Heading into its first season since 2009 without Ruffin McNeill on the sidelines, the East Carolina Pirates will face off versus one of the tougher schedules of any Group of Five program.
The Pirates face off versus 2015 bowl teams in eight of their 12 regular season games. Only opponents Western Carolina, South Carolina, Central Florida, and Southern Methodist did not make it to a bowl game last season.
One thing that East Carolina has been known for in recent years is an ambitious non-conference slate. This year is no exception with ACC foes North Carolina State and Virginia Tech both facing the Pirates in September. SEC rival South Carolina is the meat of the Power five sandwich that encompasses a three-game stretch in the opening month of the season.
ECU holds two-game winning streaks versus both Virginia Tech and North Carolina State. Last season's top moment was a 35-28 win over the Hokies in the rain.
A season opener versus FCS program Western Carolina will be the one guaranteed win for Scottie Montgomery and company in September. The September 17 visit to Columbia, South Carolina to face the Gamecocks will be a chance to make a national statement early in the season.
If East Carolina can manage a 2-2 record in the month of September, things will be looking very bright heading into AAC play.
Getting non-conference games out of the way in the opening month of the season, East Carolina gets to end the season with eight straight conference games. It should be mentioned that the Pirates do have a managable three games versus the West Division. They do not have to face Houston or Memphis, both teams that were ranked in the AP Top 25 at points in the 2015 season.
The Pirates get a complete unknown in the AAC opener, a visit from the Central Florida Knights. UCF was beyond terrible in 2015, losing 44-7 to the Pirates in a game that could have been much worse. East Carolina holds a 10-4 overall record versus UCF, but the two teams have tied 3-3 in the last six matchup dating back to 2009.
After a home opener versus UCF, the Pirates make the trip to Florida to face the South Florida Bulls. Willie Taggart's group turned a corner in 2015, making a bowl game and getting consideration for a shot at the AAC title in 2016. South Florida has historically dominated East Carolina (5-1 record), but have split the last two meetings.
In what is the middle of the toughest stretch of the season, the Navy Midshipmen head to Greenville for a Thursday night ESPN game. To say that ECU struggles versus Navy is being generous. Other than a 38-35 win by ECU in 2011, the Pirates have been outscored by 205-110 in the other four all-time meetings.
Weary from facing both South Florida and Navy in six days, a trip to Cincinnati to face the Bearcats ends a three-week murders row. The Pirates would like nothing more than to end a five-game losing streak to Cincinnati.
Rounding out October is a visit from surprise bowl team Connecticut. The Huskies used the momentum of a 31-13 win over ECU to earn a berth to the Saint Petersburg Bowl.
ECU does get as much of a reprieve as possible in early November. They face off versus Tulsa and SMU in back to back weeks. Tulsa was a bowl team last fall, but have not had very much luck versus the Pirates in recent memory. East Carolina has won each of the last six meetings. One week later is a visit from SMU to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. East Carolina have won the last two meetings by a combined 94-47.
After a late bye week, ECU ends the 2015 regular season in Philadelphia versus the Temple Owls. Temple was a surprise 10-win team last fall, including a 24-14 win over the Pirates. The Owls have won each of the last two meetings with East Carolina.
A simple look at the schedule makes it clear that getting six wins in 2016 will not be an easy task. Some things will have to fall perfectly, but a return to the postseason is possible for the Pirates.
2016 East Carolina Schedule:
- Sept. 3 Western Carolina
- Sept. 10 North Carolina State
- Sept. 17 at South Carolina
- Sept. 24 at Virginia Tech
- Oct. 1 Central Florida
- Oct. 8 at South Florida
- Oct. 13 Navy
- Oct. 22 at Cincinnati
- Oct. 29 Connecticut
- Nov. 5 at Tulsa
- Nov. 12 Southern Methodist
- Nov. 26 at Temple