GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) -Skip Holtz doesn't know if his East Carolina Pirates can avoid the pitfall of thinking more about what it has already accomplished than what lies ahead.
The Pirates are ranked 14th nationally - their first appearance in the Top 25 since 1999 - after out-Beamering Virginia Tech and handling West Virginia with surprising ease to start the season.
But Holtz has seen his Pirates beat BCS-conference schools before, play tough in moral-victory losses against ranked opponents and get walloped in others.
The coach, who remembers watching his ECU players cry while watching film of a gut-wrenching loss two years ago against Rice, will soon find out how the Pirates handle the kind of success that lands here about once a decade.
ECU opens Conference USA play Saturday at Tulane.
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.''
That said, Holtz can get past the coachspeak enough to acknowledge that this is a moment to savor. The Pirates are coming off their first win against a top-10 team since a 27-23 win against No. 9 Miami in September 1999 in a game played 90 miles west in Raleigh because of flooding from Hurricane Floyd. This is East Carolina's highest ranking since the Jeff Blake-led team in 1991 finished ninth.
The formula around Greenville has been simple: a workmanlike approach on the field while fiercely loyal fans hold a we-don't-get-respect attitude compared to glitzier Atlantic Coast Conference programs that dot the region. It's created an oft-overlooked but proud program that revels in any chance to stick it to the big boys, which has included wins against ACC teams North Carolina, North Carolina State, Duke and Virginia under Holtz.
But the past two games have been unlike anything the Pirates have seen.
chdown with 1:52 left. Then came a dominating defensive performance against West Virginia in a win that had fans rushing the field as time expired.
Contrast that with the state of the program Holtz inherited in 2005. The Pirates had lost 22 of 25 games, with 19 losses coming by double-digit margins and seven by at least 33 points. Considering that journey, the Pirates can't afford to take a step back as they enter a league slate in which they'll likely be favored to win just about every game.
``We didn't talk (in 2005) about, 'You have to win.' We said, 'Let's gain some respect first,''' said defensive coordinator Greg Hudson, who has been here with Holtz since his arrival. ``It's been a four-year process. We go over it weekly, every unit meeting defensively and offensively. One of the worst things you can do in football is lose respect, so once you have some equity, you're pretty stupid to blow it.''
They won't have to look far for lessons. While the Pirates beat Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl in their second straight postseason appearance last year, they've blown chances to reach the C-USA championship game in each of the past two seasons with late-season road losses.
ng field goal with 3 seconds to play in an 18-17 loss. Last year, lost 26-7 to a Marshall team that went 3-9; a win would have allowed the Pirates to host the league title game.
Holtz hopes the past three-plus seasons have prepared his team for what awaits in the coming weeks.
``Four years ago, when I wrote (goals) up on the board, even I said to myself, 'All right, we ain't achieving that one, that one or that one. Maybe we can get this one,''' Holtz said. ``I think there have been little bits and pieces that have helped us get over the hump. Overall, I think we've been building four years to get to this point.''

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