East Carolina has been college football's biggest surprise in the first two weeks of the season. This Saturday, the surprise would be if coach Skip Holtz's 14th-ranked Pirates lose.
In the Top 25 for the first time since 1999 and sporting its highest ranking in 17 years, East Carolina seeks to remain unbeaten when it visits Tulane in the Conference USA opener for both schools.
Oddsmakers from Sportsbook.com have made East Carolina –12.5 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 80% of bets for this game have been placed on East Carolina –12.5 (View College Football bet percentages).
The Pirates (2-0) have enjoyed a dream opening to the 2008 season, with consecutive upsets of ranked opponents. In their Aug. 30 opener, they stunned then-No. 17 Virginia Tech 27-22 when senior wide receiver T.J. Lee returned a blocked punt 27 yards for a touchdown with 1:52 remaining. They posted an even more impressive win last Saturday, rolling past then-No. 8 West Virginia 24-3.
Including last season's Hawaii Bowl victory over then-No. 22 Boise State, East Carolina has won its last three games - all against teams in the Top 25.
The surprising run of success has the Pirates in the poll for the first time since 1999 - also the last time they opened a season 3-0. The No. 14 ranking is their highest since 1991, when a team led by future NFL quarterback Jeff Blake finished the season ranked ninth.
"We've come a long way,'' Holtz said after beating the Mountaineers. "There was a time when we couldn't win three in a row.''
Despite the phenomenal start, though, Holtz knows much work remains.
"As I told the team, we didn't become bowl-eligible because we're ranked,'' he said Monday. "We don't have a conference win to this point. We're two games into a 12-game schedule.
"All these rankings and bowl predictions and everything else, it's great because it creates a buzz, a stirring and an excitement in the program. But as I told them, the last two teams we played both had ranks next to their name, we didn't and we're 2-0. It doesn't mean anything to this point.''
Senior quarterback Patrick Pinkney has been close to perfect through the first two games, completing 80.4 percent of his passes (41 of 51) with a pair a touchdowns and no interceptions. Sophomore running back Jonathan Williams has rushed for 117 yards and three scores - two of them last week against West Virginia.
The last time the Pirates played an opponent that wasn't ranked, they faced the Green Wave (0-1). East Carolina piled up 219 rushing yards while beating Tulane 35-12 at home Nov. 27 in its regular season finale.
That victory was the second straight and sixth in seven games in this series for the Pirates, who hold a 7-2 edge over the Green Wave. Tulane, however, has won two of three meetings in New Orleans.
Weather has already disrupted Tulane's season, and threatens to do so again. The Green Wave evacuated their campus Aug. 30, when Hurricane Gustav made its way toward New Orleans, and spent a week in a hotel in Birmingham, Ala. while practicing at Samford University.
Two dozen Tulane players remain from the 2005 team, which had to leave campus when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Now, Hurricane Ike is threatening the Gulf Coast, and will likely cause bad weather even if the eye of the storm misses the Big Easy.
"I'm not a weather guy, but I guess it's coming our way,'' Tulane coach Bob Toledo said.
The Green Wave are facing their second straight ranked opponent after opening their season last week with a 20-6 loss at then-No. 13 Alabama. Tulane outgained the Crimson Tide 318-172 and controlled the ball for more than 36 minutes, but managed only a pair of field goals by Ross Thevenot.
Kevin Moore completed 28 passes on 49 attempts to 11 receivers.
Tulane has lost 33 consecutive games against ranked opponents since a 31-28 upset of then-No. 12 LSU on Nov. 27, 1982.
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