East Carolina Pirates football 2023 season preview

PROVO, UT - OCTOBER 28: Keaton Mitchell #2 of the East Carolina Pirates celebrates with fans after their win over the Brigham Young Cougars at LaVell Edwards Stadium on October 28, 2022 in Provo, Utah. (Photo by Chris Gardner/ Getty Images)
PROVO, UT - OCTOBER 28: Keaton Mitchell #2 of the East Carolina Pirates celebrates with fans after their win over the Brigham Young Cougars at LaVell Edwards Stadium on October 28, 2022 in Provo, Utah. (Photo by Chris Gardner/ Getty Images) /

The 2022 East Carolina Pirates football team left some spacious shoes behind. How well should we expect the 2023 squad to fill them?

As the days go by, it feels that we are closing in on the 2023 college football stretch quicker and quicker. While this is obviously an exciting feeling for fans, it is just as much so for us in the media, and we have no better way to satisfy our hunger for the season than by covering it all the more. To make matters even better, there are a plethora of avenues we can take to approach it.

For me, the go-to is almost always to look at particular teams around the country that were newsworthy last season and/or could be this season. In what should be a surprise to no one, that statement consistently applies to a vast array of names every year (which is what keeps the method reliable), and 2023 has a batch that makes it no exception to the rule.

With that said, I wish to spend some time talking about one squad from that batch in particular; this is due to just how huge the transition between 2022 and 2023 will likely be for them: the East Carolina Pirates.

For those who don’t know how the Pirates did last season, them being today’s subjects might come off as a bit of a surprise. However, I’d bet that even those who do know are equally clueless as to what makes them so special. Simply put, it has less to do with their performance itself and more to do with what it meant to them.

Let’s not sugarcoat it—up until a couple of years ago, the East Carolina Pirates were an ungodly bunch. Heading into their 2021 campaign, they had failed to exceed five wins in each of their last six seasons. As a result, going 7-5 in 2021 and 8-5 in 2022 was a change of pace that was welcomed with no questions asked.

There is just one problem though, and that’s the fact that teams don’t typically experience breakthroughs like those without any detectable reason. Rather, many cases boil down to them striking gold through factors such as their talent, schedules, and so on. What makes that a problem, you may ask? Remembering that those kinds of impacts almost never last.

In the case of 2022 ECU, its fortune ran predominantly through its roster, as it had multiple offensive stars hitting their peaks at the exact same time. Said talents most notably included 3,700-yard quarterback Holton Ahlers, 1,500-yard running back Keaton Mitchell, and 1,000-yard wide receivers Isaiah Winstead and C.J. Johnson.

Now I think we can all agree that those guys provided the East Carolina offense with depth that 99% of other teams could only dream of, and that they should get virtually all of the glory for the program hitting its best record since 2014. But again, those highs rarely last, and a jarring reminder of that truth can be seen on ECU’s roster for this season.

The new East Carolina Pirates roster raises enormous concerns

Of the four playmakers that I credited with lifting the Pirates back to relevance, none of them are returning. So, that leaves the program with two possibilities: One is that their offensive production looks nothing like it did in 2022, and the other is that it musters the ability to hold the same standard out of literal nowhere. Realistically speaking, we all know which one is more probable.

But wait, did I not previously mention the positive effects that a team’s schedule could have on its performance? What’s ECU’s schedule looking like, and could it come in to save the day?

Boy, I really wish I had a more optimistic answer for this part. To be frank, I cannot describe just how poor timing went into all of this, as the Pirates have lost the backbone of their offense right as their conference is entering a new era.

On July 1, the American Athletic Conference became the official home for Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice, UAB, and UTSA. Of those six newcomers, four will face East Carolina this season, and three of them will be at home to do so. Throwing that level of hostile unfamiliarity in with a brutal non-conference slate leaves the road that awaits the Pirates in very undesirable shape.

One of these 8 college football teams will win the national title in 2023. dark. Next

So to summarize, the East Carolina Pirates we watched win eight games last year look unrecognizable as they get ready to take on a schedule riddled with red flags. While none of us will truly know our limits until they take the field, all the signs point to this pirate ship sinking—and fast.

Last month, I gave my official game-by-game predictions for the 2023 East Carolina Pirates, breaking down all 12 of their games in vivid detail. To know the exact record I have them finishing the year with and why, click here.