Jul 17, 2013
East Carolina University was picked as the favorites to win the Conference USA East Division crown this season, according to the league’s 14 head football coaches Wednesday.
The Pirates received 11 first place votes and a total of 95 points placing them ahead of Marshall (82) and Middle Tennessee (70). Tulsa was a unanimous favorite to win the C-USA West Division title with 98 points.
Head coach Ruffin McNeill lead the Pirates to an 8-5 overall record and a 7-1 C-USA record in 2012. The Pirates made their sixth bowl appearance in the last seven years and were co-division champions.
McNeill, who received a contract extension through 2017 in June, has 16 returning positional starters with eight on each side of the ball. Among those returning, key impact players include wide receiver Justin Hardy, linebacker Derrell Johnson and offensive lineman Will Simmons.
Hardy, who was named to the 2013 Biletnikoff Award Watch List, caught 88 passes for 1,105 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. The 6-foot-1 rising junior scored at least one touchdown in 10 games last year.
Johnson is one of 51 linebackers to named to the 2013 Butkus Award Watch List. The 6-foot-2 outside linebacker tallied 62 total tackles, a team-leading seven sacks, two fumble recoveries, eight quarterback pressures and 11 tackles for loss. The Cardinal Gibbons High School product returns for his senior season.
Simmons, who was named to the 2013 Outland Watch List as a rising senior, played 12 games last season as a vital member of the offensive line. The 6-foot-5 right guard graduated from Hertford County High School in 2010.
The Pirates’ season opener against Old Dominion will take place Aug. 31 at 7 p.m. ET in Greenville.