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It is what it is…but winning does feel better than losing

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!

16 comments on “It is what it is…but winning does feel better than losing

  1. Ron… well said.. there’s been something eating at me the whole season and you’ve described it very well… The only piece I’d add is that to me, next season is the most important in recent history. Mostly because of the outstanding young talent returning next season. Couple with that the hope that Lucas Thompson is a starting DB next season, anything short of a C-USA title and liberty bowl win would be a failure given the programs leaving and those coming into the league next season. There’s still a lot of moving pieces in the BCS puzzle and who knows where ECU will end up when it’s all said and done.. I just hope TH is staying on top of it and is positioning our beloved Pirates for maximum benefit. That being said, I’d say 2013 is the make or break season for our program. We either climb back into national prominence or forever resign ourselves to mid-major mediocrity…

    • Hi Chris…well-stated back at you. I truly believe that TH is doing everything within his power…I just wonder if he has enough capital left in the tank to burn.

      2013 should be a great season, regardless of where the BCS settles and who they play.

      Just wish college football was not controlled by those who currently control it.

  2. You captured a lot of my thoughts here. The season doesn’t satisfy because we just haven’t beaten any quality teams. The BSU example doesn’t apply to us (at this point) because, even when they were whipping up on all those weak teams, they did at least have a signature win every year which garnered national attention (OU, VT, etc…). In the three years Ruff has been at ECU, he has, arguably, one signature win (NCSU). I don’t think the issue is that the deck is now so stacked that we can’t win against the big boys. For one, I don’t think the situatiion is all that different from when we were getting signature wins. Also, a number of those games were winnable save a mishap here an there (VT a couple of years ago; even UNC had to do w/turnovers). I just don’t think this coaching staff has demonstrated an ability to prepare for those games or to adjust to what they are seeing on the field. Now, there are some bright spots. For one, I really like what I’m seeing with the running game. It’s gotten us out of the Air Raid offense (50/50 run/pass mix isn’t Air Raid) and I think that is great since I always hated it. Carden very much impresses me and, w/all the other weapons, I think we’re looking at a great situation there for the next few years. The jury is stilll out w/this coaching staff. A few more signature wins and I’m on board with them. The bowl game may give us that opportunity. Purple!

    • Hi Ed…thanks for dropping in.

      I find some comfort in your comments. I hope this staff is what needs fixing because it is a better go than if we are systemically being degraded.

      I think Riley is growing up in front of our faces…Air Raid may have been his ticked in, but seems to me his retooling of the offense has been spectacular (granted, against lesser talent), but that he has a willingness to change and that he has done so with some creativity is heartening. I know others are on the fence with Riley, but I hope he is here for awhile.

      Perhaps we can get that sig win next season, but I do think that our staff has to improve to get them. That said, one coach I am so grateful for is Kirk Doll…what he has done so far has been impressive.

      Cheers Ed!

  3. Blackbeard's Ghost

    Amen brother.
    For quite awhile now, we have heard TH say these words ” We need to control what we can control”. I believe what you have said echoes that sentiment pretty well.
    We as a university, market area, and fans just aren’t enough to have the “money” conferences look our way. So unfortunately it is my belief that until these 3 areas grow even larger (which it is), we will continue to get passed by.
    Maybe in 6-8 years.
    The Boise model isn’t looking so bad after all for us. We continue to beat up on the meek the next few years and when we get to a bowl, that will be our one chance to shine. And shine we must do. For all of the winning against lesser comp does ya no good if ya can’t hang with the big dogs.
    So would you rather be a big fish in a little pond and enjoy a buffet and wins all the time or would you rather be a small fish in the ocean and be ON the buffet?
    I’m thinking small fish…I like the buffett….just for awhile longer.
    What say you?

    • Blackbeard's Ghost

      Make that last statement “Bigfish” and enjoy the buffet. 🙂

    • like the analogy BBG…as you say…we can only control what we can control and so I hope that we continue to master the CUSA field, because it has to start there. We need to dominate where we can.

