With just decent defense even by Conference USA standards ECUs three-season league record under Ruffin McNeill would be 17-4 rather than the 13-8 (4-1 thus far in 12) mark the Pirates take into Saturdays game against favored Houston in Greenville.
A four-win swing in those games losses to Marshall last season and to SMU, Rice and Central Florida in 2010 would put McNeill (5-4 overall this season) at 20-14 overall, rather than 16-18, and in a far higher regard within the fan base.
Developing an acceptable defense has been such a challenge for McNeill and his staff that its fair to question if it can be accomplished.
But unless meaningful improvement occurs Saturday against Houston and during the final two games at Tulane on Nov. 17 and versus Marshall in Greenville on Nov. 23 the popular former Pirate defensive standout will be on shaky ground.
Theres no prevailing reason to think athletic director Terry Holland would make a change if McNeill can finish the regular season 6-6 and reach what would be his second bowl in three seasons.
But the defensive trend under McNeill obviously is a concern. Although the numbers are slightly better thus far this season than in 11 and 10, the Pirates still gave up 40 in a C-USA loss to Central Florida and 35 in a seven-point win at Alabama-Birmingham. They did hold Southern Miss to 14, Texas-El Paso to 18 and Memphis to 7.
That was all before the 58-26 humiliation in Greenville last week against Navy a performance that left much of the fan base in a foul, exasperated mood and created a significant loss of confidence in McNeills ability to turn the defensive corner.
The defensive starters last week against Navy included 10 seniors and/or juniors and sophomore linebacker Jeremy Grove a clear indication that youth and inexperience arent at the root of the ineffective play.
Its among the strangest dilemmas in the nation for a coach nearing the end of his third season.
In most cases, a coach with a 16-18 record could look back on any number of reasons for losses. For McNeill, at least 75 percent of the trouble goes to one source.