It may be hard to believe, but East Carolina has one of the longest bowl droughts in FBS, playing the past four seasons without a postseason appearance. The 2019 edition of the East Carolina Pirates are young at many key positions but a majority of them got significant playing time last season as the Pirates went 3-9 last season.
Is there an ability to turn the program around for a team that is projected no more than 4 wins?
Leadership of Coach Mike Houston
First-year ECU head coach Mike Houston has a track record of winning. Houston comes to ECU from FCS powerhouse James Madison, where they won the FCS national championship in 2016. Huge turnarounds do not happen overnight but Houston seems to be right man for the job. Houston has an 80-25 record and has had only one year where the team failed to reach seven wins (5-7 with the Citadel in 2014). Seven wins would be a guarantee for a bowl bid in 2019. He has a system with a proven track record, so who’s to say that Houston can’t replicate his success at ECU?
The Potential of Young QB Holton Ahlers
Dual threat QB Holton Ahlers showed upside as the man behind center last year. This is the first time the Pirates have had stability at the QB position since 2014. Ahlers threw for 1,785 yards, 12 touchdowns and, the most key statistic, only 3 interceptions. He also ran for 592 yards.
A deeper look shows upside on the offensive side of the ball. Offensively they are young at the playmaker positions but do return their third and fourth leading rushers in senior Hussein Howe as well as junior Darrius Pinnix Jr.
On the outside, it will be receivers by committee after the graduation of Trevon Brown who had over 1,000 yards receiving the past two seasons. It does create opportunities for the likes of Seniors Anthony Watley and Deondre Farrier to fill the void.
The left side of the offensive line has experience from last year with upperclassmen D’Ante Smith Jr. and Cortez Herrin Sr as the leaders to protect Ahlers.
Defensive Line has Three Senior Leaders
The potential of the defense rides on the big boys in the trenches with Alex Turner, Jalen Price and Kendall Futrell who have multiple years of experience. The potential partnership of Bruce Bivens and Xavier Smith at linebacker is something to keep an eye on. If the chemistry is there between these two guys, it could lead to a pretty stout front seven.
Lastly, the secondary will be led by Davondre Robinson who was the Pirates’ second-leading tacklers last year with 77 tackles. Robinson needs to step up in creating takeaways, as the defense only had 5 interceptions last year.
Probably the biggest strength on paper for the Pirates is through the kicking game which is led by junior Jake Verity. The junior was 19-21 last season and has range into 60 plus yards. Junior punter Jonn Young has had a great offseason after a solid year in 2018.
The past couple years have been disappointing for Pirates fans, going 3-9 for three years consecutively. However, Pirate Nation is unified again through the hiring of Coach Houston.
The schedule opens up with the potential to grab some early wins. The Pirates face a tough start at NC State, but then get Gardner-Webb at home. Then, Navy on the road, another FCS foe in William & Mary, and then a winnable road game against Old Dominion.
A potential 3-2 start isn’t out of the question. It will take time to get Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium back to full capacity, but there is a different feeling for this group that they have not had in a long time. Expect growing experiences for the Pirates but they could grab 5-6 wins, a nice improvement from the last three years, and maybe sneak into a bowl game.