GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) -Skip Holtz always has viewed national powers Virginia Tech and West Virginia as two benchmarks for his growing East Carolina program.
The Pirates needed only two weeks to surge past both of them in the polls, so maybe he should instead compare them to another recent upset victim: Boise State.
After all, it wasn't lost on East Carolina's players that last year's Hawaii Bowl victory came against those BCS-busting Broncos. And while it's only September, Holtz's 14th-ranked Pirates (2-0) already have claimed victories against the two toughest teams on the schedule in the Hokies and Mountaineers.
Now, as the nation's highest-ranked mid-major, they're shaping up as a legitimate threat to become the first Conference USA team to force its way into one of the five major bowls.
``It is very difficult to go undefeated, and I don't think you try to go undefeated,'' Holtz said Sunday. ``That's not something that we're addressing as a football team at this point. We're trying to go 1-0 (each week). ... If those things happen at the end of the year, they'll happen because we're focused week to week, but at this point it's way too far ahead to think about those things.''
True, but the way the Pirates have played so far, perfection could wind up being a very real possibility.
They followed their last-moment win over Virginia Tech with a surprisingly easy 24-3 rout of then-No. 8 West Virginia that marked their Conference USA-record third straight victory over a ranked team dating to that bowl win. After their latest milestone triumph, Holtz received 107 congratulatory text messages, mostly from well-wishing fellow coaches, and nearly as many e-mails the next day.
East Carolina now finds itself in the Top 25 for the first time since 1999 - also the year of their last victory over a top-10 team and their last win against the Mountaineers. They haven't been ranked this high since the Jeff Blake-led team in 1991 finished ninth.
``Those are the glory years around here,'' Holtz said.
Maybe not for much longer, if the Pirates keep playing the way they did against West Virginia.
Their defensive front had its way with the Mountaineers' veteran offensive line, regularly getting enough penetration to keep Pat White in check. On the other side of the ball, efficient quarterback Patrick Pinkney engineered three scoring drives of 11 or more plays and essentially turned the biggest victory in school history into a game of keep-away.
East Carolina had the ball for nearly twice as long as West Virginia did during the decisive first half. In two games, Pinkney has completed more than 80 percent of his passes.
``We came into the game believing and expecting to win,'' Pinkney said. ``The best team won today. ... As a kid you dream about these moments.''
Perhaps nobody more than Pinkney, the son of former ECU standout defensive back Reggie Pinkney. He outdid his old man by helping the Pirates crash the national stage, knocking off a top-10 team for the first time since a 27-23 win over then-No. 9 Miami on Sept. 23, 1999, in a game played 90 miles west in Raleigh because of Hurricane Floyd.
After this one, the goal posts were safe - Pirates fans famously celebrated that Miami win by storming the field and tearing down the uprights at N.C. State's stadium - though the students did rush the field to whoop it up with the players.
Of course, East Carolina's attention now must turn to the C-USA schedule that begins this weekend at Tulane, and the challenge of avoiding those pesky meltdowns against sub-.500 league teams that have plagued the Pirates and kept them out of the past two conference championship games.
``We start a new season this week,'' Holtz said.
But save those worries for another day. For now, they're still soaking up their two landmark wins.
``This was the best job the defense has played ever since I got here'' in 2005, safety Van Eskridge said. ``This is probably the biggest win I've been a part of. We've had some big wins, but to get this one in our own backyard in front of our fans and them being the No. 8 team in the nation makes it the biggest one I've ever been a part of.''

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