      I do love the way we were…that team that scares the hell out of the big boys, but in a fickle and unstable college football world, wins matter and more now the number of wins seems to matter more than who you beat, so as you say, perhaps we need to feed on it for a while.

      Cheers BBG…always good to read your insights.

  4. Living here in the DC market the saying always goes “follow the money”. Its my opinion and has been from day1 that the BCS system did exactly what it was supposed to do and thats create a wider gap from the haves to the have nots. While not a perfect example I go back to our days as an indy competing with Virginia Tech. Late 80’s early 90’s we played just about every season the games were close and our record vs them was 4-4. We have played Tech 10 times since they joined the BE and ACC and though the BCS was not fully created we are like 1-9 since. Each year when we line up against the Big Boys we always had a punchers chance of winning and a good chance of competing for 4 quarters. Today it seems these games are over before we get off of the bus. However I have more to say about this.

    I dont want to be Debbie Downer when it comes to our program nor do I want to be a kool aid drinker either. We are 7-4 which I think is very important with more expansion on the horizon. Nobody is going to dig deep into these games just that we are winning but for us lets take a look at this record. First I dont count games against 1-AA programs so lets look at the teams we beat as of today these programs are a combined 15-51 meaning they have a winning percentage under 30%. Thankfully they play one another for some of these wins or it could be worse.

    In the games we lost we got hammered loosing by a combinned 64 -171. While you have to be happy with 7-4 and potentially better still I think its fair to say the record is misleading. Last weeks effort we were 1 play away from loosing to Tulane. Big picture Im happy, little picture I think the jury is still out.

    Many of the Pirate faithful want to go the Boise route however I dont understand what that is or what that gets you. The prior 2 seasons Boise lost 1 game each by a field goal, Each year they had a signature win against VT and UGA, Each year they were inside the top 8 of the BCS rankings reaching as high as number 2 prior to the bowl selections and lastly they landed in the Vegas Bowl with their million dollar payout. Thats the same amout we get for going 6-6 playing in rat infested RFK for a Dec 26 contest against Toledo. So what does playing a cupcake schedule get you other than potentially a few more wins. Money IMO drives the ship.

    Playing the Big Boys sells tickets. I live 300 miles away and it cost me rougly a 1,000 to make the trip food, gas, lodging, speeding tickets, game tickets, ect. I have zero interest forking over that kind of money and time to see Rice or ODU. You can look around DFS this year and many are staying away. If its your goal to hang with the best than you must play against them. Plenty more to say but this is turning into a manifesto rather than a post. Thanks again.

    • DCP 28…first…I would love to hear more…excellent post.

      You point out several things that I know I have not given enough thought too. Chief of these it the importance of the record (now 8-4) related to the current environment of expansion. I believe you are right on…ECU is in a good position (finally) in regards to perception vs reality. Truly, all folks in the conference C-suites will remember is 8-4 on a schedule that included USC and UNC so we could benefit as a program.

      A lot of other great points…I do not want to go the so called Boise route but I understand it. One thing to remember about Boise is that they didn’t start getting their Signature wins until they had a decade of dominance under there belt out west. They were a known quantity in regards to wins when they finally broke that barrier and then recruited with the darling moniker firmly in place. So, if ECU is stuck in CUSA and goes 11-1 and 12-0 for the next 5 years (the Boise Model), then it is reasonable to expect that if a conference slot opens up, they would be high on the list because of perceived dominance even though (with a watered down OOC) we would really not be beating any significant team (which is what Boise did for many years).

      So, to your point, I agree that I don’t want to give up the challenge of taking down the haves now and then. As you said, we were dead even with Virginia Tech when their ticket got punched and look what happened. Given our fan base and our program and what we HAVE accomplished on far less, it is scary to think what could have been had we been picked up then…SEC wouldn’t really be a pipe dream IMO.

      When I shell 500 to 1,000 to haul my family, I want to see those games rather than really any of our 8 wins this year TBH.

