Monday, December 27, 2010

ECU's bowl bid a worthy reward for its season

East Carolina deserves some love for making the Military Bowl in Washington, D.C., and facing Maryland in what really could have been a set-back year for the Pirates.

Losing Skip Holtz could have been a colossal blow for this program, and still could be. But so far, you have to be impressed by coach Ruffin McNeill's body of work. His  players love him, he exudes passion for the school, and he righted a Pirate ship that could have taken on a great deal of water this year.

ECU's defense put up some dreadful numbers this season. The Pirates gave up 43.4 points per game and allowed rivals to convert a stunning 52 percent of their third downs. Even worse, opponents converted 71 percent of their fourth downs.

The Pirates somehow salvaged a 6-6 record, stealing a win over Tulsa in the opener and beating N.C. State in overtime - to gain a bowl berth.  If they surprise Maryland on Wednesday, they'll have a winning season.

Holtz, by the way, had success at South Florida. His Bulls beat Miami 23-20 in overtime - aiding the departure of Randy Shannon - and lost their finale to UCon on a 52-yard field goal with 17 seconds left. A 7-5 record was good enough to put South Florida in the Meineke Car Care Bowl against Clemson.

The contrast in that game will be stark. Clemson continues to be the ACC's most underachieving franchise in football, a Dabo Swinney's 6-6 mark this season didn't have the IPTAY club roaring with delight. An overtime loss at Auburn - a game Clemson should have won - seemed to symbolize the season for both teams. The Auburn Tigers escaped one noose after another en route to a berth in the title game, while the Clemson Tigers bumbled to close losses to Miami and UNC that derailed any hopes of a big year.

Quarterback Kyle Parker had a mediocre year, with 12 touchdown throws and 10 interceptions. You have to believe Clemson fans will watch this game and wonder what the Tigers would look like if Skip Holtz were leading the orange down the hill.

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