As the East Carolina Pirates get set to make the move into the AAC in 2014, they are primed to make an immediate impact thanks to some key returning talent on offense. Quarterback Shane Carden will receive much of the attention as a darkhorse Heisman Trophy finalist, but it will be his connection with No. 1 receiver Justin Hardy that determines how far the Pirates will go this fall. Can Hardy carry over his 2013 success and light up the AAC in 2014?
It’s not hard to imagine Hardy coming in and instantly becoming the conference’s top pass catcher. Last season, he led ECU with 114 receptions for 1,284 yards with eight touchdowns while also returning punts for the Pirates. Those numbers would have made Hardy the No. 1 receiver in the AAC last season in both receptions and yards, ahead of Jeremy Johnson‘s 112 catches for the SMU Mustangs, and Deontay Greenberry of the Houston Cougars who led the conference with 1,202 yards.
There’s little reason to believe that Hardy won’t put up similar numbers this season. He reunites with Carden, who will once again be the centerpiece of the ECU offense after throwing for 4,139 yards last season, as the duo work towards staking a claim as one of the more prolific quarterback-receiver tandems in college football. The team also welcomes back sophomore Isaiah Jones on the other side to keep teams from doubling up Hardy on one side of the field.
East Carolina is going to throw the football a ton this season. Last year, they finished as the No. 11 passing offense in the country and will look to do even more this season as they make their move into the AAC. With a dominant pass-catcher like Justin Hardy to lead the way, there’s no reason to doubt the Pirates will be an instant contender for a conference title in 2014.