Halfway through the 2016 season, East Carolina has already approached a potentially season-determining must-win American Athletic Conference game Saturday.
Luckily, the must-win game comes against an opponent that is struggling just as vitally as the Pirates. Cincinnati has been a proven program that has produced top FBS bowl appearances and a plethora of National Football League talent, but just like every other program has, it is experiencing a rough patch this season.
Despite Cincinnati (3-3,0-3 AAC) having a better record than the Pirates (2-4,0-2 AAC), the Bearcats sit in last place of the American East Division. That’s not saying much though, as both teams come into the matchup winless in the AAC. Not to mention the fact ECU hasn’t won a football game in over five weeks.
From a morale standpoint, from a confidence standpoint and from a statistical standpoint, ECU cannot lose Saturday, on the road and in primetime, and realistically think its postseason hopes are still alive.
To be eligible for a bowl appearance, the Pirates have to finish their season at 6-6 or better. And with the rescheduled matchup with Navy still looming in a month, ECU needs to get it in gear and put together a winning streak.
Although looking rough, Cincinnati poses a serious threat, as the Pirates have dropped their last five contests against the Bearcats, showing Cincinnati’s recent college football trajectory. Since the beginning of the AAC, the Bearcats have composed a 17-7 conference record, including a 7-1 conference mark in 2014, showing the surprise in its 0-3 start this season.
Playing on the road always seems to be tough for ECU as well, as it is yet to notch a victory away from Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium this season, further emphasizing the importance of ECU playing well on Saturday.
Good news for the Pirates is that Hurricane Matthew — while terrible for the state — rewarded them with an unexpected bye week, allowing the team to rest. Had the matchup against Navy not been postponed, ECU would have turned in a hobbled Zay Jones and most likely would have been without starting quarterback Philip Nelson, cornerback Corey Seargent and defensive line run-stopping anchor Demetri McGill.
The absence of Nelson, Seargent and McGill would have been unbelievably crucial, as the three are arguably three of the most impactful players for the Pirates.
This is why ECU needs to capitalize.
Had Hurricane Matthew not overtaken Greenville, the Pirates would be extremely banged up, spiraling out of control, sitting at three games below .500.
The bye week gave ECU a second chance of sorts on its season, as the Pirates are healthy and have had a longer time to prepare.
Although ECU has seemed doomed for quite some time now, it’s not too late.
A win Saturday can potentially get the Pirates in a groove and help turn their season around. The next four games come against teams in the bottom of the AAC, none of which the Pirates can’t beat.
Saturday is the telling test of what the final verdict of ECU’s season will be. A win, and the Pirates could get back on track to maybe reach the postseason. A loss, and ECU is sitting in the same seat it was last season — disappointment.