GREENVILLE, N.C. - Contests against seven bowl qualifiers, including home matchups against Atlantic Coast Conference members Virginia Tech and North Carolina, and a neutral site battle against Southeastern Conference runner-up South Carolina, all highlight East Carolina's complete 2011 football schedule released Thursday by Conference USA.
After the Pirates open the campaign Sept. 3 by renewing a 15-game series with South Carolina at Charlotte's Bank of America Stadium, the Hokies will make their second visit in three years to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium Sept. 10. ECU will face off against North Carolina for the third consecutive season Oct. 1 before the Pirates close out their non-conference schedule by visiting Navy in Annapolis three weeks later on Oct. 22.
The matchup against the Gamecocks, who wrapped up the 2010 season with a No. 22 national ranking and appearances in the SEC Championship Game and Chick-fil-A Bowl, will be East Carolina's fifth all-time contest in Charlotte dating back to 1996 and first since stunning Virginia Tech 27-22 in the 2008 opener. While South Carolina enjoys a 10-5 edge in a series that began in 1977, ECU has captured five of the last seven and three of the last four meetings, including a 21-3 decision in 1999 which marked the last contest between the two programs.
The Pirates and Hokies, who are currently in the midst of a nine-game series agreement which began in 2007 and continued with a 49-27 Virginia Tech triumph in Blacksburg last fall, will play each other in Greenville for the seventh time overall and first since a nationally-televised Thursday night 16-3 Hokie victory in 2009. The ACC champion finished its season with an 11-3 record after falling to Stanford in the Orange Bowl last January and earned a No. 16 standing in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll.
Following an off week and its Conference USA opener against UAB, East Carolina will welcome North Carolina to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium for the second time in four overall recent meetings. The Tar Heels, who fell 34-31 to the Pirates during their last visit to Greenville in 2007, turned in an 8-5 mark a year ago and defeated Tennessee in double-overtime at the Music City Bowl.
East Carolina will close out its non-conference slate against a Navy program which posted a 9-4 record in 2010 and made an appearance in the Poinsettia Bowl. The Midshipmens’ triple-option offensive attack, which propelled them to victories over the Pirates in the series opener in 2006 and again last season, stood sixth nationally a year ago with a 284.8 rushing yards per game average.
In addition to playing three AQ Bowl Championship Series-member programs who earned bowl invitations a year ago, the Pirates will face three of last season's Conference USA bowl qualifiers on their schedule. Meetings against Southern Miss (St. Petersburg), UTEP (New Mexico) and UCF (Liberty) will complete ECU's slate against post-season participants.
"I'll put this schedule up against any that are out there," second-year East Carolina Head Coach Ruffin McNeill said. "While the challenge is great, the opportunities that exist for our program certainly surpass those. We'll have to be ready to play from day one, so there's no easing into anything from our standpoint. I know the Pirate Nation is excited to make the short trip to Charlotte and have Virginia Tech and North Carolina at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. They, as always, will play such a key role in our success despite the tough task we face."
Sandwiched between the Virginia Tech and North Carolina tilts, East Carolina will open C-USA play by hosting the Blazers Sept. 24 and begin a run of 10 consecutive weeks of action. Following the Tar Heels' visit, the Pirates will face a three-game roadswing that includes visits to Houston and Memphis on Oct. 8 and Oct. 15, respectively, before finishing out the trip at Navy.
After closing the month of October with a Homecoming date against Tulane in Greenville on the 29th, ECU will follow in November by squaring off against three C-USA East Division opponents and make its second-ever journey to El Paso.
The Pirates will host Southern Miss (Nov. 5) and travel to UTEP a week later before welcoming defending league champion UCF to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Nov. 19. ECU will wrap up regular season play on the road for the first time since 2006 when it meets Marshall Nov. 26.
The 2011 campaign marks the start of a new two-year rotation in C-USA's out-of-division scheduling arrangement as the Pirates will battle the Cougars, Miners and Green Wave over the next pair of seasons after wrapping up a two-year commitment with contests against Rice, SMU and Tulsa the last two years. ECU rolled to a combined 5-1 mark against Houston, UTEP and Tulane when playing a similar format in 2007 and 2008.
While East Carolina will open the campaign by playing three of its first four games at home and close the season by playing three of the last five contests in Greenville, the Pirates will face the challenge of three consecutive road games for the first time since 2002.
2011 EAST CAROLINA FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
Sept. 3 - vs. South Carolina (Charlotte, N.C.)
Sept. 10 - VIRGINIA TECH
Sept. 24 - *UAB
Oct. 1 - NORTH CAROLINA
Oct. 8 - *at Houston
Oct. 15 - *at Memphis
Oct. 22 - at Navy
Oct. 29 - *TULANE (HC)
Nov. 5 - *SOUTHERN MISS
Nov. 12 - *at UTEP
Nov. 19 - *UCF
Nov. 26 - *at Marshall
Dec. 3 - C-USA Championship Game (at highest-seed campus site)
Home games in ALL CAPS; *Conference USA game