Head coach Ruffin McNeill and the East Carolina Pirates come in at no. 48 on our College Football Top 100 Rankings, and they’re within the top-50 for good reason. Following an 8-5 campaign in 2012 which culminated in a narrow 43-34 loss in the New Orleans Bowl, the Pirates have nine starters returning on both sides of the ball and are on their way to making a larger impact in C-USA.
With that, let’s take a look at our no. 48 program on our list, the East Carolina Pirates.
Junior QB Shane Carden returns this year after an impressive 2012 showing. Tossing for 3116 yards, 23 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions, the Pirates have a proven leader running their fast-paced offense. With the wealth of talent returning around him, Carden is poised to make his name a little more recognizable.
One of those returnees is right behind him in senior running back Vintavious Cooper. Cooper rushed for 1049 yards last season with 10 touchdowns to go along with that. An exceptional receiver out of the backfield that also added 26 catches, the combination of he and Carden are dangerous in terms of setting up big plays for the rest of the offense.
Rounding out the triple threat on offense is junior wide receiver Justin Hardy. Hardy caught 88 passes last season for 1105 yards and 11 scores. Coach McNeill has gone on record to compare Hardy to Michael Crabtree which, especially at the collegiate level, is some very high praise. The rest of the receiving corps will need to grab a little more experience, however they should have the opportunities with much attention being paid to Hardy.
With a combined 83 starts coming back on the offensive line, Carden and his skill position crew will certainly have room to work. Led by center Taylor Hudson who is returning from an injury last season, opposing defensive lines will have a rough time trying to slow down the tempo of this offense.
The three men up front in the Pirates’ 3-4 look will be the unit that needs the most improvement. Senior defensive end Lee Pegues will lead the squad that has limited accomplishments. Between the three, they only have a combined 3.5 sacks and will need to amp up the pressure against the C-USA offenses.
As far as the linebacker unit goes, this may be the most talented group on the entire team. Two members, senior Derrell Johnson and junior Jeremy Grove, are both two-time second team C-USA players and are just as impressive in pass coverage as they are at stopping ball carriers that break through the front three.
Experience is also a trait that the defensive backs possess as well. Three seniors return led by CB Adonis Armstrong. These four will look to better that 236 passing yards per game average from last season, which is no easy task in the conference they play in.
2013 certainly provides an opportunity for the Pirates to better that 8-5 record. They play two games in September against ACC opponents in the Virginia Tech Hokies and the North Carolina Tar Heels. They also meet the NC State Wolfpack late in November. Other than that it’s a C-USA slate that provides some tough contests against the likes of Tulane and Tulsa.
A C-USA championship isn’t out of the question for these guys by any means. They’ll have the offensive firepower to go head-to-head with virtually anyone in the country. They’ll have the opportunity to show that in those three games against their ACC opponents. But in the end, a 10-win season isn’t just something that should be hoped for, but it should be expected.
Jack is a College Football Writer for Rant Sports. Follow Jack on Twitter @JackJ14RS