East Carolina sort of fell into disarray in 2016. The Pirates beat FCS Western Carolina and ACC bottom-feeder NC State, then nearly beat South Carolina in Columbia. The ship sunk in Blacksburg when Virginia Tech crushed ECU 54-17. The Pirates fell apart from there, finishing 1-7 in the American Athletic Conference (beating only UConn).
Who did they lose?
The only real weapon that the Pirates had they lost. Zay Jones accounted for over 30% of the East Carolina offense before graduating and being drafted in the second round by the Buffalo Bills. Jones set the all-time FBS mark for career receptions last season.
Who do they return?
East Carolina should have a solid battle at the quarterback position. Last year’s backup Gardner Minshew returns (passed for an average 112 yards per game), plus Duke transfer Thomas Sirk is playing his sixth season of eligibility in Greenville. The winner of this position battle should be the worth keeping an eye on.
Why should West Virginia be worried?
West Virginia should not be worried.
Why should West Virginia not be worried?
The Mountaineers should not be worried because East Carolina is a team in transition. The Pirates lost their one impact player from a 3-9 season. No disrespect to ECU, but they should be no threat to WVU, especially in Morgantown.
Key player for East Carolina
Quay Johnson has big shoes to fill after Jones, but he is definitely the player to keep an eye on for the Pirates. He averaged about 10 yards per catch last season despite being under Jones’ shadow.
Key player for West Virginia
Justin Crawford should slice and dice the Pirates’ 4-2-5 defense to easily carry the Mountaineers to a win. You could really fit anyone from the backfield into this category, as this game should be over by halftime.