East Carolina Football is receiving national attention and prime time television exposure.
Oct 11, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; East Carolina Pirates running back Breon Allen (25) celebrates his five-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter as the Pirates beat the South Florida Bulls 28-17 at Raymond James Stadium. Allen had a game high 124 yards rushing. (David Manning-USA TODAY Sports)
(C+P) — On paper, a match-up with the University of Connecticut does not sound like much to get excited about, well not in football at least. The Huskies have won just a single game this season, and that was a less than impressive victory over Stony Brook by only three points. However, for the 18th ranked East Carolina Pirates, this game poses a great deal of potential, both positive and negative.
OK so college football’s prime-time Thursday night game isn’t as high profile as in years past since the NFL took over CBS Thursday nights as well, but it still gives national exposure to a team that is fighting to gain respect.
“I always look at the glass half full,” said ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill. “Thursday and Friday games give our conference and our programs, and really our university and City of Greenville, a lot of coverage.”
The half glass empty side of this argument would be that playing Thursday or Friday disrupts their routine, and also that these games have been known to produce more than a few big upsets. ECU may be more prepared than most ranked teams this season to avoid this potential pitfall, as playing on national television is becoming commonplace for the Pirates.
“To think about our team being on national TV and ESPN seven weeks in a row is a great feat and (helps) our players and their parents who can’t come to the games,” McNeill admitted. “Because I’m from eastern North Carolina, this place raised me. Anything to help this region out is always beneficial for all those groups.”
The recognition is building, and the players have noticed as quarterback Shane Carden explained following practice this past weekend.
“There’s been a lot of talk outside of our program recently,” Carden said. “Everyone’s expectations are starting to get caught up with ours from the beginning of the season.”
These are expectations they openly welcome because, from the top to bottom, ECU understands how important these games are to building a program, especially from a recruiting standpoint, as players from outside the Carolina region have a chance to see what the Pirate program has to offer.
“I have no doubt it does,” said McNeill candidly, in response to the question of how primetime games such as this help in recruiting. “I think the fact that recruits, but also the country, gets the chance to see our team, program and university, which brings light to Greenville and the eastern region. I think it benefits a lot of people. It’s free advertising as they say.”
They also say any publicity is good publicity. That is not necessarily the case for the Pirates. If everything goes to plan then they get a win in front of a national audience, gaining invaluable exposure from many who may have never seen them play before. But if they lose, especially to a greatly inferior team such as UCONN, they do it in front of that same national audience. More importantly they do it in front of the national voters, and even more pivotal, the Collegiate Football Playoff Committee that will decide their fate come season’s end.
None of this seems to phase the players though, certainly not breakout senior running back Breon Allen.
“We are pumped,” Allen said with a huge smile on his face. “To be one of the only teams in the nation playing on national TV, yes we are definitely excited.”
They better be, four out of their final six regular season games come on either a Thursday or Friday night. I do not know if this was planned by the University or if the television gods serendipitously caught the Pirate fever earlier than most, but it is exactly the recipe East Carolina needs to vault themselves into playoff contention. Win out and the conversations will only continue to grow louder, lose a single game and any thoughts of playing in the inaugural Final Four quickly become a distant memory.
Any publicity may be considered good in other areas of life, but in college football, public perception – voter perception – is the only thing that matters. Because of their unique schedule to end the regular season, the Pirates find themselves with a chance to greatly influence the voters week in and week out on a national stage.
Shine bright like a diamond or fall back into the rough, the choice is yours East Carolina.