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East Carolina Pirates vs. UCF Knights Preview and Prediction

Isaiah Jones

Isaiah Jones

East Carolina's postseason dreams hang from a loose limb with two games to play, but the Pirates look to have quite a favorable matchup at a good time. Needing to win both games to break even for the season and clinch bowl eligibility, East Carolina must do so on the road Thursday night against a struggling UCF.

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Struggling may be putting UCF's status a bit too kindly, as the Knights have been a mess from start to finish this season. But can the Knights pull it all together just once and pick up their first win of the season, knocking ECU out of bowl consideration? Former Conference USA rivals will continue their series for the second time as members of the American Athletic Conference

East Carolina at UCF

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET (Thursday)

TV: ESPN

Spread: East Carolina -15

Three Things to Watch

1. Can East Carolina score any points?

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East Carolina opened the season by scoring no fewer than 21 points in each of its first seven games of the season. Then it hit a brick wall, managing just 14 points, 13 points and 17 points in each of the last three games. Quarterback struggles have held the Pirates' offense back at times, but more on that in a moment. Playing UCF may be just the cure for the scoring drought. Last year ECU scored 30 points against the Knights and they have scored at least 30 points in three of the last four meetings with UCF.

2. ECU going with a two-QB system

After heading into a bye week on a three-game losing skid, Pirates head coach Ruffin McNeill made the decision to come out of it with a new approach to the quarterback position. Rather than pull starter Blake Kemp from the starting job entirely and hand it off to James Summers, McNeill will use both to run the offense. How that two-quarterback system will work remains to be seen, but East Carolina needs something to rejuvenate the passing game.The problem is there has never been any real consistency in the passing game, regardless of who takes snaps. Kemp has completed 69.8 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns but 10 interceptions. Summers, when on the field, has completed 63.7 percent of his attempts with four touchdowns and two interceptions. Summers also gives the East Carolina offense a bit more of a dynamic look, as he is second on the team behind Chris Hairston in rushing yards (443 yards) but leads with eight rushing touchdowns. The good news is UCF does not particularly play well against the pass. The Knights have given up 24 touchdowns through the air, with just four interceptions this season.

3. Can UCF play spoiler?

This UCF team is a far cry from the team that beat Big 12 champion Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl just two seasons ago. These Knights are floundering in just about every conceivable way. The Knights do next to nothing well this season, which is reflected by a record of 0-10. UCF did find some scoring plays last time out against Tulsa, but still lost 45-30 loss, and there is no reason to trust this team to score more than two touchdowns on a regular basis. UCF has scored more than 15 points just three times this season, including a 16-point effort against Temple. UCF will need plenty of lucky bounces to go its way to keep pace with an ECU attack that should be ready to rekindle some offense of its own.

Final Analysis

At this point in time, UCF is pretty much just playing through the motions and ready to shift its focus on the future, which will start with finding a new head coach for the program. East Carolina has taken a step back but had a bye week to try and fix some things. Against UCF, the Pirates may not have to have everything fixed, even on the road. Look for ECU to see what this two-quarterback system can do, but do not be surprised if head coach Ruffin McNeil pulls the plug on the idea and sticks with one guy leading the offense if good things are happening on a consistent basis from either. East Carolina is a big favorite, and should cruise to a victory in a big bounce-back performance.

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Prediction: East Carolina 34, UCF 13

— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also writes for CollegeFootballTalk.com and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.