NCAA Football: Pirates start with tough schedule

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 29, 2011

Associated Press
The College football notebook …
GREENVILLE ó East Carolinaís early season schedule is brutal ó even by the Piratesí standards.
Coach Ruffin McNeill is opening his second season at his alma mater with a gauntlet of games against college footballís big boys, and it starts this week with a meeting against No. 12 South Carolina in Charlotte. After that comes a visit from No. 13 Virginia Tech, and later a trip to instate rival North Carolina.
ěI think we have the toughest schedule, which Iím excited about, in the country,î McNeill said Monday. ěI compare it to any other non-BCS schoolís (schedule) and itís not even close. But thatís our deal.î
The Pirates are playing in Charlotteís Bank of America Stadium for the first time since they opened the 2008 season by knocking off nationally ranked Virginia Tech. That victory, followed by an upset of then-No. 8 West Virginia the next week, catapulted them to No. 14 in the national rankings.
Another wave of upsets could do the same thing for this yearís group.
But for that to happen, the Piratesí new 3-4 defensive alignment must slow down coach Steve Spurrierís high-powered Gamecock offense.
Itíll also help if East Carolinaís returning offensive starters ó led by quarterback Dominique Davis and wide receiver Lance Lewis ó can pick up where they left off last year. The Pirates averaged nearly 37 points and 318 yards passing last season.
ěThe (defensive) scheme will be tested, but weíre hoping to test their scheme too,î McNeill said.
South Carolina leads the series 10-5, but the teams havenít played since East Carolinaís 21-3 win in Columbia in 1999.
McNeill also expressed concern for those in eastern North Carolina who were affected by Hurricane Irene, which churned up the East Coast over the weekend.
ěI know a lot of families are hurt way worse than we are,î McNeill said. ěIrene affected all of us. Our heartfelt prayers and thoughts go out to the families that are still going through some things. But this is just a bump in the road for us.î
RALEIGH ó Itís finally game week for North Carolina State. That means the Wolfpack offense can prove it has found the answers to some questions that have nagged it throughout a busy offseason.
How will Mike Glennon replace Russell Wilson? Who will emerge as his top target? Who will step forward at running back?
At least one answer was made public Monday, when coach Tom OíBrien named James Washington as his starting tailback for the opener against Liberty. OíBrien is looking forward to learning more about his team now that the games are about to begin.
ěWeíre tired of practicing against each other and certainly looking forward to getting into game week … and seeing what type of football team we have,î OíBrien said.
The announcement that Washington would start wasnít much of a surprise. He started the last four games of last season, including the Champs Sports Bowl victory over West Virginia, and rushed for 215 yards on 71 carries with a touchdown as a sophomore.
Fifth-year senior Curtis Underwood is listed on the depth chart as Washingtonís backup, with promising redshirt freshman Tony Creecy ó who has been limited by a foot injury ó as the third-stringer.
Questions arose at the position after Mustafa Greene, last yearís leading rusher, was lost until at least October after suffering a foot injury during spring practice.
ěWashington is finally (as) healthy as heís been since heís been here,î OíBrien said. ěHeís a workhorse-type of guy that he gets better as the game goes on, because he doesnít tire as everybody else does. Curtis has come back … (and) he runs with a little more power and authority.î
Of course, some of the other answers will come only once the games begin.
OíBrien praised Glennon as being ěexcited and looking forward to the opportunity to prove his ability,î but the Wolfpack wonít find out until Saturday night how the untested former backup will handle the pressure of being in a significant game situation.
Glennon spent the past few years as the backup to Wilson, who parted ways with N.C. State in the spring while he was playing minor-league baseball and ultimately transferred to Wisconsin for his senior season.
ěIíd say (Glennon is) more confident in himself now,î linebacker Audie Cole said. ěYouíve got to practice making the tough throws. … Mikeís usually pushing himself and doing a good job. … Iíd say Mikeís improved a lot throughout the camp with us making him stay moving and throwing off the run.î
DURHAM ó Duke has named four captains for this season.
Coach David Cutcliffe said Monday that the team elected safety Matt Daniels, nose guard Charlie Hatcher, quarterback Sean Renfree and offensive tackle Kyle Hill as captains.
Cutcliffe says the four ěexemplify what our program is all about ó the pursuit of excellence in everything we do.î
Daniels is a three-year starter in the defensive backfield. Hatcher is the only senior on Dukeís defensive front. Hill has started 36 consecutive games. Renfree is the leading returning passer in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Duke opens Saturday night against Richmond.