College Football: ECU storms into Top 25

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 8, 2008

By Ralph D. Russo
Associated Press
NEW YORK ó East Carolina can’t play the underdog role anymore.
After opening the season by upsetting two ranked teams, the Pirates earned themselves a place in the AP Top 25 for the first time in nine years.
East Carolina was No. 14 in the media poll released Sunday. Southern California remained No. 1 and Georgia was No. 2. Ohio State’s sluggish 26-14 victory against Ohio, without star tailback Chris Wells, on Saturday cost the Buckeyes two spots in the rankings. They fell to No. 5 behind No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 4 Florida.
The Buckeyes will have a chance to move back up when they visit USC on Saturday.
USC received 33 of a possible 65 first-place votes and 1,577 points. Georgia got 23 first-place votes and 1,525 points. Oklahoma (two), Florida (four), Ohio State (one), No. 6 Missouri (one) and No. 7 LSU (one) also received first-place votes. The Buckeyes had 15 first-place votes last week.
Texas, Auburn and Wisconsin round out the top 10.
East Carolina’s latest big win was its third straight against a ranked opponent, dating to last season’s Hawaii Bowl victory against Boise State.
“I think it went a long way to help build confidence in this team,” coach Skip Holtz, the son of Hall Fame coach Lou Holtz, said Sunday during a conference call. “Two years ago the main goal the team wanted to accomplish was to get to a bowl game. Last season, they not only wanted to get to a bowl game, but win one. Now we want to build on that.”
East Carolina manhandled previously No. 8 West Virginia 24-3 Saturday, shutting down Pat White and the Mountaineers’ speedy spread offense. That came a week after the Pirates took out Virginia Tech.
West Virginia dropped all the way to No. 25.
The last time East Carolina was on a roll like this was 1999, when the Pirates were ranked most of the season before falling out on the final poll of the season. East Carolina hasn’t been ranked this highly since 1991, when the Pirates finished the season at No. 9.
The Pirates now shift to being the favorite instead of the underdog. They open Conference USA play at Tulane this week, then travel to rebuilding North Carolina State. Their next home game is against Houston before they have a week off.
“We made a pact with our players before the season started … we are going to talk about the goals we were going to try to accomplish,” Holtz said, “but once the season started we were only going to talk about going 1-0 (each week).
“You have to learn how to win and then learn how to handle winning; the media attention, the speculation. The battle cry has been we’re going to have to try to go 1-0 (each week).”
The second 10 in this week’s poll starts with Alabama, followed by Texas Tech, Kansas, and the Pirates.
Arizona State is No. 15 and Pac-10 rival Oregon is 16th. Penn State moved up two spots to No. 17 after blowing out Oregon State 45-14, and BYU slipped three places to No. 18 after needing a blocked PAT ó and the help of a controversial penalty ó in the final seconds to preserve a 28-27 victory against Washington.
No. 19 South Florida and No. 20 Wake Forest held their spots after dramatic victories.
The final five were Fresno State, Utah, California, Illinois and West Virginia.
Cal moved into the rankings for the first time since last season after a 66-3 victory against Washington State.