HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Conference USA has East Carolina to mostly thank for its handful of wins this year versus Bowl Championship Series automatic qualifier opponents.
C-USA owns five wins over opponents in AQ conferences - conferences like the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference, whose champions earn automatic berths into the Rose, Sugar, Orange or Fiesta Bowl. ECU owns two of those wins, 55-31 over North Carolina and 42-28 over North Carolina State, both Atlantic Coast Conference teams.
The Pirates nearly pulled off another win over an ACC foe, losing 15-10 to Virginia Tech.
"Going out and playing bigger games and on a bigger stage than you're kind of used to, and to win those games, I think anyone would say it brings a boost," ECU quarterback Shane Carden said. "Everyone likes that. Everyone likes beating a team that's supposed to beat you."
The conference's other wins over AQ foes came with Florida Atlantic's win over South Florida, Middle Tennessee's win over Memphis and Rice's win over Kansas. The Jayhawks are in the Big 12, but the Bulls and Tigers are in the American Athletic Conference, which starting next year falls to the same "Group of Five" conferences with C-USA that all will duke it out for one spot in one of the major bowls.
ECU joins the American next season, but Carden said it's been satisfying to offer proof that not all of the power resides in the power conferences.
"Every game that we go into this year, we expect to win," Carden said. "I don't ever go into a game saying hopefully we'll get a moral victory. It's a very aggressive team and we're confident in ourselves. I don't think we're cocky. I think we expect a lot out of ourselves and that's what made this team very competitive with each game we've played in."
* * *
FEW SEE THE similarities between the Marshall and East Carolina offenses more than the Marshall defense. That's something the Herd hopes comes in handy when the Pirates visit at noon Friday (CBS Sports Network) in a game that will decide the Conference USA East Division champion.