Virginia Tech's third opponent of the season, East Carolina, will look a lot different on Sept. 18 from the Pirate teams that gave the Hokies fits the last three seasons.
ECU will have a new head coach, new offense, new defense and 15 new starters when it opens its season Sept. 5 against Tulsa. Former Texas Tech defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill has been tabbed to replace Skip Holtz and has brought with him the Red Raiders' Air Raid offense and a 4-3 defense.
The loss of 15 starters may be a good thing for McNeill as his Pirates are a veritable tabula rasa as he tries to implement his new system. Timing issues plagued ECU's new offense during the spring game, but veteran quarterback Dominique Davis will be on campus this fall and will likely be the starting QB against Tulsa.
Davis played in six games for Boston College and started the final three after Chris Crane broke his collar bone against Wake Forest. Davis led the Eagles to a come-from-behind victory in that game and to a win the next week against Maryland to clinch the ACC Atlantic. However, the Eagles lost their final two games of the season to Virginia Tech in the ACCCG and Vanderbilt in the Music City Bowl.
Davis completed only 40 percent of his passes and threw four interceptions in those final two games, which wound up being his final two in an Eagle uniform. He left the school due to academic reasons before the 2009 season and transfered to Fort Scott Community College for the 2009 season.
There, Davis helped lead the Greyhounds to an 11-1 record and the Jayhawk Conference and Region VI championships. But Davis' numbers weren't that impressive last year as he completed 52.2 percent of his passes for 6.9 yards per attempt and had a 6-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Despite these average numbers (especially for JuCo ball), Davis told the Daily Reflector the experience at Fort Scott has him prepared to lead the Pirates' offense:
"When he came to my house and talked to me, he could tell I was ready," Davis said of his first meeting with McNeill, who replaced former ECU head coach Skip Holtz in January and was forced to try to keep all of Holtz's recruits at ECU, Davis foremost among them. "I looked him dead in the eye and let him know that I made a mistake and that it won't happen again."
Whether or not Davis can lead a Division 1 offense, particularly one like the Air Raid, remains to be seen. He's still probably better suited for the job than anyone else on the Pirates' roster.
The good news for Davis is he'll have some play-makers at his disposal, including receiver Dwayne Harris, who had 12 touchdowns on offense last year and another three on kick-off returns. He should also get good protection from an offensive line that is a reason to be optimistic about the team, according to Pre-Snap Read:
Three starters are back, and a fourth potential starter - right tackle Steven Garner - is more than ready to step in the lineup.
On defense, ECU's only returning starters are its two cornerbacks, Emanuel Davis and Travis Simmons. This has various college football countdowns in sell mode on the Pirates, including D1scourse, which ranks them No. 83 and Pre-Snap Read, which has them at No. 91. The Sporting News ranks them at No. 65, but picks them to finish 6-6.
With all the change in Greenville, BCS Evolution thinks Mid-Major eyes should be on the Pirates to see if how they handled the transition should be a blueprint for others:
This year East Carolina will be a gauge to measure which is more important to a football team, coaching stability or a commitment by the administration and fans to the football program. My money is on the latter.
The Hokies have won two of their last three meetings with the Pirates and the two wins required strong second-half play from the defense. Whether or not ECU can give Virginia Tech another scare will depend on how quickly the Pirates' completely new front seven comes together.
ECU's first two games aren't easy, but they're at home and I think the Pirates will be 2-0 when they come to Blacksburg. However, I don't think the games against Tulsa and Memphis will have the Pirates' defense prepared for Virginia Tech's run game.
It may take another strong second half, but I believe the Hokies should have no problem taking care of business in Week 3 against ECU. Next year in Greenville may be another story when McNeill has had a full year to put his system in place and possibly seven returning starters on defense and six on offense.