Late October. The time of year when the temperature begins to drop and the college football postseason debates heat up. For No. 18 East Carolina, it’s the perfect time to warm the nation to Pirates football.
East Carolina (5-1, 2-0 American Athletic Conference) will host UConn (1-5, 0-3) at 7 p.m. Thursday in a game that will be nationally televised on ESPNU. With each week the Pirates remain in the rankings, they are sure to draw new viewers, , and Thursday’s game offers them a chance to show them what they’ve been missing.
“It’s huge,” said Breon Allen, East Carolina’s leading rusher. “It’s exactly what we’ve worked for. We want everyone to know what Greenville is about and who the Pirates are. We want to represent our university well, and we have the perfect stage to do that.”
East Carolina has played five of its six games on national TV this season, but playing on a Thursday night brightens the spotlight that tends to be spread thin on Saturdays.
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“I like games on Saturday, but at the same time we’ve discussed in or meetings with (AAC) Commissioner (Mike Aresco) how Thursday games and Friday games give our conference and our programs … a lot of coverage,” East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill said.
The Pirates are more than happy to take center stage.
“We’re definitely excited. We’ll be one of only a few teams in the nation playing,” Allen said. “All eyes will be on us, so we’re definitely excited for the challenge.”
Quarterback Shane Carden, who ranks fifth in the nation with 354.8 passing yards per game, agreed.
“It means a lot. It’s a great opportunity to show the nation what our team’s about and what our school’s about,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting that stadium full. I expect everyone to be there (dressed in black) and ready to go.”
After picking up back-to-back wins against Power 5 schools Virginia Tech and North Carolina, the Pirates held off Southern Methodist before tight-roping past South Florida 28-17 their last time out.
Thursday, East Carolina has a chance to clinch bowl eligibility against a struggling UConn team that has lost four straight games. While winning is a must, how they do it could be equally important.
As of now, East Carolina appears to be the front-runner to represent the Group of 5 in a New Year’s Day bowl, but with teams such as No. 23 Marshall (7-0) breathing down its neck, an escape victory like the one against South Florida could narrow the gap.
That, however, is a notion the Pirates will not entertain. For now, their focus is on the task at hand.
“We just have to win today. We have to practice like champions today, then go out Thursday and try to win the game,” Carden said.