2011 Record: (5-7, 4-4 in C-USA)
Head Coach: Ruffin McNeill (11-14 at ECU, 9-7 in C-USA)
Last Bowl Game: 2010 Military Bowl: lost to Maryland 51-20
Big Name Opponents: 9/8 at South Carolina, 9/22 at UNC
Stat to Cheer: converted 46.07% of third downs (2nd in C-USA)
Stat to Fear: turned the ball over 35 times in 2011 (11th in C-USA, last in Nation)
Phil Steele’s Returning Starters: (Offense: 8; Defense: 7; Specialists: 0)
Key Defensive Returnees: LB Jeremy Grove (122 tackles), S Damon Magazu (80 tackles, 4 INT), LB Daniel Drake (74 tackles), DT Michael Brooks (55 tackles), DE Matt Milner (37 tackles)
Key Offensive Returnees: WR Justin Hardy (64 rec, 6 TD), WR Andrew Bodenheimer (46 rec), WR Danny Webster (43 rec, 1 TD), OT Grant Harner, OG Will Simmons
Ruffin McNeil is in his third year at ECU and is still looking for his first winning season. He replaced Skip Holtz, who had four straight winning seasons before accepting the USF job. This is the year that McNeil needs to take that next step with the Pirates.
They lose their QB Dominique Davis but they still return one of the most experienced teams in C-USA. His replacement Rio Johnson should be able to function well in the Pirates offense but what they need is someone to make big plays. Last year, ECU was 11th in the conference in plays going more than 20 yards (only Memphis was worse).
After dropping off the map in 2010 in scoring defense (league leading 21.9 ppg in 2009 dropped to league worst 44 ppg in 2010) they made a rebound last year to sit in the middle at 32.3 ppg allowed. The defense has to continue to improve and needs to take the next step. It’s not rocket science to know that you have to score more points then you give up and that’s something the Pirates have failed to do over the last two years. The offense probably won’t be better than last year so that makes it the defenses responsibility to make the improvement. I do think the defense will improve this year, I’m just not sure how much.
2012 Prediction: 7-5
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