NEW ORLEANS (AP) -When East Carolina coach Skip Holtz reflects on his team's upsets over Virginia Tech and West Virginia, he sees every reason why his 14th-ranked Pirates ought to take Tulane seriously.
``The last two teams we played both had a ranking next to their name and we did not, and here we are 2-0,'' Holtz said. ``We just have to make sure that we don't let the circus atmosphere around a winning program interrupt what we're trying to build right now.''
Holtz won't deny that his program appreciates all the attention that has come with being ranked for the first time since 1999. Yet he also worries about how fast his team could plummet out of the rankings with a loss to Tulane (0-1) on Saturday in the Conference USA opener for both teams.
ames last season, ending with a 35-12 loss at East Carolina. But Tulane didn't exactly look like a pushover last weekend at No. 11 Alabama.
The Crimson Tide won the game 20-6, but scored only one offensive touchdown. One of Alabama's scores came on a blocked punt and another on a punt return.
Tulane threatened to score four times, but the Wave missed two field goals. The game was even closer than the score indicated, which Holtz saw on film this week.
``I know people are going to look at it and say that last year they only won four games and that this is a team which has been on the lower side of the conference when you look at it over the last five to 10 years,'' Holtz said. ``This is a football team that ... walked into Alabama, a team which absolutely dismantled Clemson on national television a week (earlier), and only gave up 172 yards, which is less than we have held either of our two opponents to.
``Defensively, I have been extremely impressed and I think their defense is just as good as the last two defenses we lined up and played.''
Tulane covets a victory on multiple levels. Not only is the game the Green Wave's conference and home opener, but Tulane also wants to end its 33-game losing streak against ranked opponents, which dates to 1982, when the Wave upset then-No. 12 LSU.
confident his team is improving, but stops short of guaranteeing more wins.
``We are better than a year ago at this time,'' Toledo said. ``I don't know if that means more victories, but it means we're getting better. The program is improving. And that's what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to build a program back up to get us so we're very competitive.''
Tulane came into this season with big questions at quarterback. Sophomore Kevin Moore proved he could be a reliable starter at Alabama. He didn't turn the ball over and found various receivers and his tight end in showing an ability to move the ball against the Tide. Moore finished 28-of-49 for 225 yards.
But Tulane is still trying to figure out if it can run anywhere nearly as well as last season, when Matt Forte, now a rookie starter with the Chicago Bears, was lined up at tailback.
East Carolina has more experience at key positions and by no means conjured this season's early success out of thin air. Going back to last season, ECU has now won nine of its last 11 games.
Senior quarterback Patrick Pinkney has been sharp so far this season, completing 80 percent of his passes for 447 yards. Receiver Dwayne Harris has been Pinkney's favorite target with 12 receptions for 136 yards. Jon Williams leads ECU in rushing with 117 yards on 27 attempts and three touchdowns.
One person not at all surprised by the Pirates' success is Toledo.
``When we started the season I told a lot of people that in my mind they were the best team returning this year'' in Conference USA, Toledo said. ``They've got the best group of players as a whole returning. ... I think they might be better than Alabama. And the reason I say that is because Alabama is a young football team. They've got some excellent players, but they played a lot of young guys. These guys are an experienced football team.''

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