WOODWARD: Pirates still in bottom tier of AAC
By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector
Monday, October 28, 2019
East Carolina football players, coaches and fans could envision a breakthrough win leading up to Saturday's game against South Florida at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
How would they celebrate an American Athletic Conference victory against a team not named Connecticut? Would the postgame emotions be especially raw? What would be the updated path to a six-win regular season and maybe even a bowl game?
Tyler Snead returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and a 7-0 ECU lead.
A perfect start. It was happening.
But the rest of the day for the Pirates was a blur.
USF dizzied ECU, winning 45-20 behind 347 rushing yards to keep ECU winless in the American Athletic Conference. Four losses by an average margin of defeat of 20 points.
Saturday's result was ECU's most surprising of the season, and it shouldn't drastically change the optimism for the Pirates under first-year coach Mike Houston, but it reinforced he came into a long-term rebuilding project and this year is not going to feature much success in the AAC.
Among all the blurriness, which included a weak homecoming crowd that only weakened as the game progressed and the Bulls built a tidy storm to hover over the hosts, was the creation of a clear line. The Bulls are still fighting to remain in the middle portion of the AAC pecking order, above the three-team lowest tier consisting of Tulsa, Connecticut and East Carolina.
Tulsa had a senior-laden team in 2016 and enjoyed a 10-win campaign, but during the 2017 and '18 seasons, the Golden Hurricane, UConn and ECU posted an 8-40 combined league record.
This year the trio is 0-12 in league play -- each team at 0-4 -- and Tulsa has been the most competitive in games. On the same day that ECU couldn't run with the Bulls, Tulsa missed a game-winning field goal at the final buzzer for a 42-41 loss to league champion hopeful Memphis.
UConn is in its final year in the American, and the Pirates hope this is their final season of being in contention for last place in their division.
ECU has a 3-5 record and still should best the 3-9 record it finished with each in 2016, '17 and '18.
The Pirates will play both Connecticut and Tulsa in late November. Those are fitting games to end the regular season.
Contact Ronnie Woodward at firstname.lastname@example.org, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.