Friends…apologies for the slow pace of posts to this blog…(not that anyone hangs on these posts). Life has gotten in the way too much lately. No posts, I assure you, does not mean that I am not tuned in and paying attention to our Pirates.
The Navy defeat was a tough one to swallow for many reasons. After you get past the absurd score – at home no less – there is not getting past preparation issues. We were not ready to play them. We had bigger, stronger, faster athletes and yet were taken to the woodshed. Lesser teams have handled Navy.
We have won two games in a row since then – a thrashing of Houston and a lackluster but all important win over a game Tulane team – which means that not only are we eligible for a bowl, but that we may finally have a winning season (if we can find a way to beat Marshall). A bowl game has been earned…a nice reward for these kids.
We could end up 9-4 on the season with a ton of starters returning in 2013. By any measure, that is a wonderful season and something to build on. The coaching staff deserves props for that (providing we finish with a win against Marshall and a bowl win). Yes, I know that there is an outside chance we get into the C-USA title game (which would give us a shot – today – at 10 wins), but there is a reason why UCF is doing an end run around there NCAA sanctions…they have a good team and know that they will get pounded next season, so I am not counting on a back door to the CUSA title game in Tulsa.
Let’s suppose we win out. I am thrilled with the idea of a 9-4 season with the talent coming back, but I keep being drawn to those four losses. What gets me is that in each of those – and say you back out the USC game saying that they are an SEC elite and too much for us to ask this young team to compete with – you still have three games where we simply did not compete with marginally decent football teams. And, in those losses, we looked completely outcoached even though we knew exactly where they were going to hit us. In the UNC and UCF games, everyone on the planet knew we needed to blitz those QBs…and, when we did, they made mistakes. But, we blitzed so rarely that even the podunk announcers were questioning the decision to rush 3 and let the other team bomb us over and over again. Navy…on Navy’s first drive, it was clear to anyone watching that the assignments for the pitch man coverage were flawed. Surely we could have changed after the first drive, but we did not. Offensively, it was clear early on that Tay Cooper could be a reliable feature back, but it took four games for him to be on the field in that capacity. Even Coach Riley – sense the end of last season – hinted if not barked out that Shane Carden was the man, yet, Rio (no longer in the program) was the starter. You have to wonder how the UNC game goes if Carden was the starter from the start with all of the reps? So why the decision to go with the older guy all things equal?
I have been hard on the staff for seemingly not being able to figure things out ahead of time or on the fly…a critique I believe is fair, but stepping back, I find myself toiling with a much larger question.
So here it is: Coaching staff critiques aside, is ECU’s current program – and its seeming loss of the ability to stand toe-to-toe with big-money teams – a reflection less of this staff’s abilities and more of the reality of the impact of the BCS over the years? Or more simply put, are we seeing the ceiling for our program lowered significantly now?
Think about it…we are 6-2 against the have-not teams we played. We are in the hunt for a conference title, yet, I don’t know anyone who watches college football who would put this ECU team and its staff in the same conversation as previous 9 win Pirate teams. Is our fate sealed?
Even in the Big East – should we get there – it would really only be a reconstitution of CUSA 1.0 with a few different teams in the mix and few left out. I would like it only because I like the UCF rivalry, see a chance for a USF rivalry and would love to be in a regular tussle with Boise State. But, my biggest reason appears to be evaporating. See, I live in the Philly area and would have been really excited to be able to get to the Temple, Rutgers, and UConn games with little travel planning. However, if ECU does get into the BE…chances are that Rutgers will be gone and UConn will be screaming to leave…so, back to the 1980s for me…Temple…ahhhh…what a thrill. But, I digress.
My point is that the BCS has so squeezed the life out of the have nots (and the new deal is no better…surprise. No doubt anything that Swofford has a hand in is going to hurt schools like ECU).
Are we getting a glimpse right now of what elite non-BCS football looks like? What if we had played, say, Army and Colorado State rather than UNC and USC…we would likely be sitting at 9-2 right now, playing for No. 10 and a possible 11-2 finish – with this team and this coaching staff. What would the story in the press be? More importantly, how would we all feel? I speculate this is precisely why – despite a 7-4 record – many of my Pirate friends feel kind of down about the season. I hate that, but understand it. A lot of time, effort, and money has been invested in this program by alumni and fans and to see a cap put on our ability to grow and thrive is depressing.
Nevermind having a program in UNC that has re-written the book in cheating at the highest levels, nevermind that that system is SO CORRUPT in encompasses the BOT, the BOG, and state legislature, the fact is that they will remain fully able to restock with top recruits, have a monstrous budget to operate within, and have access to all levels of achievement…while we are strangled by the same system. I know, another digression, but to me, it is all part and parcel of where our program is and where it is going.
Regardless of opinions on Ruff and crew, it is fair to ask, “what could they do better?” But, it is also unfair to say that the sky is the limit at ECU and against that measure, judge the staff. Ruff has a hand tied behind his back. If we achieve 9 wins, would anyone be surprised if Lincoln Riley moves on? He is young. He is talented. He is in a program capped by the system. Would anyone blame any assistant for leaving? Less money means less available to retain your coaches. Less access means fewer players available who can make your systems fly the way they should. It is a no-win proposition, really.
This is why I am hoping and hoping that Ruff grows into a top notch head coach…a guy who can make program adjustments on the fly and who KNOWS what to do at any given time. Because, if he can gain that handle on the program, he will stay and stay and stay here. This program needs that – if not from Ruff, from the next guy. Don’t count on assistants staying when they can earn more and grow in their careers better at BCS programs. Don’t count on a flow of top talent coming in year after year…recruiting budgets and lack of full access guarantees that won’t happen. And don’t expect TV revenues to go up (unless we get into the BE)…as our brand will diminish over time.
We were once seen as giant-killers with an ability to attract TV fans for our embracing of the underdog role. I think we are seeing that drift into history. Sadly.
Yet, here our team sits at 7-4, bowl-eligible, a UCF loss away from a title shot in C-USA. A testament to Coach Ruff, his staff, and these kids – no matter you position on this staff.
We have players to be excited about:
1. Shane Carden….Good Lord…he is just a sophomore. If anything is going to keep Lincoln Riley locked in for a few more seasons, it has to be the thought of how good this kid will be by his senior season. A great quarterback can win games for you. He has every indicator that he could very well be a GREAT one.
2. Tay Cooper…how nice is it to have a legitimate 1,000 yard back again? And, he comes back next year with a veteran offensive line returning.
3. Justin Hardy…legitimate All-America type who puts the numbers up against whoever he plays…and, with Carden and he have another two years together…wow…just wow.
4. Terry Williams…true stud…without question, IMO, one of the best NGs in the country. (Michael Brooks is fanstic, too).
5. Jeremy Grove and Kyle Tudor…fantastic linebackers…good as any around.
6. Magz…great, great safety (not a lot of help around him).
I could go on. With these players, we will probably be able to count on 7 wins a year going forward (providing we adjust our OOC schedule). Will it be the Boise State model for a while…I guess we can hope for that, but I expect the BCS cartel’s latest move is an attempt to try to cut down the future Boise’s before they get to where Boise got. So, it might not matter if we get to 12-0 every year, but it is the path we have probably been relegated to.
But, that would be better than losing seasons every year trying to fight a system that has too much in the arsenal to overcome enough to matter.
I am sorry for a downer post at this point in a successful season – and it is a successful seasons thus far – but I am really expressing some internal thoughts with hopes that some of my friends here can weigh in and make me feel better about our future.
Friends, please weigh in on this question.
Go Pirates, go!