In weeks 11 and 12, East Carolina University football will take on Temple University on Nov. 21 and Southern Methodist University on Nov. 28. At this point in the season, the Pirates will likely have already locked up a spot in a bowl game of some kind, assuming postseason bowl games will be played during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Pirates will travel to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to take on the Temple Owls in a Saturday matchup after the Owls return from a road matchup with the University of Central Florida Knights and the Pirates return from their road game against the University of Cincinnati.
Temple will play host to the Pirates at Lincoln Financial Field, the home of the Philadelphia Eagles. Since joining the American Athletic Conference (AAC) in 2014, the Pirates have made three trips to the shared home of the Owls and Eagles and have lost every single time. In fact, ECU has failed to beat Temple a single time since joining the AAC, accumulating zero wins in six attempts.
Most notably, the Owls defeated a nationally ranked Pirate team in 2014 when former head coach Ruffin McNeill had the Pirates ranked No. 21. ECU rolled into Philadelphia for the first time since 1994 and went down to an Owls team that was clearly outclassed, but had the help of some rainy weather on their side. The Pirates lost to Temple 20-10 and fell out of the top 25.
Since the first AAC meeting between the two teams, the Owls have been led by two head coaches who have later accepted head coaching positions in Power Five conferences. Current head coach of the Carolina Panthers Matt Rhule served as the head coach of the Temple Owls from 2013 to 2016 before leaving the program to take the head coaching job at Baylor University.
After Rhule, Temple served as a quick pitstop for current head coach of the Georgia Institute of Technology Yellow Jackets Geoff Collins. Collins was only the head coach of the Owls for the 2017 and 2018 seasons before accepting the job as the Yellow Jackets head coach.
The Owls are currently led by head coach Rod Carey and if recent history serves as an appropriate precedent, the 2020 season could serve as a try-out season for Carey. In his first season as the Owls’ head coach, Carey managed an 8-5 overall record with an impressive 6-1 mark at home. If the 2020 season proves as successful as the 2019 season for Cary, he may field offers from Power Five institutions.
Carey’s 2019 season was no fluke either. The former Northern Illinois University head coach accrued a 52-30 overall record and an even more impressive 38-10 record in conference play while leading the Huskies.
A well coached program inside and out, Temple proves its worth on the field more often than not and Carey is just one in a long line of coaches trying to keep the ball rolling in Philadelphia. The fact that Carey, his staff and the Temple football roster is full of experience as it pertains to success, being a successful program and maintaining that success gives Carey and his Owls squad the advantage over the Pirates.
The Pirates will earn a bowl game in the 2020 season, but this is the kind of late in the season game that a roster with minimal experience at the top has no idea how to win. The Owls are impressive at home and have a wealth of knowledge on how to keep grinding late in the season when playing for a bowl or conference championship.
The loss won’t be an embarrassing one though, ECU will put up as good a fight as it knows how and force the Owls to use all of that experience the roster has accrued over years of competitive play. The Pirates will drop a tough loss to a really solid Temple team that has simply been around the block a few times.
Following the loss to the Owls, the Pirates will host SMU in a Saturday bout at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on senior day.
Amidst all the celebrating that goes along with senior day festivities, the Pirate offense has a chance to take advantage of a defense that they shredded in 2019. Junior quarterback Holton Ahlers will look to repeat his six touchdown and near 500 yard performance from last season’s 59-51 loss to the Mustangs.
This game will most definitely be a show that NFL scouts and fans of the mobile quarterback alike will want to check out as Ahlers will be trying to get past not only the SMU defense, but will also be looking to outduel the Mustangs’ returning starting quarterback and senior Shane Buechele.
Buechele came to SMU in 2019 from the University of Texas at Austin where he was replaced over the course of the 2017 and 2018 seasons by current Longhorn starting quarterback Sam Ehlinger.
Buechele and Ahlers will likely be on display for much of the college football world to see as their strong arm duel will come in each team's final regular season game, and both teams have a reasonable chance to play for bowl games or a spot in the AAC’s conference championship game. Explosive offenses led by NFL prospect-caliber quarterbacks will be one of the more exciting final games of the 2020 regular season in college football.
As for who wins the game, the Pirates retained most or all of its starting talent at a number of positions while SMU will be trying to replace two time All-AAC wide receiver James Proche. With Proche being drafted to the Baltimore Ravens in round 6 of the 2019 NFL draft, Buechele could struggle to find a new number one target.
It’s unlikely that the SMU offense will still be struggling with the loss of Proche in the final week of the season, but if they can’t replace the production that Proche offered, the Pirates will win and possibly even by two or three scores. The 2020 matchup between the Mustangs and Pirates will emulate its 2019 matchup and will play as a game of cat and mouse with SMU struggling to keep up with ECU.
All in all, weeks 11 and 12 will play out just as they should on paper. Both road teams will lose, it just so happens the Pirates will play the part of the road team in one of those instances. Fortunately, senior day looks to be a blast for the seniors and the fans as it should always be.