who is just 221 yards from ECU's career QB rushing mark, running the show.

Don't worry: The once-pass-happy Pirates won't permanently swear off the aerial game, but the perennial plethora of Pirate pass-catchers has questions. Talented C.J. Johnson averaged 14.9 yards per grab but was suspended this offseason. The smart money says he'll be back, but incoming Toledo grad transfer Isaiah Winstead could help if not. Slot receiver Maceo Donald must fill leading receiver Tyler Snead's shoes, and Georgia transfer Jaylen Johnson is new but has played on the game's biggest stage. Shane Calhoun and former Oklahoma TE Ryan Jones headline a group that will have a huge impact sooner rather than later.

Houston calls RBs Keaton Mitchell and Rahjai Harris both starters. They'll run behind a veteran line anchored by tackle Noah Henderson and built around versatile, experienced pieces like Nishad Strother, Avery Jones and emerging Isaiah Foote, who has stepped right in.