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Starting quarterback Shane Carden, left, and leading receiver Justin Hardy. (Photography by Jay Clark)

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A SEASON OF FIRSTS


ECU's stars seem to be aligning for a memorable first season in the American Athletic Conference. The Pirates have several chances to create a national buzz in football. And in a school first, ECU will play home games against the reigning men’s and women’s national basketball champions.


By Steve Tuttle
ECU News Services


East Carolina might have to drop its familiar pose as an overachieving underdog in football when it begins play this fall in the tougher American Athletic Conference. 

With several key players returning from the team that went 10-3 and won a bowl game last season, ECU could wind up near the top of the 11-member American (growing to 12 next year when Navy joins the conference). One authoritative website, AthlonSports.com, projects ECU will go 7-1 in conference games. In the preseason football media poll, the Pirates were picked to finish fourth behind Cincinnati, Central Florida and Houston.
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The one-year-old American, built on the ashes of the Big East, succeeded at most every turn last season. Football champion Central Florida embarrassed Big 12 champion Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl. Then the men’s and women’s basketball teams at American member UConn captured national championships.

There’s one more thing stirring the passions of the Pirate Nation this football season—the TV schedule. The American’s contract guarantees that most Pirate football and basketball games will be broadcast nationally on an ESPN channel, ABC or CBS.

Amid all these changes, however, one thing remains the same about ECU football. The Pirates open the season with one of the nation’s toughest non-conference schedules.

During September ECU will play at Southeastern Conference powerhouse South Carolina, then travel to Virginia Tech a week later. The Pirates close out September with a home game against North Carolina, which will be seeking revenge for the thumping ECU handed the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill last season.
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The Pirates will be battle-tested when it sets off on a run of eight conference games. Temple and Connecticut are new names on the schedule. The other conference foes—Southern Methodist, Central Florida, South Florida, Tulane, Tulsa and Cincinnati—are schools ECU once faced in Conference USA.

The final game of the season could be a blockbuster as the Pirates take on Central Florida.

If the Pirates and Central Florida win the games most analysts think they should, that Dec. 4 game in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium likely will be for the conference title and an invitation to a major bowl game.

Carden and Hardy return

A big reason East Carolina could win 10 games again this year is the return of record-setting quarterback Shane Carden. As a junior in 2013, he completed 70.5 percent of his passes for 4,139 yards, 33 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions. He also rushed for 293 yards and 10 more touchdowns. If Carden puts up similar numbers this year, he undoubtedly will attract Heisman Trophy attention.

Filling the shoes of departed star running back Vintavious Cooper is Breon Allen, a product of South Stanly High School. The senior, who averaged 5.0 yards a carry in limited duty last year, will be expected to pile up rushing and receiving yards this year.

The Pirates’ top two receivers from 2013 —Justin Hardy and Isaiah Jones—are also back. Hardy led the team last season with 114 receptions for 1,284 yards and eight touchdowns. Jones was close behind with 62 receptions for 604 yards and five touchdowns.

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Women's basketball coach Heather Macy (Photo by Rob Goldberg Jr.)
Several veterans return on a defensive squad that ranked ninth in the country in 2013. Among those are defensive ends Terrell Stanley and Chrishon Rose, who combined for 16 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks in 2013, are back. In the center of the defense are three experienced linemen who each weigh in at more than 300 pounds.

Big games in basketball

ECU basketball teams also have the potential to rock some national boats, but for now at least the Pirates can safely hold on to their underdog attitude in roundball.

The American announced that East Carolina’s men’s and women’s basketball teams each will play a slate of 18 conference games, including home-and-away games against eight of their 10 opponents.

Exact dates haven’t been announced, but the Pirates will welcome the reigning national champion UConn Huskies—men and women—to Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum. That’s a first for Pirate basketball.

The Pirates will play home-and-home basketball games against Cincinnati, Connecticut, Houston, Memphis, Temple, Tulsa, Central Florida and South Florida. ECU also will play a single game at home against Tulane and one on the road at SMU.

The men’s basketball conference championship will be played March 12-15 at the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut. All 11 conference schools will participate in the tournament, and games will be broadcast by one of the ESPN networks.

The East Carolina men’s team returns nine letterwinners and four starters from last season’s team that went 17-17 and received an invitation to the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament. A trio of transfers should give coach Jeff Lebo a dependable bench.

The women’s team begins AAC play after back-to-back 22-win seasons and consecutive trips to the Women’s NIT. Head coach Heather Macy has a 72-53 record and was CUSA coach of the year in 2012.

The women’s schedule features home-and-away contests against Cincinnati, Connecticut, Houston, Memphis, SMU, Tulane, Tulsa and USF. Also on the schedule is a home game with UCF and a road matchup at Temple.

ECU has never faced UConn or Temple but has competed against each of its eight conference counterparts in past years.

The American women’s tournament will be played March 6-9 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, a New York suburb.

The complete 2014-2015 American basketball schedule with specific dates and times was expected to be announced in August.

Other sports

In soccer, East Carolina will play 10 non-conference opponents, including South Carolina and Virginia Tech. The conference schedule begins with a Sept. 25 home match against UConn, followed by matches with Temple and Cincinnati. After trips to Tulsa and Memphis, ECU will play its final two home matches of the season against Houston on Oct. 16 and SMU on Oct. 19.
2014 ECU Pirates Football Schedule
Date Opponent Site Time
Aug. 30 NC Central Greenville, N.C.
8 p.m. ET
Sept. 6
South Carolina
Columbia, S.C.
7 p.m. ET
Sept. 13
Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, Va.
Noon ET
Sept. 20
North Carolina
Greenville, N.C.
TBA
Oct. 4
SMU
Greenville, N.C.
TBA
Oct. 11
USF
Tampa, Fla.
TBA
Oct. 23
Connecticut
Greenville, N.C.
7 p.m. ET
Nov. 1
Temple
Philadelphia, Pa.
TBA
Nov. 13
Cincinnati
Cincinnati, Ohio
7 p.m. ET
Nov. 22
Tulane
Greenville, N.C.
TBA
Nov. 28
Tulsa
Tulsa, Okla.
TBA
Dec. 4
UCF
Greenville, N.C. 
7 p.m.
 
Conference games are in bold.



The American Conference soccer semifinals and championship games will be played Nov. 7-9 in Tampa, Florida.

In volleyball, the Pirates will play in two tournaments, host 17 home games and play defending national champion Penn State on the road Sept. 20.

In his first official visit to campus this summer, American Commissioner Mike Aresco drew parallels to Virginia Tech when he predicted ECU will do well in its first season in the tougher league.

“To this day Frank Beamer says there’s no way Virginia Tech could have done what it did without membership in the Big East,” Aresco said. “Think about where they were and how they built a program. It’s not easy to do, but you can do it. A program like (ECU) is already in place, especially in football. It just needs to be discovered.”

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ECU Homecoming will kick off Oct. 3. Click here to download details about the weekend's activities.

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