CJ Johnson

CJ Johnson makes a catch in last season’s matchup against Cincinnati.

East Carolina University football has had some tough challenges to face so far this season, and while the Pirates haven’t won much they have shown that they can compete and as they face some strong teams ahead its questionable how their fate will turn out.

With the 2020 college football season nearing its midpoint, who and what each team is, has become clearer as teams make statement wins and show their true colors, which makes it easier for analysts to predict which teams will win on game day. And from what has been shown so far the toughest team on ECU’s schedule will be the University of Cincinnati (5-0, 3-0 AAC).

In the coming weeks, ECU will play Tulane University (2-4 0-4 AAC), the University of Cincinnati (4-0 2-0 AAC), Temple University (1-2 1-2 AAC), and Southern Methodist University (5-1 2-1 AAC).

In a press conference prior to the Pirates’ 34-30 loss to the University of Tulsa, ECU’s head football coach Mike Houston said the team’s upcoming matchup against Tulsa was going to be one of its toughest if not the toughest matchup of the season.

"Exciting matchup this week. Tulsa, we all got a chance to see them on Friday night against South Florida,” Houston said. “It was enjoyable to sit and watch the game, but still take away the same things I expected going into that game and that's we're facing one of the better teams, if not the best team, on our schedule.”

This statement may have come as a shock as the upcoming matchups the Pirates faced two nationally-ranked opponents in Cincinnati and SMU ranked No. 7 and No. 22 respectively.

However, when looking at who each team has played, Houston’s statement might not be as far-fetched as it may seem at face value. Tulsa had played just three games so far in this COVID-19 riddled season and two of its opponents were tough teams.

In their season opener Tulsa played and lost to No. 6 ranked Oklahoma State University (4-0, 3-0 Big 12), but the Golden Hurricanes lost just 16-7. Tulsa’s defense was able to hold the Cowboys to just one offensive touchdown and just 292 total offensive yards.

Tulsa was able to hold OSU’s junior running back Chubba Hubbard to just 93 yards on 27 carries for a mere 3.4 yards per carry. Hubbard is currently ranked as the second best running back prospect in the upcoming 2021 NFL draft and is the 63rd overall prospect in the country, according to Pro Football Focus.

Tulsa’s two wins prior to its third against the Pirates came against the University of Central Florida (3-2, 2-2 AAC) and the University of South Florida (1-5 0-4 AAC).

South Florida currently sits as the worst team in the AAC right behind Tulane, but UCF, while not the team they were just two years ago when they went undefeated and declared themselves the National Champions after beating the University of Auburn in the Peach Bowl, the Golden Knights have shown to be a decent team so far this season. So a win against UCF is still nothing to scoff over.

UCF beat ECU earlier in the year by a comfortable margin of 23 points with the final score being 51-28. Tulsa was able to beat UCF by eight in a game that ended 34-26.

Comparatively the Cincinnati Bearcats while being ranked in the top 10 in the country haven't had that same level of competition and it could be argued that they are only ranked as high as they are because many teams didn’t begin to play until much later.

The Big Ten which houses teams such as Ohio State University, The University of Michigan, the University of Wisconsin, and Penn State University just began their season a couple of weekends ago. The Pac-12 which has the likes of the University of Oregon, the University of Southern California, Washington University, and the University of Utah aren’t expected to start their season until Nov. 7.

The Bearcats have beaten opponents with a combined 16-12 record. However 12 of those 16 wins come from two opponents. SMU and The United States Military Academy (6-1 Independents). Other than those two teams Cincinnati has played Austin Peay State University who is currently 0-3 overall and 0-0 in Ohio Valley Conference play, USF and the University of Memphis.

Cincinnati has beaten each of its opponents in decisive fashion having outscored their opposition by a score of 198-60. Well over a 100 point differential, with two of their best wins coming against their best opponents. Beating Army 24-10 and SMU 42-13.

As of right now, it appears the Bearcats haven’t and won’t play any teams on the caliber of OSU like Tulsa did earlier in the year playing Oklahoma State unless a team like the University of Houston emerges as a top 25 contender out of the AAC.

Like Cincinnati, SMU hasn’t played anyone very notable. In their opener the Mustangs obliterated Stephen F. Austin State University 50-7, however following that they barely pulled out wins against the likes of The University of Memphis (3-1, 2-1 AAC) and Tulane. Winning each game by just three points before getting beaten by Cincinnati.

Looking back on who ECU has played already, the Pirates have not played anyone of much renown. The United States Naval Academy and UCF being their two biggest matchups. UCF handled the Pirates fairly easily but ECU gave Navy a very good fight, losing 27-23, just a four point difference, despite being down several key starters due to COVID-19 protocols including starting junior quarterback Holton Ahlers.

The Pirates sole win of the season so far came against USF, and with that win the Pirates sit at eighth in the AAC, ahead of Temple, USF, and Tulane.

Despite not having played a team of OSU’s caliber the Bearcats are the clear best team in the AAC and thus the best team on ECU’s schedule. The consistent dominance has backed up their national ranking. Though people may argue they don’t deserve to be in the top ten they have proven themselves to be one of the best teams in the country so far this season.

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