By: Steven Lassan | 6/4/11, 1:41 PM EDT
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You can read the entire East Carolina preview in Athlon Sports' 2011 Southeastern magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
#82 East Carolina
C-USA East PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Ruffin McNeill, 6-7 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Lincoln Riley | DEF. COORDINATOR: Brian Mitchell
Dominique Davis joined the Pirates in the fall, jumped in at quarterback, set 15 school records, and ranked among national leaders in completions per game (30.2), points produced per game (21.4) and touchdown passes (37). So imagine what he can do now with a whole year in the system.
Of course, Davis will have to produce without Conference USA Player of the Year Dwayne Harris at wide receiver and with a rebuilt offensive line and running game. The feeling around Greenville, though, is that Davis will do just fine, thanks.
Even without Harris, receiver remains one of the Pirates’ deepest positions. Good thing. Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley usually has four of them on the field at the same time. Senior Lance Lewis, who had a team-high 14 touchdowns, headlines the returning receivers.
Center Dalton Faulds and tackle Grant Harner are anchors on a line that survived a rash of injuries in the spring that perhaps increased depth in the unit.
Reggie Bullock, a transfer from Arizona Western, and sophomore Michael Dobson look like they can jump-start the running game. The 5'9" Bullock is a prototype run-and-shoot back. Then again, with Davis throwing all over the place, the running game may not be a big issue for the Pirates.
There’s no way to sugarcoat this: The Pirates were awful on defense last year, ranking last in the nation by allowing a staggering 478.8 yards per game. But there is hope, with a new 3-4 alignment and more depth up front and in the secondary.
Junior Michael Brooks is the new nose tackle, and he’ll be flanked by returnees Derrell Johnson and Matt Milner on the ends. Junior college transfer John Lattimore should push for time here, too.
Justin Dixon and Marke Powell return from injuries to man the outside linebacking spots, and Ty Holmes had a great spring in the middle. Newcomer JoJo Blanks may be too good to keep out of the lineup, but the revamped linebacking crew is thin.
Hard-hitting safety Bradley Jacobs joins All-C-USA stalwart Emanuel Davis in the secondary, along with former special teams standout Damon Magazu and new starting cornerback Derek Blacknall.
Mike Barbour transferred in from Maryland, and quickly won the kicking job last fall and earned second-team All-C-USA honors. He hit a school-record 56 PATs and didn’t miss a field goal from inside 40 yards. Senior Ben Ryan is back as punter but will have to fend off a challenge from sophomore Trent Tignor. The Pirates will miss Harris in the return game.
Ruffin McNeill took over a two-time championship program that lost 28 seniors. The Pirates went 6–7, falling off down the stretch due in large part to poor play from the defense. But while rebuilding on both sides of the ball, McNeill got his alma mater to the Military Bowl. The Pirates broke school attendance records and nearly every ECU offensive record, and then followed up with a solid recruiting class.
McNeill didn’t like losing so many games last year, but he lost a lot of weight this summer after undergoing bariatric surgery. Improving the defense is another weighty issue, though. The transition to the 3-4 scheme needs to go smoothly.
The schedule is not kind: East Carolina opens with South Carolina in Charlotte and hosts Virginia Tech and North Carolina early in the season. If they survive, the Pirates may be ready to raise their sails in conference play.