Early Results Portend Excitement
by Allen Thomas

As the football mantra goes, games are decided on the field of play rather than on paper.  Preseason predictions are always a risky endeavor as we attempt to calculate 2005 prospects based on 2004 results.  Prime examples are Conference USA teams slated on the second half of ECU’s football schedule.  I was not alone in forecasting favorable prospects in the ‘05 season verses conference foes Central Florida, Southern Methodist, Tulsa and Rice.  Based on ’04 results and pre season predictions these teams appeared to present strong probabilities for Pirate victories. Well… don’t count those chickens just yet.  Someone forgot to tell UCF, SMU and Tulsa they were supposed be our pansies in 2005.  Through the first two weeks of the season these teams have scared the daylights out of Oklahoma, South Carolina and dealt Texas Christian a humbling blow. 

The wake-up call began in the first Thursday night matchup of the season.  Central Florida withstood the hype and toe-to-toe with South Carolina in the second half, causing Steve Spurrier and John Thompson to develop ulcers, sweating out a hard fought 24-15 victory in Columbia.  Central Florida? Wasn’t this the team predicted as a bottom feeder in D1-A this season and expected to finish last in CUSA?  Scratch off that guaranteed win on the Pirate schedule.

The trend continued Saturday with SMU’s eye-catching 21-10 defeat of nationally ranked Texas Christian, the same TCU team that stormed into Norman Oklahoma the week prior and manhandled the Sooners. Wow.  Did anyone get the license number of that bus which ran over TCU?  Who are these Mustangs?

Speaking of Oklahoma, do you think they are breathing a sigh of relief escaping the wrath of Tulsa and the prospects of two straight home loses? The Golden Hurricanes gave the Sooners all they could handle for three quarters of football Saturday in Norman.  Tulsa led 9-7 with 5 minutes left in the third quarter before falling 31-15 and actually finished the game with a 344-269 total offense advantage.  So much for Tulsa cooperating and agreeing to lie down for the Pirates in November! Another tough-as-nails opponent to spice up our November schedule.

As the pendulum of the 2005 season swings forward providing challenges it also provides opportunities.  There are those opponents whose early 2005 season results provide optimism for Pirate prospects.  Mid-summer predictions regarding Southern Miss, road trips to West Virginia, Wake Forest, Memphis and Marshall clearly indicated difficult challenges ahead.  Taking a look: Southern Miss is… well…  the same Southern Miss.  The Golden Eagles are solid as always but Jeff Bower’s team is dealing with the trauma of the Katrina disaster as well as the loss of several key players kicked off the team in August.  This past Saturday USM played on emotion and performed well in their loss to Alabama but as emotion wanes, one has to wonder if difficulties will begin to weigh on USM and present a golden chance for the Pirates to set a trap and make a statement. 

Speaking of traps, Wake Forest must feel snared in a nightmare with its last-second home loss to Vanderbilt in the Deacon’s season opener.  Wake continued its woes Saturday giving up 21 points to Nebraska’s defenders on top of the Cornhusker’s offensive output.  The Deacons are bruised physically, emotionally and distracted, as the Pirates come calling this weekend. ECU’s traveling crowd will play a major factor in this game as the Pirates look to capitalize on Wake’s misfortune.

In terms of our good Mountaineer friends, the Pirates have never won against WVA in Morgantown.  What does that mean?  Hey, “we are due.”  The ‘neers were less than imposing in their season opener, backing into a 15-7 victory over Syracuse.  West Virginia’s offense failed to score a point.  Could this be the year the Pirates shock the “Deliverance State” in Morgantown?   I’m sure based on our most recent performance in their state the Mountaineers aren’t too worried.  We have them were we want them. 

Speaking of deliverance, Memphis delivers the nation’s premier running back in the country with DeAngelo Williams but must now deal with the debilitating loss of their starting quarterback to injury verses Ole Miss.  The trip to Memphis provides a pivotal mid-season road opportunity for the Pirates.  A win means momentum for Holtz and crew going onto the bottom of the schedule. 

And last but not least… no need to get into all the details of Marshall’s heartbreaking encounter with ECU in Mobile a few years back.  The Herd are currently dealing with their own shattered dreams following an epic miscue Saturday verses Kansas State which literally gave the game away.  Marshall struggled in their season opener against William and Mary two weeks ago but appeared to be back on track at home versus KSU.  The interception and miscue in the final seconds by the Marshall QB was devastating.  All the Herd had to do was take a knee, call time out and kick the game winning field goal. Disaster struck, presenting the type of loss which lingers with players and coaching staff.  Nine Saturdays separate the Pirates from our trip to Huntington.  That’s a lifetime of football.  Here’s to the Pirates cashing in on a decade of IOU’s with hard fought victories this season on the road and settling the score with a few deserving foes.

Allen Thomas