East Carolina, Ohio happy to be Bowling
The Sports Xchange
NCAAF Team Report - Ohio - INSIDE SLANT
East Carolina and Ohio profess to be happy with their spots in the Beef O'Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl. The Pirates are pleased because they like the opportunity to recruit in a talent-rich area prior to their pending move to the American Athletic Conference, while the Bobcats benefitted from the at-large slot that opened up when East Carolina's future conference couldn't fill its contracted number of bowl slots. Had another AAC team been bowl-eligible, it's likely the Bobcats would have been shut out of the bowl picture entirely.
But as they prepare for this Dec. 23 bowl game, both programs have to be a little disappointed that they didn't wind up in greener pastures.
East Carolina had a chance to play for the championship of Conference USA in its final season in the league, but fell to Marshall 59-28 in the regular-season finale. That sent the Thundering Herd to the title game instead. The Pirates were considered a preseason favorite to go out of the league on top, and the failure to even play for the title was a disappointment.
Ohio, meanwhile, was the MAC East Division favorite in the preseason and started the season strong at 6-2 -- including a nonconference victory over Marshall on Sept. 14. But November started brutally, with losses to Buffalo, Bowling Green and Kent State coming by 27, 49 and 31 points. Only a victory over Massachusetts in the regular season finale allowed the team to finish with a winning record, which presumably made it more attractive of a get here.
Whether it will enjoy its experience is another story. East Carolina averages more than 40 points per game and is going to make Ohio spend a lot of time in the nickel package. The Bobcats have 14 interceptions this season, so the defensive backs may not be intimidated, but Ohio hasn't seen an attack like this since MAC play began.
Then again, Ohio is 2-0 against Conference USA this season, knocking off North Texas in addition to Marshall. And until their November swoon, the Bobcats looked like one of the better teams in the MAC, knocking off Akron by 40 and Eastern Michigan by 28 on the road and Miami (Ohio) by 25 at home.
Neither team has ever played a bowl game in the state of Florida before. East Carolina may enter with the better resume, but the Bobcats have more recent postseason success to shout about. While Ohio has won two bowl games in a row, the Pirates have lost its last four bowl appearances.
NCAAF Team Report - Ohio - NOTES, QUOTES
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
--QB Shane Carden put up big numbers, which is what you'd expect from the high-octane East Carolina offense. He finished the regular season with 3,866 yards and 32 touchdown passes, and has thrown for more than 250 yards in the last nine games. The loss to Marshall to end the regular season, however, ended his stretch of 20 consecutive games with a touchdown pass.
--OLB Derrell Johnson enters the postseason having started the past 48 games in a Pirates uniform. Now a senior, Johnson has 7 1/2 sacks this season, including two in the loss to Marshall that ended the regular season.
--WR Justin Hardy set an East Carolina record for receptions and receiving yards in a season, and makes a strong case for himself as the greatest receiver in program history. The Pirates have a host of weapons at receiver, but Hardy's the most consistent and the best bet to have an impact in the postseason.
--CB Travis Carrie earned All-MAC First Team honors as a kick return specialist, and third team honors as a cornerback. He picked off four passes, tied for first on the team, and his 12.7 yards per punt return average led the MAC for most of the season. In the regular-season finale against Massachusetts, he took two interceptions back for touchdowns.
--WR Donte Foster had 858 receiving yards, setting his career high. He had six touchdown catches this season and holds the Bobcats record with 20 in his career.
--QB Tyler Tettleton finished the year with 2,623 passing yards and 20 touchdowns, as compared to nine interceptions. The three-year starter has a 24-13 record, and there's nothing the Pirates can throw at him that he hasn't seen before.
BOWL HISTORY: East Carolina is 8-10 in bowl games, and has lost its last four postseason appearances. Its last bowl win was a 41-38 victory over Bose State in the 2007 Hawaii Bowl. Ohio is 2-5 in bowl games, but has won its last two appearances, including a 48-14 win over Louisiana-Monroe in the 2012 Independence Bowl.