#79 East Carolina Football 2015 Preview

East Carolina Pirates

Overall Rank: #79
#5 AAC

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This will be a telling season for East Carolina. Coach Ruffin McNeill has done a great job, especially the last couple of seasons, turning the Pirates into a consistent league contender. But now there are some massive holes to fill and the program needs to prove that they can get past losing three-year starting quarterback Shane Carden and FBS all-time receptions leader Justin Hardy.

2014 Record: 8-5, 5-3
2014 Bowl: Birmingham Bowl vs. Florida (L 20-28)
Coach: Ruffin McNeill (37-27 at Michigan, 38-27 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Dave Nichol
Defensive Coordinator: Rick Smith

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Chris Hairston, RB, 528 yards
Passing: Jurt Benkert, QB, 58 yards
Receiving: Isaiah Jones, WR, 830 yards
Tackles: Zeek Bigger, LB, 140
Sacks: Fred Presley, DE, 6.0
Interceptions: Josh Hawkins, CB, 5

Other Key Returnees: LB Montese Overton, DB Domonique Lennon, WR Trevon Brown, OL Ike Harris, OL J.T. Boyd, TE Bryce Williams

Key Losses: RB Breon Allen, QB Shane Carden, WR Justin Hardy, WR Cam Worthy, K Warren Harvey, LB Brandon Williams, OL Taylor Hudson

Carden threw for 4,736 yards and 30 touchdowns during his senior season. Hardy caught 121 passes for 1,494 yards and 10 scores. That is a lot of lost production. Even Cam Worthy, who caught 55 passes for 1,016 yards, and running back Breon Allen, who rushed for 869 yards and eight touchdowns, are gone. But it is not as bad as it may sound. Coach Ruffin runs a system and the ball is going to be thrown around Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium with or without Carden and company. Kurt Benkert and Cody Keith have a bit of experience as Carden’s backup the last two seasons. The other option is junior college transfer Blake Kemp. All three of them could be battling it out well into the fall. Isaiah Jones will likely be the team’s new go-to-receiver. He caught 81 passes for 830 yards last season and is certainly more than capable of taking over the lead role from Hardy. The names may be different and nobody is asking an inexperienced quarterback to play like Carden, but the overall numbers should not fall all that much.

The defense will have to reload around linebackers Zeek Bigger and Montese Overton. Those two are a huge reason for the impressive ECU rush defense. Bigger and Overton will have to usher in a new look front line that only returns Johnathon White to a starting role. The system should help keep the run defense good enough. However, they do need to get some pressure on the quarterback as well if the defense is going to get any better. Fred Presley and Terrell Stanley will have to pick up the slack. The secondary was often picked apart when the front seven failed to get consistent pressure. And now the Pirates need to find a couple new starters in the secondary to build around cornerback Josh Hawkins.

The Bottom Line:
The addition of Navy, and thus the switch to two divisions and a championship game, has worked out nicely for East Carolina. Cincinnati and UCF are in the East with ECU and they don’t play either of those two favorites until late November. They also manage to avoid Memphis and Houston from the West. They do have to play Navy from the West, but it could have been much, much worse. If the non-conference slate didn’t include games against Florida, Virginia Tech and BYU, this could have been quite the reloading year for East Carolina. Instead, they should be able to compete for an AAC East title and win at least seven games.

Projected Bowl: Birmingham Bowl

2014 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 161.1 (64th in nation, 3rd in conference)
Passing Offense: 371.9 (3, 1)
Total Offense: 533.0 (5, 1)
Scoring Offense: 35.8 (22, 2)
Rushing Defense: 111.8 (11, 2)
Pass Defense: 255.5 (98, 9)
Total Defense: 367.3 (37, 5)
Scoring Defense: 25.8 (53, 5)
Turnover Margin: -0.31 (89, 8)
Sacks: 1.62 (95, 9)
Sacks Allowed: 2.46 (93, 8)


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