East Carolina is the best team in the ACC Coastal Division, and it’s not even a member of the ACC.
Now in their first season with the American Athletic Conference after moving from Conference USA, the Pirates are 2-0 against teams from the Coastal after upsetting Virginia Tech on the road and thrashing North Carolina at home in back-to-back weeks.
Although beating Frank Beamer and the Hokies was a nice marquee victory for coach Ruffin McNeil and his quarterback, Shane Carden, it was the latter that catapulted ECU into the national conversation—the Pirates totaled a school-record 789 yards of offense (off 97 plays!) en route to a 70-41 shootout over the Tar Heels.
“This is going to be one of those games we look back at and all (the numbers) are going to be pretty special,” Carden said, who went a combined 50-of-95 for 865 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception against Virginia Tech and UNC. “(The win) means a lot for this school, I know that. We like playing big teams like this in the ‘Power 5’ conferences. We love the opportunity, and we’ve talked about it. If you want to continue to be talked about as a high team, when you have the opportunity to play those teams, you have to win.”
I have great confidence when I say that East Carolina would win the ACC Coastal Division this season. This certainty derives from: 1. ECU’s ability to actually win the division because of its overall talent on both sides of the ball, and; 2. the rest of the division’s inability to win the division, because, simply put, it’s been a weird little rat race for the last several years.
According to the ESPN Football Power Index, Pittsburgh has the greatest chance to win the Coastal at 8.0 percent—Duke follows at 4.4 percent, Virginia stands at 2.0 percent, both Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech are at 1.7 percent, Miami (Fla.) is down to .8 percent, and UNC wraps things up at .6 percent.
East Carolina, on the other hand, has a 45.9 percent probability to win The American, and has a 12.4 percent chance to win the rest of the games on its schedule and finish 11-1.
Dating back to September 28 of the 2013 season, ECU has won four games in a row against ACC opponents, including three straight against the Coastal.
Starting 2-0 against the Coastal would give the Pirates amazing odds to go on and win the division, if they were in fact a member of the ACC. Pittsburgh, the current favorite, is projected to finish 8-4, which would mean three in-conference losses.
Could ECU win five games or more in the Coastal? Sports Illustrated college football writer Martin Rickman thinks so.
— martin rickman (@martinrickman) September 23, 2014
ecu is the best team in the coastal
— martin rickman (@martinrickman) September 20, 2014
For the sake of what-ifs, let’s pretend ECU took the spot of Miami—which is projected to take sixth place right above North Carolina—and take a gander at its schedule.
As you can see, the conference slate is as follows: at Louisville, vs. Duke, at Georgia Tech, at Virginia Tech, vs. North Carolina, vs. Florida State, at Virginia, vs. Pittsburgh.
Louisville’s offensive line was an issue in its loss to Virginia, and the running game—thought to be the team’s biggest strength heading into the season—suffered in a big way. It’s difficult to win at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, but I’d take ECU’s ability to stuff the run in a Pirate win.
Despite my prediction that Duke’s defense would struggle without linebacker Kelby Brown, the Blue Devils have been a pleasant surprise, holding opponents to 11.5 points per game thus far. But then again, they’ve played Elon, Troy, Kansas, and Tulane—not necessarily a daunting task for DC Jim Knowles. ECU would be favored to outscore Duke at home.
I’m still not sure how, but Georgia Tech is 4-0 after looking lackluster against Wofford in the opener and needing a last-second touchdown to slip past Georgia Southern in Week 3. Nonetheless, opponents haven’t had trouble moving the ball against the Yellow Jackets’ defense—which ranks No. 109 nationally in yards allowed per play (6.37)—and I’d expect ECU to exploit all weaknesses.
East Carolina actually took care of business against Virginia Tech and North Carolina in real life, so we can tack on two more wins.
We’ve reached Florida State week and ECU already has enough wins to essentially win the ACC Coastal Division. With a loss to the Seminoles and a split between Virginia and Pittsburgh, the Pirates would finish at 6-2 in the conference—this wins the division in 2011 and 2012, by the way—and would go on to represent the Coastal in the ACC Championship Game.
But since what-ifs are called what-ifs for a reason—they’re completely hypothetical and have absolutely no real logic behind them—East Carolina will have to settle with winning out in AAC and possibly landing a selection committee bowl game as an At-Large bid.
It was fun to talk about though, right?