GREENVILLE, N.C. Before a full house – a completely mad house – East Carolina kicked down the door to big-time opportunity, stampeded en masse through it, smothered No. 8 West Virginia in its tracks and recorded one of the most impressive victories in school history – or at least since the previous weekend's 27-22 win over No. 17 Virginia Tech in Charlotte.
The resounding 24-3 victory over West Virginia means that Skip Holtz's fourth team is virtually certain to gain a spot in next week's national Top 25 rankings. Entering the weekend, ECU was technically No. 27 in the Associated Press poll.
But based on Saturday's performance, it's a mortal lock there aren't 26 better teams in the nation at this point. Against Heisman Trophy candidate Pat White and a Mountaineers team favored to win the Big East Conference championship, the Pirates looked a heck of a lot more like No. 7 than No. 27.
There's a lot of work ahead, but if you have to pick a long shot to qualify for a Bowl Championship Series cameo this season, the Pirates are where Hawaii was in 2007, Boise State in '06 and Utah in '04.
If history holds, the Pirates will have a good deal more trouble defeating N.C. State (Sept. 20 in Raleigh), Marshall (Nov. 8 in Greenville) and Southern Miss (Nov. 15 in Hattiesburg) than they did Virginia Tech and West Virginia.
Some of the best ECU teams have knocked off big names with regularity, only to get knocked down in Conference USA.
But if the Bucs can meet the challenges ahead, they are in an excellent position to upstage the 1991 team, which finished 11-1 and No. 9 in the final polls, at the most impressive in school history.
The way the stupid BCS process works, the Conference USA champion qualifies for a BCS bid basically if it finishes ranked in the top 12 of the final BCS standings. That's the short version; the fine print makes it more complicated than a cereal box sweepstakes.
There is a proviso that could keep an undefeated ECU team out of the BCS mix, but that's putting the plow in front of the mule. If there's any real justice, the Pirates and, say, Utah would finish something like Nos. 4 and 5 in the final standings.
Then, the lords of the BCS would have to come up with a solution that they couldn't even explain.
For now, let it suffice that ECU is better than any team around here. And until someone proves otherwise, ECU's Patrick Pinkney is the best quarterback in the state, and the rushing combo of Jon Williams and Brandon Simmons is at least the equal.
But the real surprise of Saturday's win was an ECU defense that held White to a harmless 169 yards of offense.
Last season, the Pirates finished 8-5 with a 41-38 win over Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl primarily as the result of a potent offense.
The defense played well at times, but not consistently well. Through two games in '08, that defense has been better than the Pinkney-led offense.
That's big time.
Caulton Tudor is a columnist for the (Raleigh) News & Observer. Reach him at email@example.com or 919-829-8946.
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