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East Carolina Pirates
Ruffin McNeill laid the groundwork for East Carolina, reaching three straight bowl games, but one disappointing season was enough to see him go. Despite beating Virginia Tech early in the year, the Pirates finished 5-7 in 2015 and just 3-5 in conference play. With that comes new coach Scottie Montgomery, the former Duke offensive coordinator.
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Montgomery already said he wants this offense to have more of a rushing attack and that makes sense considering Minnesota and Rutgers transfer Philip Nelson is set to take over as quarterback. Nelson didn't show much in his prior two seasons (2012-13), totaling 17 TDs and 14 INTs. And so, this definitely won't be the high-flying, pass-happy offense that we've seen from ECU over the last few years. Either way, top wide out Isaiah Jones (98 receptions, 1,099 yards, 5 TDs) returns to the mix along with Trevon Brown (496 yards, 4 TDs) and Davon Grayson (448 yards, 3 TDs).
To get the run game going, the Pirates will have a couple new faces in the backfield with Anthony and Derrell Scott. Derrell, a Tennessee transfer, is the power runner, while Anthony provides more of the speed. The line is anchored by the right side with J.T. Boyd and Brandon Smith leading the way. However, a couple sophomores are expected to start on the left side and could lead to some problems.
East Carolina's defense was actually ranked better nationally than its offense last year, which was a surprise, considering the types of offenses the Pirates have had. Kenwick Thompson takes over as coordinator after spending the last couple years with Vanderbilt. He brings in a 3-4 scheme that will be more aggressive than previous versions.
To help, the defense returns notable starters at every level. Starting on the line, seniors Fred Presley and Demetri McGill lead the way. Joe Allely and Jordan Williams provide experience at linebacker with Joe Carter returning to the mix after an injury last season. The secondary could be their strongest unit with DaShaun Amos and Corey Sergeant leading the way at cornerback, and those two are helped by returning players at safety.
But to get to six wins this year, it's going to take an upset or two for the Pirates. Three non-conference games against ACC and SEC foes could be their ultimate demise ahead of the AAC campaign. In addition, none of their conference games are all that easy either, with what could be four road losses against some of the better teams in the AAC. And because of that, it looks like only five wins could be on the table again in Montgomery's first season.
Having Nelson in charge on the offensive side won't help matters, but if ECU can get a better ground game going that should help the defense a bit as well. To reach a bowl game, that'll have to be the case, otherwise, it could be another tough season for the Pirates.
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2016 East Carolina Pirates Football Schedule
Sept. 3 vs. Western Carolina
Sept. 10 vs. NC State
Sept. 17 at South Carolina
Sept. 24 at Virginia Tech
Oct. 1 vs. UCF
Oct. 8 at South Florida
Oct. 13 vs. Navy
Oct. 22 at Cincinnati
Oct. 29 vs. Connecticut
Nov. 5 at Tulsa
Nov. 12 vs. SMU
Nov. 26 at Temple
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