It took a month, a myriad beatdowns and a couple of close calls, but Conference USA finally delivered a knockout punch last week.
ECU 55, North Carolina 31.
Pirates Nation will enjoy that record-setting win for years. The Pirates? Coach Ruffin McNeill gave them 24 hours to savor the moment.
“(Sunday) night, after the meetings, that game was behind them,” McNeill told reporters. “This is what I’ve asked them to do, and what they’ve got to learn to do, and this is the part that’s hard because I can’t guard them 24 hours a day.
“This was a big game, a big game for our university and we know that. But for us, we’ve got to gather back up (to attain) the vision we’ve set, the goals we’ve set. Let’s move to the next one. That’s the discipline that we’ve got to make sure we have this week.”
The reason is obvious: The real season begins Saturday when preseason favorite ECU plays the first of six consecutive C-USA games in a seven-week span before returning to the Triangle on Nov. 23 to face N.C. State.
The first two are on the road. Saturday the Pirates travel to Middle Tennessee, which received a first-place vote in the league’s preseason poll. MTSU scored 20 at UNC, albeit after the game was decided, and shocked Georgia Tech last season, racking up a season-high 49 points in the process. The Blue Raiders are capable, and McNeill knows it.
They’ll also be pumped. Not only is it their first home game as a C-USA member but it’s also homecoming. In many ways, MTSU is the newcomer trying to show it belongs, and what better way to do that then by knocking off a title contender?
All the noise and hype won’t help the Blue Raiders’ secondary, however, and that’s what Shane Carden and Co. will attempt to exploit.
Elsewhere, C-USA’s most interesting game might be Southern Miss vs. FIU.
Southern Miss has its best shot at its first win since Larry Fedora left. The Golden Eagles were 0-12 last season and have dropped their first four this year, scoring just three touchdowns.
They rank 123rd in scoring. Know who ranks worse? Florida International. The Golden Panthers are 0-4, also have scored just three touchdowns and are averaging just 5.8 points.
Somehow, the over/under is 47.