      Excellent post DCP…if you want to share more, if not here, hit me up on email.


  5. ECU is not the problem, the schedule or who we play is not the problem. let’s be honest, the problem is coaching. everybody likes this coach but 3 years later, we have not beat a single team with a winning record. our defense is awful and it is not the fault of the players. if we continue in the same direction, this football program will never recover.

    • rc…

      sigh…i wish there was something i could say in rebuttle…but it would require a lot of half-full retort.

      hoping that we can get a bowl victory.

      keep sharing rc…always love to hear your thoughts.

      Go Pirates, Go!

  6. No Quarter

    It is all about the W’s!!! We have to consistently win 9, 10, 11 games every year to get any national exposure. We need to do whatever it takes to do that. Defensively, I think is our weakest part of the game. It has been frustrating to watch most games, especially Navy and Marshal. I never saw any major adjustments. If we are going to consistently wins games, we have got to put a better defensive product out there or do alot better job scheming our opponent or making in game adjustments. That starts with coaching and recruiting. We must do a better job recruiting in-state. Although, we have made strives, we can and must do better.
    I, also, think our OOC schedule needs to ramped down alittle. Maybe we need to take some notes from Boise St.

    • Welcome NQ…glad you dropped a note. Couldn’t agree with you more.

      Sorely disappointed in the defense. I think we have the athletes (give or take a couple) but the scheme and adjustments seem to be hit or miss. Big time football requires big time coaching, meaning you need contingency plans on the fly.

      8-4 can lead to 10-2, but we cannot afford to fall back in 2014 because we lose a ton of players…this is where coaching and scheme are critical.


  7. Ron,
    The Navy game was a hard one to digest, no doubt about that, and I agree with you at some points during the year our coaching staff has looked clueless. I really don’t know what to make of it – it seems to be a trend all across the country that nobody is capable of playing defense anymore, and it happens to the Oklahomas and USCs of the world just like it happens to us. I really don’t like some of what passes as college football these days, but so far my disapproval has not prompted any action by the powers-that-be. :>)

    In regards to your main question though – I do not see the BCS as having imposed on us a lower ceiling of possibilities. Every year teams from non-BCS conferences overachieve and get national ranking and media attention. Just last year Houston was just one win away from a BCS game. This year we have seen success from ULM (I think), La Tech and several of the MAC teams, so it is possible to achieve national ranking and media attention. There is no clear way for us to compete financially with the big four power conferences or even the ACC, but the key to me is the 85 scholarship limit. As long as that limit continues we will have the opportunity, through excellent coaching and player development, to have successful teams that can compete with the teams we play. For us to succeed we MUST have a coaching staff that overachieves. We MUST find the diamonds in the rough and develop them. It has always been that way and I see no reason for that not to continue. It is awfully hard to do that on anything like a consistent basis, but I still believe it is possible. But also, our fans need to be a little more realistic about our situation – Southern Miss, Memphis, La Tech and UCF have historically been more like the teams at our level than UNC, West Va., So. Carolina or VT. We cannot judge ourselves just on how we do against that second group of teams. It has never been predetermined that we would dominate the first group. We just have to work to continue to be successful against our peer group and enjoy those special teams when we can compete with anybody.

    • TTH…as always, a pleasure to read your commentary. I think you express one of the biggest points in regards to ECU and that is that the staff from HC down to ball boy have to be special for us to have sustainable success. We are in an overly populated (in terms of D1 programs) region of the country so our guys have to be able to find guys who can be studs despite limited budget and a glut of “bigger programs” penning us in.

      I agree – and have been guilty in the past – about patience and understanding from the fan base. As admirable as Boise State’s run has been, they have far fewer obstacles to contend with out west, one of two major schools with a state like California to pluck from with virtually no limits to who they can bring on campus. Much harder to build a BSU on the east coast…just a fact. That said, your post is chock full of wisdom and I think myself included first, we could all take comfort in giving thought to this commentary.

      As always, cheers and go pirates, go!

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